What do deep-fried Kool-Aid, dancing dog competitions, U.F.O. experiences and grand stand concert series have in common? The answer is absolutely nothing, and that's what makes the all-American state fair such a fresh, fun-filled community event year after year.
With over 50 unique options to choose from, the annual promise of hulking ferris wheels, zany competitions, a wide range of entertainment options and, of course, any product imaginable smothered in batter and served on a stick (we're still in the process of figuring out why this doesn't happen everywhere) has visitors marking their calendars months in advance. Since it's the peak of the season, we've rounded up the country's ten most highly rated state fairs to help you navigate the ultimate cross country carnival experience.
When: Sept. 25 - Oct. 18, 2015
Whoever coined the phrase "everything's bigger in Texas" was clearly greeted by the 52-foot-tall Big Tex statue at the entrance to the Lone Star state's huge annual fair. Held at Dallas' 227-acre Fair Park, this three-week-long shindig attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year and the numbers only keep rising as new attractions, food and entertainment get added to the extensive bill.
Fair-goers can brave the Texas Star Ferris Wheel at 212 feet in the air or cruise ground level on a 1,800-foot gondola. Pig and ostrich races are a mere two among the varied list of daily activities, and if you tire of watching animals or enjoying the rides, you can head over to the State Fair Auto Show-the biggest new car/truck show in the Southwest. Park in front of the Chevrolet Main Stage to hear acts like The Beach Boys liven up the atmosphere or indulge in deep-fried delicacies, which include state classics like the deep-fried Thanksgiving dinner. This year's new fare includes fried alligator, buffalo and-are you sitting down?-a deep-fried bacon margarita.
When: Aug. 27 - Sept. 7, 2015
Texas isn't the only state to go big or go home during fair season, and the brains behind the operation in St. Paul, Minnesota, have guaranteed that those who live in the northern region will leave with blown minds and full stomachs.
The late August-early September event includes 4-H horse and dog shows, the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, where passersby can watch nearly 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets be born, an X-zone extreme sports demo for those who welcome a contrast to a live birthing, butter sculpting contests, the Milk Run 5k, and the Adventure Park thrill rides. Popular Grand Stand concerts, which host top-billed artists each year, will include acts such as Def Leppard, Keith Urban and The Avett Brothers, and the food scene won't be complete without test-tasting a little Comet Corn (also known as caramel corn with a hearty helping of liquid nitrogen-we're just going to assume they know what they're doing). And-naturally-the whole park has free WiFi. Let the Instagramming commence.
When: July 27 - Aug. 7, 2016
While fans must hold off their excitement until next year for the Buckeye State's fair fare, the week-and-a-half-long festival is well worth the wait. Visitors who trekked to Columbus this year were met with musical power acts like Reba McEntire, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick and Meghan Trainor, while the finer-things crowd enjoyed the annual Old Familiar Beard and Mustache Competition (finally guys, a place where you can really brag about your facial hair).
Yearly, magicians and ventriloquists provide an air of mystery while the LEGO Train Club's model-sized village with motorized trains will successfully bring your inner kid out to play.The fair's Monster Mural is the perfect place to let their kids' creative sides run rampant, acting as a large free-for-all canvas that finally makes it okay to paint on a wall. If roller coasters don't provide the kind of height you want, there are two-minute helicopter rides over the grounds-and let's not forget the butter sculpting exhibits, which have featured cholesterol-loaded figures of Darth Vader and Neil Armstrong.
When: Aug. 13-23, 2015
You know it's bound to be a good time if Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to write a musical about it (see: State Fair). The mid-August Des Moines extravaganza is known far and wide for its annual tradition of constructing a 5-and-a-half by 8-foot 600-pound butter cow (sensing a theme here?). To put the amount in perspective, all the butter used would cover 19,200 slices of toast and take an average human two lifetimes to get through. Not to worry, butter conservationists-they recycle most of it for use the next year.
If hulking butter livestock doesn't do it for you, no worries-you can enjoy over 50 types of food on a stick, the likes of which include deep-fried cupcakes (a one-up on the classic funnel cake, in our opinion), or if you're trying to keep a healthy diet, you can opt for a whole salad on a skewer. For a real dose of back-country competition, check out the annual contests like Mr. Legs, Ladies' Chicken Calling and Ladies' Husband Calling.
