USA's Top 10 State Fairs

The Minnesota State Fair Midway
The Minnesota State Fair Midway1
In the not too distant past, perhaps a mere 150 to 200 years ago, most people earned a living on the farm, or in industries stemming from agriculture. While in today's rat-race society the rural lifestyle may seem simple and old-fashioned, the fruits of farming still account for a big piece of each state's economic pie, and the country's string of exuberant state fairs acknowledges, promotes and celebrates that.

State fairs serve to raise appreciation and awareness of an industry vital to the USA's (and wider world's) history, present and future, and they attract an impressive audience. These large-scale country fairs appeal not only to grams, gramps and farmyard animal-loving children, but to a much wider demographic of, well, anyone and everyone. Wholesome family fun in the form of livestock shows, parades, pie-eating competitions and hands-on farm experiences educate and entertain alongside star-studded pop concerts, sophisticated midway rides that offer amusement park thrills, art displays, high-tech exhibits and all the foods one can poke a stick through. And the best part is, it usually costs less than ten dollars to get in the gates.

With annual attendance often in excess of one million people, each of the below state fairs attract visitors from far and wide, maximizing exposure to the state's unique agricultural qualities. The following fairs place emphasis on education as well as fun, boasting world-class shows, exhibits, concerts and rides that confirm their status as the USA's finest state fairs.

MINNESOTA STATE FAIR

With over half of the state's land area committed to farming, agriculture is one of Minnesota's largest industries, and it seems Minnesotans are mighty proud of that. Their colossal state fair annually attracts more than 1.6 million fair-goers over 12 days in late August. Held at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, the Minnesota State Fair showcases the best of the state's agriculture, other influential industries such as forestry and manufacturing, and artistic creativity. One of the fair's most popular exhibits is the Miracle of Birth, a nursing sanctuary for about 200 newborn farm animals and their mothers, where visitors can witness the most fundamental miracle of nature. If that's not one's cup of tea, there's plenty of testosterone at the X-Zone during extreme sports demos, and superstars like the Backstreet Boys wow fans at the Grandstand.

OHIO STATE FAIR

New York State Fair Horse Competition
Horse Competition at New York State Fair2

As one of the USA's top producers of winter wheat, oats, eggs, cheese and livestock, Ohio has something to celebrate. And celebrate they do, for 12 fun-packed days in early August, with more than 800,000 people. The Ohio Expo Center in Columbus is home to the Ohio State Fair, which was first held in Cincinnati in 1850. Over the years this state fair has and continues to host insanely famous performers, previously including Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, Kenny Rogers and Clay Aiken, belting out their even more famous tunes, while elsewhere on the grounds participants give their very best in all sorts of competitions, from spelling bees and hand-crafts to dog shows and wrestling. At 45 ft tall (13.7 m) and 144 ft long (43.9 m), the Giant Slide has been a feature of the event since 1969 and is a highlight of the fair, along with two-minute helicopter rides over the grounds, one of the world's longest portable skylines and a fearsome tiger show.

NEW YORK STATE FAIR

It may be surprising to know that New York is a significant player in the field of farming. With farms composing about 25 percent of the state's land area, New York State is one of the USA's top dairy milk producers and they put a lot of vegetables on plates too. The New York State Fair, held over 12 days in late August at the Empire Expo Center in Syracuse, embraces all aspects of the New York lifestyle: agriculture, technology, entertainment and education, and attracts almost one million New Yorkers and out-of-towners annually. Over 375 acres (152 ha) play host to animals, exhibits, big-name concerts, local performers, the stomach-churning Fire Ball ride at the Strates Shows Midway – the only railroad carnival in the country, games and competitions. Special theme days include Law Enforcement Day, Dairy Day and Fire & Rescue Day.

IOWA STATE FAIR

Iowa's agricultural industry has no excuses with some of the richest soil in the world. The USA's king of corn, this state farms about 90 percent of its land and claims almost 30 percent of the country's hogs and more than 60 million chickens. Therefore, this classic state fair is strongly focused on Iowa's agricultural talents with one of the world's biggest livestock shows, sheep-shearing and rooster crowing competitions, and the famous Butter Cow: a life-size bovine made from 600 lbs (272 kg) of creamy Iowa butter and an honored guest since the early 1900s. Since its small beginnings in 1854, the Iowa State Fair has grown into a spectacular event hosting just over one million visitors each year at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. For 11 days in mid-August, eager crowds storm the gates for fascinating exhibits, the state's largest art show, sinful food, candy-colored rides, celebrity performances and a dose of history at the State Fair Museum complex and Heritage Village.

Iowa State Fair Butter Cow
Finishing Touches to the Butter Cow at Iowa State Fair3

CALIFORNIA STATE FAIR

For 18 days beginning in mid-August, the California State Fair in Sacramento celebrates the cream of California's crops. Known for sun and sand, this state's Mediterranean climate is ideal for year-round growing and contributes to California's top position in production of over half the country's fruit and vegetables. Also paying tribute to the state's ranching heritage, Cattleman's Day highlights western entertainment at the Rodeo Arena with world-famous rodeo clown, Wilbur Plaugher, while California Ranchland is a kid's hands-on delight with a petting farm, the Roping Ranch, Alpaca Ranch and a pedal tractor pull competition. Live harness racing and the Budweiser Clydesdales performances also get a lot of attention, and Californian wine lovers may enjoy a few drops at the Wine Garden under a sky ablaze with nightly fireworks. However, almost one million visitors would agree that a trip to the fair isn't complete without a go on the Magnificent Midway's Le Grande Wheel – the Western Hemisphere's largest portable Ferris wheel.

