The Best State Fair in All 50 States
State fairs and festivals are an American pastime. Wherever you go in the USA, a fair or a festival's a stone's throw away, but here's the one in each of the 50 states that's simply too good to miss.
State fairs originated in the 1800s as a sort of trade show for local farmers. Over the decades, they’ve evolved into great big, boisterous grassroots celebrations highlighting each state’s unique culture, traditions, and quirks. Inevitably, those quirks involve wonderfully greasy food as well as amusement park rides, carnival games, arts and crafts shows, auto- and motorcycle racing, and large scale musical concerts. Still, scratch the surface of any state fair, and you’ll find the heart and soul of the state. That’s certainly the case with Alabama’s National Fair, as you’ll realize as soon as you click on its home page. (Hint: Turn down the volume on your device before loading.)
Taking place annually since 1954, Alabama’s National Fair features a big-top circus, pig racing, and more than 60 carnival midway rides and games. It’s also one of a handful of state fairs that takes place after the heat of the summer dies down, and as such is quite laid-back. The 2018 fair will take place September 28 through October 8 in the city of Montgomery. And let’s not forget to mention the food, which is quite remarkable, featuring all the usual deep-fried suspects, as well as some others you’ve only ever imagined (or not!). If you’ve never chowed down on a pork-chop on a stick, then don’t miss Charlie’s Pork-On-A-Stick, and be sure to wash it down with a piña colada that comes in an actual hollowed-out pineapple. These are the healthiest foods you’ll find at state fairs.
Alaska didn’t become a state until January 3, 1959, but that didn’t stop the ambitious settlers of Alaska from holding their first Alaska State Fair in September 1936. The settlers had arrived just one year earlier from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma as part of a government push to establish the far-flung extra-continental territory as a farming community. Alaska’s first state fair included a baby show, boxing matches, horse races, a rodeo, and baseball. By 1941, the fair had established its traditional giant cabbage contest, the winner of which weighed 23 pounds. In 2012, the winner weighed 138.25 pounds and established a new Guinness World Record for giant cabbages. This year’s fair took place August 23 through September 3 in Palmer, approximately one hour north of Anchorage. Performers included singer Bishop Briggs and comedian Jim Gaffigan.
Like Alabama, Arizona holds its state fair in the autumn. This year’s Arizona State Fair will be held October 5 through 28 in downtown Phoenix. Like Alaska, Arizona established its state fair long before it became a state (on February 14, 1912). It was called the “Arizona Territorial Fair” and took place in 1886. It’s been in its current fairgrounds venue on McDowell Road by 1905.
Over the years, Arizona’s state fair has hosted some of the country’s hottest musical acts, including Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Nirvana, and some of the world’s most sought-after speakers, including Barack Obama and Pope John Paul II. Since 20 percent of Arizona’s population attends the fair each year, residents consider attending the fair something of a rite of passage. No matter where you call home, you’re sure to be drawn in by the Swimming Pigs Show and Bigfoot’s appearance at the Figure 8 Racing and Monster Truck Shows.
The Arkansas State Fair has all the folksy, grassroots qualities that you might expect in a state fair, but it doesn’t have quite as much history as the Washington County Fair, which predates it by more than a decade (having been established in 1857, whereas the state fair was established in 1868) and is famous for being the largest and most established county fair in Arkansas. The Washington County Fair prides itself on its traditional events such as livestock contests, baseball games, horse races and community dinners while also continuing to add new events each year such as the tractor pull, a four-wheeler Rodeo, and the Dutch oven cook-off. This year’s Washington County Fair was held August 21 through 25 in Fayetteville.
The California State Fair in Sacramento has earned the nickname “Big Fun” because of its full-size water park, permanent monorail, live thoroughbred racing, motocross, and some pretty crazy-unusual animal exhibits, including kangaroos, Clydesdale horses, miniature horses, rabbits, and pigeons. There are also Chinese acrobats and a hypnotist on hand for multiple performances. The 2018 Fair took place in July, and the 2019 dates have not been announced yet (as of August 2018). The Fair also features the usual exhibitions of hogs, heifers and sheep, arts and crafts, quilting and crazy foods (including bacon-wrapped turkey legs, chocolate-covered bacon churros and Krispy Kreme Burgers).
But here’s what you won’t find at any other state fair: the California Counties Exhibit, where you can see the beauty of the Monterey Coast just a few feet from the Redwood Forest. “The Counties Exhibits is a fun, interactive way to appreciate the best agricultural commodities and landscapes of many of the California Counties all in one location,” say the organizers. Check out the coolest indoor water parks in the United States.
Like Alaska and Arizona, the Colorado State Fair was already established (the first was in 1869) before the state became a state (1876). This year’s took place in Pueblo from August 24 through September 3, and performers included country rockers Old Dominion and rock legend Joan Jett.
