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Guide to 2024 Florida State Fair in Tampa

What to look for Feb. 8-19 at the first state fair in the country that prides itself for the largest midway and the weirdest food concoctions.
 
People walk along food booths at the Florida State Fair while the tallest traveling Ferris wheel in the country — Midway Sky Eye — looms overhead in 2020. The fair returns to Tampa from Feb. 8-19.
People walk along food booths at the Florida State Fair while the tallest traveling Ferris wheel in the country — Midway Sky Eye — looms overhead in 2020. The fair returns to Tampa from Feb. 8-19. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Feb. 5

The Florida State Fair returns soon for a 12-day run as the first state fair in the country this year, thanks to Tampa’s balmy weather. It prides itself on having the country’s largest midway and breaking new ground in the amusement field.

Running Feb. 8 through Feb. 19, it is famous for its weird food concoctions and as the birthplace of the Donut Burger, and this year will be no different. There’s a new Pop Rocks Pickle, Fried Spam Grilled Cheese and a cheese curd burger nestled between two Honey Buns.

But it’s also notable for its wide variety of things to do and see. There are so many things to see that executive director Cheryl Flood’s first piece of advice is to take some time to check out their website, floridastatefair.com, before you leave the house.

A visitor grabs a corn on the cob on opening day of the Florida State Fair at the Florida State Fairgrounds in 2022.
A visitor grabs a corn on the cob on opening day of the Florida State Fair at the Florida State Fairgrounds in 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times (2022) ]

“There is so much, you can easily feel like you have missed something,” said Flood, now in her eighth year in charge of the Tampa-based fair that stretches across 330 acres.

There are more than 150 shows, three music stages, art exhibits and strolling entertainment. Agriculture is the focus, so there are lots of exhibits like beekeepers with honey tastings, a milking parlor, a space to see a variety of cows, chickens, goats and a place to snuggle baby animals. In the Mooternity Ward you might just see a newborn calf.

And for the first time since 2015, the fair will feature fireworks on the opening and closing weekends. For opening weekend, on Friday and Saturday, there will also be silent discos and a concert on Saturday. “We are competing with Super Bowl weekend, so we wanted to step it up,” Flood said.

A boy is mobbed by goats and llamas while visiting the petting pen on opening day of the 2021 Florida State Fair in Tampa.
A boy is mobbed by goats and llamas while visiting the petting pen on opening day of the 2021 Florida State Fair in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2021)  ]

The Florida State Fair drew 405,888 people in 2023, a 5% decline from the year before, but still enough to land it at No. 41 on the top 50 most-attended fairs in the nation, according to Carnival Warehouse, an industry information resource.

Wide Open Country, the media platform for country music and the country lifestyle, named it among the top state fairs in the country for its record-breaking Ferris wheel and Cracker Country, “the only living history museum in Tampa that will transport you back to the 19th century.”

Here’s a guide to what to see and do at this year’s fair.

A newborn Holstein calf inches towards his mother's udder in the Florida State Fair's Mooternity Ward.
A newborn Holstein calf inches towards his mother's udder in the Florida State Fair's Mooternity Ward. [ Times (2004) ]
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Tickets and discount days

Tickets and armbands are cheaper if you buy them online and in advance, starting at $11. But that discounted pricing ends Wednesday, Feb. 7. After that, admission is $16 on the weekends, $10 for children. Adult tickets are $12 Monday-Thursday, $6 for children.

Note that the fair has changed its youth admissions policy. After 6 p.m. those 17 and younger must be accompanied by an admission-paying parent or guardian who is at least 21. They can supervise up to four youths.

Heroes Day, Feb. 8: Free admission for law enforcement, first responders, active or retired military and veterans with valid ID.

Super Savings, Feb. 11: Free admission all day for law enforcement, first responders, active or retired military and veterans with valid ID. For everyone else, there is free admission after 3 p.m. that day with the purchase of an Anyday Ride Armband.

$3 Thursday, Feb. 15: It’s $3 admission, and also $3 for select rides, games and food items after 3 p.m.

Family Day, Feb. 16 and 19: Anyone 17 years or younger will receive free admission until 6 p.m. with an admission-paying parent or guardian. A parent or guardian can supervise up to four youths.

Senior Days: Any Monday through Friday, admission is $11 for seniors 55 and older.

One of the new foods offered at the Florida State Fair this year will be the Pop Rocks Pickle. It's a kosher pickle wrapped in a Fruit Roll-Up dipped in chocolate rolled in your choice of Pop Rocks, Fruity Pebbles or Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
One of the new foods offered at the Florida State Fair this year will be the Pop Rocks Pickle. It's a kosher pickle wrapped in a Fruit Roll-Up dipped in chocolate rolled in your choice of Pop Rocks, Fruity Pebbles or Flamin' Hot Cheetos. [ Florida State Fair ]

Food

The fair is famous for its many weird ways with food, like Banana Cream Pie Nachos, Cheddar Pickle Crunch Pizza and the Florida Quesadilla, which features gator nuggets. Most notable this year are the new Pop Rocks Pickles and the Barbie-themed funnel cakes.

