Every year, the Florida State Fair gets to test our guts with culinary creations such as a Cheeseburger on a Stick. But it also has an edge as the first state fair of the year. As most fairs are in the steam of summer, ours allows for fun when the weather is still cool.
It has the largest midway in the country with more than 100 different rides and games along with daily entertainment on more than 40 acres. You’ll see everything from racing pigs to daredevils like circus legend Bello Nock, who made the Guinness Book of World Records for his feats.
Here are some happenings to plan for this year.
Uka-Palooza: On Feb. 8, the fair will have two free workshops with ukulele master, music historian and music instruction book author Marc “Lil Rev” Revenson. There will be ukulele and music activities scheduled throughout the day starting at 10 a.m.. Included with fair admission.
Fair Foodie Crawl: For the first time ever, guests have a chance to try a range of food and drinks across the fair. Choose samples from a pre-paid menu of vendors, sampling everything from the savory to the sweet. Vote for your faves at the end and receive a commemorative T-shirt. The food crawl starts at 5 p.m. Feb. 13. It’s $25 (fair admission not included) for food, a souvenir cup and a T-shirt. floridastatefair.com/foodie.
Deep Fried Dash: Also a first for the fair, you can race right through the midway, pass the agriculture side of the fairgrounds by the livestock barns and arenas and end at the entertainment stages. All racers will receive a finisher’s medal for crossing the finish line, a shirt, a corn dog and free admission to the fair following the race. 7 a.m. Feb. 15. $28 for the Fun Run, $35 for 5K. floridastatefair.com/5k.
Demolition Derby: A popular annual favorite, watch the destructive drivers compete at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 and 2 p.m. Feb. 9 as they rattle and roll through a series of obstacles to be the last car standing. Included with admission.
Ranch Rodeo: See ranch rodeo teams of four cowboys and a cowgirl compete in events derived from jobs you might see on an actual cattle ranch. 7 p.m. Feb. 14 and 3 and 6 p.m. Feb. 15.
Country Gold: Concerts at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Feb. 12 include Leroy Van Dyke, Linda Davis, the Malpasse Brothers and Steve and Rudy Gatlin. Included with admission.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not: The interactive exhibit will have exotic things like a two-headed calf, original Star Wars movie props, a piece of the Berlin Wall, toilet paper wedding dresses and more.
SOAR by Natural Encounters: Close encounters with a variety of birds and other live animals demonstrating species-appropriate behavior.
Extreme Dogs: A show that includes agility, high jump, tricks and dock diving with a cast of dogs in the Equestrian Center.
Bello Nock: The Ringling circus star presents Daredevil Daze, a show of aerial and motorcycle stunts, the Whirling Wheel of Wonder and more in the Equestrian Center.
Sea Lion Splash: Sea Lions entertain in a specially-built tank.
Hollywood Racing Pigs: With names like Kim Kardashi-ham and Notorious P.I.G., the popular pork races return for daily runs.
XPogo: Cheer on this extreme show of next-generation pogo sticks as they fly more than 9 feet in the air.
Cracker Country: Tampa’s only living history museum, open all 12 days of the fair, lets you immerse yourself in the life of a 19th century Florida pioneer. Visit authentic buildings and learn about home life, trade, commerce and transportation as it was in rural Florida just before the turn of the 20th century. On Feb. 14-16, interact with Buddy Mills, a true Florida Cracker cowboy, and watch Laurel Dabbs, a nationally renowned decoy artist, practice her carving craft. See handmade cow whips prized by Florida ranchers and crafted by George Altman in the Florida Cattle Ranching: 500 Years of Tradition exhibit.
Giraffic Menagerie: Meet and feed Twiggs the giraffe and his exotic friends.
Antwan Towner: See the Central Florida entertainer’s magic and mind reading shows daily.
Livestock Barns: Learn about a variety of animals being shown by open and youth exhibitors from around the country, from beef and dairy animals, pygmy goats, dairy goats, sheep and swine.
Live music: Acts include alt-country Southern rockers Southbound 75, the Dennis Lee Band, Free Fallin’, Rob Hazen, SFO: Journey Tribute, Luke Langford Band, Dueling Pianos, a One Man Band roaming daily and more.
If you go
The fair is open daily Feb. 6-17. Gates open at 10 a.m. and the midway opens at 1 p.m. Monday-Thursday; gates and midway open at 9 a.m. Friday-Sunday. $11-14 adults, $9 seniors, $6-$8 children, $20-$30 armbands. Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. (813) 621-7821. floridastatefair.com.