The 2022 New York State Fair runs Wednesday, August 24 through Monday, September 5. And after missing 2020 and an abysmal 2021, attendance is back up. Both old vendors and new have brought their A-game, providing dozens and dozens of things to do at the New York State Fair this year.
With years of experience – and several days this year – I’ve put together the ultimate list of things to do at the fair. There’s really something for everyone, both entertaining and budget-friendly. With 375 acres, there is SO MUCH to see and do. You can easily spend multiple days there and have a different experience each time. And with admission only $3, it’s affordable to go multiples times.
** All activities marked with a double asterisk are completely FREE to enjoy. Some may have optional purchases, but they are not required. **
Center of Progress
The Center of Progress has changed a lot of the years, but there are still a few iconic fair things to see.
1. Track the progress of the sand sculpture.**
One of my favorite things to see at the fair is the sand sculpture. Partly because it starts as just a giant pile of sand at the beginning of the fair. Over the course of the two weeks, it is meticulously worked on. That means if you go on multiple days, you’ll see the progress that has been made. By the end of the fair, the sculpture is complete. Every year there is a different theme that is relevant to current events or an iconic anniversary. The 2022 NYS Fair sand sculpture is themed around the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
2. Explore the NYS Energy & Environment Experience.**
One of the newest exhibits at the fair is the energy and environment display in the Center of Progress. It’s also pretty incredible. The room is filled with live plants, intertwined between displays on the state’s ecological developments. Learn what’s going on throughout New York’s canal system. Look at a miniature model of a canal lock and see how it works. Stamp your passport at multiple spots throughout the exhibit and get a prize!
3. Get educated with the state organizations.**
Yes, the Center of Progress has become a bit more commercial since it started, but there are still plenty of great booths to visit. Many of the state agencies have booths, providing information you didn’t know that you actually need. You can also check off a handful of important adult tasks. Like registering to vote, or getting an EZPass for the thruway. Plus, most of them hand out freebies.
Art & Home Building
4. Admire the arts & crafts created by fellow New Yorkers.**
The top floor of the Art & Home Building showcases photography and pieces of art by both amateur and professional artists. On the main floor you’ll find more crafted products, like quilts, woodworking, and crocheted items. Don’t skip this building – there are some truly talented New Yorkers whose work deserves to be appreciated. Plus, it’s free to enjoy.
5. Watch a cooking demonstration in the Wegman’s Demo Kitchen.**
On the bottom floor of the Art & Home Building, you’ll find a large demonstration kitchen. That’s where chefs, bakers, mixologists, and local celebrities showcase their cooking skills. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and you can learn some new recipes. This year featured a lot of craft cocktails and several local foodie content creators – including me!
6. Get a baked potato.
Easily the best food deal at the fair is the $1 baked potato in the horticulture building. Yes, there is always a long line, but that’s because it’s worth it! Plus, it moves quickly. People are only getting potatoes, after all. You can choose between a baked potato with butter or sour cream, or a sweet potato with butter or maple syrup. You can’t go wrong with either choice, as both are fresh and grown in New York state. Additional toppings for both types are available for an extra 50 cents.
7. Try all the samples from the Taste NY vendors.**
In the back left corner of the Horticulture Building you’ll find a row of booths featuring various New York food vendors. Of all the things to do at the New York State Fair, this is another favorite. Why? It changes daily, so there are always new food businesses to learn about and try. Beer, wine, liquor, tea, coffee, juice, sauces, salsas, crackers, cheese, honey… The list goes on and on. So check it out and find some new favorite – local – food and drinks to love.
8. Admire the flowers on display.**
In the center of the building is a rotating display of the best flowers the state has to offer. Roses, gladiolas, lilies, and more. Visit at different points throughout the fair to see what beautiful floral arrangements are on display. You can also get some growing advice from the nearby Syracuse Gardening Club.
9. Visit the butterfly exhibit.
For only $3, 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. Unlike some other butterfly gardens, this exhibit features a wide variety of butterflies. If you’re patient, they may land on you and become your new best friends.
10. Enjoy all the maple goodies.
Try maple cotton candy. And maple sugar. Maple ice cream. And maple syrup. Maple doughnuts… You get the point. Try every maple food you can at the NYS maple exhibit! New York State is known for the production of maple syrup and its use in various foods. Don’t miss out on this spot.
11. Try a new restaurant in The Eatery.
The name speaks for itself; the eatery is for eating! The list of food stalls includes old favorites and newcomers, each featuring their most signature dishes. That includes a variety of food from around the world. Polish, Greek, Mexican, Thai, and more cuisines are among the many options.
12. Have a drink at the NYS Distillery and Brew Pub.
At one end of the building, you’ll find a raised platform featuring a bar. The popular spot for enjoying a drink, the bar sells New York State beer and cocktails featuring local liquor.
