State Fair offers up a lot for families to do – tips to plan your trip

From many kids’ point of view, the State Fair might just represent the absolute best place on Earth.

It’s bright, bold and colorful; there’s music and crazy foods you won’t see anywhere else; the grounds teem with free entertainment that makes you laugh, inspires you to dream and sometimes just begs you to suspend disbelief; and then there are the games and rides.

Even as a self-proclaimed “big kid,” I still find it to be a magical, energizing place.

If you are bringing the family, here are a few/10 tips to consider to maximize the fun. Tips 1-4 are for pre-fair arrival. The rest cover your time once inside the gates.

  1. Buy your tickets in advance. Say it with me, “buy your tickets in advance!” You can save some serious cash by purchasing your tickets in advance, not to mention time waiting in lines to buy tickets when you arrive at the fair. By buying in advance, you skip the walk-up lines, stroll through the fast-pass gates and you are inside the grounds ready to enjoy your day! There are lots of options for buying in advance including at Food Lion grocery stores, the State Farmers Market, the N.C. Museum of History lobby and the State Fairgrounds. Click here to find out about a variety of special ticket packages, sales locations and online links for sales.
  2. Know your people. What are they most likely going to want to do when they get to the fair? By accessing an online schedule, you can check out what time the pigs races are or when a specific band is playing if you want to see some of the free entertainment. If you know your kids love to ride rides, it might be smart to buy a ride wristband, which lets them ride all day for one price ($25 in advance or $35 at the fair.) You can best plan your day by planning ahead and looking at the daily schedule of events on your planned day to visit.
  3. Come early … in the day AND in the fair’s run. Shhhh… this is just between us, but based on the 10-year average, the opening Thursday and Friday are among the two lowest attended days historically, making them great days to attend the fair. And getting to the fairgrounds when the gates open (click here for hours), typically makes for an easier time getting in the gates.
  4. Leave the driving to someone else. There are a number of park and ride options that will drop you right off at an entrance to the fairgrounds and then you don’t have to worry about finding a parking place. Another option is to park at the Reedy Creek Parking lot and take a free shuttle to the fairgrounds. Again, the shuttle will drop you off close to an entrance for ease.

5. Food is the top reason people say they attend the State Fair and there is plenty to be had. Sharing items is a great way for families to enjoy a variety of fair favorites, without overindulging. You can also save some calories and some money by packing a lunch or snacks to enjoy on the grounds, then have a dessert or other treat before you leave. You can bring food and drinks with you in small bags. Just be aware that all baggage is subject to being searched at the gate for weapons, glass bottles, alcohol, drugs and other prohibited materials.

6. If you have younger children, you will find two areas with activities and rides especially geared for them. The Kiddieland Fun Park area between the Commercial and Education Buildings and Dorton arena offer rides on a smaller scale, Casey’s Clubhouse where kids can meet the State Fair mascot, and a stage with daily shows. Also, you will find additional rides for younger children beside the Scott Building. You can find a map in the Daily Schedule.

7. No one wants to get separated at the fair, but it can happen. If you are traveling with little people, you can find name tag stickers at each entrance, at information booths and at the Lost and Found area in the lobby of the Exposition Center. Put your contact information on the sticker and attach it to your children, just in case. Another helpful tip is to take a photo of your child, so you know exactly what they are wearing that day. We know getting out the door can get busy and it’s easy to forget what someone is wearing. The Exposition Center is also where you can go during the fair to look for a lost item.

8. If you bring a water bottle with you, you can find two water-bottle filling stations on the grounds. One is located in front of Casey’s Clubhouse. The second one is between Kiddieland and the Scott Building. You will find water fountains at other locations as well, but these make it easy to fill bottles.

9. There are a number of first-aid locations on the fairgrounds in case someone ends up with a boo-boo. There is one located outside the Martin Building on the main midway, one near the ride redemption tent near Gate 11, and one outside of the Expo Building.

10. Little feet and big feet can get tired walking around the fairgrounds. You can rent strollers and child wagons if you need assistance getting around. You can find them near gates 1, 8, 9 and 10. All strollers and wagons are first-come, first-serve. The vendor will take a deposit of collateral such as cash, a driver’s license or car keys. Mobility Concepts LLC at Gates 1 and 10 is accepting reservations on their website. Parents can also bring their own diaper and lunch bags, wagons, strollers, umbrellas and other personal items to the fair.

11. Have fun! Even if you show up without a specific game plan, you will find plenty to see and do just by walking around and taking in the sights and sounds of the N.C. State Fair. If you need to find a quieter spot to take a break, drop by the Flower and Garden Show area to find tables to picnic at and a quieter spot to get out of the flow.

  • There are stroller and child’s wagon vendors set up near gates 1, 8, 9 and 10.
  • just be aware that all baggage is subject to being searched at the gate for weapons, glass bottles, alcohol, drugs and other prohibited materials.


About Merrie Go Round

Merrie Go Round is the midway alter-ego of Andrea Ashby, who has officially spent 241 days during the past 23 years at the N.C. State Fair. That's perfect attendance in case you were wondering. In addition to promoting the Fair, looking for untold Fair stories and working on various special events, I also spend a great deal of time roaming the grounds taking photos for the Website and State Fair publications. I like to keep my eyes and ears posted for the unusual and different things that make the State Fair such a great celebration of North Carolina people, traditions and history. I look forward to sharing with you the things I come across on my journey.

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