But next year, if you’re in a frame of mind to “mine” the depths of Colorado history as a mining territory, you might want to consider coming out to Colorado in early August instead to attend the Leadville Boom Days. The Boom Days, which celebrate Colorado’s rich mining history, have been held the first weekend of every August for the past 60 years and features a mining competition, gold panning, rock-hounding and the International Pack Burro Race, in which athletes run alongside burros (much like Colorado’s 19th century miners did when racing to a claim). With 100 food carts, you won’t have to worry about missing any of the usual “fair fare.”
The big annual agricultural fair in Connecticut is known as the Durham Fair. First held as a one-day event in 1916, it’s grown into a four-day event and will be held September 27 through 30 this year. Melissa Etheridge will be there on Friday, September 28, but even if for some reason you’re not a huge fan of the rock dynamo, there’s plenty else to do at the the Constitution State’s biggest shindig. Catch a performance by American Idol alum Scotty McCreery on September 29 or the unique Monster Truck Rally, which runs for the entire four days and features demolition derbies and meet & greets.
The Delaware State Fair has at least 99 things to do that make it fun and folksy. You can hold a baby chick, meet Twiggs the Giraffe, see musical performances by big names (Rascal Flatts and Hootie and the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker have performed in the past), and attend the Pig Kissing Contest. The fair took place July 19 through 28 this year in Harrington. But if come fall, you find yourself missing Delaware and hankering for a festival that’s just a little bit different, check out the 29th annual Sea Witch Festival, which will be held October 26 through October 28 in downtown Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.
Every year for the festival, Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches transform into a spooky wonderland offering lots of fun events for the whole family, including broom tosses, tyke-bike races, a costume parade, a costumed-pet parade, a costumed car “parade,” horse shows on the beach, a bonfire, horse-back riding, a mandolin playing contest, and trick-or-treating (so you’ll have your junk food fix). Despite being located in one of our nation’s tiniest states, the Sea Witch Festival attracts anywhere from 175,000 and 200,000 visitors over three days.
The Florida State Fair is one of those “unicorns” that take place in the winter. The next one is scheduled for February 7 through 18 of 2019. But if you can’t hold out until February for a taste of Florida culture and history, you can visit the Gasparilla Pirate Festival on January 19, 2019, which celebrates the uniquely Florida legend of José Gaspar (also known as Gasparilla), a mythical pirate who operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800’s. Okay, not really, seeing as he was mythical and all, but that’s okay because myths and legends are always fun until you find out they’re true.
Hosted by the City of Tampa and “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla” (yes, it’s as mysterious as it sounds), the festival is self-described as a “piratechnic” extravaganza. It’s alcohol-free and family-friendly, featuring special events for the little ones, including a Bicycle Safety Rodeo and a mini-parade known as the Gasparilla Preschooler’s Stroll.
Georgia offers several fairs that purport to be the state fair, but the one that’s state-sponsored is the Georgia National Fair, which has been promoting Georgia’s heritage, people, and agriculture since 1990. The National Fair will be held this year from October 4 through 14 and will include the usual wide range of state fair activities, but what it’s famous for is its “Stories of Agriculture” Exhibit, celebrating and educating about agriculture, which the fair’s organizers say, in a folksy play on words, is Georgia’s number one “industry.” This year’s “Stories” exhibit will feature 17 educational displays regarding such local agricultural topics as wool (you can watch as wool is spun into yarn); cotton (you can learn the leading cash crop in Georgia and the United States); poultry (you can watch baby chicks hatch); “food for four” (you can learn about what a typical family of four eats over the course of an average year); and bees (you can compare honey made from different types of flowers and watch honey bees on the job in a live beehive.
Hawaii’s state fair is known as the “50th State Fair.” This year it was held on the four weekends from May 25 through July 1, so you’ll have to wait until 2019 to attend. And if you’re looking to soak up some of Hawaii’s unique culture and traditions, consider heading to the south shore of Kauai in late July for the Koloa Plantation Days. The Plantation Days celebrate the history of Hawaii’s sugar plantations, the first of which was founded in 1835 right at the site of the festival.
The Koloa Plantation Days highlight traditions, music, dances, and foods of the people who came to Hawaii to work on the plantations from such countries as the Philippines, Europe, the Azores, Japan, Korea, and China. The festivities include a ukulele competition, a Polynesian musical revue featuring fire-dancing, and two full days of rodeo action. Here’s what you need to know before booking your Hawaii vacation.