13. Grab a cup of the freshest milk for just 25 cents.
The Milk Bar is a longstanding fair favorite. And even after all these years, a small cup is still only 25 cents. (The state subsidized the price in 2017 to keep fairgoers happy.) Buy your milk coins before heading to the sinks. Coins can be bought at the center of the milk stand, or in the surrounding coin machines. Then drop your coins in the bucket next to one of the 8 sinks, and get yourself a cup or two of milk. Choose from white or chocolate – or strawberry during Labor Day Weekend.
14. Check out 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.
15. Sample NYS cheese and have freshly made mac & cheese.
In one corner of the Dairy Building, you’ll find the NYS cheese booth. Check to see if they are offering samples. In some years they cheese carvers creating art out of cheese. This year they are offering freshly made mac & cheese. Choose regular, bacon, garlic, broccoli, or seafood.
16. Snap a photo with milk wings and a giant glass of milk.**
Let’s be honest, everyone gets excited to share their photos and experiences from the fair. So you’ve got to take advantage of the milk wings. And then pose with the giant glass of chocolate milk. When you’re done, grab a milky bun across from it.
17. Learn about the animals native to New York’s waters.**
In the small building between the dairy building and science & industry is the DEC Aquarium. Inside you’ll the fish, frogs, and turtles that live in the rivers and lakes around New York State. You can also get or renew your fishing license there.
Science & Industry Building
18. Walk through the House of Hazards.**
Truthfully, I miss the creepy mannequins from the old scenes. But the updated House of Hazards still has some important info – like how to prevent kitchen fires and safely store lithium batteries. They also do presentations on making a fire escape plan, which is great to educate the kids.
19. Get educated at the NY health agencies.**
Booths for every different health organization, cancer society, and the like can be found in this building. Go show support to the societies that affect you the most. And grab some freebies while you’re at it – the state agencies always have some good items.
20. Learn about the NYS prison system.**
This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but learning about the correctional services and prison system is actually very interesting. The officers are full of information and are ready to show off their displays.
21. Hold a baby chick.**
At the far end of the building is the chick hatchery. There are incubators of chicken eggs at different stages – including one where you can watch them hatch. 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.
22. See what the 4-H kids have been working on.**
The Youth Building is full of 4-H kids and the projects they are passionate about. Take some time to walk around and see what they have been working on. They often has crafts or interactive displays that are great for kids.
23. Travel around the state virtually.**
This year the I Love NY exhibit is in the EXPO Building, and it’s pretty great. A circular display showcases miniatures of the most notable landmarks in regions across the state. Use your smartphone to scan the different regions and enjoy the attractions in augmented reality. “Visit” at least four regions and you can spin to win a prize.
24. Watch a flight demonstration.**
Members of the 174th Attack Wing are ready and waiting to show off what they do. Everyone wonders what their jobs really entail – well now is your chance to see it firsthand. You can also check out various military vehicles throughout the building.
25. Learn about the indigenous people of New York.**
First of all, this should be renamed “Native American Village”. But I digress. The village is still a great spot to learn about the indigenous people of New York. The state wouldn’t be what it is today without the Native Americans who originally settled the area. Thankfully, the New York State Fair is inclusive of all New Yorkers, including those who lived here first. So 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.
Animal Exhibits at the New York State Fair
26. Visit with all the farm animals.**
Cows, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, llamas, chickens, rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, pheasants… The fair is full of animals as farms across the state show off their best livestock. The animals are spread out over several buildings, so take the time to visit them all.
27. Watch cows being born at the birthing center.**
Inside a large tent near the back of the fairgrounds is where the magic happens. The magic of life, that is. Inside two pens you’ll find up to 6 very pregnant cows, ready to give birth at any moment. A set of bleachers lets visitors watch. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a calf born right in front of you. The babies are kept nearby for a few days before moving back to the normal barns. Yes, you can pet them!
28. See the horses perform in the coliseum.**
Horse shows are constantly running in the coliseum. Jumping, trotting, galloping, wagon-pulling, you name it. The horses are there to show off their skills! Plus, the coliseum is a great spot to rest and maybe have a snack while watching the equestrian competitions.
29. Meet the animals at the petting zoo.**
In addition to the farm animals throughout the fair, the petting zoo adds some more exotic visitors. The giraffes and camels are always a hit, and you can buy carrots to feed them. Kangaroos and zebras also add to the typical menagerie of petting zoo animals.
30. Attend the circus.**
With multiple shows a day, the circus is a hit for young and old alike. Watch as the animals and performers put on a show for you. Make sure to check the showtimes before you go, and plan to line up a head of time as the tent does fill up.
31. Watch an animal show.**
Racing pigs, dogs performing tricks, birds of prey, and sea lions splashing, there are always some talented animals to enjoy. The acts change every year, and in the past have included bears and wolves. The current shows are all free to watch, and a great excuse to rest your legs.
32. Try the latest fair food craze.
Fairs seem to be known for the craziest foods they can create – and New York is no different! Past years have highlighted the donut burger, the donut dog, the hot beef sundae, the twinx, Mexican street corn on the cob, the “defibrillator”, milky buns, deep-fried breakfast, and more. This year the favorites are the deep-fried reubens, pulled pork with peanut butter cups, and pizza nachos. It’s not a year at the fair without trying the newest crazy food!
