State fairs have been an integral part of American life for nearly two centuries. These late summer/early fall gatherings, organized originally to celebrate the nation's agricultural bounty, are annual traditions for millions of people. And, while there's still plenty of agricultural bounty to enjoy, today's fairs offer much more: rides, concerts, local arts and crafts, and cuisine that often is, well, unique.
If you're looking to get a feel for an area's regional traditions and cultural nuances, there's no better place to start than a state fair. While you're at it, you can get your adrenaline going on an amusement park ride, pet a pig and eat something deep-fried on a stick.
Here's a quick look at five of the nation's biggest and best state fairs, from mid-July to mid-October.
1. California State Fair
Sacramento, July 10-26
The California State Fair is held at Cal Expo, 350 landscaped acres north of downtown Sacramento across the American River. It may be the only fairgrounds in America to feature both a full-fledged water park, Raging Waters, and a monorail. Among the fair's most popular annual events are the home and commercial craft brewing competitions. This year the Best of Show winning commercial beer will have the opportunity to be showcased and on tap at the fair's Craft Brew Pub.
2. Iowa State Fair
Des Moines, Aug. 13-23
It's difficult to pick just one Midwestern fair to recommend, because there are so many good ones and so many fiercely loyal advocates for each. Iowa gets the nod here, however, for a couple of reasons. First, it was the setting for a 1933 movie starring no less than Will Rogers and a 1945 musical by no less than Rodgers and Hammerstein. And, then there's the Butter Cow. Every year since 1911 an official fair sculptor has created a full-size sculpture of a cow using about 600 pounds of Iowa butter. A companion sculpture is created each year; last year's celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Iowa-based Field of Dreams.
3. Great New York State Fair
Syracuse, Aug. 27-Sept. 7
You may not think of New York as an agricultural state, but this was the site of the first state fair ever, held in 1841. Highlights include Dairy Day on Aug. 31, starting with a milkshake contest and cheese auction and culminating in a celebrity milking contest. The entertainment lineup is especially eclectic; this year's performers include the Oak Ridge Boys and Snoop Dogg.
4. Washington State Fair
Puyallup, Sept. 11-27
Safeco's home-state fair, sometimes referred to as "the Puyallup" (that's pronounced pew-AL-up), is one of the biggest parties in the Northwest. For locals one of the biggest reasons to go is the food, some of which you can't get anywhere else. An old favorite, Fisher scones have been sold from the same booth since 1913. Last year more than 1.3 million were sold. This year there is sure to be a new favorite: the Bacon, Bacon, Bacon booth, serving up bacon on a stick, chocolate-covered bacon and waffle-fried bacon.
5.State Fair of Texas
Dallas, Sept. 25-Oct. 18
No surprise, the biggest state fair in the country is in Texas, with attendance topping 2.8 million last year. The fair's signature 212-foot Texas Star Ferris Wheel is joined by the new 500-foot Top o' Texas Tower, offering sweeping views of downtown Dallas and the surrounding area. Another feature is Cotton Bowl Stadium, located at the center of the fairgrounds. There are two football Saturdays during the fair: Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State on Sept. 26 and Texas vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 19. A football ticket includes fair admission on game day.
Traveling to your state fair this year? Be sure you have adequate car insurance coverage and roadside assistance. A local Safeco agent near you can help you shop for coverage and potentially save with Safeco Safety Rewards™.
Let the world know what you think, but do so responsibly. Comments are moderated and we will not post personal attacks, obscene language or inappropriate material, comments with links, or comments from people under the age of 18. If you have a question, check out our Comment Submission Guidelines.