The state fair is as much a part of Texan culture as the Alamo, cowboy boots, and longhorns. Every autumn, on the grounds of Fair Park, you’ll find hordes of Texans indulging in corn dogs and deep-fried carrot cake, riding the Ferris wheel, playing carnival games, and petting barnyard animals. While it may not be true that everything is bigger in Texas, that’s certainly true of the Texas State Fair.
The origins of the Texas State Fair can be traced back to 1886, when a group of Dallas businessmen chartered the Dallas State Fair & Exposition as a private corporation. The Fair was an immediate success, drawing thousands of people. However, due to a series of financial setbacks in the early 1900s, the businessmen were forced to sell the Fair to the city of Dallas, under an agreement that the annual exposition would continue each fall.
And continue it does: Today, over 2 million people attend the Texas State Fair every year. It’s the longest-running state fair in the country, and Fair Park has since been designated a National Historic Landmark.
How to Visit
The Texas State Fair is held at Fair Park in Dallas. Festivities begin the last Friday of September and run for a full 24 days. Before you start making your way to the fairgrounds, it’s crucial to prep for your day: Buy tickets and Food & Ride Coupons online, check out the daily schedule of events and performances, and familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t allowed at the fair. Also, take note that the Fair offers plenty of discounts to save on admission and food; check those out here.
What to See and Do
Texas has a rich, deep history when it comes to agriculture and livestock, so no visit to the State Fair is complete without getting an agricultural education. Go see the blue ribbon-winning steer and goats, check out the petting zoo, and experience the miracle of life at the Livestock Birthing Barn. The Texas State Fair is also the only U.S. fair that includes a full auto show; plus, you can enjoy live music at the Chevrolet Main Stage, visit the Creative Arts Building (don’t miss the Butter Sculpture!), soak up culture at the African American Museum, and shop for everything from farm equipment to jewelry.
There are plenty of rides and attractions to keep you busy for hours. The State Fair Midway features more than 70 rides including the Kidway, the Thrillway, and the iconic 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel. Note that State Fair Food & Ride Coupons are used to pay for all Midway rides—coupons are $0.50 each and can be purchased at various coupon booths scattered throughout the grounds. (You can also buy Food & Ride Coupons in advance, if you’d prefer.) Some rides not to miss: the Texas Skyway, a gondola ride that takes you above and through the Midway (with killer views of downtown Dallas!); the Ferris wheel; and the Top O’ Texas Tower, which takes you 500 feet into the air. For the younger crowd (and the non-thrill-seekers), the Dentzel Carousel is a must-ride classic; it’s been around since the early '50s.
What to Eat
As far as food goes, if you don’t try a Fletcher’s corn dog at the Texas State Fair, did you really experience the fair? Apart from the famed corn dogs, don’t be afraid to go hard on the fried food. (If you’re gonna rack up the calories, this is the place to do it!) Deep-fried Oreos, cheesecake, Twinkies, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are all on the menu. Wash it all down with a beer or glass of wine at the State Fair Wine Garden or Magnolia Beer Garden.
- Avoid the crowds by going to the fair on a weekday. (And if you really don’t like crowds, avoid the fair during the weekend of the Red River Rivalry, the football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin.)
- Wear comfy walking shoes! Your feet will thank you later.
- Print the daily schedule in advance.
- Use the online map to locate bathrooms, baby care centers, and more before you leave the house.
- Save money on tickets and coupons by taking advantage of special Fair discounts.
- If you don’t want to pay the hefty parking fee, take the DART train to the fair. Though, be warned, this will take much longer than driving your own car.
- Take a selfie with Big Tex, the giant cowboy statue who’s been the Fair’s official symbol since 1952 (and who is quite possibly the world’s tallest cowboy).