Like Georgia, Idaho has several large-scale fairs celebrating local agriculture, culture, and food, including the Eastern Idaho State Fair, the Western Idaho Fair, and the North Idaho State Fair. However, the most uniquely Idaho annual festival isn’t agrarian-based, but rather focuses on Idaho’s role in continental exploration and the debt it owes to its local Native American tribe, the Shoshone Tribe. It’s the Heritage Days in Salmon, which is where the explorers Lewis and Clark received supplies and help from the Shoshones (that’s how they came to know Sacagawea) after crossing the Continental Divide by way of Lemhi Pass on August 12, 1805.
Sponsored by the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center, which can also point you to numerous other important Lewis-and-Clark-related sites in the region, the festivities, which took place on August 24 through 26, 2018, began with a beading class and fun-run/walk to Lemhi Pass and continued with an all-day “1805 Living Experience,” a Back Country Horsemen exhibit, a Dutch-oven lunch, storytelling, and demonstrations of frontier skills. Every year the festival culminates with a presentation of tribal singing, drumming, and dancing.
If you’re looking for star-studded musical acts in your state fair experience, look no further than the Illinois State Fair, which took place in Springfield from August 9 through 20, 2018. In the past, the fair has featured performances by John Mellencamp, Brad Paisely, Jason Derulo, Alabama, and Blues Traveler.
The Illinois State Fair has been celebrated almost every year since 1853 and in 1946 played a key role in the popularization of the corn dog. Illinois’ fair has bragging rights with regard to its “Butter Cow,” a 500-pound sculpture of a cow that has been an iconic part of the Illinois State Fair since the 1920s (even if Iowa has a bigger one). Some of the fair’s more unique features include a fiddle and banjo contest, a sheep-shearing contest, and a husband-calling contest (which, humorously enough, occurs adjacent to a hog-calling contest). Get a look at some more of the most famous inventions from every state.
The Indiana State Fair includes a midway that rises 35 feet above the ground in the form of the Subaru Skyride, plus a tour of a pig farm using virtual reality glasses. It takes place August 2 through 18, 2019, in Indianapolis.
But if you really want to sink your teeth into Indiana’s food culture, you need to “pop” on over to the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival on Saturday, September 8, 2018. This long-standing community tradition is in its 40th year and features over 250 arts and crafts booths, 35 food booths, a five-mile “Popcorn Panic” race, and the nation’s first “Popcorn Parade,” and a Cutest Baby Contest.
It’s been said that “nothing compares” to the Iowa State Fair—partly because that’s the fair’s actual slogan, but mostly because what could possibly compare to a fair that features one of the world’s largest livestock shows, the country’s largest foods department, the state’s largest arts show, and over 600 exhibitors? Arguably one of the best state fairs in USA history, this doozy of a state celebration made its first appearance in Fairfield in 1854 and will be held in 2019 in Des Moines, August 8 through 18.
If you go, you won’t want to miss this year’s 600-pound butter cow (sorry, Illinois), and you’ll need to bring your appetite for the deep-fried cupcakes, the bacon-wrapped hot dog dipped in cornmeal batter and all of the famous food-on-a-stick offerings. But don’t forget to enter some of the unique contests, including pigeon rolling, rooster crowing, fiddling, tractor pulling, monster arm wrestling, outhouse racing, and cow chip throwing. And to uniquely experience Iowa history as if it were happening right this very second, visit the fair’s Heritage Village, depicting Iowa life around the time of the fair’s establishment in 1854, including a general store, barber shop, and a church filled with congregants singing traditional hymns. Get a look at some more of the craziest state fair foods ever.
Everyone knows there’s “no place like” Kansas, and true to form, the Kansas State Fair, which will take place September 7 through 16 this year, has some unique attractions, including a wedding chapel (you can actually plan to get married there). But if you’re looking for a unique Independence Day experience, or rather a five-day-long Independence Day experience, you’ll want to check out the Sundown Salute Independence Day Celebration in Junction City, Kansas.
Sundown Salute is the largest free multi-day Independence Day celebration in Kansas and along with the typical festival vendors, crafters, animals, carnival, car shows, and fireworks.
The Kentucky State Fair will take place August 15 to 25 in Louisville and promises to show its more than half a million projected attendees the best of what bluegrass is made of. In years past, the fair has featured trick bears and horse races. Speaking of horses, the Kentucky Derby took place in May along with its related two-week festival. Of course, if you’re thinking about taking a trip to Kentucky, then you’ve probably already got the State Fair and the Derby on your radar.
But we bet you didn’t know about Kentucky’s World Chicken Festival, which takes place this year September 27 through 30 in London, Kentucky. The World Chicken Festival celebrates the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Harland Sanders. Laurel County, Kentucky, located in the heart of the beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest, is the home of the Colonel’s first and original restaurant established in the 1940s. The Annual World Chicken Festival is an egg-citing tribute to this heritage.
