13 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your State Fair Visit This Year

Big Tex

by Amanda Smiley

Folks, corny dog season has come upon us once again. The State Fair of Texas starts Friday, and for those of you making that annual commute to Dallas, we did a little investigating to find out how you can make the most of your visit and experience all the best rides, food and live shows. 

Admissions Tricks

Admission is available through season passes, combo packs or a general admission ticket. Before you buy tickets, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. The prices online and at the ticket booth are different.

For those who like to plan ahead, know that online prices differ from ticket booth prices. General admission tickets, for example, are slightly cheaper online ($16.50 online vs. $18 at the booth). The official State Fair website and the ticket booth aren’t the only places to buy tickets, though, so before you buy from the fair directly, it’s smart to be in the know of the alternate ways to purchase tickets and get discounts. 

2. If you want a season pass, get it from Kroger.

Local Krogers are selling general admission tickets for the same price as the State Fair’s website. But if you want a season pass — because one day is not nearly enough time to see everything there is to see at the fair — get it from Kroger. Season passes are $39 at the store but $45 at the park.

3. Three things that can get you discounts: Dasani, Dr. Pepper and McDonald's.

If you go on opening day, bring a full Dasani water bottle (or any 20-ounce Coca-Cola product) for half-price tickets — full, because it will be going to the North Texas Food Bank. On other days, an empty bottle of Dr. Pepper will get you a general admission ticket for half price after 5 p.m.

The other place to go: McDonald’s. Coupons to the fair are on tray liners and bag stuffers at McDonald’s locations across North Texas. Bring those coupons to the fair to get $5 off a general admission ticket or a half-priced children’s ticket.

4. Check online for other discounts that may be available on the day you visit.

The fair offers more specific discounts for opening day and select Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There are Senior Days too, when those “60 years and better” can get in for free. Check the fair’s website for more info.

Parking Tips

5. Self park or valet?

The State Fair offers four places to park along South Fitzhugh and South Haskell avenues, and the lot west of Fitzhugh has free tram service. Parking is first come, first serve and $15 per space at official State Fair lots. And while staff is usually helpful in directing visitors to empty spots, you have the option to save some trouble and valet for $30 near Music Hall at Fair Park.

Parking gates open at 7 a.m. each day. See here for a parking map.

The Eats

The State Fair has always produced some of the wildest food combinations, with a frying game unlike any other. While it would be remiss to not go for the proverbial Fletcher’s corny dog, here are are few other food recommendations to try this year.

6. Try something new.

The food lineup still offers favorites like fried cream, beer and oreos; but the fair also has new specialty items this year, like Corn Dog Ale (an amber ale that combines caramel and smoked malts to recreate the aroma and taste of a corn dog — served with mustard). Also, try mini sopapillas stuffed with strawberry cream cheese and bacon brittle — yes. Bacon in brittle form.

7. Try a winner.

The Big Tex Choice Awards named the following eats winners of this year’s fried food competition: Fernie’s Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce by the Winter Family Concessions for Best-Taste Savory; Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) by the Garza Family for Best-Taste Sweet; and the Cotton Candy Taco by Justin and Rudy Martinez for Most Creative.

8. Come thirsty, too.

For drinks, visit the State Fair Wine Garden between the GOTEXAN Pavilion & Pan Am Arena, where guests can taste wine by the sip, glass or bottle. The wine garden hosts three different wineries each day to showcase specialty wines and talk about their perfected pours. See the fair’s website for a full schedule of winery visits for the season. 

Festivities For All

There are actually other things to do at the State Fair besides eat, okay?

9. See a bird’s-eye view of the Metroplex.

The Texas State Fair has over 70 rides in its Midway, including the Sparkletts Log Flume and the 1950s Dentzel Carousel. The 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel offers great views of the fair, but don’t skip on the Top o’ Texas Tower — a slow ride up a 500-foot tower that provides a sweeping view of Dallas and even parts of Arlington and Fort Worth. And, it’s air-conditioned.

10. Get on a new ride.

The fair has three new rides this year: the Orbiter (a spinning and swinging thrill ride), the Haunted Castle (which the fair dubs as “a little scary”) and Airmaxx (a ride that starts with slow swings and increases to 55 mph to send riders through a complete, 360-degree turn).

11. Stake out the best spot for the parade and fireworks.

Each night, the Starlight Parade starts at 7:15 p.m., and Mattress Firm Illumination Sensation fireworks show follows at 8 p.m. For great views of both, your best bet is to come early and sit along Grand Avenue near the Esplanade between the Centennial and Automotive buildings, just northeast of Big Tex.

12. Stay late for the concerts.

The fair offers live music, too. The Chevrolet and Bud Light stages will host popular artists like Ludacris, Aaron Watson and Hunter Hayes. Keep an eye on the fair’s website for dates.

13. And everything else…

We could go on about the vendors, the cars at the Texas Auto Show, the live animal barns — in short, the fair has over 100 things to do each day. So, if you’re a bit overwhelmed, BigTex.com has guided itineraries if you want some help prioritizing your activities.