TAMPA — Since 1915, Tampa has been the home of the Florida State Fair, a collection of the state’s best agricultural achievements, the country’s largest midway and everything you can think of that can be deep-fried.
The fair opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 21. Florida’s mild weather usually makes it the first state fair in the country, so we get the first crack at weird fair foods, entertainment and rides.
Strap on the feed bag and put on some comfortable shoes. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
1. Get a guide
Once you step into the fairgrounds, look for the information booths scattered across several kiosks. In addition to a map of the free entertainment and exhibits available, you can get an information card to find the locations of all the fair’s new food and entertainment options.
Unlike last year, face masks are not required when indoors, though they are suggested. There are hand-sanitizing stations in multiple locations, and ATMs are scattered throughout the grounds.
2. The food
This fair has made its mark by debuting such creations as the Krispy Kreme doughnut burger, deep-fried butter and chocolate-covered bacon.
Returning favorites such as funnel cakes of varying flavors, a chicken and waffle pizza and the oversized Amish doughnuts — which were a huge hit at the Bonnaroo music festival — should not be overlooked.
Grab a food map from the fair information booths to plot your deep-fried path. You’ll find there’s a hot dog with a doughnut for a bun, a funnel cake that holds taco fixings, deep-fried pickle nachos and smoothies topped with Pop Rocks. You can take part in the fair’s foodie crawl by trying all the new menu items and voting for your favorite. Voting cards are available at guest services found throughout the fairgrounds.
3. The rides
Get a ride armband to save money on the country’s largest midway. A weekday ride armband is $20, and an “any day” ride armband is $30.
There are more than 100 rides, and you can find the height requirements and how many tickets you will need on the website for Wade Shows, the purveyor of the fair’s rides. That will help you make the most of your time and money.
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One of the most popular attractions is the largest portable Ferris wheel in North America, called the Midway Sky Eye. It towers over the fair at 155 feet.
4. Go back in time
A must-see for history buffs is Cracker Country, a living history museum that tells the story of the settlement of Florida during the 1800s by cattle ranchers, who got the name “crackers” from the sound of the whips they used to drive cattle.
The museum re-creates an 1890s rural Florida town with original buildings dating from 1870 to 1912, which were relocated to the fairgrounds from across the state. Costumed interpreters portray the daily living experience of Florida’s pioneers.
5. Free entertainment
Lots of entertainment is included in the price of admission, from a roving one-man band to lumberjack demonstrations, pig races, circus acts, stunts and an all-new High Dive Show.
But the point of the fair is to showcase the state’s agricultural history and industry, and there are loads of entertaining exhibits. You can pet a cow and learn and taste the process of making freshly squeezed Florida orange juice.
Don’t miss the Mooternity Ward, where you can see a calf being born and hold a baby chick or piglet. You can also see milking demonstrations, and there are lots of places to feed the animals inside the Ag-Venture section of the fair.
Other entertainment includes a bull-riding and cowboy stunt rodeo show and a freestyle Jet Ski show. Check out the Florida State Fair’s full entertainment lineup at floridastatefair.com.
If you go
Florida State Fair: The 2022 state fair runs Feb. 10-21 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N, Tampa.
Tickets: $10, $6 for ages 6-11, $8 seniors. Prices rise once the fair officially opens. Admission after Feb. 10 is $11 on weekdays, $15 weekends; $6 weekdays for ages 6-11, $9 on weekends. Tickets are available at floridastatefair.com.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday. The midway opens at 11 a.m. weekdays and 10:30 a.m. weekends and closes 90 minutes after gates close.