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Don't Forget Your Defibrillator! America's Top State Fairs

June 5, 2014

Ferris Wheel (Photo: Think Stock)

For millions of Americans, it’s as much of a summertime tradition as 4th of July fireworks, cookouts, and disastrous family vacations: a trip to the state fair. More than 170 years after the first state fair in Syracuse, N.Y., these massive outdoor gatherings continue to be hot tickets; the top 10 state fairs alone drew more than 12 million visitors last year.

And what’s not to love? State fairs are annual outdoor celebrations of Americana—places where the young and old can meet to enjoy rides, livestock competitions, live music, arts and crafts contests, and deep-fried everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concoctions that make their cardiologists weep.

Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest, most enticing state fairs out there. If you happen to live in one of these states, consider yourself lucky and go. And if you don’t, the great thing about state fairs is that they allow outsiders too!

Racing Pigs (Photo: krgjumper/Creative Commons)

The State Fair of Texas

Dallas, Texas, Sept. 26-Oct. 19
Year Established: 1886     
2013 Attendance: 2,598,215

Why You Should Go: Because the country’s biggest fair deserves a chance to show you what all the hype’s about. Because pig and ostrich races need to be seen to be believed. Because the Texas religion of football is well represented (Grambling State vs. Prairie View A&M on Sept. 27 and Texas vs. Oklahoma on October 11). And because while any event that hosts a huge chili cookoff and a BBQ cook-off on the same day should be applauded, an event that also hosts the Great American Spam Championship needs to be sanctified.

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With: Last year featured The Awesome Deep-Fried Nutella and a battered and deep-fried cheese, pepper, and bacon dish called the Texas Fried Fireball.

Wheel of Fortune Audition (Photo: Selena N. B. H./Creative Commons) 

California State Fair
Sacramento, July 11-27
Year Established: 1854
2013 Attendance: 697,045

Why You Should Go: The 55 food vendors, specialty foods and rides that will be on site. If that’s not enough, fairgoers can audition for the game show “Wheel of Fortune.”

Who’s Performing: Macy Gray; The Spinners; Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With: Does beer count? (The correct answer is, “Yes, beer ALWAYS counts”) The California State Fair Brewers’ Festival features microbrews from around the Golden State. Admitted visitors get 10 samples in a souvenir mug that they get to keep. Fortunately, the “Wheel of Fortune” auditions are on a different day so feel free to drink up!

Facial Hair Competitor (photo: David Weaver/Creative Commons)

Ohio State Fair
Columbus, Ohio, July 23-Aug. 3
Year Established: 1850                                         
2013 Attendance: 903,824

Why You Should Go: Because seeing men (and women!) compete to see who has the best facial hair–at The Old Familiar Beard and Moustache Competition–is a can’t-miss experience. Unless you spend your time staring at the Ohio State Fair’s best-known attraction: its life-sized butter sculptures, a fair tradition since 1903.

Who’s Performing: Lady Antebellum; The Beach Boys and America; Heart and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts; Aretha Franklin

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With: Sloppy Donuts, a doughnut sandwich topped with BBQ pork, deep-fried pickle chips, bacon and cheese; Banana Dogs, a battered and deep-fried banana served with peanut butter and chocolate sauces


Top Spin Fair Ride (photo: dedwards64/Creative Commons)

 The Great New York State Fair

Syracuse, N.Y., Aug. 21-Sept. 1
Year Established: 1841
2013 Attendance: 815,157

Why You Should Go: The country’s oldest state fair, New York’s celebration of its homegrown agriculture includes 70 different competitions and 63 rides.

Who’s Performing: Carrie Underwood; Kid Rock; Pitbull; Journey; Jason Aldean, The Doobie Brothers

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With: The wares at the “Taste NY Wine and Cheese Seminar”


The Original Cream Puff (photo: Sameer Vasta/Creative Commons)

Wisconsin State Fair
West Allis, Wisc., July 31-Aug. 10
Year Established: 1851
2013 Attendance:  1,012,522

Why You Should Go: Because dogs are awesome. This year’s festivities feature the new K-9 Sports Arena, which features shows, tricks and demonstrations - dog dock diving, Frisbee dogs, and even dancing dogs – performed by man’s best friend.

Who’s Performing: Peter Frampton with Survivor; Aretha Franklin; 311; Lady Antebellum with Kristian Bush of Sugarland; Alabama

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With: The fair’s most popular food item, The Original Cream Puff, is celebrating its 90th birthday this year.


Butter Cow (Photo: Timothy Virtual Farm Boy/Creative Commons)

Iowa State Fair
Des Moines, Iowa Aug. 7-17
Year Established: 1854
2013 Attendance: 1,047,246

Why You Should Go: Because how many other state fairs can claim to have Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals written about them (“State Fair”)? Plus, Ohio isn’t the only state fair that does strange things with butter. The Iowa State Fair also has a big butter sculpting tradition, led by the 600-pound Butter Cow.

Who’s Performing: Goo Goo Dolls and Daughtry; Lady Antebellum; Foreigner and Styx; Florida Georgia Line

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With:  Last year’s munchies included the award-winning Shrimp Corndog, plus the Bacon Wrapped Riblet On-a-Stick.


Comet Corn (photo: J. Annie Wang/Creative Commons)

Minnesota State Fair
St. Paul, Minn., Aug. 21-Sept. 1
Year Established: 1859
2013 Attendance: 1,731,162

Why You Should Go: While Texas has the country’s largest state fair, Minnesota has the second largest. Part of the reason is the fair’s most popular free exhibit: the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, where fairgoers can watch the birthing of 200 calves, lambs, goats, and piglets. Fun and awkward questions for the whole family!

Who’s Performing: Aretha Franklin; Kid Rock; Tim McGraw; Journey with Joan Jett and & Blackhearts

Best Thing To Stuff Your Face With*: Last year’s fair fare included Comet Corn (caramel corn with liquid nitrogen) and the Breakfast Sausage Corndog.

*You should probably avoid eating before going to the Miracle of Birth Center