Make sure to stop by one of the fair’s information booths to get a map of where to find the newest food challenges.

There are also a variety of eating contests across its run, including a corn dog chow-down on Feb. 12, a pizza-eating contest on Valentine’s Day and a funnel cake faceoff on Feb. 15. The fan-favorite Peachy’s Amish Donut Chow Down Championship on Feb. 18 will have contestants seeing who can stuff those hubcap-sized doughnuts into their maw the fastest in a set amount of time.

A worker glazes the Amish Baking Co's famously large freshly fried doughnuts.
A worker glazes the Amish Baking Co's famously large freshly fried doughnuts. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2014) ]

And for foodie inspiration, check out the winners on display in the Special Events Center to see the best jams, cake decorating, bread, cakes, pies and even a gluten-free baking competition. You can watch the baking and cake decorating contests live Feb. 17. Baking will start at 9 a.m. and cake decorating starts at 11 a.m. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m. in the Special Events Center.

Entertainment

“The nice thing about this fair is that once you get in, all the entertainment is free,” Flood said. “We don’t nickel-and-dime you all day that way.”

Friday and Saturday will feature fireworks, silent discos, a pop-up market of local vendors and a concert on Saturday of up-and-coming country duo TigirLily. There will also be fireworks on the closing weekend after the sun sets Feb. 17-18.

The Hollywood Racing Pigs are among the daily entertainment options at the Florida State Fair, which opens Feb. 8 in Tampa.
The Hollywood Racing Pigs are among the daily entertainment options at the Florida State Fair, which opens Feb. 8 in Tampa. [ Florida State Fair ]

Among the other entertainers to watch for:

Aqua Rock by Bello Nock: The former star of the Ringling circus has his own daily show for the fair that is a fusion of stunts, rock music and water choreography over the big lake at the fairgrounds.

Foam Zone: New this year is a play area for kids that organizers promise isn’t as messy as it sounds. At three daily shows, kids can dive into a world of whimsy where they can immerse themselves in frothy, foamy fun. Flood swears it will wipe right off their clothes when done.

Circus Hollywood: The daily show under a circus tent has seven revolving acts with camels, horses, dogs, clowns, daredevils, magicians and trapeze artists.

Hollywood Racing Pigs: A fan favorite returns to cheer on pigs as they tear up the track for the coveted winner’s cookie. This three-part event consists of an obstacle course and two races, including the World’s Fastest Potbelly Race on Mall Road.

Lawn Mower Races: Another fan favorite will be Feb. 17-18 when the nation’s oldest sanctioned mower race takes place in the Covered Arena.

Cycle Circus Live: The largest freestyle motocross entertainment show of its kind brings together top action sports athletes and the theatrics of cycle circus in the Grand Prix Ring.

Secret Walls: A new art-as-entertainment offering this year is a live paint battle. Teams of up to six artists will create a mural in 90 minutes starting at 7 each night Feb. 8-10. The winning team is chosen by the crowd. There will also be live music and a fire performance with more than a dozen local and traveling artists competing in the Entertainment Hall.

Find schedules and more information about all the entertainment options at floridastatefair.com/fair/entertainment.

Two and a half year old Kenna Brown hangs onto her newly won goldfish during opening night at the Florida State Fair in 2022 in Tampa.
Two and a half year old Kenna Brown hangs onto her newly won goldfish during opening night at the Florida State Fair in 2022 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2022)  ]

Rides and games

The Florida State Fair has the largest state fair midway in the country, with more than 90 rides and attractions, including the tallest traveling Ferris wheel in the country — Midway Sky Eye. There is also a section just for the wee ones.

Kids will also find a petting zoo among the agricultural exhibits. And there’s a family game show in the Welcome Center called the Kids Celebration Game Show that is for all ages with music, interaction and games.

Returning this year is the Little Farm Hands agricultural education exhibit, where children can get hands-on knowledge about the agricultural process like building a scarecrow, picking up fake animal poop or saddling a pony.

Kids hang on tight during a ride on opening day of the Florida State Fair in 2022.
Kids hang on tight during a ride on opening day of the Florida State Fair in 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

If you go

Florida State Fair: The fair runs Feb. 8-19. Admission is $16, $10 for age 6-11 and discounts for seniors. Ride armbands are $27-$54. Check out the fair’s Discount Days page for deals on certain days. Gates open at 11 a.m. Monday-Thursday and at 10 a.m. Friday-Sunday. Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N., Tampa. 813-621-7821. FloridaStateFair.com.