The State Fair of Texas is the biggest State Fair in the U.S. and can be intimidating to a Mom with multiple young kids in tow. After all, it’s almost 300 acres big, has tons of rides and games, offers several free shows throughout the day, attracts loads of people, is usually *HOT* (this is Texas, after all) – in a nutshell: total chaos. In fact, I never even considered taking my little ones to the Fair until a friend of mine told me how much fun her 1 year old had had on their visit. So, my husband and I packed up our kids last year (then just turned 3 and just turned 1) and headed down to Fair Park to check it out … and had a blast. But we learned some lessons, that I’m now passing on to you.
Read on for tips from hints ranging from where to park to which are the best shows for kids to enjoy, and prepare yourself for a fun, if exhausting, day. (Case in point illustrated right: by the time we saw Big Tex last year, my 1 yr old had fallen asleep in the stroller and my 3 yr old refused to take any more pictures.)
Basics: When to Go, Where to Park, DART – Really?
Going to the State Fair on a weekend is to be avoided at all costs. Sorry, but it’s true. If you’re managing strollers, wandering toddlers, multiple age kids, save yourself a lot of stress and go during the week. I actually made my husband take a day off of work to go. We ended up choosing a Friday that was High School Day, so we didn’t fully benefit from the mid-week traffic but it was still better than a crazy weekend.
Map your visit. There is so much to see and do at the Fair. You will want to spend a bit of time planning out what you want to see before you go. It’s not Disney World – where weeks of planning can make or break your trip – but I promise, 10 minutes spent beforehand will save you 5X that if you find yourself trying to figure things out while in the midst of crowds with kids who need a snack or a diaper change. You can link to a State Fair map here, or just keep reading for one Mom’s (mine!) suggestions of what not to miss. One great feature of the map is that they have Baby Care Centers identified so you always know where the closest changing table is. (Baby Care Centers are sponsored by locally owned brand Huggies.)
Where to park. This depends on what you plan to visit and why mapping is so essential to pre-planning your trip. In general, I’ve found that you do better by parking to enter in Gate 1, which is closer to the areas where many of the kids attractions are set up. Please note: if you park to enter through Gates 7-12 you’ll have a LONG walk to kid-friendly areas!
To DART or not to DART? DART is offering some great options for getting to the fair and avoiding parking altogether. However, this also means you’ll be carting a stroller with you on the train possibly, so if you have little little ones, having your own car may be preferable. If you choose the DART option, you can ride the newly opened Green Line to the entrance of the Fairgrounds or to a stop on MLK Boulevard which is convenient to Fair Park (nearer the Cotton Bowl stadium). A $4 day pass for an adult gets you to/from the Fair with unlimited service on local bus routes; for $5 you can add the Trinity Railway Express (non-Tarrant County) and other services. Check all the details on DART’s State Fair Service.
Come See the Animals
I had mistakenly assumed that the State Fair was all about rides (which, at the rate my cautious kids are going, will be something they’re interested in when they hit 30 yrs old). Boy, was I wrong…there is so much more. Here were some of our favorites:
|Children’s Barnyard – The biggest petting zoo your kids will likely ever see is sponsored by Children’s Medical Center. They get to get up close to giraffes, llamas, alpacas, goats, and other animals I couldn’t even identify. Lots of hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer wipes are provided, so use profusely. Around the outside of the building, they can see little families of bunnies and other smaller furry friends.|
|Little Hands on the Farm – Let your kid pretend to be on a farm with this interactive exhibit sponsored by Bank of America, Dreyer’s Ice Cream, AT&T, and Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club. My son Jack had a blast pretending to feed the chickens, gather eggs, milk cows, and plant/harvest vegetables. Could you believe when I researched this article, I saw his pic on the State Fair website, “harvesting” carrots? (No joke – click here and scroll down the page.) Luke’s favorite part was riding the toddler-sized tractors, as you can see from the shot below. (This exhibit is very similar to the one in the Children’s Area of the Dallas Museum of Nature & Science, also at Fair Park.)|
|The Biggest Pig on Earth – I can’t promise that this pig will be here again, it’s not listed as an attraction on their site, but he has been there the last two years. He certainly amazed my boys. We spent more time than Mommy wanted just watching this extremely large pig doze in his pen on hay and dirt. Who knew a snoring pig could be so entertaining?|
Turkey “Trot” – I don’t know if there is a name for this exhibit or not, but between the two exhibits mentioned above, there is a collection of turkeys and chickens where you will learn more than you ever thought possible about the differences between species of poultry. Why are some eggs brown and some white? Visit them and just ask!
