Clocked Out: Visiting America's oldest Renaissance Fair

Get in LB, we're going to Irwindale, where you (for only one more weekend) can step into a 62-year-old 16th-century playground.

Clocked Out: Visiting America's oldest Renaissance Fair
A row of archers at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Photo by Kat Schuster.

Good day,

Before we get very excited about things like turkey legs, jousting, jolly pipers, flower crowns, corsets, goblets and archery — I have but one warning: Thee (probably) shouldn't wend to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire whilst unemploy'd.

The tickets are $42 (plus $12 parking) and you can’t find a drink or a meal under $17. Oh, that didn’t come as a shock? Well, never mind ~irresponsible spending~ then.

If you can swing it, it’s well worth the coin to spend the day with droves of folk donning 16th-century and fantasy garb in an immersive Elizabethan village, just a 45-minute drive from Long Beach.

Decades ago, the fair began as a way to create “living history,” but along the way, it made a historical mark of its own as dozens of Renaissance festivals today are hosted locally in towns across the U.S.

In May of 1963, the inaugural Renaissance Pleasure Faire (and America’s first Renaissance fair) was held in Agoura Hills. While the founder of that first fair was linked to the Red Scare for refusing to sign a loyalty oath that decried the widely feared communist influence; today, it is simply known as a good time in old-time garb.

The Central Coast Renaissance Fair, founded in 1992, is where I attended my very first Ren Fair. At age 9, I remember dressing as a pauper while I gazed longingly at the ladies of the high class, who wore billowing silk overskirts and dresses with ornate embroidery — some things never change.

The author of this column at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival in 2018.

Fast forward to 2018 and I’d be guzzling a reasonably priced mead out of a golden goblet at that same festival. This year was my first time attending its predecessor, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where I did get my mead. But, to my dismay, it came in a small, modernized can — “Good day, tha’ll be $17 m’lady,” the bartender said. The drink was flavored blueberry and tasted more like White Claw than the lovely fermented honey elixir that’s known as one of the first alcoholic beverages ever slurped by mankind.

OK, I know you didn’t come here to read my gripes about overpriced mead. This 7-week-long party in olde England is hosted along the beautiful Santa Fe Dam on a 20-acre site, where you’ll likely have a sunny-good time.

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But if you want to save a few dollars, here’s what you should do: Pack a picnic for tail-gaiting, bring $30 to $50 in cash for games, and a sober driver. You can’t bring food into the fest but there are ins and outs, so be sure to pack your cooler and a full-on picnic to enjoy in your car or in the grassy parking area.

If you eat meat, you probably should get yourself that aforementioned turkey leg; it’s a Ren Faire must. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you may as well bring your own food because the options are essentially fried zucchini, a $23 “poke” bowl or French fries.

Oh, and do remember to dress up — you can be anyone from a princess to a pirate to a wizard to a wench (I went as a druid). While many arrived wearing horns and elf ears, you can read this guide if you want to dress true to the period.

The author of this column striking a strange pose at the Renaissance Pleasure Festival in Irwindale. Courtesy photo.

Then, remember to bring a stack of cash if you can to play games. Knife-throwing is $10, turtle racing is $5 (you read that right) and archery is just $5 for 9 arrows.

Throughout the shire, you can also experience many unique guilds and watch live jousting (get your seats early), fire-tossing performers, “accidental” acrobats, magicians, Irish dancing, harp players, winged aerialists, tree-dwelling “fantastikals” and, of course, the Queen’s Court with Elizabeth herself.

The fair runs for just one more weekend, May 18, 19. Tickets can be purchased here.

Kat Schuster was laid off from the Long Beach Post on March 22, yet she still authors Clocked Out and serves as editor of the Watchdog without pay. Thank her for her work.