State Fair Of Texas
Photograph: Kevin BrownState Fair Of Texas

The best state fairs across the U.S.

Take in rides, adorable farm animals and live music at the best U.S. state fairs

Michele Herrmann

Those lucky enough to live close to a state fair know the appeal of these massive annual gatherings. Rooted in agricultural fairs, state fairs showcase not only farm animals, feats of skills and fun activities but just about everything that their destination has to offer visitors. These seasonal events draw in audiences to watch nostalgic performers and judging contests, and the most popular ones feature miles of exhilarating carnival rides and midway games, where it's impossible to go home without a (cumbersome) souvenir to lug around. Mark your calendars and make a plan to road trip or fly, the best state fairs in the U.S. are calling. 

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Best state fairs in America

1. California State Fair, Sacramento

Dates: July 12–28, 2024

Known for: Various culinary challenges and contests

The California State Fair includes a variety of events, including wiener dog races, a judged alpaca and llama dress-up pageant, a classic car show, and an exhibition of works by California photographers. The Golden State’s agricultural bounty is front and center, with cooking demos, beer and wine tastings, and fun competitions.

Parallel competitions center on California wines, olive oils, and cheeses plus homebrewing—but also watch the more old-school pie- or corn-dog-eating contests. Other offerings include musical and aerobatic performances, thoroughbred horse racing and the fair’s golden bear mascot, Poppy. Out at the Fair!, a celebration of LGBTQ+ pride and diversity, falls on July 20.

2. Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis

Dates: August 1–11, 2024

Known for: Their Original Cream Puffs and The Milk House

For over a decade, the Wisconsin State Fair has really put inventive food and drink on the map. Through a judging contest known as “Sporkies and Drinkies,” food and beverage vendors are encouraged to take their offerings to the next level. In turn, 2024 entries have resulted in orders like Cool Ranch Doritos Pickles, a Glazed Donut Coffee Float and Deep Fried Lemonade Bites.

A longtime favorite is the Original Cream Puff, a pastry that’s been sold at the fair for a century! And there’s even The Milk House, where for a dollar you can buy a glass of this ice-cold drink in various flavors! The fair also features agriculture demonstrations, with a main show ring and barns holding sheep, cattle, rabbits, poultry and goats. Another fair delight is the Saz’s Famous Racing Pigs, where you can cheer on your favorite swine.


3. Iowa State Fair, Des Moines

Dates: August 8–18, 2024

Known for: A Longtime Butter Cow Sculpture and Many “On-A-Stick” Foods

The Iowa State Fair is not only a longtime event—its inaugural year was in 1854—but it’s also inspired a novel, three movies and a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical. Along with competitions and grandstand shows, the fair has fun contests for adults and children, thrill rides for various ages, tournaments involving checkers, chess and cornhole, a spelling bee, and a cow chip throwing contest.

Eating is like a sport with the 2024 fair offering over 60 on-a-stick foods. Taste deep fried versions of brownies, cherry pie, Twinkies, pecan pie and meatballs, along with various corndogs (including a veggie one), peanut butter and chocolate covered treats. Gluten-free foods are available. And be sure to see the fair’s Butter Cow.

4. Tennessee State Fair, Lebanon

Dates: August 15–24, 2024

Known for: Made in Tennessee Building, showing what’s found amid various counties.

Also known as the Wilson County Fair, the Tennessee State Fair puts The Volunteer State front and center with a designated building showcasing all this state’s 95 counties with specialty exhibits.

Along with rides and competitions, other fair activities include a bike ride across Wilson County, Farm to Table Dinner, live music across eight stages, livestock shows, a honey show, an antique car show, skill demonstrations, recycled garden art, home brewing and even a husband calling competition. The Made in Tennessee Building showcases all of the state’s 95 counties with special exhibits featuring items from each of them.



5. The Great New York State Fair, Syracuse

Dates: August 21–September 2, 2024

Known for: Interesting fair foods and agricultural competitions

With a history dating back to 1841, The Great New York State Fair offers 13 days of splendor with entertainment (2024 welcomes NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Backstreet Boys’ AJ McLean and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, among others). Agricultural competitions involve livestock, antique tractors, and amateur wine-making (yes, really). Along with carnival games and rides, fairgoers can try fried alligator and milky buns or a wine slushy made from Finger Lakes wineries.

