The Best State Fairs for 2018
At the country’s first state fair, held in Syracuse, New York, in September 1841, attractions included prize animals, a plowing contest, and shiny new manufactured goods for farms and homes. Modern-day state fairs still celebrate agricultural and farmyard bounties, but today’s fairgoer is also treated to dizzying midway rides, top-draw entertainment, kooky competitions and ever-more-wacky food concoctions.
A highlight of the Iowa State Fair (August 9–19) is the 600-pound butter cow, first sculpted in 1911, that returns each year accompanied by a freshly-churned companion butter sculpture that over the years has marked milestones for everything from Star Trek to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
The Texas State Fair dates back to 1886 and, in true Texas tradition, boasts it is one of the largest state fairs and, at 24 days, the state fair that runs the longest. Fairgoers are greeted by a 55-foot mechanical talking cowboy dubbed Big Tex (a replacement for the statue that burned in 2012) and fed foods that are famously, if often incongruously, deep fried.
Elsewhere, the Wisconsin State Fair (August 2–12) is well-known for the cream puffs which have been sold at the fair since 1924, and the Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Contest. The Kentucky State Fair (August 16–26) is famous for its horse shows. And the Illinois State Fair (August 9–19) draws crowds to its car races and to its Dairy Barn filled with prize-winning cheeses, ice-creams, and its own iconic 500-pound (unsalted) Butter Cow.
Here are highlights at five state fairs around the country ranked “Best in Show” by TripAdvisor reviews. To compile the rankings, TripAdvisor used traveler ratings, excluding fairs that did not have enough reviews.
5. Ohio State Fair, July 25–August 5
Head to the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus for livestock competitions, camel rides, pig races, the annual Pork Rib-Off, performances by the All-Ohio State Fair Band and Youth Choir and competitions for the best homebrews, beards, moustaches and tattoos.
In addition to a 14-foot tall animatronic Smokey Bear and more than 200 food vendors, the Ohio State Fair's traditions include a Dairy Products building displaying a fresh butter cow and calf, along with a bonus butter sculptures that, over the years, have portrayed iconic images such as a bald eagles and ice-cream cones and celebrity characters such as Darth Vader and Mr. Monopoly.
4. Alaska State Fair, August 23–September 3
Held each fall in Palmer, about an hour north of Anchorage, the Alaska State Fair offers rides, concerts, and exhibits of animals, crafts, flowers and food. Contests involve everything from scarecrows and duct tape to beards, but the weighing of the giant vegetables is the star attraction. Up to 20 hours of summer sunlight (and hefty fertilizers) help Alaska farmers grow fair record setters such as a 4.3 pound potato and a 82.9 pound rutabaga, but no has broken the record for largest green cabbage (138.24 pounds) since 2012. Maybe this year.
3. Florida State Fair, February 7–18, 2019
Tracing its roots to 1904 and held in Tampa each February, the Florida State Fair offers visitors more than 100 rides, including four roller coasters and North America’s largest traveling Ferris wheel. Fair days are also filled with concerts, demolition derby and nightly laser light shows. Food, of course, is a big feature of Florida’s fair, with the 2018 Fair Food Award going to “The Big Jerk” — a two-pound behemoth of tortilla chips layered with rice & beans, shredded jerk chicken, lettuce, Caribbean cheese sauce and fresh pico de gallo.
You never know what will happen – or who will appear – at the Florida State Fair: At the 2018 fair a baby girl was unexpectedly born on the Midway. Afterwards, her parents received fair tickets for life.
2. Minnesota State Fair, August 23–Labor Day, Sept 3
In addition to headline concert acts that this year will include Niall Horan, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Beach Boys, the 12-day Minnesota State Fair, held on 320 acres of fairgrounds midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, offers everything from an adventure park, a snake zoo, a haunted house, and a giant sing-along to a daily parade and a lumberjack show.
Hundreds of food vendors will be at the fair this year, with new edible treats to include a triple chocolate strawberry short cake, Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream and Turducken Sausage Sandwiches.
1. Great New York State Fair, August 22–September 3
The Great New York State Fair, the country’s oldest state fair, is still held in Syracuse and this year will include Blondie, Counting Crows, and Smokey Robinson among a long list of stage entertainment.
Also on tap: a a ride-filled midway, an antique tractor display, butter and cheese sculptures, livestock and agricultural products galore, a food truck competition and the Drone Film Festival.