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 New York State Fair that is both entertaining and budget-friendly. With 375 acres, there is SO MUCH to see!
Post originally published on September 19, 2017. Updated and republished on August 9, 2019.
1 – Get your coupons!
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.
2 – Eat a baked potato
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 🙂
3 – Check out the “Taste NY” vendors
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! A perfect way to save money at the New York State Fair.
4 – 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!
5 – Try maple everything
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.
6 – Explore the Center of Progress
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.
7 – Take pictures of the sand sculpture
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.
8 – Check out the butter sculpture
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.
9 – Drink all the milk
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.
10 – Don’t forget the cheese!
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.
11 – Watch the police in all their glory
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!
12 – Learn about Native American culture
New York state wouldn’t be what it is today without the Native Americans who originally settled the area. Luckily, the New York State Fair is inclusive of all New Yorkers! 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.
13 – Have fun at the midway
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).
14 – Cool off at the coliseum
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.
15 – Watch the animal performances
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.
16 – See baby animals being born
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.
17 – More animals!
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!
18 – Enter a competition
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.
Throughout the fair you can also enter to participate in cooking competitions and sporting events. This Saturday the Syracuse Sports Association is holding a kickball tournament in the new Expo Center. If you check it out, you’ll see my husband playing…
19 – Attend a free concert
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, Dropkick Murphys, 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.
20 – Support the 4H kids
Now that you’ve seen 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!
21 – Visit the petting zoo
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.
22 – Treat yourself to a pint
Do yourself a favor and visit the wine and beer tents. Last year the fair implemented a new rule that 80% of the beer served at the fair must come from New York state (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!
23 – Try the latest crazy food creation
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!
24 – Upgrade your network
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. A few years ago 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.
25 – Make some spending money
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.
26 – Celebrate a theme day
Every day at the fair is a special day with a different theme. From teachers to seniors to women, find the day that appeals to you the most. This year marks the fifth anniversary of Pride Day at the fair – it’s on August 23rd. Did you know that New York was the first American state fair to host an official Pride Day? – That’s what I’m talking about!
27 – Play bingo
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. This year IBU Brewery is also hosting a contest with fair bingo.
What’s your favorite thing to do at the New York State Fair?
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!