Nothing screams “Americana” quite like a summer afternoon spent at the state fair. The sounds of laughing children and braying livestock. The sights of carnival rides and butter sculptures. The signature scent, a combination of sunscreen, funnel cakes and animal manure, wafting through the grounds. Which states, though, have the best state fairs – the ones where you and your family will best be able to enjoy on a budget and create memories to last a lifetime, all without having to dip into your savings?
In order to rank America’s best state fairs, SmartAsset analyzed the data across the following five factors: the length of the fairs, attendance rates, cost of general admission for adults and children and weather. For a full explanation of how we came to our rankings, see the Data and Methodology section below.
- Familiar faces. This is the fourth straight year in which SmartAsset has assembled this list. The 2019 edition is relatively similar to the list from last year. Seven of the top 10 fairs we look at this year were also in last year’s top 10.
- Middle America rules. Many of the state fairs on this list are located in states far from either coast. State fairs are often dedicated at least partially to agriculture, so it makes sense that these states that often have a big agricultural base and tradition would have great fairs.
This is SmartAsset’s fourth annual study on the best state fairs in America. Read last year’s study here.
1. Arizona State Fair
One of the newcomers to this year’s list, the Arizona State Fair wasn’t even part of the study last year. This year, it leads our study in terms of length, open for a whole 24 days. The fair, held in Phoenix, also ranks well for its low average daily precipitation – being located in the desert tends to make for fairly dry conditions.
Furthermore, while many state fairs are held in the summer, Arizona’s is held in October, a month in which average daily precipitation is approximately 0.02 inches. It would likely be too hot for much enjoyment if the fair were held under the Southwestern summer sun.
2. Eastern Idaho State Fair
Idaho is a big state, so it makes sense that there are two state fairs — both of which appear on this list. The more highly rated one is the Eastern Idaho State Fair, held annually in Blackfoot. This fair is tied for the second-lowest adult admission price in our study at just $6. It also is tied for the second-lowest average daily participation.
The Eastern Idaho State Fair is held in late August and early September, and last year 248,000 people attended, which is constitutes approximately 14% of Idaho’s population.
3. Mississippi State Fair
The Mississippi State Fair was ranked first on our list last year. While it has dropped two spots from that lofty perch, it will still take home a third-place ribbon this year. The Mississippi State Fair has the lowest adult admission price in our study: It’ll cost an adult just $5 for a day of fun. The cost is the same for children.
One potential downside is that the fair, held each year in Jackson, does rank in the bottom quarter of our list in the metric of average daily precipitation. It’ll be important to check the weather reports before loading up the car, but with a total duration of 13 days, it should be easy to reschedule if it rains on your parade.
4. Western Idaho State Fair (tie)
The other state fair in Idaho is tied for the fourth spot in our overall rankings. The Western Idaho State Fair is held each year in Boise during mid to late August. It is tied with the Eastern Idaho State Fair for the second-lowest average daily precipitation in our study.
This fair ranks in the top 10 for both metrics of adult and youth admission. The cost is $7 for an adult and $4 for a child.
4. New Mexico State Fair (tie)
Tied with the Western Idaho State Fair for the fourth spot in our study is the New Mexico State Fair, held in September in Albuquerque. This state fair ranks sixth in our study for average daily precipitation. It also has the seventh-highest ranking in our study for the percentage of its population attending the fair – 24% of New Mexico’s population, 504,445 people to be exact, crossed through the fair’s gates last year.
The New Mexico State Fair does have a fairly high admission cost, however, at $10 for adults and $7 for children. That ties with the Arizona State Fair for the highest youth admission price tag in the top 10.
6. South Dakota State Fair
Next up is the South Dakota State Fair, held each summer in Huron. At just $6, this fair is tied with the Eastern Idaho State Fair for the second-cheapest adult admission in our study. At just five days long, though, it is also tied (with the Michigan State Fair) for the shortest state fair we studied.
A total of 25% of the state’s population attended the South Dakota State Fair last year, placing this fair in the top 10 for that metric as well.
7. North Dakota State Fair
The North Dakota State Fair ranks seventh on our list. Minot hosts this fair each July. Even though North Dakota is one of the more sparsely populated states in our study, a whopping 42% of the state’s population attends the fair, which is the highest rate for this metric in our study.
The fair does not fare as well in terms of length, however, as it is only nine days long.
8. Oregon State Fair
Located in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon State Fair is held in Salem. Despite the region’s reputation for rain, the fair actually ranks fifth in our study for low average daily precipitation during the month in which it occurs. It also ranks fifth for adult admission, costing only $8. However, only a relatively small percentage of the state’s residents made it to the 2018 fair – specifically 8%, or 316,153.
9. Nebraska State Fair
The Nebraska State Fair, located in Grand Island, is next. The Cornhusker State’s showcase costs just $3 for youth, the seventh-lowest price for children of all the fairs in our study. The adult price isn’t as inexpensive – adults gain entry for $12, which puts this fair at 25th out of 36 for this metric in our study. Nebraska receives an average of approximately 0.09 inches of precipitation across late August and early September, a low rainfall metric that allowed 16% of its population to enjoy its state fair in 2018.
10. Great New York State Fair
The only East Coast fair in our study, the Great New York State Fair is held in Syracuse each year during late August and early September. It’s free for children, so be sure to take advantage. Only 7% of the state’s population attended the 13-day fair last year. While that is a relatively low percentage, it still comes out to 1,279,010 total attendees.
Data and Methodology
We analyzed data from 36 state fairs to find the best in the nation. This data represents the states for which a full data set was available. We used the following metrics to compare the fairs:
- State fair length. This is the duration of the fair as a number of days. Data comes from state fair websites.
- State fair attendance rate. This is the number of people who attended the fair divided by the state’s population. Data comes from state fair websites and other research.
- Adult admission price. The cost of admission for an adult. Data comes from state fair websites.
- Youth admission price. The cost of admission for a child. Generally, this data shows the cost for a child between the ages of 6 and 12, but it varies based on the fair. Data comes from state fair websites.
- Average daily precipitation. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study uses NOAA’s monthly normals data, which considers 30 years of weather data. We considered the average precipitation rate in the months during which the fair is held.
Getting More Out of Your Money
- Plan now, play later. A financial advisor can help you plan for your family vacations, to the fair or anywhere. Find one with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and we find up to three advisors in your area, all fully vetted and free of disclosures. You talk to your matches and decide how to move forward.
- Resourceful refunds. If you do receive a refund come tax time, one great use for that money is to put it aside to save up for a vacation. Find out what your tax return might look like with SmartAsset’s free tax return calculator.
Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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