The Top 10 Things You Can’t Miss at the State Fair of Texas
For a little over three weeks in the fall, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that nearly everyone in Texas will try to pay at least one visit to Fair Park in East Dallas. That’s where the State Fair of Texas sets up (in 2018, it’s open Sept. 28-Oct. 21), and the traditions have been going strong for more than 130 years.
Whether you’re a seasoned State Fair pro or a fresh-faced first-timer, here are 10 things you shouldn’t miss.
1.Take a selfie with Big Tex.
His booming “Howdy, folks!” is nearly as iconic as cotton candy and Midway rides. The 55-foot-tall cowboy has been welcoming fairgoers since 1952 — thanks to an electrical fire in 2012, the new-and-improved Big Tex is even bigger than before, now decked out in size 96 Lucchese boots and a 95-gallon hat. You might even recognize Big Tex from the 1962 film remake of the musical “State Fair.”
2. Eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog.
Yes, that “y” at the end is important — it’s how you know you have an authentic, history-making Fair treat. Fletcher’s has been selling its trademark hot dog-on-a-stick, which is encased in a top-secret cornmeal crust, since 1942. In recent years the popular vendor has expanded to include veggie dogs and a new Cheezy Pup (filled with melted American cheese instead of the hot dog), but many claim it’s just not a visit to the Fair without a Fletcher’s Corny Dog.
3. Sample the fried food finalists.
As long as we’re talking appetite, save some space on your taste buds for the State Fair of Texas Big Tex Choice Awards finalists. This yearly competition for the most creative Fair fare is fierce, with local restauranteurs and amateur chefs spending all year cooking up crazy ideas. You name it (beer, Oreos, ranch dressing), and they’ve probably fried it. This year’s winner is the Cotton Candy Taco, a chocolate, marshmallow, and spun sugar concoction stuffed into a graham cracker waffle cone shell.
4. Attend a concert.
Your ticket to the State Fair also includes admission to that day’s concert(s), which span national and regional acts and this year include such big names as Ludacris, Hunter Hayes, The Molly Ringwalds, and even an Elvis tribute performance. All told, there are more than 75 different headliners to enjoy over 24 days.
5. Ride the Ferris wheel.
For nearly its first 30 years, the Texas Star was the tallest Ferris wheel in North America; today, it’s still the tallest in Texas. No wonder it’s the most popular ride at the Fair, with visitors clamoring to soar 212 feet in the air and get a bird’s-eye view of downtown Dallas. At night, the Texas Star is lit up with 16,000 red, white, and blue LED lights.
6. Let the parade pass you by.
Each night at 7:15, more than 10 Texas-themed floats make their way through the fairgrounds. They’re accompanied by lively music and joined by costumed characters, historic parade wagons, and stilt walkers.
7. See the Cotton Bowl.
Right in the middle of Fair Park is a legendary stadium where some of the area’s biggest college football games are played. More than 92,000 fans can cheer on their team, whether it’s for the Red River Showdown (Texas versus Oklahoma), State Fair Classic (Prairie View A&M versus Grambling State), or several post-season NCAA bowl games.
8. Cheer on the pig races.
The agricultural and livestock element is a huge part of the Fair, with more than 5,200 students participating each year in youth events and leadership contests. Besides finding cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, chickens, and even llamas in the barns, you can also enjoy a different sort of display in the Pan Am Arena. Dressed in fetching racing silks, piglets race around the track (or sometimes don’t, it depends on their mood) while fairgoers cheer from the stands.
9. Enjoy the light show.
The Esplanade reflecting pool comes alive each night at 8PM, when the Mattress Firm Illumination Sensation begins. This water and laser show features sparkling fireworks, liquid-fire fountains, dancing waters, and colorful music.
10. Get behind the wheel.
Car-lovers convene at the largest new-car auto show in the Southwest, which brings roughly 400 of the latest models to the Fair. The Texas Auto Show has been wowing four-wheel fanatics since 1913, and besides sitting in the driver’s seat you can also enjoy fun interactives and live entertainment.