Mardi Gras. There, we said it. You know it’s worth a trip. But that’s just one way of soaking in Louisiana’s unique culture and traditions. To celebrate the state’s agrarian roots, you’ll want to head over to Shreveport for the State Fair of Louisiana, which takes place from October 25 to November 11. True to state fair form, Louisiana’s fair mixes hay-bale decorating and antique tractor-pulling with a BB Gun Competition and the Bayou Arm Wrestling Championship, while offering these 20 not-to-be-missed foods, including craw fish and crab boudin, fried craw fish, gators and taters, and grilled back-wrapped shrimp-on-a-stick. May we just say “yum”!?
Since Maine is part of the New England states, Maine folk can and do take part in the larger Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts. However, Maine has a broad array of its own state-specific agricultural fairs. These include the Bangor State Fair, which took place July 27 through August 5, 2018 in Bass Park, Bangor. With its combination of horse-pulling, demolition derby, Alaskan bears, Bengal tigers, pogo-stunt shows, and a chain-saw carving exhibition, it’s certainly unique. However, when it comes to celebrating rural living in Maine, there is nothing like the Common Ground Country Fair.
Scheduled for September 21 through 23, 2018, the Common Ground Fair has been in operation since 1977 and is expecting 60,000 visitors this year. What makes the Common Ground Fair truly unique is that it has come to be a gathering place for peaceful political activism. Typically, the fair hosts a large number of political action groups and activists. And these groups get things done: The ban on bottled water in Maine came out of an experiment that took place in at the Common Ground Fair in 2008, involving the installation of water filling stations to test the viability of a bottled water ban.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk also about this fair’s agricultural and animal husbandry features. If you’ve ever wondered how to operate a scythe (for weed whacking and grass cutting), or exactly how border collies shepherd sheep, or which breed of rooster is for you, then this is your fair.
The Maryland State Fair has been an annual event since 1878 and is proud of its firm commitment to its agrarian roots. “As many citizens become more removed from agriculture, the Fair has attempted to close the gap,” say the organizers, who have dedicated themselves to including exhibits and activities that are steeped in state fair tradition but also appeal to modern folk. One of the most popular venues at the fair, a full-scale animal birthing center has given thousands of fair-goers the opportunity to witness the birth of calves and piglets and hatching of chicks, under the supervision of veterinarians and University of Maryland Agriculture professors and students. This year, Maryland’s fair took place August 23 through September 3, 2018 in Timonium.
But it seems wrong to talk about Maryland and not mention anything about its famous hard-shell crabs. So we’re going to take a pause and recommend the National Hard Crab Derby on Labor Day Weekend in Crisfield. This crab-themed festival features crab races, crab cooking and picking contests, carnival rides, arts and crafts, vendors, live entertainment, a Miss Crustacean Pageant, and a Boat Docking Contest. It closes with a gospel concert and fireworks.
The best state fair in Massachusetts is actually a regional fair that some think of as “New England’s Great State Fair.” It’s officially known as the Big E, which is short for the Eastern States Exposition. Taking place this year from September 14 through 30 in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, the Big E hosts exhibitors from all six of the New England States (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). It’s also the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the seventh-largest fair in the nation. Last year it drew 1,525,553 attendees, which is a record number for the Big E. And it’s no wonder. The Big E is full of big fun, with a daily Mardi Gras parade, a circus the kids will love, and a charming 19th-century village populated by characters dressed in authentic garb and offering guided tours.
And of course, there’s the food, which, on top of your typical fried fair fare, includes key-lime-pie-on-a-stick and signature Big E Cream Puffs (Shhh. Please don’t tell Wisconsin).
The Michigan State Fair is a five-day event that, in 2018, took place August 30 through September 3, and it’s got everything you’d expect in a state fair, from butter cows to the birthing of baby pigs, livestock competitions, and fried food galore. But we have to be honest here and admit that since it’s a state fair, it can’t possibly accord adequate time and focus to the fact that Michigan is the Baby Food Capital of the World. That’s right. It is. The Gerber Products Company is based in Fremont, which is also the home of the National Baby Food Festival, which happened from July 18 through 21, 2018. This is the cheapest month of the year to visit every state in America.
The Minnesota State Fair took place August 23 through September 3, 2018 in St. Paul. Since the weather is still quite warm that time of year, you might be inclined to forget that St. Paul has been referred to as “another Siberia, unfit for habitation.” At least that’s what one New York reporter said of St. Paul in 1885. Offended by this outrageous and unfounded attack on its city, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce decided to prove not only that St. Paul was habitable, but also that its citizens were very much alive and well—all winter long. This is how the Winter Carnival was born.
The first Winter Carnival was held just one year later in St. Paul in 1886. It commenced with the crowning of “King Boreas the First” and featured an ice palace made from the ice of Minnesota lakes. The ice palace has since evolved into an internationally recognized icon for the Winter Carnival, which has taken place sporadically until 1946, when it became a permanent annual event. Today, the festival includes bobsledding and ice horse-racing. The events also serve to bring the community closer together, including members of nearby Native American tribes.
