A Guide to the 2017 Texas State Fair

Fried food, football, new cars and farm animals: What could be more fun?

Close up of cowboy mascot under blue sky
••• Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

Following a record-breaking 2016 Texas State Fair, organizers of the 2017 Texas State Fair, the nation's largest in total attendance, are urging fans to come down and "say howdy" to Big Tex, the sky-high cowboy who greets visitors to the annual celebration. The event, held at historic Fair Park in Dallas, will stretch this year from September 29 through October 22.

An estimated 3 million people attend the fair each year, pumping nearly $350 million into the Dallas economy. In 2017, fair organizers have pledged a minimum of $6 million to the City of Dallas for Fair Park improvements to keep 'em coming back. 

Attractions

The State Fair of Texas kicks off each year with a parade through Big-D that typically starts at noon. Then it's on to the fairgrounds, where it's all about some of the quirkiest fried food you'll find anywhere (think fried latte), thrilling rides, great football, 4-H and farm animals, and fun for everyone. The theme of the family event for 2017...MORE is Celebrating Texans, a tribute to the Lone Star state's outsized character and heritage. 

Plan to spend money on the great food, rides, and games, but don't forget that there are lots of fun things to do at the fair that is absolutely free. It won't cost you a dime to attend the fair's many shows, concerts and livestock exhibitions, and the renowned State Fair Auto Show, the largest new-car auto show in the Southwest, which showcases about 400 of the latest models from the world's leading manufacturers. Pick up a visitor's guide when you enter the fair so you don't miss anything.

Celebrating Texans

This year's theme, Celebrating Texans, aims to "shed light on the various communities that come together throughout the fair’s 24-day run in celebration of their Texan heritage."

The fair's longstanding mission has been agricultural education, and each year more than 5,200 students participate in the youth events and leadership contests. This year, members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America will travel from all over the state to compete in livestock events.

The fair’s Youth Scholarship Program will award college scholarships to select Texas high school students.

And the fair will host more than 1,100 competitions through its Creative Arts department. Illustrating 2017’s Celebrating Texans theme, the fair artwork this year depicts the seven geographic regions of Texas as "a celebration of the state’s diverse foundation." 

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    Big Tex

    Big Tex is the colossus of a Lone Star cowboy who welcomes you to the Texas State Fair with a resounding, "Howdy, folks." The 2017 State Fair of Texas marks the 65th year that Big Tex has cast his protective shadow over visitors to Fair Park.

    But this cherished symbol of the annual fair almost disappeared in 2012, when he burned virtually to the ground, leaving only his hands and a metal skeleton. There was an unexpected outpouring of love and support for his memory after the fire.

    In the aftermath, mourners attended a "funeral" for Tex, and someone even placed a bouquet of State Fair "corny dogs" at the site where the 60-year-old icon once stood. But, somehow, he rose from the ashes. A newer, better version of the Texas giant was unveiled during the 2013 Texas State Fair. Long live Big Tex.

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    Fried Food

    Most fairgoers make a beeline for the food concession stands. Granted there is some fair food that might even be good for you, like the humongous, LOL-worthy turkey legs or the yummy bacon creamed corn in a cup. But most people are there for the "corny dogs" and the latest fried food inventions that concessionaires spend all year brainstorming.

    First, a moment of silence for the legendary  Fletcher's Original Corny Dogs, the deep-fried corn-battered hot dog that its Dallas inventors, Carl and Neil Fletcher, claimed was America's first corn dog. About half a million of the delicious dogs have been sold every year during the fair since 1942. Go to a State Fair football game, and you'll find fans calling them the "breakfast of champions." 

    Accompany those with sides of Texas Frito pie (chili with sharp cheddar encased in corn chips that are battered and deep-fried) and deep-fried balls of Texas Gulf shrimp boil with an amazing remoulade sauce. For dessert, there...MORE are always ​Fernie's Funnel Cakes, a State Fair tradition since the '80s.

    Wash it all down with a craft beer from the charming Magnolia Beer Garden or choose from more than 40 born-and-bred Texas wines at the State Fair Wine Garden. 

    If you're into cooking competitions, there are plenty at the fair, covering Southern biscuits to one-pot meals. But serious food geeks should peek in the Sunday before the fair starts to see the Chili, BBQ and Dutch Oven Cook-Off, with its amateur kings of the smoker, chili competitors, and Dutch-oven aficionados, who must cook a full meal in a dutch oven over charcoal. 

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    Amusement Rides

    There are more than 70 rides and a crazy variety of games on the Texas State Fair Midway, enough to keep anyone, even daredevils, entertained for hours.

    Get a bird's-eye view of Fair Park with a ride on the Texas Skyway, which moves along an aerial track that stretches 1,800 feet between two stations and accommodates strollers and wheelchairs.

    Thrill seekers love the 212-foot-high Texas Star Ferris wheel, the tallest in Texas and the Fair Park's most popular ride. Or go to the top of the 500-foot-high Top o' Texas Tower for cool views of Fair Park and ride the antique 1914 Dentzel Carousel, a fair staple since the early 1950s. Then cool off on Sparklett's Log Flume. Children two years of age and older can get in on the action with the kid-appropriate rides of the Kidway.

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    Football

    Saturday at the State Fair is college football day. It all happens at famed Cotton Bowl Stadium, situated in the midst of Fair Park. Some of the most rousing college games in the country take place there every fall:

    1. Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic. The State Fair Classic has pitted Prairie View A&M University and Grambling State University against each other at Cotton Bowl Stadium since the 1980s.

    2. AT&T Red River Showdown. Every year more than 100,000 people come to witness this game, a regular feature of the State Fair, where the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners have battled it out on the grass of Cotton Bowl Stadium since 1929.

    3. Air Force Academy vs. University of New Mexico. The Air Force Academy Falcons and the New Mexico Lobos began a new tradition in 2016 of yearly matchups at Fair Park's historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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    Fair Park

    The 277-acre Fair Park is a National Historic Landmark, site of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition, and home of the State Fair of Texas and Cotton Bowl Stadium.

    You can stroll through the park, relax with a picnic lunch after a dizzying day on rides and visit some of Dallas’ best museums, educational discovery centers, and an impressive collection of Art Deco exhibit buildings, art, and sculpture.

    Visit the Dallas Children’s Aquarium, the African American Museum, the Texas Discovery Gardens, the Texas Vietnam Memorial, the Music Hall at Fair Park and the Hall of State, a regal Texas limestone building that debuted in 1936 as part of the Texas Centennial.