Texas State Fair - a Guide for Newbies

As the population in DFW has boomed and we continue to get more transplants from all over the country, I love to share my favorite local Texas things with them. Take pictures in the bluebonnets in April. Eat BBQ at any of the number of great places in DFW (although I’m partial to Sonny Bryan’s or Risky’s). Drive out to Fort Worth and see longhorns walk down the cobblestone streets while you visit the Stockyards. Go to Six Flags during Holiday in the Park (do NOT waste your time there in the summer!). Drink frozen margaritas (which were developed in the Big D) on the patio at Blue Goose.

And for the love of all things Texas, make sure you go to the State Fair.

Now, I’ve realized that people from other states do not have a true appreciation for what a great state fair is. At least that’s the impression I’ve gotten. They think it’s a couple of lame ribbons given out to old grannies for their pies, perhaps some carnie rides, and overpriced fried food.

No, friend. That’s a far cry from the Texas State Fair.

Sure, we have blue ribbons for crafts and baking and there’s livestock. There are fried food and carnie rides. But there is SO. MUCH. MORE.

First off, like everything else in Texas, the fairgrounds are HUGE.  

They have a gondola ride you can take to help you traverse the giant area and maps are plentiful to help you navigate the fairgrounds. They even have a great interactive map on their website to help you locate exactly what you’re looking for. But I definitely recommend combing through their activities booklet beforehand so you don’t end up walking a bajillion unnecessary miles. Unless of course, you’re looking to burn calories due to all the fried food you should be consuming (and if you don’t plan on eating the food, did you really GO to the fair?)

The food at the State Fair is legendary. Of course, people submit to get bragging rights to the best food category, but in my experience, that doesn’t necessarily make it amazeballs (looking at you, Deep-Fried Coke from the early 2000s). However, there are tried and true fair foods that you simply must-have.  

Deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos are by far my favorites. They’d become so normal at the fair, you can find them at multiple vendors without much trouble. Pretty much any of the fried sweet things are good in my humble opinion, and I’m personally looking forward to the Peanut Butter Cup Snookie. But I also love some classic fair food like the giant turkey legs, roasted corn on the cob, and of course Fletcher’s corny dogs. So if you’re not quite so adventurous to clog ALL your arteries, those are still good fair food bets.

So while you’re chowing down on your delicious fair food, I highly recommend you check out some entertainment. The State Fair had a wide variety of things to choose from - anything from classic rock country bands to (my personal favorite) pig races. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, and those things are covered in the ticket price. Or if for some reason you’re not into music or animals (what is wrong with you?), there’s also the car show, where you can sit in fancy cars that you will probably never be able to afford. Or head over to the arts pavilion to see intricate handmade crafts and the famed seasonal butter sculptures.  If you can make it into the evening hours, they also have a starlight parade.

I’d be remiss to talk about the fair and leave out the Midway. I personally have never been a huge fan of the Midway because 1) you have to pay to play the games with a different system from the typical tickets and 2) those giant stuffed animals are obnoxious AF. I grew up in the shadow of Six Flags, so those things are not especially appealing to me, but if you want to spend some more money and impress your date, then go ahead and go to the Midway. Then ride around together on the myriad of carnival rides and try not to lose the fried Twinkies you just inhaled.

I love the fair. I really do. And given that I have three children, they get free tickets from their school every year for “fair day.” It’s a yearly family tradition. So without further ado, here are a few last-minute pro tips.

1) If you must go on the weekend, buy your tickets with the DART GoPass app. They’re only 16 bucks and then also take the DART to the fairgrounds. You get to ride the train (fun!), not have to deal with parking (huzzah!) and you help the earth (thanks!).
2) If you can go on a weekday, make sure you check what discounts you might be eligible for.
3) The tickets are good from year to year, so if you plan on going again, don’t throw them away!
4) For the love of all things holy, DO NOT GO during one of the big football games if you’re not going to the game….. UNLESS… you plan on only being there DURING the game.  While I have never personally gone (because I don’t do football or crazy crowds), my understanding is the fairgrounds are virtually empty during the actual game. So if you want to go on the weekend for only three-ish hours, that’s your primetime spot.
5) PLAN AHEAD FOR THE THINGS YOU WANT TO SEE. Your feet will thank you.  Seriously, their website is super helpful and set up well to help you plan your visit.
6) Plan to spend some serious cash. While the fair is fun, I think the thing that surprises people the most is how much things cost. That free ticket from the school is enticing, but it is super easy to see $100 go *poof* in less than a couple of hours.

So that’s my two cents (or more) for the state fair. Welcome, Yankees and other transplants.  I know Big Tex will be so happy to greet you.