Stages at Chevy Court and Suburban Park host various concerts and daily fair parades honor various marchers. Among its different themed days, The Great New York State Fair will have a Pride Day, taking place Friday, August 23.

6. Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul

Dates: August 22–September 2, 2024

Known for: An amateur talent show contest and having one of North America’s tallest traveling Ferris wheel

Nicknamed “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” this 170-year-old state fair offers a wide range of activities, from large-scale entertainment to educational exhibits. Its 2024 Grandstand Concert Series features top acts like Chance the Rapper, Blake Shelton, Ludacris, and T-Pain, while the MSF Amateur Talent Contest promotes the state’s next top talent. Educational booths give lessons on state history, agriculture and healthy eating.

Some rides have been longtime staples, such as the Space Tower and SkyGlider, but the 15-story-tall The Great Big Wheel offers amazing views of the fair from 156 feet above.


7. Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island

Dates: August 23–September 2, 2024

Known for: A “State Fair Beer”; amazing animal viewing experiences

The Nebraska State Fair existed before Nebraska was even a state, as a three-day territory fair in 1859. Since then, this fair has grown to encompass indoor and outdoor concerts (with 2024’s list including Yung Gravy) along with a bull riding tour, a battle of bands, and wildlife encounters.

This year’s schedule also includes a Nebraska Demolition Derby Championship and a Drone Show, with many devices creating a major light display. Every year, a different Nebraska brewery creates a special state fair brew, and a rotating schedule of singers perform the National Anthem. Marvel at baby animals at the Birthing Pavilion, a facility featuring private vet-guided tours and perhaps the opportunity to hold newborns.

8. The Big E, West Springfield, Massachusetts

Dates: September 13–29, 2024

Known for: Avenue of the States, which holds replicas of each New England state’s statehouse

This beloved multi-state fair encourages visitors to set foot in all six New England states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut—in one day. Inside their state houses along the Avenue of the States, find Maine lobster rolls, Rhode Island clam cakes, Connecticut craft beers, Vermont cheddars and New Hampshire maple syrup.

The Big E also has a daily circus, concerts, theme days and a Mardi Gras Reveler Experience celebrates New Orleans up north. A farmers market presents New England wines, ciders and cheeses, while the Storrowton Village Museum recreates New England living from two and three centuries ago, and the Dingle Peninsula Showcase highlights many facets of Ireland.


9. State Fair Of Texas, Dallas

Dates: September 27–October 20, 2024

Known for: Culinary competitions and attractions such as Dinosaurs at the Lagoon and the All-Star Stunt Dog Show

The old saying that “everything is big in Texas'' even applies to the State Fair of Texas. This 24-day fair showcases not only attractions and performances but also local talent with pre-fair entry arts and crafts and cooking contests. Culinary cook-offs will have selected participants bringing their A-game to making cakes, pies, cobblers and cookies.

With fair food, the Big Tex Choice Awards narrows down new and unique, sweet and savory additions each year. 2024 contenders extend to an Oktoberfest Pizza, Fat Bacon Pickle Fries and Caramel Macchiato Fritters. Along with a rodeo and petting zoo and pig races, Dinosaurs at the Lagoon has life-sized replicas of dinosaurs found in Texas and All-Star Stunt Dog Show makes you want to cheer on these canine contestants.

10. N.C. State Fair, Raleigh

Dates: October 17–27, 2024

Known for: Got to Be NC Agricultural Pavilion and a State Fair Ark, which shows off farm animals bred in the state

This 11-day fall fair is jam-packed with events—a flower and garden show, livestock shows, nightly fireworks, blue ribbon competitions, carnival rides, and educational exhibits. Learn about the state’s forestland at the N.C. Forest Service and dairy farming at the Mobile Dairy Classroom. Youngsters can wander through a miniature farm while adults can check out a selection of North Carolina breweries, wineries and craft soda makers at NC Public House.

The Got to Be NC Agricultural Pavilion also shows off what’s produced locally and the Village of Yesterday presents local craftspeople. All ages will enjoy over-the-top fair foods, with choices ranging from brisket and waffles on a stick to fried cheese curds and dill pickle donuts.

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