The Mississippi State Fair will take place from October 3 through 14, 2018. One of the South’s major fairs, with previous attendance topping 673,000 visitors in a single year, it boasts a mile-long midway and 120,000 square feet of exhibits. However, if you’re looking to attend a truly, uniquely down-home Mississippi festival, then you should consider the Tupelo Elvis Festival.
Tupelo is the proud birthplace of its native son, Elvis Presley, and the festival is all about honoring The King and the impact his music has had on the world. The festival has been around for 20 years and always features regional, national, and local artists along with a Sunday Gospel Concert and a Tribute Artist Contest that serves as a preliminary round of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Fans come from near and far to see who will be chosen to represent Tupelo in Memphis during August. In addition to these music events, the festival features a number of local food vendors, a pet parade, 5K run, movie poster exhibit, and a living history exhibit. The next one takes place sometime in June of 2019.
The 2018 Missouri State Fair took place August 9 through 19 in Sedalia, and featured a performance by Hank Williams, Jr., and over 100 acres filled with amusement rides, concerts, tractor pulls, car racing, art and crafts, camping, livestock and produce competitions, and contests of skills of all kinds. But it’s been said that plenty of people come just for the food.
Highlights include fried cheese-on-a-stick, which is cheese, dipped in melted cheese, and then deep-fried to sinful perfection. For dessert, you can try the red velvet funnel cake, which has been described as “chocolate cake dyed a murderous color and crossed with long-time festival-favorite, funnel cake.” And, it goes without saying that you’ll have to try the fried green tomatoes, the ultimate classic southern dish made of unripe tomatoes, sliced and fried to a delicious crisp. Check out the most bizarre roadside attraction in every U.S. state.
Montana’s State Fair celebrated its 87th birthday in 2018 from July 27 through August 4, though 2019 dates have not yet been announced. The 2019 Montana Fair, on the other hand, is locked and loaded for August 9 through 17. With past appearances including comedian Bill Engvall, Pat Benatar, and Melissa Etheridge, it’s sure to be one for the books.
Other highlights will be the All Star Stunt Dog show, supercross, rodeo, a 4-H Quiz Bowl, and performances by the “Lady Houdini,” and Animal Cracker Conspiracy (a life-size hybrid puppet show). As far as the food goes, don’t tell anyone, but the Montana Fair is your summer source for Girl Scout Cookies. You can also get your hands on some of High Plains Concession’s bourbon chicken skewers and any number of specialty coffee drinks from Mountain Mud.
Sure, you can go to the Nebraska State Fair in late August or early September (2018’s took place from August 24 through September 3). But bear in mind that when you’re in Nebraska, nothing says summer like fresh-picked sweet corn, and there’s a way to celebrate “Nebraska’s agricultural jewel” alongside native Nebraskans: The annual Sweet Corn Festival in Omaha.
Taking place in August 2019, the Sweet Corn Festival includes a broad range of activities centered around Nebraska’s top crop. There’ll be cooking demonstrations, “corny” crafts for kids, a demonstration of antique farm implements shelling corn the old-fashioned way, samples of various varieties of Nebraska sweet corn and sweet-corn ice cream, the opportunity to make corn husk dolls and learn the real definition of “cornhusker,” a “maize maze,” corn snakes, a corn-chucking contest, and a local artisan constructing brooms from corn husks. Plus, check out the best ice cream shop in every state!
The Nevada State Fair in Reno took place back in early June of this year, but it’s not to late to get your taste of Nevada culture and tradition, seeing as the Pahrump Social Powwow doesn’t take place until November (specifically, 16 through 18). Pahrump is home to two Native American tribes, the Paiutes and the Western Shoshones. The Powwow celebrates the culture of these tribes by bringing them together, along with the general public, to participate in dance competitions, exhibitions of tribal crafts and traditions, and plenty of authentic Native American food.
If you’re looking for something more quiet and contemplative, there’s the Rise Lantern Festival, which takes place on October 5 and 6 in the Mojave Desert outside Las Vegas. During this festival, which has sister festivals around the world, revelers release thousands of sustainable paper lanterns into the sky, making wishes, as well as lasting memories with friends and loved ones.
As far as big state fairs go, the Big E’s got New Hampshire covered. But what the Big E doesn’t have is sand sculpting, which is precisely what you’ll find at the Master Sand Sculpting Classic at Hampton Beach. This sandy, artsy festival takes place every year in June, giving spectators a chance to watch as 200 tons of imported sand is transformed into monumental works of art by invitation-only competition participants. Don’t worry if you’re not a world-class sand-sculptor, however. The Classic also offers spectators the opportunity to learn how to build sand sculptures of their own. At night the sculptures are lighted for viewing, turning Hampton Beach into a magical ocean side art gallery. Rounding things off is a fireworks show on closing night.
