Okay, now that you’ve planned which day(s) you’re going to the fair, who you are going with, and you’ve purchased/gotten your tickets in advance, now you need to decide what to do once you’re inside. With so many years of experience, I’ve put together an itinerary for a day at the fair that is both entertaining and budget-friendly. With 375 acres, there is SO MUCH to see!
Near the main gate of the fair is the administration building. Go there first to pick up a pack of coupons for various vendors around the fairgrounds.
Then, start your day at the Horticulture Building and get your $1 baked potato. It is by far the best deal at the fair for food – and if you go first thing, the line isn’t so bad! You can choose between a baked potato with butter, cheese, and sour cream, or a sweet potato with butter and maple syrup. You can’t go wrong with either choice – fresh grown in New York state. I usually get one of each!
While you’re in the Horticulture Building, check to see what the “Taste NY” vendors are for the day. They usually include some NYS breweries, wineries, and some local food. They all offer samples for FREE!
Visit the butterfly exhibit. For only $2, you can enjoy being surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. When you enter, you get a cotton swab to dip into the nectar located throughout the garden to attract the butterflies. Be prepared for them to land on you!
Try maple cotton candy. And maple sugar. And maple syrup. Try every maple food you can at the NYS maple exhibit! It’s one of the things that New York does best.
Make your way back to the Center of Progress building. While it has become a bit overrun with vendors, it’s still a great spot to grab some freebies! One of the side rooms is full of NYS backdrops for photo ops, which is a lot of fun. This year they also passed out scratch-off tickets that were worth money off at the NYS lotto booth.
See the sand sculpture! It’s one of my favorite things to see at the fair, and is located in the middle of the Center of Progress building. Depending on when you visit the fair, you may be able to see it being worked on. The theme of the sculpture always has some relevance to the year’s current events or anniversaries.
Now it’s time for the next sculpture – the butter sculpture! Located in the dairy building, the butter sculpture is in a large glass cooler on a rotating pedestal. It’s another popular visit for fairgoers.
Get yourself a cup (or two or three) of milk. The 25-cent cups of milk have been a longtime favorite for everyone. Recently there were plans for the price to increase, but luckily they remain only a quarter. The cheapest – and freshest – drink you can get at the fair. The milk comes from the cows on-site at the fairgrounds, so it’s the freshest you’ll ever drink (unless you actually live on a farm). You can get white or chocolate – another time when I go for one of each! This year they switched from tickets to coins – which can be purchased both at the milk stand or in a coin machine right outside. If you plan on visiting the fair more than once, I suggest purchasing all your coins the first time you go. The line gets super long!
Before you leave the dairy building, be sure to get your free samples of NYS cheese too! Go at the right time and you might catch some cheese carvings as well.
The police exhibit is pretty amazing. Each year is slightly different, but you can usually count on these things: a display of historic NYS police cars, history of the NYS police force, K-9 units, underwater survival and gunshot displays, and more! Definitely check it out. And it’s all free!
Chevy Court offers two FREE concerts every day. And there are some pretty awesome concerts. Recent years have seen Lady Antebellum, OAR, Florida Georgia Line, Lynyrd Skynyrd, LeAnn Rimes, Spin Doctors, and so many more. If you’re planning to go to see one of the more famous acts, be prepared for crowds and get your seats early!
If you’re into craft beer, check out the Big Yellow Fellow. Available at the fair and around downtown Syracuse, the BYF offers group bicycle tours with drinks! At the fair the company offered $5 (half-priced) tours before 1pm. The bicycle went up and down the midway for about twenty minutes, stopping to sample wine slushies along the way. While you pedal, you also get to sample local craft beer and have a snack!
For the kids (and kids at heart), check out which days offer unlimited ride passes. The rides at the fair are not the cheapest, and costs can add up quickly if you’re purchasing individual tickets. Unlimited is most definitely the way to go (just be prepared for longer lines).
One of the best ways to relax and cool off during a long hot day at the fair is to head to the coliseum. All day long in the coliseum are various horse competitions. So it’s a great spot to rest your feet while watching horses and theirs riders do what they do best.
Like shows? There are lots scattered around the fairgrounds! Dog tricks, pig races, wolf shows, sea lions, wood carving; you name it! If it’s the least bit entertaining, and especially if it’s unusual, there is likely a show out there. Many of them run multiple times each day.
The fair runs for nearly two weeks and is full of livestock. There are bound to be some babies born while the animals are there! There is a new center for the dairy cows, where the heavily pregnant cows go to give birth. You can watch, you can see the babies, you can even sign up to get text alerts when a calf is about to be born! It’s such a fun thing to check out.
Now that you’ve see the adorable calves, it’s time to check out the chicks and ducks in the 4-H building. It’s a great spot to see what projects the local 4-H kids have been working on, but the poultry take the show. You can watch the ducklings climb up and slide down in their pool. There are incubators of chicken eggs at different stages where you can watch them hatch – amazing. Once the little chicks are ready, the 4-H kids let you hold them. Hold the chick just right and the fluffy baby will fall asleep in the warmth of your hands. Try it!
New York state wouldn’t be what it is today without the Native Americans who originally settled the area. Make sure that you take some time to visit the Iroquois Indian Village. Located right outside of the 4-H building, the Iroquois have several stands where they sell handcrafted artwork, food, and offer a chance to try archery! A stage at the center of the village holds traditional dances and story telling. It’s always amazing to see.
Back to the animals. There are buildings for cows, horses, goats, sheep, alpacas, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds of all sorts. There are these rainbow-colored fluffy chickens that are always very popular – make sure you see them!
Toward the back of the fair you’ll find the petting zoo and the circus. The petting zoo’s giraffes and camels are always a hit! You can buy carrots to feed them. Kangaroos and zebras also add to the typical list of petting zoo members. The circus runs twice a day, so if you’re planning to visit, check what times they go on that day!
Do yourself a favor and visit the wine and beer tents. This year the fair implemented a new rule that 80% of the beer served at the fair must come from New York state. (Such a great decision in my opinion!) the wine slushies are always free to sample, but treat yourself to a new local wine or beer that you haven’t tried before. It’s the perfect opportunity!
Fairs seem to be known for the craziest foods they can create – and New York is no different! In recent years we’ve seen the invention of the donut burger, the donut dog, the hot beef sundae (this one is delicious!), the twinx, Mexican street corn, the “defibrillator”, milky buns (ice cream in a heated donut), and deep-fried breakfast, among many others. It’s not a year at the fair without trying the newest crazy food!
If you’re in the market for a new cell phone plan, cable tv, or any other service, take a look at what specials the vendors are offering at the fair. More than likely you’ll be able to get a great deal. This year we switched cable plans at the fair and got free installation, free activation, and an offer for two free nights at a select hotel! You can’t beat that.
Can’t get enough of the fair? Many vendors hire seasonal workers – a great way to make some extra money at the send of the summer. Or you can camp at the RV grounds right at the fair.
Lastly, the fair is known to draw a wide variety of people. Local radio stations and other people have created bingo boards to complete of all the different people and situations you’ll come across at the fair. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but fun to play along!
The New York State Fair is truly a spectacle. There are new foods and different attractions to experience every year. If you’re anywhere near Central New York in late August, make it one of your family’s yearly adventures – you’ll love it!