33. Find the craziest cocktail at the fair.
1911 is known for creating the most creative cocktails, introducing a new concoction each year. (But no matter what, my favorite will always be the Tipsy Cow.) Daniella’s also has some crazy creations, like their overloaded Bloody Mary or a boozy root beer float. Challenge your friends to see who can find the craziest, most creative cocktail.
34. Try a new wine or beer from New York State.
Do yourself a favor and visit the wine and beer tents. A few years ago the fair implemented a new rule that 80% of the beer served at the fair must come from New York State. Rightfully so! Check out the large beer tent near the coliseum for a wide selection. As for wine, it’s hard to walk more than ten feet without coming across a wine stand. Wine slushies are always free to sample, so find your favorite and get a big cup to enjoy. Many of the wineries now sell reusable cups for discounts on refills.
35. Get a pizze fritte from Villa.
With so many things to do at the New York State Fair, you definitely have choices. But this is a must! Villa makes 2-foot long pizze frittes that are so popular, they held a pop-up during the year the fair was canceled. It’s my favorite stop before leaving the fairgrounds at the end of the day.
36. Ride the skyliner.
If you’re not afraid of heights, the skyliner is the best way to see the fair. Relax, enjoy the views, and snap some aerial photos.
37. Ride all the rides.
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 long lines.
38. Play the midway games.
If you feel the need to win a giant stuffed animal that will fill up unnecessary space in your house, try your hand at the midway games. There are a wide variety, so press your luck. Maybe you’ll find a prize that is actually worthwhile.
Outdoors at the New York State Fair
39. Visit the police exhibit.**
Located between the Horticulture Building and The Eatery, the police exhibit is pretty amazing. Each year is slightly different, but you can usually count on a few iconic things. A display of historic NYS police cars. History of the NYS police force. Police horses and K-9 dogs. Underwater survival and gunshot demonstrations. They are all pretty cool.
40. Find the roaming performers.**
Mimes, magicians, dancers, and singers are all wandering around the fair to entertain you. It’s the best when you’re waiting in line for something! My favorite this year was the strolling piano.
41. Explore Pan-African Village.**
Outside the Center of Progress (at entrance 11A) is another area dedicated to a specific culture. The Pan-African Village is full of food, music, art, dance, and items from the African diaspora. Check it out!
42. Attend a free concert.**
There are FREE concerts every day at the fair. Even more so now that there are two main stages within the fairgrounds – Chevy Court and Chevy Park. And don’t get fooled that they are bad concerts because they are free. There are some pretty awesome concerts! Lady A, OAR, Florida Georgia Line, Lynyrd Skynyrd, LeAnn Rimes, Dropkick Murphys, Spin Doctors, Nelly, Patti LaBelle, and more have performed at the fair for free. If you’re planning to go to see one of the more famous acts, be prepared for crowds and get your seats early.
43. Watch a live news broadcast.**
Syracuse news channels 3, 5, and 9 all broadcast live during the duration of the fair. If you’ve ever wanted to watch the news in person, here is your chance. You can also meet the news anchors during off-times.
44. Test your strength with the military.**
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines… every branch of the military has their own booth at the fair. Both for recruitment and education. But the real fun is trying the various strength challenges they have for prizes. Pull ups, push ups, free hangs… See if you can beat the other fairgoers!
45. Try your luck with the NY lotto.
Outside the coliseum you’ll find the NYS lotto booth. Purchase a set amount of scratch-offs and you can spin the prize wheel for extra goodies.
46. Explore the exhibits in the “State Park at the State Fair” buildings.**
The fair hosts several competitions every year – many of them before the fair even begins. The competitions include photography, artwork, and more – with the winners being on display throughout the fair. The extra perk of entering a competition includes getting a free ticket.
48. Celebrate a themed day.**
Every day at the fair is a special day with a different theme. Teachers. Students. Military. Women. Youth. Dairy. Beef. Pride. Find the day that appeals to you the most. Certain days even provide free admission for the people they are celebrating that day.
PS – Did you know that New York was the first American state fair to host an official Pride Day? So proud to be a New Yorker.
49. Get a job at the New York State Fair.
Can’t get enough of the fair? Or maybe you’re just strapped for cash? Many vendors hire seasonal workers – a great way to make some extra money at the end of the summer. Most jobs provide free parking and admission as well. So take advantage of it!
50. People watch.**
Let’s be honest, the fair is full of people from all walks of life. Sometimes, you’ve just got to sit back and watch the mix of folks that are walking around the fairgrounds. It’s entertaining.
What’s your favorite thing to do at the New York State Fair?
The New York State Fair is truly a spectacle. And while this is not an exhaustive list of things to do at the fair, it covers many of the highlights. There are always new foods and different attractions to experience each year. Everyone has their own favorite stops.
For most Syracusans, the fair is a given activity for the end of the summer. But if you’re outside Central New York, make it a point to visit! Plan a trip with your family or friends and spend a few days at the fair. You can also check out some other things to do in Syracuse while you’re in town.