The actual New Jersey State Fair happens every August at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, New Jersey. Held in conjunction with the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show since 1999 and drawing 220,000 residents annually, it’s often referred to as the “Sussex County Fair” by local residents. That may be why outside of New Jersey, it’s often confused with the State Fair in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, which is less a classic “state fair” than a carnival.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, there’s something to be said for the down-home Americana of a classic state fair that originated to promote state agriculture, especially in New Jersey, which is known as the Garden State because of its wonderful crops, including tomatoes and blueberries. However, there’s also something to be said for a giant carnival at a football stadium that features the food we’ve come to expect from a state fair. In this case, such food includes pulled pork cheese fries and marshmallow sweet potato fries, gator mac and cheese (yes, it’s actually alligator meat) and Oreo churros.
The New Mexico State Fair will be held in Albuquerque September 6 through 16 and promises to astound, if only because it has attracted as many as 1.8 million visitors in a single year (1994). That’s incredibly impressive when you stop to consider that the entire population of New Mexico is just about two million. But, of course, that’s not all that’s impressive about New Mexico’s fair.
Here are some other fun facts:
- It’s the first state fair to have an area devoted solely to Native American attractions. That began in 1964.
- Since 1972, it’s had a Spanish culture attraction known as Spanish Village.
- The fair had hosted high-diving horse and mule shows until 1991 when public outcry ended the controversial shows.
Check out some more surprising facts you never knew about every U.S. state.
The first New York State Fair, held in Syracuse in 1841, was the first state fair ever to be held anywhere in the United States. It continues on in Syracuse today and will be held August 21 through September 2 of 2019. If you go, you’ll see all the usual state fair attractions, as well as some unique ones; 2018’s fair debuted the one-and-only “Max Power,” a nine-foot-tall walking robot that takes selfies. But if you want to do something uniquely New York, you’ll want to head over to the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, which takes place every weekend from August 4 through September 30.
A Renaissance Faire is a recreation of a Renaissance or Medieval village. It’s filled with costumed actors, crafts and games to give visitors the feeling of having stepped back in time. New York is not the only state with a Renaissance Faire, but it might very well have the most impressive one, featuring more than 125 performances on 20 stages, and over 100 craftspeople, all set within 65 acres of picturesque forest. It’s been a New York tradition since 1977. Go there for the amazingly colorful costumes, the jousting contests, and to participate in the Maypole Dance.
The North Carolina State Fair was first held in 1850 and hosted 4,000 visitors. In 2010, it broke an attendance record with 1,091,887 visitors. Some of the more unique features of North Carolina’s fair include:
- The antique farm machinery exhibit, which displays a collection of vintage farm tools ranging from traditional spinning wheels to aged hand reapers.
- The “field of dreams” exhibit, where children can harvest and can “sell” crops (such as apples, strawberries and cucumbers) for fair tickets.
- The “Heritage Circle,” which demonstrates tobacco farming methods as well as woodcarving, blacksmithing and chair-building.
- The “Folk Festival,” which showcases North Carolina’s traditional music and dance.
- The “Repticon Reptile & Exotic Animal Show.”
- Deep-fried pimento cheese-filled wantons and the “high on the hog” sandwich (fried pork chopped topped with barbecue sauce, pickles, bacon and coleslaw).
This year’s fair will run October 11 through 21 in Raleigh.
The North Dakota State Fair is held every July in Minot. In 2019, the dates are July 19 through 27. But if you head to Minot sooner (September 26 through 29, 2018, to be exact), you can take part in Norsk Høstfest, the biggest Scandinavian festival in the United States, which makes sense considering that North Dakota has the biggest population of Scandinavians of any state. In fact, one in three North Dakotans is of Norwegian heritage.
The festival has been attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year since 1978 and devotes one expo hall to each of the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Each country’s individual styles of entertainment, food, clothing, art and jewelry will be on exhibit. All this definitely merits the festival’s slogan: “Pure Scandimonium!” But don’t worry—the festival has a hefty dose of Americana, too. 2018’s will feature performances by The Beach Boys and Michael Bolton!
The Ohio State Fair, held every late July/early August in Columbus, is one of the largest state fairs in the United States and seems to consistently make it onto many lists of the “best state fairs.” In 2015, attendance was 982,305, the fair’s highest 12-day attendance on record. The Travel Channel says that “in addition to agriculture, the Ohio State Fair in Columbus is heavy on entertainment where you can hear the likes of Gavin DeGraw, Jason Aldean or see a new star born during Ohio Idol.” Of course, some people go for the gator on a stick and other novelty foods.