ARIZONA EXPOSITION & STATE FAIR

Cattle and sheep are the pride of Arizona's agricultural communities and although most of southern Arizona is desert, world-renowned irrigation systems make this area excellent for year-round crops. The people of the area have been celebrating the rural lifestyle since before Arizona was a state, with a small Territorial Fair initiated in 1884. Later blooming into the grand Arizona Exposition & State Fair, it now pulls one of the country's biggest fair crowds with well over one million people. Held at the State Fairgrounds in Phoenix for 24 days from mid-October, this proud Arizona event boasts electrifying Grandstand shows that include Figure 8 Racing, demolition derbies and the High School Rodeo. Welde's Big Bear Show will delight and educate fair-goers, as will the clever dog-riding monkeys in the Banana Derby.

KENTUCKY STATE FAIR

Considering that horses are one Kentucky's top farm commodities, it's not surprising that the prestigious World's Championship Horse Show graces the Kentucky State Fair every year, drawing more than 2,000 exquisite horses and people from around the world. While annual fair attendance at around 600,000 doesn't quite match other state fairs mentioned here, there are many reasons why the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville is considered one of the country's best. In addition to the huge horse extravaganza, the fair brags a tightrope-walking tiger, a ferocious alligator show and awe-inspiring entertainers, including the likes of country music's most popular duo, Brooks & Dunn, and rock legend, ZZ Top. Fair-goers are also treated to the opportunity to use fairground Thrillway tickets on heart-stopping rides at the neighboring Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Park. The Kentucky State Fair is held over 11 days in mid-August at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

THE BIG E: EASTERN STATES EXPOSITION

Arizona State Fair Candy Apples
Candy Apples at the Arizona State Fair4

The largest fair in the northeast, the Big E brings together New England's six states in a monumental celebration of Maine's potatoes, Cape Cod's cranberries, Vermont's maple syrup and New England in general. Lasting 17 days during September, this exciting exposition attracts more than one million visitors annually to the fairgrounds in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Once there, one doesn't have to travel far to experience all of New England's diverse states, especially when a stroll along the Avenue of States reveals impressive, scaled-down replicas of all original statehouses standing proudly on lots owned by each respective state. Other fair favorites include the European-style Big E Super Circus, the largest traveling Midway in the northeast, the Eastern States Exposition Horse Show and of course, the fair's signature cream puffs. While strolling the vast fairgrounds, an unnerving encounter with the wandering Mechanical Man is also very likely.

TEXAS STATE FAIR

“Big Tex”, a towering 52-ft tall (15.8 m) cowboy has been greeting visitors at the State Fair of Texas since 1952, and he's not the only big feature. The Texas State Fair is one of considerable proportions: running for a whopping 24 days at the end of September, it is situated on an expansive 227 acres (92 ha) at Dallas' Fair Park and welcomes an estimated three million people each year. The State Fair Auto Show is the biggest new car and truck show in the southwest, the big Texas-Oklahoma college football game plays to thousands of screaming fans, as do superstars such as the Dixie Chicks, Destiny's Child and Billy Ray Cyrus, and an awesome light show reflects off the stretching 700-ft long (213 m) Esplanade Pool. Corny dogs, a fair specialty, are also worth a mention for their big reputation, along with the Annual World Corny Dog Eating Championships. It's really not surprising that the Texas State Fair is such a big deal when agriculture stakes claim to more than 225,000 farms and status as Texas' second largest industry.

PUYALLUP FAIR

The Puyallup Fair (officially the Western Washington Fair) is also consistently rated one of the ten biggest fairs in the USA with a yearly attendance of 1.3 million, likely thanks to the agriculture industry being a major Washington employer, with timber, wheat, beef and dairy being some of the state's main products. Opening at the beginning of September, this traditional state fair runs for 17 days in the charming city of Puyallup. It kicks off with the Western Rodeo Parade – a cattle drive along downtown's Meridian Street and the cowboy fun doesn't stop there. Budding cowboys and cowgirls up to the age of six can test their stamina during bull-riding competitions – on sheep! Then see how it's done by the pros as top rodeo athletes compete in the Wrangler Tour Playoffs, which often stop by at the fair. Tradition seeps into the ever-popular Midway too, with an old-style (yet trustworthy!) wooden roller coaster.

The Big E Circus
Trapeze Artists at the Big E Super Circus5

PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
  1. Minnesota State Fair; The Midway at Minnesota State Fair; St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
  2. New York State Fair; Horse Competition at New York State Fair; Syracuse, New York, USA
  3. Iowa State Fair; The Butter Cow; Des Moines, Iowa, USA
  4. Arizona State Fair; Candy Apples at Arizona State Fair; Phoenix, Arizona, USA
  5. The Big E: Eastern States Exposition; The Big E Super Circus; West Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

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