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The first state fair was held in Syracuse, New York, in 1841, attracting around 10,000 to 15,000 people. Today, the largest fairs across the country draw millions of attendees each summer and fall to enjoy outdoor entertainment while celebrating their state’s unique identity. Certain attractions are a given — towering Ferris wheels and fried food go hand-in-hand — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With chart-topping musicians to homemade local delicacies and unique competitions, these are five of the best state fairs in the U.S. that go all out for fair season.
The Great New York State Fair
August 20 – September 6, 2021 in Syracuse
The nation’s oldest state fair is still one of its biggest: The Great New York State Fair is now held in the Empire Expo Center — one of the biggest indoor event arenas in the Northeast, with 110,000 square feet of space and seating for 4,000 people. Approximately 1 million people visit the sprawling fairgrounds annually. In fact, the grounds are so big, trolleys and chairlifts are on hand to shuttle fair-goers from one area of the event to the other. In 2021, acts including Nas, 98 Degrees, Train, and Foreigner will draw music fans, while thrilling amusement rides and games dominate the Midway section. Animal-lovers can get hands-on experience at the petting zoo. (Want to learn how to milk a goat? You can!) And food plays a central theme throughout. The popular Taste NY event introduces patrons to local vendors who offer up complimentary samples of their made-in-New-York goodies. From pizza fritte and sausage sandwiches to wine slushies and the beloved milk bar, the local food options are endless.
Alaska State Fair
August 20 – September 6, 2021 in Palmer
The Alaska State Fair is best known for its impressive giant fruit and vegetable competition, where past heavyweight champions have included a 2,051-pound pumpkin and 138-pound cabbage. The rhubarb pie contest and baked goods contests (which include breads, cakes, candies, and cookies) keep feeding locals’ love of friendly competition. The Alaska State Fair also offers a wide variety of arts and crafts, ranging from exquisite beadwork and clay pottery to natural Alaskan art (including antlers, fur, and dried flowers) and handmade quilts. There’s plenty of local food favorites on hand, too, from open-pit prepared Alaskan salmon to fresh oysters, doughnut burgers, and Denali cream puffs. And finally there’s the much-anticipated farm exhibit that provides attendees the chance to mingle with baby animals, watch chicks hatch, and see a milking demonstration (and even get in on the action themselves).
The State Fair of Texas
September 24 - October 17, 2021 in Dallas
The largest state fair in the U.S. hosts well over 2 million people annually, proving once again that everything really is bigger in Texas. Visitors have 24 days to visit Fair Park and catch a concert, cheer on a rodeo, ride the famous 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel, and sample dozens of imaginative fried food creations. The livestock Birthing Barn and its adorable baby animals are a popular attraction, and the Cotton Bowl Stadium (located inside the fairgrounds) draws crowds for two days of college football that takes place during the fair. Furthermore, the historic Fair Park encompasses multiple museums and discovery centers — including the African American Museum, the Continental Dar House, the Children’s Aquarium, and the Lone Star Nature Arts Competition Gallery — for visitors interested to learn more about Texas culture and history.
Kentucky State Fair
August 19 – 29, 2021 in Louisville
Come for country star Josh Turner and American Idol winner Alex Miller, stay for the pulled pork, smoked turkey legs, and beef brisket. If there are two things the Kentucky State Fair does well, it’s music and food; however, there’s much more than that happening during the 11-day affair. In fact, visitors will probably need a few days to experience it all, considering the fair has over 1.3 million square feet of indoor space, an outdoor area spanning 300 acres, nine stages, and eight giant tents. The Agland attraction dedicates an acre of space to local agricultural vendors to showcase interactive displays of farm equipment, live animals, and other exhibits. The World’s Championship Horse Show is a renowned competition that draws competitors from around the globe. And for some good old-fashioned entertainment, visit Heritage Hall for a tent full of games, music, dancing, and bingo.
Minnesota State Fair
Dates: August 26 – September 6, 2021 in Falcon Heights
“The Great Minnesota Get-Together” is an understatement when you consider that it’s the second-biggest state fair in the country, welcoming roughly 2 million people annually. And 2021 promises to be no exception, with Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, and the Doobie Brothers joining the long list of famous headliners to rock the fairground. As usual, food is taken seriously, and the fair promises to add new bites to its already expansive menu of 500 options — which include chocolate malts, deep-fried smelt (don’t knock it till you try it), and frozen cider pops. Another can't-miss feature of the Minnesota fair is the Miracle of Birth Center, a free educational exhibit that teaches about and facilitates the birth of 200 calves, lambs, goats, and piglets over the fair’s duration.