But if you’re looking to do something a bit more eclectic in Ohio, you can head over to the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in Marietta, which celebrates the riverboat heritage for which Marietta is well-known. Sternwheel boats are engine-driven paddle boats with the paddle-wheel at the stern. The first Ohio River Sternwheel Festival took place the weekend after Labor Day in 1976. Over the years, this festival has grown tremendously, attracting an estimated 100,000 people to the Marietta area during the weekend for a weekend of family-oriented entertainment, including the coronation of “Little Miss and Little Mr. Sternwheel,” a “Rollin’ Oldies Car Show,” and a photography contest.
There’s a festival almost every weekend in Oklahoma, but the Oklahoma State Fair is known among locals as a can’t-miss event. This year’s will take place September 13 through 23 and will include:
- A dairy farmers milking demo.
- The Oklahoma Frontier Experience, an interactive discovery zone that steps back in time through shows, demonstrations, and activities designed to provide an unforgettable “Wild West” experience.
- New live shark encounter. “One look into the eyes of a live shark and you’ll experience the heart pounding awe and fascination of these magnificent animals,” the organizers say. “Their legacy has been as misunderstood as it has been old and bloody. Now, more than ever, the importance of understanding sharks is critical for their survival. Learn about how these mysterious creatures maneuver under the sea.”
- “Xtreme Bulls,” delivering action-packed bull riding followed by a high-energy country music concert.
Just when you thought the deep-fried food selection at state fairs couldn’t get any weirder, you find out you can get yourself a cup of deep-fried coffee at the Oregon State Fair. While you’re at it, how about a lobster corn dog (deep-fried, of course) or a nice plate of apple pie fries? Another perennial favorite among state fair aficionados, Oregon’s fair in Salem manages to adhere closely to its agricultural roots with its garden and floral exhibits, homegrown produce, farmer’s market, and “Best of the Best” competitions, while still managing to bring the modern fun with its massive midway filled with fun and games and, of course (did we mention?), food.
It’s not surprising if no one seems to notice that Pennsylvania doesn’t have a state fair—because what it has that no other state can possibly have is the Kutztown Festival, a nine-day festival celebrating Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. As the oldest continuously operated folk festival in the country, Kutztown draws visitors from across the globe. 2019’s festival will take place in Kutztown June 29 through July 7 and promises to thoroughly immerse its visitors in all things authentically Pennsylvania Dutch with its hands-on approach intended to allow “outsiders” to experience firsthand what it means to be part of the Pennsylvania Dutch community. The key to the event’s success has always been that its staffed with actual Pennsylvania Dutch natives, rather than actors. Learn about the best-kept secret in every U.S. state, revealed.
It may not sound like a state fair, but the Washington County Fair, which has been around since 1967, is Rhode Island’s largest agricultural event. Typical of state fairs in many ways, it is nevertheless uniquely Rhode Island with the following events:
- A complete lineup of “pulling” events, including tractor, motorcycle, truck, pony, horse, and oxen.
- A swine obstacle course.
- A bunny race.
- The largest traveling roller coaster in all of New England.
- A sunflower seed spitting contest.
Dates have already been announced for the 2019 fair—head to the Ocean State between August 14 and 18 to attend.
The South Carolina State Fair will take place October 10 through October 21 in Columbia and is expected to be attended by more than 500,000 visitors. Some of them may be drawn to one of the new amusement park rides that was added in 2016: The Freak Out, which stands at a whopping 70 feet high and swings its riders to and fro, pendulum-like, until they’re eventually traveling into the air at a 120-degree angle as the seats spin.
If you aren’t able to get to Connecticut for the fair in September, you’ll have another chance to see Scotty McCreery here on October 11. If you’re more of a Motown fan, the Temptations will be performing on October 17.
South Dakota’s State Fair took place August 30 through September 3 this year, but like its sister state to the north, the cultural high point of its festival season may be the festival specifically and lovingly devoted to the state’s cultural heritage. In this case, we’re talking about South Dakota’s Tabor Czech Days, which take place every June (in 2019, you can attend from June 13 through 16).
As you might guess from the name, the Tabor Czech Days celebrate Czechoslovakian heritage. The Czech language is the seventh most commonly spoken language in South Dakota because many residents of South Dakota’s residents are of Czechoslovakian descent. The first Czech immigrants started arriving in 1868 in the hope of improving their living conditions and attaining a more promising future. Most settled around Tabor; hence, the Tabor Czech Days, which are packed with fun, music entertainment, dancing, and traditional Czech foods.
The Tennessee State Fair is held annually in Nashville, usually starting the second week of September and continuing for a week plus two weekends, and enjoys an annual attendance of over 200,000 people, according to the fair’s organizers. This year, the fair is scheduled for September 7 through 16. It’s been said that many of the fair’s fans are those who come for the agriculture (1,398 pound pumpkin, anyone?) and stay for the country ham demonstration…and the deep-fried strawberry shortcake roll. And the Colombian-style arepas. And…okay, you get the point.
