You know it's State Fair of Texas time when Big Tex is set into position at the north end of the Midway in Dallas. The Fair opens Friday, September 29. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com
You know it's State Fair of Texas time when Big Tex is set into position at the north end of the Midway in Dallas. The Fair opens Friday, September 29. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Things to Do

First time at the State Fair of Texas? Here’s what you need know

By Courtney Ortega

cortega@star-telegram.com

September 26, 2017 10:10 AM

UPDATED September 27, 2017 01:30 PM

The State Fair of Texas kicks off this weekend and if you’re a first-timer planning your inaugural trip to the mecca of fried food and carnival rides, it can be a pretty overwhelming experience.

When should you go? What should you eat? Is the Texas Star ferris wheel really worth 16 coupons?

To help answer those burning questions and more, we put together a first-timer’s guide to the State Fair of Texas that covers what to eat, what to ride, what to see and everything else in between.

What to eat

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Fletcher’s Corny Dogs

If we could only recommend one fair food for you to try, there’s no question it would be Fletcher’s Corny Dogs. A staple of the State Fair of Texas since 1942, Fletcher’s sells more than 600,000 corny dogs each year during the fair’s 24-day run.

Notable figures like Julia Child, Oprah and Mikhail Gorbachev have all sampled the batter-dipped sausage on a stick. Whether you go for the original or opt for the jalapeño-cheese version, just don’t forget to wash it all down with a cold cup of lemonade.

Funnel Cake Queso Bacon Burger

New to the fair this year, fairgoers won’t want to miss the chance to sink their teeth into the Funnel Cake Queso Bacon Burger. The calorie-riddled creation, which took home Big Tex Choice Award honors for Best Taste Savory and Most Creative, features a beef patty with crispy bacon and nacho cheese-style queso sandwiched between two funnel cake buns dusted with powdered sugar.

Sutton’s Salt Water Taffy

It made not be fried or come on a stick, but that doesn’t stop Sutton’s Salt Water Taffy from being one of the most popular items at the State Fair of Texas each year.

Fairgoers can watch the taffy-making process through observation windows as flavors like vanilla, black walnut and even jalapeño are pulled, cut and then wrapped in individual wrappers for purchase. Buy one box (or two) for a fair treat you can enjoy long after Big Tex has packed up his bags and gone home.

The 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel was built in Italy.
Kevin Brown State Fair of Texas

What to ride

Texas Star ferris wheel

Everything is bigger in Texas and that includes our ferris wheels too. Built in Italy, the 212-foot Texas Star has been delighting fairgoers with its breathtaking views of Dallas-Fort Worth for over three decades. While the experience will set you back 16 coupons and the wait time can be lengthy, it’s well worth it for a ride on one of the tallest ferris wheels in the United States.

Swan Boats

Not a fan of fast-moving carnival rides? Then maybe you’d enjoy something more slow-paced like a trip around Leonhardt Lagoon on one of Fair Park’s iconic Swan Boats.

The pedal-powered vessels not only offer some of the most Instagram-worthy views of the fair, but they also provide a way for fairgoers to burn a few extra calories in between binging on fried food. Cost is $10 for first ride, then $5 after for the same group.

Grammy Award winner Maren Morris will peform as part of the State Fair of Texas’ Chevrolet Main Stage concert series.
Star-Telegram archives

What to see

Chevrolet Main Stage Concert Series

Just because you go to the fair, it doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money to be entertained. Among the free attractions and entertainment is the annual Chevrolet Main Stage Concert Series.

This year’s concert series features 75 different headliners and regional musicians, including Grammy Award winner Maren Morris, rapper Flo Rida and Texas Country artist Pat Green.

Hall of State

Speaking of free, don’t forget to add the Hall of State to your list of things to see during your visit to the State Fair of Texas. Located on the Esplanade across from the fair’s main entrance, the historic Fair Park building is home to beautiful Art Deco designs and multiple free exhibits.

On view this year is a commemorative World War I exhibit called “Texas in the First World War” and “Drawing Power: The Editorial Art of John Knott,” an exhibit highlighting the 52-year career of Dallas Morning News cartoonist John Knott.

Starlight Parade

Skip the daytime visit and plan an evening excursion to the State Fair of Texas to catch a glimpse of the Starlight Parade. The nightly procession kicks off at 7:15 p.m. at the Children’s Aquarium and winds it way through the fairgrounds with more than 15 illuminated floats, a live band, costumed characters and more.

The Starlight Parade is a nightly, illuminated parade that takes place throughout the grounds of the State Fair of Texas.
Kevin Brown State Fair of Texas

Other things to know

When to go

Weekends tend to be the busiest time for the State Fair of Texas, which makes weekday trips your best bet for avoiding long lines and large crowds.

Fairgoers can also expect high attendance on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20 for Dallas ISD fair days, as well as Oct. 14, when students and alumni from the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma converge on Fair Park for the AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl.

Where to park

Parking at the fair can be a major headache, regardless if you’ve been before or not. So it’s important to know what your options are before you get there.

First time fairgoers can expect to find plenty of parking options off-site, as many nearby residents turn their front and back yards into makeshift lots. However, those lots often come with security concerns and a long walk to and from the fairgrounds.

If you do come by car, your best bet is self parking on-site in one of the State Fair of Texas-designated lots for $15 or (if you’re willing to splurge) valeting for $30. Whichever you decide to do, make sure to bring cash.

Those who want to avoid paying a parking fee completely can ride the DART directly to the front gate of Fair Park.

Discounts, discounts, discounts

If there’s one valuable piece of advice you can take away from this list, it’s never pay full-price for admission.

The State Fair of Texas website offers multiple ways for fairgoers to score steep discounts on general admission, which costs $14-$18 when purchased at the gate. Most promotions are day-specific, so you’ll want to make sure and plan ahead.

For discounted admission any day of the week, purchase your tickets beforehand at your local Kroger or online at https://bigtex.com.