The State Fair of Texas, running September 28-October 21 at Fair Park, is undoubtedly one of the biggest annual highlights in Dallas, bringing together a mix of the new and the familiar, the young and the old, the country and the city. Although the fried foods are often the big draw these days, the fair offers so much more that it seems unfair to reduce the entire thing to a silly old fried bacon cinnamon roll — no matter how much you love bacon.
So we put together a list of the top five must-do's at this year's State Fair. Oh, and use this tip from the pros: Take the DART green line to the Fair Park Station instead of parking on-site. Not only will parties of three or less save money — parking is $15 compared to $4 per person for DART day passes — but you'll get to enjoy one of the DART's coolest rail stations.
Chinese Lantern Festival
This new event takes over the Leonhardt Lagoon, where you can normally ride swan boats. Even though that tradition is gone temporarily, the festival promises to bring more than enough entertainment to make up for it. Multiple lanterns, in all shapes and sizes, are on display, including a football field-length dragon made from 15,000 porcelain dishes. At night, they come alive with light, giving the grounds an extra-special glow. Yes, it costs extra — but so do the food, drinks and rides. If you don't mind paying for those, you shouldn't mind paying for a memorable experience like this.
Chevrolet Main Stage
Free concerts have long been a staple of the State Fair, and this year's line-up on the Main Stage is a nice combination of national and local acts from a variety of genres. Stargazers can catch bands like Kevin Costner & Modern West, Uncle Kracker, Kellie Pickler and The Commodores. For something a little closer to home, there are acts like Le Freak, Kevin Fowler and Texas Tornados. And these are just the headliners. Other bands appear on this stage and other spots throughout the fairgrounds every day of the week, so you'll never be lacking for musical entertainment.
Free Girl Scout Cookies
You normally have to wait until January to get Girl Scout cookies 'round these parts, but to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, the State Fair is giving away around 2,000 cookies twice a day (11 am and 3 pm) every day at the Hall of State. Thin Mints and Trefoils in the middle of October — for free? Yes, please. As an added bonus, you can purchase fried Samoas, a Samoa wrapped in a wonton skin and fried, then drizzled with chocolate, caramel and coconut.
No one's forgotten about all the animals on display; it's just that much of the State Fair hoopla tends to focus on what's new, not the mainstays. The Children's Barnyard lets you get up close and personal with menagerie of farm animals; the Jump! Ultimate Dog Show presents the talents of frisbee-catching dogs; the pig races are a squeal; and the Birds of the World not only exposes you to some beautiful winged creatures, but also takes you off the beaten path from most of fair, as it's in the Band Shell on the west side of the fairgrounds.
Some prefer the newer Texas Skyway — which takes you from one end of the midway to the other — to see the State Fair from above. But we still find the Texas Star irresistible. Now at its 28th State Fair, it's at once a landmark you can see from miles around and a way for you to see for miles around, with the possibility of seeing all the way to Fort Worth, if you squint really hard. Playing games or eating a Fletcher's corny dog may be enticing, but save some tickets for the largest Ferris wheel many of us will ever get a chance to ride.