A few months after I moved to North Carolina in 1990, our new friends asked if we would be going to the upcoming NC State Fair. I had never been to a state fair of any kind, and I didn’t have much interest in farm animals or blue ribbon vegetables, having grown up in Boston. However, I was then–as I am now– up for an adventure. On that first visit to the fair, I enjoyed the 4-H exhibits, some glutenous fair food, the crafts at the Village of Yesteryear, the people-watching, and strolling around in the beautiful North Carolina weather.
Several visits later, I have great memories of the fair: my young daughter petting the lambs; the two girls braving the zooming rides together; paging Sam over the public address system before cellphones were commonplace. (Well, it was a great day after we finally found each other.)
Here are a few things I’ve learned about making the most of the fair:
Sam and I decided on a budget before we headed to the fair this year. I’m glad we did. (Actually, I did not withdraw money from the pictured ATM.) There are so many tempting ways to spend money at the fair. For those of you bringing children along, it’s even more challenging to moderate your spending. Decide what’s reasonable for a fun outing, and research your splurges and savings. Food? Games? Handicrafts for holiday gifts? Rides? Face painting?
When the fair first opened in 1853, the admission price was just 25 cents. In 2017, Sam and I each paid $10 for an adult ticket to enter through the gate. Regular ticket prices for children ages 6-12 were $5. Fairgoers ages 5 & under (or age 65+) got in for free. We could have saved money by pre-ordering admission tickets between August 1 and October 12. There were other discounts available, like $1.50 admission on opening day. For more information on prices and discounts, check here.
The $10-at-the-door admission worked for us this year, because we weren’t sure ahead of time if we would make it to the fair in 2017. We chose a convenient afternoon with amazing weather, and we agreed to deduct the $20 from our total spending budget.
Ride tickets or wristbands are an additional cost. Sam and I didn’t try the rides this year. (I actually like rides, although the big descent on Disney’s Splash Mountain terrified me when I rode with my daughter years ago.) If we had brought children with us, then rides would have been a major component of the day. If you plan to try out the roller coaster or merry-go-round next year, you can save money by planning ahead and purchasing packages or wristbands before opening day. For more details, visit the North Carolina State Fair site.
Daily Schedule: Pick up the free guide as soon as you come through the entrance gate.
My family knows I LOVE brochures and guides. But really…this booklet does let you know what’s going on and where everything is.Here’s the spot right past the entrance where I reviewed the guide. We arrived at the fair on a Wednesday at about 4:00, and it wasn’t too crowded. Weekends tend to be busier.
Wander Through the Free Exhibits:
I didn’t expect to find anything interesting in this exhibit, but I was surprised.For instance, there was a surrey and a covered wagon. They reminded me of the Little House books.
One of the exhibitors might like old Broadway musicals as much as I do.
Stop by the Free Entertainment:
There were scheduled musical performances, animal races (think: racing pigs or draft horse pulls), acrobats, and kids’ entertainment throughout the day. We happened to attend on Military Appreciation Day, so there were special tributes to our armed forces. We headed over to see the 440th Army Band perform. I was expecting old-fashioned military marches:
I was surprised when I saw them on stage! I learned the 440th Army Band is quite versatile…
Or, Just Take a Look Around:A free and (gluten-free) sample from Sam’s hometown of Salisbury, NC.
According to the fair’s daily schedule flyer, there weren’t food booths at the fair until 1900. As we ambled through the fairgrounds in 2017, there saw a variety of stands, including the very traditional..
And the over-the-top fried foods, which I cannot eat (due to gluten.) It’s still fun to see what they’re frying each year:
Here’s a close-up of an intriguing sign. I tell you what…
Some people look forward to the same fair treat each year. If it’s your first time at the fair, take your time to browse around first. If you’re curious about what’s available before you head to the fair, there is the Food and Ride Finder and a list of the newest food items and where to find them. There is a wide variety of tastes and prices.
Gluten-free at the Fair?
Not surprisingly, the fair can be a challenging place for people with celiac or gluten sensitivity. Fortunately, one of my Facebook groups were generous with dining suggestions. Although your might want to ask questions of vendors in order to eat safely, the following options were mentioned: corn on the cob, baked potatoes, turkey legs, certain french fries (like Al’s Fries), Arepa Loca, and Neomonde. I located the popular Neomonde booth:
In addition to the gluten-free sides listed above, Neomonde also offered salads and kabobs. (Neomonde restaurant locations in Morrisville and Raleigh offer a much wider menu, including wheat-free, vegetarian, and vegan items.) I ordered a chicken kabob with Phoenician fries, and I did let the staff member know that I cannot have gluten.
Sam had already procured his London broil sandwich and a picnic table. (Those Butcher Boys London broil sandwiches used to be a favorite of mine, too…) He kindly took a break from his meal to help with blog photos:
The lean, white meat chicken went well with the seasoned fries:
I later purchased a box of gluten-free pecan crisp cookies from Tonya’s Cookies to take home.
The colorful lights provided a special backdrop on our way back to the car.
Next year’s fair is scheduled for October 11-21, 2018.