The Beginner’s Guide to the State Fair of Texas
As soon as September rolls aroud, I can smell the Fletchers corny dogs, hear Big Tex welcoming me with “Howdy, Folks!” in his southern drawl, and feel that same giddy excitement I’ve felt every year since I was a child. Going to the State Fair of Texas is a tradition in my family. I’ve been every year of my life, even when my mom was pregnant with me. If you’ve never been to the State Fair of Texas or you are new to Texas and have never even heard of it, keep reading for the beginner’s guide to having a blast at the fair.
A Little Background Info
The fair we know and love today traces its roots all the way back to 1886. It was known as The Dallas State Fair and Exposition, which was owned by a private group. Due to financial troubles it was sold to the City of Dallas in 1904. Presidents visited with speeches and wisdom and during WWI, Fair Park acted as a temporary army encampment and was shut down for a year. The iconic Texas-OU college football game began its annual tradition in 1929, and one year later the Cotton Bowl was built.
After a lull during WWII, the fair really started to grow with an estimated two million visitors in 1949. The 1950s brought the legendary Elvis Presley to perform at the Cotton Bowl and the introduction of Big Tex, the 52-foot-tall fair mascot. Every year since has been bigger and better, bringing more innovation and technology while remaining true to the spirit and traditions of the fair. Through the promotion of agriculture, education, and community, the State Fair of Texas truly embodies the heart and soul of the Lone Star State.
The Big Tex Choice Awards is a contest for unique and tasty food creations and is always a highlight of the overall fair experience. In August the semi-finalists are announced and, as opening day approaches, finalists are revealed. Once the fair has opened, the winners are announced. It’s basically the March Madness for fried food, and it keeps me on the edge of my seat to see the crazy concoctions each year. To give an idea of the intensity of the creations, here are a few examples: Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger, The Tamale Donut, Deep Fried Butter, Smoky Bacon Margarita and Fried Beer.
You can’t go the fair without eating a Fletcher’s corny dog. As soon as we arrive, we make a b-line for the Fletcher’s stand in front of Big Tex. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Whether it’s 9 a.m. or 4 p.m., it’s always the right time for a corn dog. There’s nothing quite like biting into a crunchy, savory, slathered in mustard or ketchup, golden corn dog. It’s a great way to start the day.
How do you pay for all this delicious food you ask? Great question. The fair has a coupon system instead of using cash or cards to pay for food and rides. Throughout the fairgrounds, there are booths where you can purchase these coupons. It’s important to set a budget for yourself because it’s easy to go overboard when you aren’t physically exchanging money with each purchase. It adds up quickly. And don’t worry if you don’t use all of your coupons, they don’t expire from year to year. Save your stragglers and use them next year! It’s a little different to play games in the midway. You’ll have to purchase a card, which is loaded with credits, but basically the same idea.
Shows & Entertainment
The fair has so many shows, live concerts, and activities that you’ll have a hard time deciding what to do. Some of the most popular shows and activities include:
- The Wild West Pet Palooza: A hilarious show featuring rescue animals from around the country who have been trained to perform skills and skits. You’ll see everything from cats and dogs to big pigs and porcupines!
- Little Hands on the Farm: I was obsessed with this one when I was a kid and was so sad when I got too old. Kids learn about farming and harvesting crops with hands-on activities like planting seeds, harvesting the different fruits and veggies and taking them to market. They’ll also get to ride a mini tractor and buy snacks in the General Store with the earnings from their crops.
- Children’s Health Barnyard: Pet and feed different types of animals from little piglets to ostriches and a giraffe.
- Starlight Parade: Each night at 7:15 p.m., impressively lit and decorated floats begin to make their way through the fairgrounds. Make sure to get a spot early because this is a very popular attraction.
- Mattress Firm Illumination Sensation: To end your day at the fair, stay for the jaw-dropping Illumination Sensation. Lights, fire, and water all dance along to popular songs. Be sure to sit in the middle of the Esplanade so you can also see the performers on the center stage!
In addition to all the performances and activities, you can explore art, food, and culture in the Creative Arts Building. There’s a giant butter sculpture with a different theme each year, a photography contest, and many other art contest categories. You can spend a good chunk of time wandering the isles and admiring the creativity the people of Texas have to offer.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. If planning your trip out ahead of time seems overwhelming, don’t worry about it. You’ll have just as much fun wandering around with a feeling of spontaneity and seeing where the day takes you. Get out there and explore all wonder and awe the fair has to offer!
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- The Ferris wheel is cool, but not always worth it to wait in the long line only to have a start-and-stop riding experience. Plus, it’s pretty expensive.
- Start your day with an idea of the different shows and foods you want to see and try. Do other things in the same area at the same time so you won’t have to walk back and forth across the fairgrounds all day.
- Get an information booklet when you first arrive. It has a map with the locations of all the Big Tex winners and finalists, showtimes, and discount coupons!
- The Oak Farms stand in the food pavilion has cheap water, lemonade and milk. It’s worth walking a little extra so you aren’t overpaying.
- Stay hydrated!
- Find the Vitamix booth in the Creative Arts building because they give out free samples after each demonstration. They’re delicious!
- Even more information can be found at: https://bigtex.com/