When: July 10-26, 2015
This state fair, known throughout the Sunshine State as "Big Fun," lets its nickname speak for itself. With over 800,000 yearly attendees flocking into Sacramento for amusement park rides, a full water park and the Magnificent Midway's Le Grande Wheel (a.k.a., the largest portable Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere), a good time is guaranteed.
Fair-goers focus on hitting each of the 55 food vendors, exploring the Birds of Paradise exhibit, taking advantage of the Brewfest area, and, especially, auditioning for Wheel of Fortune. As if all that isn't enough, the 2015 fair kicked off the Inaugural National U.S. Drone Racing Championships. Enough said.
When: Aug. 27 - Sept. 7, 2015
Since its advent as the oldest state fair in the country-held for the first time in Syracuse more than 170 years ago-the Great state fair is equal parts great wine and great entertainment.
Grand Stand performers this year are set to include major acts like Jim Gaffigan, Patti LaBelle, Hank Williams, Jr., and Eric Church, while the New York Wine and Cheese Seminars offer premier samples of the highest quality wines and cheeses throughout the state. (Bonus: a five-ounce glass is only $2, and you're allowed to carry it around the fairground with you. Score). Families can take advantage of the 63 rides and 70 competitions offered, while those with strong stomachs-and perhaps a couple extra glasses of wine-can witness the greatest of life's miracles at the Dairy Cow Live Birthing Center.
When: Oct. 16 - Nov. 8, 2015
Any fair that includes a derby for dog-riding monkeys is a fair we want to attend. The mid-fall event held in Phoenix goes beyond regular fair trappings to include unique exhibits like the U.F.O. Extra-Terrestrial Experience, where visitors can find out all they need to know about the little green men in the sky. Or, if you're looking for something a little less fantastical, the Great American Ducks race is sure to be an experience worth watching.
Demolition derbies, a 1,200 foot miniature train track, hypnotists, red velvet funnel cake and performances by Bret Michaels, Jason Derulo and Rick Springfield are all among the reasons this event is sure to be one for the books.
When: Aug. 4-14, 2015
You'll want to follow your stomach to West Allis for Wisconsin's creative state fair food palate. Characteristically served on a stick (how else?), the one-of-a-kind recipes include mouthwatering combinations like deep-fried maple bacon cookie dough, peanut butter bacon bison burgers and Granny Smith caramel apple shakes-not to mention the fair's famous cream puffs that are guaranteed to get you to stop counting calories for the day (as if you even had the choice to begin with).
Other food-related attractions include the jalapeno eating contest, while anyone who's completed the culinary challenge and is looking to move on can opt for the K-9 Sports Arena's dancing dogs show, Spin City, the resident amusement park, or the Young People's Art Exhibit, which showcases 360 paintings, sculptures and drawings done by kids ranging from sixth to twelfth grade.
When: Aug. 20-30, 2015
Getting an authentic taste for the Bluegrass State isn't hard to come by at this 10-day event held in Louisville. A primary draw for this state fair is its World Champion Horse Show, which promises to be an event to remember in the home of the Kentucky Derby.
If horses grow wearisome, why not try participating in a mock trial by jury courtesy of the state's justice department? Or, if that isn't quite up your alley, the Barrels and Boots Music Festival, including acts like RaeLynn, Montgomery Gentry and John Michael Montgomery, will give everyone a taste of the region's country music stylings.
Moose & Turtle on Vashon
When: Sept. 11-27, 2015
The Washington State Fair, known simply as the Pullayup Fair, attracts big-name musical acts like Duran Duran, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Keith Urban and Pitbull, while maintaining and growing one of the most diverse attraction line-ups in the business. From Wild West rodeos and comedic gunfight stunt shows to a full-on Star Trek exhibit, these acts are set to appeal to anyone who walks through the gates.
One of the newest attractions, the Rainforest Adventure, simulates an actual rainforest climate and environment, complete with real toucans, anacondas, snapping turtles and other tropical Amazonian creatures. Along the same vein is the Animals of the World exhibit, which features more international exotic breeds, including Nigerian dwarf goats, yaks and parrots. After a full day of nonstop adventure, of-age visitors can stop at the Beer Haven for refreshments, which include over 60 local taps.
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