Fairs have been part of American life for over 200 years. Originally centered around agriculture, fairs still usually include displays of livestock, farming equipment, and baking contests. But now, they also include games, rides, and more fried food than you could possibly eat.
Specific events will vary from place to place, but no matter where you live, don’t miss these fun features!
1. Take in the livestock show
Most fairs have a livestock component, whether it’s a competition or a sale. Farmers bring their chicken, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and even llamas and alpacas to be sized up against the rest. Spectators can learn about what makes a goat great!
2. Participate in a cultural exchange
Many local fairs pay tribute to the unique cultures that make up their communities. Take the opportunity to learn about the heritage of your Native American, Latino, African-American, and European neighbors through music and dance performances.
3. Play some games
Some are harder to win than others, but it’s always fun to play a couple of fair games. Watch some YouTube videos before you go for tips on how to win common games like the ring toss and Whack-a-Mole!
4. Visit the bake-off or cook-off
A fair isn’t a fair without the best cooks in town vying for the blue ribbon. Pies, cakes, cookies? Jams and jellies? Chili or BBQ? Home-brewed beer or wine? Whatever they’re cooking up at your local fair, make it your mission to get there and try some!
5. Support the kids
It’s not only the grannies that get involved in fair competitions. Many have youth competitions as well. Stop by to provide your support! Today’s amateur model builder could be the next Frank Lloyd Wright.
6. Make photo-booth memories
Yes, you can take pictures on your phone. But there’s nothing like walking away with an old-fashioned strip of photos of you and your friends.
7. Take in the live music
Live music is always a part of a good fair. And some fairs can attract big names! But even if your local fair isn’t bringing in Beyoncé, there will still be music to enjoy. Make sure to drop by to encourage your local musicians and hit the dance floor.
8. Check out the art & craft exhibits
It’s not all quilts and needlepoint at the modern fair (although they’re certainly present). These days, fair exhibits can include woodwork, photography, ceramics, pottery, painting, and more! Make time to wander around to see how talented your neighbors are.
9. Go for a ride
They may not be roller coasters, but the rides at fairs have a charm all their own. How long can you handle hurtling around the Sizzler at top speed?
10. Try the fair food
The fair is great, but we all know that walking around in the heat can build up a mighty appetite. Fortunately, fair food is always available. If it can be fried, you’ll probably find it at the fair. You can count on the old standbys like corn dogs and funnel cakes. But look out for newcomers to the scene, like fried Thai sticky rice balls or dessert nachos! Just make sure to go on the rides first.
11. Take in the local skills
Fairs take competitions to the next level. How about watching someone create a live-sized cow sculpture entirely out of butter? Or build a sandcastle fit for a king? Other competitions are on the silly side, like rubber chicken tossing in Iowa or cow impressions in Wisconsin. But whether they’re silly or serious, they’re a lot of fun to watch.
12. Ogle the car show
A lot of state fairs will host a classic car show. Wander around and feast your eyes on these lovingly-restored beauties.
13. Get hands-on at the petting zoo
Observing the livestock is one thing, but getting up close and personal is more fun! Bring kids to the petting zoo to let them feed and touch the animals.
14. Check out the farm equipment
Unless you’re a farmer, how often do you get to ride on a tractor? Local fairs often include a display of farm equipment over the years. See how farming has evolved since the days of ox-pulled plows!
15. View the vegetables
Who can sprout the biggest squash? Check out the biggest and best fruits and veggies the local farmers can provide! The biggest zucchini on record was over 8 feet long. Think your hometown can do better?
16. Support the troops
Branches of the military often make an appearance at local fairs. They may set up booths to share local military history, and some may even bring in tanks or planes that you can see from the inside.
17. Cool off with a beer
Enjoy the local flavor with a beer from a neighborhood brewery. With the explosion of craft brewing over the past 20 years, there are more options than ever! Some fairs will have a whole beer tent, devoted to this brewed beverage.
18. Get a souvenir at the auction
Many local fairs include an auction component, selling hand-crafted goods and antiques. Get your paddle ready and pick up some treasures to take home.
19. Make a night visit
Most of the scheduled activities will take place during the day, but try to stay until after dark. The carnival lights make for a festive atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else!
20. Frequent the flower show
It’s not all veggies at the fair. Some include a competition for who can grow the biggest and flashiest flowers. Wander around a colorful profusion of blooms to see which is your favorite.
Local, state, and county fairs are a time-honored tradition. Plus, they’re a fun way to connect with your community in person. Get your dose of Americana this summer by visiting one in your area!