10 Things Not To Miss at the State Fair
Posted September 26, 2007
Updated October 2, 2007
Last weekend I went to Mule Days for the parade and to sharpen some essential State Fair skills: finding a good parking space, dodging horse poo on pedestrian walkways, and juggling a large drink and a funnel cake at the same time while trying to put away my wallet.
While I'm working on my generic festival/fair skills, I'm also thinking about the specifics of the NC State Fair. WRAL has asked me to come up with a list of ten things to do at the Fair. Just ten things? They've got to be kidding! But I'll try. The top ten list starts off at Gate 8 (a good place to enter the fairgrounds if you're parked at Carter-Finley or the RBC Center.)
1. GET JUICED -- After coming in at Gate 8 you'll find yourself going over a footbridge and up into the grounds, with Heritage Circle on your right. Instead of grabbing a soda, how about reminding yourself it's autumn with a cup of fresh-pressed apple juice, hot or cold? Not only is it fun to watch the apples get pressed, but a cup of cold juice is the perfect way to start off a busy afternoon at the Fair.
Extra Credit: Heritage Circle has a variety of shows and demonstrations. A blacksmith gives demonstrations right next to the apple press, while up the hill behind Heritage Circle you can see Smokey the Bear. Fair Fanatic Hint: You know that bridge you just crossed over before you got to Heritage Circle? It's a great place to take pictures at night; the lights off the midway reflect in the pond. (Assuming there's any water in the pond. Let's all hope.)
2. FLOWERS -- The Flower and Garden Show is right next to Heritage Circle. Wander through the exhibits and perhaps you'll get inspired with some ideas for your own garden. I admit that sometimes I save this part of the Fair to visit as I'm leaving, as the quiet of the area and the creativity in the garden entries are a nice way to decompress after the busyness of the Midway and buildings.
Fair Fanatic Hint: there is a huge lawn with tables and benches behind the Flower and Garden Show building. It's a wonderful, quiet place to relax.
3. SEE THE REALLY OLD SCHOOL -- Heading up the hill after leaving the Flower and Garden show, you'll see the Holshouser building, a round building which holds the Village of Yesteryear. Here you'll find dozens of craftspeople doing everything from beadwork to silversmithing to pottery to origami to soapmaking. You can while away an hour here just watching the work, or you can get an early start on your holiday shopping!
Extra Credit: There's a fascinating old farm equipment exhibition right across from the Holshouser building.
Fair Fanatic Hint: Weekday mornings are a great time to visit the VoY, weekends are hugely busy. There are bathrooms in the Holshouser building but in my experience there's a better option just a short walk away (see thing-to-do #5.)
4. CATCH A SHOW AND REST YOUR FEET -- As you exit the Holshouser building and head up the hill toward the front of the fairgrounds, you'll see the entrance to the Sam Rand Grandstand on your left. There are paid shows on the weekend (tractor pull the first weekend, demolition derby the second weekend) but the Keith King BMX Stunt Show is free and plays several times a day throughout the Fair. Get details on the show at <a href="http://www.bmxbikestuntshows.com/">http://www.bmxbikestuntshows.com/</a>.
Fair Fanatic Hint: Too sunny? A touch hot? Have your lunch in the grandstand. The seats aren't the most comfortable but you can spread out and it's cool.
5. FEAR THE GIANT PUMPKINS -- As you exit the grandstand, turn right and retrace your steps a little, then cut left past the turkey shoot toward the (newish) Expo Building. Here you'll see winning agricultural exhibits including at least one giant pumpkin. (There's always a giant pumpkin.) There's also bees, animals, and a few special exhibits. Milk a cow!
Fair Fanatic Hint: Big bathrooms with fast-moving lines.
6. PEOPLE WATCH AT DORTON ARENA -- Leave the Expo building, turn right toward the Jim Graham building, and then take a left. You'll see the Dorton Arena with its large expanse of lawn. Last year over 785,000 people came to the Fair. You won't see every one of them if you sit on the lawn of the Dorton Arena and watch the crowds go by -- but it might seem that way! Around mealtimes you can sit across from restaurant row and listen to barkers hawk the food. ("Chocolate paaaaahhhh.... lemon paaaahhhhhh...") The lawn is also a good place to catch the wandering entertainment at the Fair, like Carrie McQueen and the Mobile Robots.
Extra Credit: The Waterfall Stage is next to the Arena and has constant concerts and entertainment.
Fair Fanatic Hint: If you want to cool off, sit around the waterfall itself.
7. GRAB SOME GOODIES AT THE KERR SCOTT BUILDING -- Turn right from the front of the Dorton Area and head toward Gate 11. The Kerr Scott Building is on your right. Here you'll find some vendors but a lot of exhibits as well. Great place to pick up free stickers, pencils, keychains, bags, and brochures. Past exhibits from the state of North Carolina have also allowed you to do things like see if the state has any unclaimed property that belongs to you!
Extra Credit: Arts and Crafts winners and entrants are available in one half of the building -- a fun browse.
8. WATCH THE PIGS GO VROOM -- Exit the side door at the Kerr Scott building and head toward Gate 9, which faces Trinity Road. Shortly before the gate on your right you'll see where the Circle C Racing Pigs tear up the track five times a day. It's not a long show, but very exciting. Sponsored by Ray Price Harley Davidson, which still makes me laugh.
Fair Fanatic Hint: Get there early if you want any chance to get a good seat.
9. WANDER AROUND THE MIDWAY -- The Midway, except for the kiddie rides, used to be mostly around Gate 5 and 7. Now it's scattered all over the Fairgrounds but is mostly in the old grandstand area near Gate 9. This new Midway area is paved and has plenty of places to eat, play games, and hang out. I don't consider a trip to the Fair complete without some time wandering around the midway, watching the crazy games, checking out the rides (but not necessarily riding the rides) and people watching. (And okay, maybe spending a few bucks on the water gun races.)
Extra Credit: If you're taking kids to the Fair, you might want to stick to the kiddie midway that runs in the area approximately from Gate 11 to Dorton Arena.
Fair Fanatic Hint: A surprisingly large number of places to sit in the midway, but can get really crowded. Last year I was walking from the Village of Yesteryear to the Kerr Scott Building and wanted to cut through the Midway, but the gateway into the Midway was closed. Don't count on using it as a shortcut.
10. EAT SOMETHING DREADFUL -- Notice I didn't say eat EVERYTHING dreadful. But what's a trip to the Fair without having one thing without thinking of calories? Maybe it's something decadent like a fried Oreo or Twinkie. Maybe it's something festive, like a giant turkey leg. Maybe it's something uniquely southern, like a ham biscuit and some grits. (There's even one booth at the Fair that sells boiled peanuts!) Indulge in a little Fair food.
Extra Credit: If ham biscuits and grits are more your daily staple, take your Fair trip as the opportunity to extend your palate a little. In the past few years at the Fair I've seen more exotic food like specialties from India and a cajun food booth that served some great red beans and rice.
Fair Fanatic Hint: The row from Gate 11 down to the Expo Center has a lot of good food booths. So, surprisingly, does the kiddie midway.
Wow, how can WRAL possibly expect me to contain myself to ten things to do? I haven't even mentioned Bear Country, or the Education and Commercial Buildings, or the pottery on the back side of Dorton Arena, or the fireworks, or the petting zoo, or the nightly concerts in Dorton Arena, or the folk festival, or the Jim Graham Building!
This'll just have to get you started. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Fair and I'm sure each person has their list of must-do and must-see. Perhaps this list will give you a few ideas you hadn't considered. Have fun!