Some state fairs are known for their 4-H competitions and others for their deep-fried food. The fact is that, like the states they represent, summer fairs are unique and distinct depending on where they're found (so some naturally rise to the top of the list).
No matter what or where, state fairs should be on your annual family outings list—especially if you're raising city kids. Where else can the kids pet a goat, and eat batter-dipped, deep-fried Twinkies on a stick while riding a ferris wheel?
Here's a list of our favorites along with a few tips for getting the most out of your family trip to the state fair.
1. State Fair of Texas
With 24 consecutive days of state fair fun, Texas' annual summer event is not only the longest-running fair in the nation, it's also one of the largest. Unsurprisingly, the cook-offs are among the best in the country, with locals competing to create the best Tex-Mex chili, BBQ and also dishes made with Spam. Check out Little Hands on the Farm, where kids can learn about how food gets from farm to table.
Tip: Big fairs mean lots of people. Put a plan in place in case anyone in your family becomes separated. Make sure your kids know where and how to find help if they need it. Many fairs also offer identification bracelets for kids as well.
2. Minnesota State Fair
From alligator sausage and macaroni and cheese to deep fried s'mores and mochas, you can find almost anything served on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. Though food is one of the fair's highlights, families should make sure they visit the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, the most popular free exhibit on the fairgrounds. This agricultural education exhibit is the birthplace of nearly 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets every year.
Tip: With so many food options to choose from, it's easy to overeat. Always order a small quantity of a menu item and share it among everyone in the family. If you're still hungry, order something else afterward.
It wouldn't be Kentucky without some quality country and bluegrass music, and the state's annual fair definitely delivers. Nearly non-stop entertainment is one of the event's most popular attractions, and the Main Stage Concert Series has drawn a number of big names, including Rascal Flatts and Journey. One section of the fair is dedicated to activities and entertainers just for kids.
Tip: If there are specific events or concerts you'd like to attend, find out in advance if you need to buy or reserve tickets.
4. Iowa State Fair
No trip to the Iowa State Fair is complete without seeing the famous butter cow, a life-sized bovine sculpted from 600 pounds of butter—an annual tradition since 1911. For kids 10 and under, check out the Blue Ribbon Kids Club with lots of hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes fair tours.
Tip: It's nearly impossible to fit everything in during a trip to the fair, so figure out in advance what people most want to do and see. With a plan, you can be more strategic if you have limited time.
5. North Carolina State Fair
This fair's Field of Dreams is a miniature farm where adults and kids alike can pick their own crops and learn about how this produce is turned into everyday staples. Kids can then "sell" their harvest at the Field of Dreams Farmers Market to earn fair money that can be spent at the Field of Dreams Grocery Store.
Tip: Though some events and entertainment at state fairs have an additional cost beyond an admission fee, it is very easy to fill a day with free programming. Seek out family-friendly shows, concerts and diversions and enjoy a day that doesn't break the bank.
6. Arizona State Fair
What started out as a small, six-day event in 1884 has turned into a bustling 18-day celebration of the Southwest. Among its most notable features are more than 75 rides, including thrill rides like Mach 1, G Force and Mega Drop. Not to worry: There are plenty of rides for the little ones too.
Tip: Spending the entire day on rides can be costly, but pick a couple to try as a family. It isn't a full-circle fair experience without at least a few loops on a roller coaster or spinning wheel.
If ever there was a kid-friendly fair, this would be it. About half of California State Fair attendees are children, and approximately 75 free activities are available just for them. In addition to agricultural exhibits, there are a number of science- and art-related stations. Adults may want to check out the horse races and brew fest.
Tip: There are a lot of things to spend money on at the fair, so set a budget. If your kids are old enough, give them each some money to spend on their own. Check for discounts before leaving home.
8. Ohio State Fair
From the Old Familiar Beard and Moustache Competition and the LEGO Train Club display to one of the world's longest sky rides, there are things at the Ohio State Fair that can't be found anywhere else. It also has one of the largest junior shows in the nation and a section called Kiddieland with rides and attractions specifically for young children.
Tip: Instead of wandering around aimlessly, get a map and get oriented. Also take a peek at the daily schedule of events so you don't miss anything you really want to see or experience.
9. Great New York State Fair
This Syracuse-based annual event is known for its Wine Village, where dozens of wineries from around the state offer tastings and compete for top prizes. You can carry your drink with you to one of the best midways in the country, which has lots of rides and games, a petting zoo and a rain forest exhibit.
Tip: Scout out the parking situation in advance. Some communities offer park-and-ride locations, which are more convenient than fighting for a parking spot on the fairgrounds.
Celebrating heritage and culture from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, The Big E has a number of fair traditions, including the Eastern States Exposition Horse Show and a daily Mardi Gras Parade. Stop by the Big E Circus Spectacular, which features new acts each year.
Tip: With all their attractions and visitors, state fairs can feel overwhelming. You don't have to do or see it all. Don't forget the reason you're visiting is simply to have fun and make memories with your family. At the end of the day, that is what is most important.