Who can forget the scene in Charlotte’s Web where the animals visit the fair? Sure, the whole talking animals, noble spider, sensitive pig angle was great, but what really grabs the imagination about this scene is the way E.B White captures the glitter and the grease of a classic country fair, a scene that’s changed very little in the 55 years since the book was published.
State fairs celebrate agriculture with livestock exhibits, cooking contests, and tractor pulls. If you’re hoping to introduce your kids to life beyond the playground, this is the way to do it: spend a day gorging on cotton candy, screaming yourself hoarse on rides, and winning big at the midway at one of these fabulous fairs.
Delaware State Fair, Harrington, July 17 – 26
Every day, the Delaware State Fair spotlights an outstanding young citizen in its “All Star Youth” program. And yours will find plenty to love here, with a Kiddieland featuring a classic carousel and kids’ rides, family classics like the Tilt A Whirl and Scrambler, and contests in Lego building, K’nex construction, gingerbread house decorating and horseshoe pitching.
Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, August 7 – 17
The Iowa State Fair is legendary, boasting over 30 foods on a stick. Even those who have mastered a fork will find lots to do here, from taking in free performances by Bob the Builder, participating in the “Little Hands on the Farm” program, which allows kids under 10 to collect farm products to barter for free ice cream and fruit, to visiting a cow carved out of butter – a century-long tradition. Kids under 10 can join the Blue Ribbon Kids Club, which gives members access to behind the scenes exhibits on everything from swine production to monarch butterflies.
Wyoming State Fair, Douglas, August 9 – 16
If you’re looking for local flavor, you’ll find it at the Wyoming State Fair, which features several rodeos, a Pioneer Museum, and a “pigs ‘n’ mud wresting” event. City slickers will enjoy the rubber ducky races and Demolition Derby.
California State Fair, Sacramento, August 15 – September 1
Hollywood, the Bay Area and the Salad Bowl of America are all represented at the California State Fair, which blends regional offerings like the “Going Hollywood” exhibit, open casting calls, and “Grape and Gourmet” tastings with old-fashioned delights like horse racing, talent contests, and live music by the Doodlebops and Vanessa Hudgens.
Minnesota State Fair, Minneapolis/St. Paul, August 21 – September 1
This all-American fair features a daily parade, 4H and FFA competitions, a midway, and a Little Farm Hands exhibit that allows kids under 12 to earn “money” at a mock farm to spend on local products at the attached grocery. One of the largest state fairs in the country, it’s also home to macaroni and cheese on a stick. Templeton would love it.
New York State Fair, Syracuse, August 21 – September 1
When you think “New York,” livestock shows and butter sculptures may not spring to mind, but this fair will remind you that Manhattan isn’t New York. At 162 years old, this fair celebrates state history with Iroquois and Pan-African villages, both offering native foods and crafts. Kids can visit a petting zoo featuring farmyard animals as well as elephants, zebras, and a giraffe; Kids’ Fest offers clowns, trapeze artists, and animal rides.
While none of these fairs can promise literate spiders or sensitive pigs, they all offer a slice of Americana too good to miss. And the food on a stick isn’t bad, either.