|Livestock Barns – All four attractions above are right by the livestock barns, where 4H’ers and Future Farmers of America kids from all over the state bring their prize show animals for livestock judging and sale at the Fair. Plan to take a slow stroll through these barns, where you’ll see sheep, goats, pigs, and horses. It’s a lot less crowded than the Children’s Barnyard, and the owners (in my experience) love to show off their animals to curious kids.|
See a Show Fit for a Kid
Each day, several shows for children are free. Check the State Fair website for the schedule, but in general, the shows happen at the same times each day. Check Fair Schedule before you go for any last minute changes. Ones I would recommend are:
- JUMP! The Ultimate Dog Show – You won’t believe what this handler can get these dogs to do. Get in the arena early if you can to get a good view. Your kids will love seeing the dogs catch frisbees, race through obstacle courses, and do crazy tricks. Watch their promo video on YouTube! and you’ll see why crowds are enthralled. Shows daily at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm.
- Birds of the World Show – Watch as birds fly over your head and perform tricks. You’ll see birds from all over the world and even have a chance to take a close-up look at a few. Free shows 4 times daily in the Band Shell. Shows at 2:30, 4:30, and 6pm. Sponsored by Kroger.
- “World on a String” Puppet Show – Master puppeteer John Hardman and his cast of marionettes perform through the day in Creative Arts’ Showplace Theater. Shows at 12, 1, 2, 3, 4pm.
- Backyard Circus – Join the cirucs without running away from home. An imaginary world awaits you during your visit to the Backyard Circus. You might be one of the lucky ones chosen from the audience to perform ‘under the big top.’ Shows at 1:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 6:30pm. Sponsored by Shepps.
Check out a Mobile Event
There are several special exhibits happening on certain days throughout the fair that you’ll want to check out. Here are a few that look to be fun for kids, the full list is available on the State Fair website:
|Huggies® Little Movers Adventure Zone visits the Fair 10/8 – 10/11. Wee ones can explore an interactive adventure trail; an adjacent lounge is a rest area, baby changing station, plus a chance to sample a Huggies® LIttle Movers diaper. North side of the Coliseum. FREE.|
|The State Fair of Texas welcomes the United States Air Force Inspire Tour to Dallas 10/9 – 10/13. Located in Gateway Plaza, the exhibit is FREE with Fair admission.|
|Families get hands-on and minds-on at the LEGO® Experience Tour 10/15 – 10/18. LEGO® bricks, video games + more have inspired imagination and creativity in generations of builders. Visit LEGO world and see how it all fits together! East Park Plaza. FREE.|
Ride the Kid Way, Eat Somethng Fried and Win a Prize!
Of course, the State Fair wouldn’t be the State Fair without rides, incredibly fattening food and midway games. The Kid Way has a 66-horse carousel that your kids will love, as well as other kid-sized rides like roller coasters, spinning tea cups, and other fun options. And what kid won’t think his/her daddy is a hero by winning a stuffed animal at the midway? For food, look for these two winners of the pre-Fair competition: Most Creative went to Deep Fried Butter and Best Taste went to Fernie’s Deep Fried Peaches and Cream. The State Fair website has a food locator where you can map out the fried tastes you want to try; you can access it here.
Whatever you decide to do at the State Fair of Texas, you’re sure to have a great time! Let us know if we missed any great attraction that your kids enjoy by commenting below, or add a comment after your own trip to let us know what your favorite part was! Enjoy!