They say that everything’s bigger in Texas, so of course that would include the Texas State Fair in Dallas, which draws over three million visitors annually to its myriad of attractions, not the least of which is its 52-foot-tall mascot, Big Tex, and its yearly assortment of foods making their fair debut. Over the years, the inspired foods making their first appearance at the Texas fair have included deep-fried milk and cookies on-a-stick, fried pumpkin spice Oreos, and deep-fried sweet tea.
This year’s fair will be September 28 through October 21. Yes, it’s huge, but try not to feel overwhelmed. For simpler pleasures and in keeping with the folksy state fair tradition, the organizers suggest that visitors might start by just “trying to eat an ice cream bar before it melts,” “seeing the smiles on the kids faces the first time they see Big Tex,” and hearing “Howdy folks!” for the very first time. Get a look at the most famous historical first from every U.S. state.
Yes, of course, Utah has a State Fair, and it’s scheduled for September 6 through 16 of this year at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City, which is worth a visit if only because it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But can we just talk about Utah’s watermelon for a moment? Apparently, Utah produces some of the very best watermelon in the entire world. That’s why if you’re already out in Utah for the state fair, consider stopping by Green River on September 14 or 15 to take part in the Melon Days festival, celebrating (what else?) the wonderful, refreshing watermelon. And by celebrating, we mean eating, but there’s also a parade, car show, square dancing, and a softball tournament.
Rutland has been home to the annual Vermont State Fair every late summer since 1846 (when it was known as the Rutland State Fair). 2018’s fair, which took place in August, included the usual agricultural exhibits and carnival features, along with a demolition derby, a walk-through “butterfly encounter,” a gospel night, and a haunted house.
But it doesn’t seem fair (haha) to talk about Vermont without mentioning the Vermont Festival of Fools, a curated festival of street theater devoted to community engagement through the celebration of circus arts, music and comedy for family audiences. This year, the 11th annual Festival of Fools took place on August 3 though 5 and attracted over 10,000 visitors each day.
The State Fair of Virginia is a state fair held annually at the end of September at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, Virginia. This year’s will be September 28 through October 7 and features many of the attractions you’ll see at other state fairs (e.g., pig races, pogo stunts, chainsaw carvers, puppets). But something very sweet and special about Virginia’s fair is its multiple livestock competitions that specifically offer Virginia students the opportunity to earn college scholarships. The beef, goat, lamb, and market hog judging will take place in the second weekend, allowing the public the opportunity to appreciate how hard these kids have worked both to raise their animals and to put themselves through school.
With Seattle’s hip music scene and all things coffee, the State of Washington already has so much going for it, it almost doesn’t seem fair (okay, last time, promise). But seriously, the Washington State Fair, also known as the Puyallup State Fair, keeps ranking among the top fairs in the country. This year, it’s taking place August 31 through September 23, and in keeping with Washington’s hip musical vibe, the scheduled musical performances include Macklemore, Rascal Flatts, and Toby Kieth, plus a “Lost 80’s Live” show featuring A Flock of Seagulls, Wang Chung, and original vocalists of Naked Eyes and Animotion. Washington’s fair is so well-known for being good that it manages to draw more than one million visitors per year.
The State Fair of West Virginia is held annually in mid-August in Fairlea. This year it took place August 9 through 18, and its lineup of events and attractions included a Bengal Tiger encounter, a buckin’ bull ride, pig racing, and a draft horse pull event. There was also a car show specific to 1969 or older Custom Hot Rods, Rat Rods, Classic, Antiques, and Drag Cars, although a few allowances were made for a limited number of 1970 to 1985 hot rods and muscle cars.
Another perennial favorite, the Wisconsin State Fair, held just outside Milwaukee in West Allis, is famous for its cream puffs. That’s right. Cream puffs. Not really what you imagine when you picture fair food. But if you think about it, it makes sense. Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland.” Cream is the king of all dairy products, and without the “cream,” cream puffs would be nothing more than “puffs.” We’d say we betcha can’t eat just one, but they’re absolutely huge, so maybe you can. Get there next August (2018’s fair was August 2 through 12) and let us know if you could.
As you might expect, the Wyoming State Fair is a celebration of all things Wyoming, and please don’t call it the “State Fair” because it’s actually the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo. Now in its 106th year, the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo remains a largely agricultural exposition—and rodeo, while also fulfilling its promise of Ferris wheel rides and junk food and a night of demolition derby (if you stay until the last night). This year’s Fair and Rodeo ran August 15 through 18. Looking for even more great activities for each state in America? Learn every state’s must-see bucket list item.