All-American Fun and Food: The Florida State Fair and Florida Regional Fairs
By Lauren Tjaden
The food is endless and decadent; you can swoon over don’t-count the-calories concoctions like gelato nachos, flaming hot Cheetos funnel cake, and peanut-butter-and-spicy-jelly tater tots. The entertainment is over the top too; anticipate offerings like world champion Frisbee dogs, a demolition derby, fire juggling, a lumberjack competition, live music and acts on four stages, and crazy animal races of all sorts. Everything is big: the fair promises the largest ride midway in the U.S.A, with topsy-turvy, gravity defying thrills as well as more relaxing ones, like a trip on North America's tallest traveling Ferris wheel.
The fair delivers education and competition too, with fierce contests to determine the best pie, plant, quilt or animal; a living history museum that whisks you back to 19th century Florida; livestock barns, and displays like the Milking Parlor that shows you exactly how you get that glass of milk.
And you can shop till you drop. Vendors invite you to explore booths stuffed with handmade soap and candles, eclectic wood carvings and shiny belt buckles, in addition to clothing, boots, jewelry, lamps and everything else you can imagine.
Read on to discover the whole shebang about the Florida State Fair, including what to see, do, and eat; how to get involved; and where you can spend the night.
Food at the Fair
The State Fair bills itself as Florida’s Fried food capital, and it delivers on the moniker with indulgent fare like the PigRig from Low N Slow, a grilled cheese overflowing with BBQ pulled pork and macaroni and cheese; the Deep-Fried Carmel Apple Sundae from DeAnna's Steak Sundaes, made of cinnamon sugar doughnut holes layered with cream cheese frosting and sautéed caramel apples, finished with whip cream and a caramel drizzle; and Deep-Fried Molten Lava Cake from Carousel Foods, which is exactly as described. Yes, you might want to wear yoga pants or at least something stretchy.
For out-of-the-ordinary delights, try the Gelato Nachos and tacos from the Funky Flamingo, which put a sweet twist on savory favorites employing Dutch waffles laden with gelato, and the Pickle Pizza from Angela's Pizza, a new version of a classic with a white garlic sauce topped with mozzarella cheese and dill pickles.
If you’re yearning for a sugar fix, you can’t do better than the Deep-Fried Rainbow Cookie from Paul's Concessions, served on a stick with powdered sugar. But the Italian Bombolini Sundae from Barbies Ice Cream, an airy Italian doughnut filled with ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate, Oreo cookie crumbles and whip cream, might give it a run for the money, and the Candy Pop Sundae from The Best Around is determined not to be outdone with its candy-infused popcorn, dished up with hand-dipped ice cream, caramel drizzle and chocolate syrup, topped with your choice of candy bar.
Healthier options include the Miami Seafood Salad from Atlantic Concessions, a refreshing shrimp salad complete with tomatoes, avocados, and red onions tossed in a cilantro-lime citrus vinaigrette.
Here are more of Florida State Fair’s food offerings.
Entertainment at the Fair
With over 70 shows each day, suffice to say you won’t be bored at the Florida State Fair.
It provides nonstop live music on three outdoor and one indoor stage, with an interactive kids show from the Dollipops; tributes to iconic stars like Heart from Love Alive and Benatar from All Fired Up; and dueling guitars, sing-along songs and comedy from Songblast—just for starters.
But the entertainment takes a jog from the traditional with shows, displays and competitions that stretch the imagination and dare you to turn your eyes away from the spectacle. Some you won’t want to miss are Extreme Illusions & Escapes, a popular, extreme-energy show with grand effects and edge-of-your-seat escapes that will keep you holding your breath; a real-life jousting tournament from The Dark Knights that highlights the insanity and grandeur of medieval warfare, with intense, brutal ground-to-horse take downs; inter-species animal racing from GASCAR Crazy Animal Races, with goats and sheep challenging chickens, pigs and surprise animals in a sprint-- or a waddle or trot—to the finish; and The Tour of Destruction Demolition Derby, shining the spotlight on cars smashing, crashing and dashing in a madcap event where the last surviving vehicle is the winner.
Here’s where you can check out more of Florida State Fair’s Entertainment.
Rides at the Fair
Whether you’re yearning for an adrenaline-charged thrill, a kid-friendly twirl, or a romantic rendezvous, the Florida State Fair’s ride midway, the largest in the U.S.A, is sure to please.
If inside-out, upside down foolishness is your cup of crazy, The Street Fighter 360, which is stomach- churning just to look at, will do the trick with its gravity-defying adventure ride; as will the Super Cyclone Coaster and Air Raid.
