An Insider’s Guide to Wonders of the State Fair of Texas
Today marks the 129th year of Dallas’ State Fair of Texas. Here's how to do it right.
Every year, shortly after the beginning of fall, Dallas’ famed Fair Park opens its gates to one of the nation’s longest-running state fairs. The State Fair of Texas, which opens this weekend and will continue for the next three weeks, has a lot to see, so here’s the low-down:
Fair Park in Dallas originated as the location of the 1936 Centennial Exposition, so it's unsurprising that the park boasts the world’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings, art, and sculptures. It’s also the only intact and unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States.
And, of course, there’s Big Tex, the giant, slow-talking cowboy that’s become a Lone Star State icon. Having recently been upgraded (sadly, due to an unexpected electrical fire), Big Tex welcomes all with his deep, loud voice “Howdy, Folks!” His chest is puffed up and his arms are out in welcome—this is his home, and he is a great host.
Tradition runs deep—and so does a desire for a competition ribbon. Each year thousands of Texans enter contests for farming, cooking, baking, craft making, and art. It's important to note, too, that the "best in state" entrants sit in the Arts and Crafts building with the infamous butter sculptures, and that this year is in fact the last year to gaze upon them.
Even if you're not much for carnival games or rides, The Midway, where all that fun stuff is located, is still worth walking through. Throughout the day, for example, you may glimpse the Midway Barker, who has no lower body. Other entertainment of the Boardwalk Empire era: the Texas Star Ferris wheel and the Texas Skyway, a airborne gondola ride through the Midway and toward the Top’o Texas Tower.
And, of course, there's a world in top-notch, totally fried cuisine. A classic corn dog is a timeless choice, and only Fletchers is acceptable. Each year the Texas State Fair hosts a food competition for its vendors, who can compete for top placement in both the "Best Tasting" and "Most Creative" categories. This year’s not-to-miss winners? The Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy and the Holy Moly Carrot Cake.
For beverage connoisseurs there is the Texas Wine Garden and Magnolia Beer Garden, which are both an excellent way to not only explore the variety of Texas wines and beers but to sneak away and relax from the masses. And there's a new attraction this year: purportedly the world's largest bar on wheels, a 53-foot-long truck serving craft beers on tap.
Daily shows are sprinkled throughout the fairgrounds, and some of the best are in the PanAm Arena. Check out the Pig Races, Dog Show, and the new Horse Spectacular, which narrates the history of horse showmanship. It's about as Texas as you can get.
The Hall of State will exhibit a historical view of Big Texas State Music, providing a decade- and genre-spanning look at the state’s musical history. The exhibit will also attract plenty of Texas musicians for live shows throughout the day.
During the fair, the Cotton Bowl hosts two great college rivalries. This Saturday the State Fair Classic will take place between Grambling State Tigers and Prairie View A&M Panthers. On Saturday, October 10, the Red River Showdown will flood the park with University of Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma University Sooners (you’ll flock or flee depending on your team).
ProTips from a Texan:
After a long day of walking, the best way to relax is go by the Auto Building, where the car show is hosted, and find the new-to-market massage chairs.
And for souvenir options? Head to the Midway photobooth and use your corn dog, beer or lemonade as props for your picture with Big Tex. Also: the Big Tex bobble head.
The Fair runs from Friday, September 25, to Sunday, October 18. Gates open at 7 a.m., but the State Fair Building and exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Midway is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Mariah Tyler is a digital photo editor at Travel+Leisure. You can follow her on Instagram at@mphbox.