As we eagerly await the start of the Great Minnesota Get-Together (now only 10 days away!), we decided to take a look at some of the other state fairs put on across the country each summer. While we don’t think any of them can quite live up to our beloved fair, we’re certainly willing to learn a bit more about their histories and traditions. So whether you’re planning a road trip to hit up the best of the best this year, or if you’re just curious about your fellow Americans’ fave foods-on-a-stick, take a look at our list of the best state fairs in the U.S.:
1. Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul, Aug. 25-Sept. 5, 2016)
Most Daily Visitors
Okay, so we might be a bit biased here, but we do have the facts and awards to back us up! As the most attended state fair on a daily basis (the fairgrounds see an average of 150,000 people per day), we definitely have a claim to greatness. Not to mention the record-setting 1.8 million+ total visitors we had in 2014 – that’s pretty impressive, don’t’cha think? With all-you-can drink milk, cheese curds as far as the eye can see, and big name Grandstand acts (Aretha Franklin and the Backstreet Boys have performed recently), it’s pretty easy to see why USA Today readers named the Minnesota State Fair best in the country!
2. State Fair of Texas (Dallas, Sept. 30-Oct. 23, 2016)
Most Annual Visitors
Now in its 130th year, the Lone Star State’s annual celebration is the most attended state fair countrywide. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest draws is the endless selection of deep-fried food on a stick (this is the original home of fried butter, after all). But Texas standbys such as corny dogs and Frito pies are top sellers too. Contenders for this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards even include bacon-wrapped Churros and deep-fried Jello. Another sure-to-be fan favorite? The 75 main stage shows, which are all free (with fair admission). That’s right, F-R-E-E. This year’s headliners include Kacey Musgraves and Nelly. If that’s not a big enough attraction for you, then take a gander at Big Tex. The fair’s familiar mascot is 55 feet tall and wears size 96 cowboy boots! The only way you’d be taller than him is by taking a ride on the Texas State Ferris Wheel, which soars 212 feet into the sky (and is the tallest in North America). We guess everything really is bigger in Texas!
3. Alaska State Fair (Palmer, Aug. 25-Sept. 5, 2016)
Most Impressive Produce
Like Minnesotans, Alaskans experience cold much of the year, so they have made warm-weather fun a priority – and a specialty! Locals love the state fair (almost as much as Minnesotans love ours), which is held in Palmer, a city about an hour north of Anchorage. Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, the fair is famous for the massive produce seen in competition each year. Past highlights include a 138-lb. cabbage, a 168-lb. watermelon, and an (almost unbelievable) 1,287-lb. pumpkin. Besides producing award-winners, the fair knows how to receive some recognition itself. In 2012, it was named one of the country’s best state fairs by Country Living magazine and, in 2014, it was named one of the nation’s top 20 events and festivals by Top Events USA.
4. Iowa State Fair (Des Moines, Aug. 11-21, 2016)
Most Epic Butter Sculpture
The Minnesota State Fair may be known for its Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculptures, but Iowa could just have us beat with their (nearly) life-size butter cow. Each year, a local sculptor creates a 600-lb. cow out of pure Iowan butter that’s then displayed in the fairground’s Agriculture Building. This tradition dates back 105 years, all the way to 1911. Over the years, the cow has been accompanied by other famous faces including Elvis, Superman, and Harry Potter! Another claim to fame for the fair is that it served as the inspiration for the many retellings of the now-classic State Fair, including the original novel, three motion pictures, and a Broadway musical. Speaking of literature, the fair is featured in the highly trusted travel book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, as well as its follow-up, 1000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die. It’s easy to see why the Iowa State Fair has received so much notoriety. With over 70 foods available on-a-stick, including animal-themed Monkey Tails (chocolate-dipped bananas) and Unicorn Lollipops, the fair has more than earned its motto of “Nothing compares!”
5. Great New York State Fair (Syracuse, Aug. 25-Sept.5, 2016)
Most Years in Existence
Not to be confused with any New York fairs of lesser quality, The Great New York State Fair, is the country’s oldest, having been around since 1841. In 2001, an unprecedented 1,011,248 fairgoers ventured up to the Empire State for the fair (and it still holds the overall attendance record)! The single-day record was set on Labor Day in 2014, with a whopping 122,870 visitors. In 2015, the state thought it was high time to revitalize the fair, which led to a $50 million redevelopment project initiated by Governor Andrew Cuomo. New features include an improved Midway, a restored park in the Historic Quad, and an RV parking area. With only 10 days to the beginning of this year’s fair, guests are surely eager to see all the improvements! Fairgoers are also looking forward to Taste NY, an event held in the Horticulture building, that links consumers to the best products grown and made right in New York state through free samples of food and beverage, and face-to-face meetings with the artisans behind the fair’s homemade fare.
Which state fair are you looking forward to most this year? What’s your favorite state fair tradition? Let us know in the comments!