Kids will be smiling with a trip on the colorful Groovy Bus, gentle Happy Swing, tyke-size Monster Trucks or the temperate Dragon Fly Coaster.
For an excuse to drape your arm over your honey’s shoulder, make sure to go for a spin on the glorious Midway Sky Eye, North America's tallest traveling Ferris wheel; take a spooky journey into the dark in the Haunted Mansion; and climb aboard the Sky Ride, which provides a dreamy chairlift style tour above the glittering lights and action of the fair.
Here’s where you can find more of Florida State Fair’s Rides.
Exhibitions at the Fair
A Learning Garden! Creative Living Exhibits! A Giraffe Menagerie! Little Farm Hands education! A Cattle Ranching Museum and a Cracker Country Museum! Whether you fancy having a goat nibble treats from your fingers or want to learn about the power of steam, the Florida State Fair delivers in style.
Education is fun when you pay a visit to the Milking Parlor – complete with live cows, of course—that demonstrates how you get the milk that goes on your cereal. Kids might even have an opportunity to help out.
The World of LEGO® fascinates with creations from award-winning artists from across Florida, highlighted by the iconic, 30-foot Jurassic Park-themed working Lego® roller coaster.
Explore the Livestock Barns to get up-close-and-personal with stout beef cows, adorable pygmy goats, wooly sheep and curly-tailed pigs, and learn about the passionate young farmers that brought them to the fair to show them off and compete.
Here’s where you can find more of Florida State Fair’s exhibitions.
Shopping at the Fair
Shoppers, put on your walking shoes, because temptations abound at the Florida State Fair. Outdoor Concessions overflow with hats, shoes, shorts and handbags, and everywhere you look, food. Expo Hall encompasses 87,500 square feet, stuffed with pet accessories, home improvements, spas, mattresses, unique gifts, pet toys, children’s books, and gadgets as well as businesses and organizations. If you’re searching for a one-of-a-kind gem, Craftsmen's Marketplace is brimming with local art, diverse jewelry, pottery and everything handmade.
Here’s where you can find more about Florida State Fair’s Vendors .
It’s almost impossible to experience the whole Florida State Fair in a day, so you should consider staying for the night—or two or three.
You can ditch the car keys when you stay at one of the numerous sites at the fairgrounds’ campgrounds, abundantly-equipped, pet-friendly and with full electric capabilities.
If you prefer a room, check out the fairgrounds’ hotel partner program, making it simple to find accommodations that are ideal for your needs. Each hotel offers its own, distinctive amenities and budget options, with a wide array of options that include Comfort Suites at Fairgrounds-Casino, just a skip across the street from the fairgrounds and rated #3 out of over 179 hotels on TripAdvisor.com; and the oh-so-conveniently located and highly-rated Holiday Inn Express Tampa Fairgrounds, serving up complimentary breakfasts and in-room comforts like Wi-Fi, coffee and tea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I rent a wheelchair or scooter at the fair? Are discounts available? What’s included in my ticket? The Florida State Fair has the answer to these questions and other must-knows here: FAQ
The Florida State Fair has numerous ways you can join in the action.
Future farmers can step into the agricultural rings with competitions for beef, goats, poultry, llamas, rabbits and dogs, each with multiple events.
Creative competitions have been intertwined with the rich history of the Florida State Fair since it began in 1904, stretching the boundaries of excellence and imagination as contestants strive to produce the best quilt, cake, or painting. Whether you’re a traditionally trained illustrator or you have a knack for sculpting Legos, there’s a place for you to sparkle at the Florida State Fair.
To show-off your brand to a wide audience, become a vendor, whether you craft pottery, sell cookies, or offer a commercial product.
Volunteer opportunities abound—in fact, the Fair, which draws a mind-boggling crowd of around 500,000 people each year, wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of unpaid helpers. You can lend a hand in the livestock paddocks, with the creative competitions like baking and art, or assist the vendors or help in guest services.
Here are more details about ways you can participate in the Florida State Fair.
When You Go ...
The Florida State Fair’s food, entertainment, rides, agriculture and concessions will vary each year; please check the links to find the most current offerings.
It’s hard to find a bigger bang-for-the-buck than Florida’s county fairs and livestock exhibitions, delivering family fun that highlights the state’s agriculture and encourages excellence in future farmers with 4-H and FFA livestock competitions, exhibits and demonstrations. With area art, unique merchandise, live animals and fresh produce on vivid display, Florida fairs offer an opportunity to find local treasures, learn about our food supply, and get a glimpse into the heart of the community.
Florida’s fair and livestock show season runs from September through April, with almost 50 events on the calendar. To see what’s happening in your neck of the sandbar, check out this list of fairs and livestock shows all over the Sunshine State, listed by region and by month.