The Fairest of Them All
Each fall, families, farmers and friends gather for a once-a-year experience that stimulates all the senses: the state fair.
Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member Novell Wilson (right) enjoys the Tulsa State Fair with her grandkids, Gavin, Kai, and Zoey. Photo by Laura Araujo
For more than a century, the fair has served as a gathering place for tradition and innovation. A veritable American institution, the state fair honors the nation’s agricultural roots while at the same time highlighting the spirit of ingenuity that is imperative to the American dream.
The Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City and the Tulsa State Fair in Tulsa attract a combined total of 2 million visitors annually, drawing guests from all 77 of Oklahoma’s counties.
“One of my favorite things to do is sit at one of our outside gates and see the smiles on the faces of the people walking through the gate when they get hit with the ‘sensory overload’ of the state fair,” says Scott Munz, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Oklahoma State Fair.
As Munz watches, fairgoers pass through one of the main gates and get their first glimpse of the crowded midway. The shrieks of thrilled children can be heard as they spin on colorful carnival rides. Aromas of roasted nuts and fresh-grilled corn lure hungry guests to concession stands serving corndogs, turkey legs, cinnamon rolls, funnel cakes and deep-fried everything. Entire families experience the excitement of childhood anew.
“The state fair is a ‘slice of Americana’ where people can come to relax and have fun,” Munz says. “Family memories have been made over generations and continue to be made as kids grow up and bring their own kids to the fair to make new memories. It’s not unusual to see three generations of family members walking around the fair together.”
Ferris wheel at the Tulsa State Fair | Photo by Laura Araujo
The roots of both the Oklahoma and Tulsa State Fairs can be traced to territorial days. The Oklahoma State Fair began as a farmers’ market in the late 1800s while the Tulsa State Fair began as a county free fair in 1903. The first official Oklahoma State Fair was held in 1907.
Sarah Thompson, spokeswoman for the Tulsa State Fair explains that state fairs started out as forums for education and entertainment. Farmers came together to share their best agriculture practices and ideas. At the same time, the fair offered friendly competition between participants to determine who had the best livestock, vegetables, baked goods, handicrafts, and more.
“One of the original purposes of fairs was to introduce innovative ideas to guests that improve quality of life. Those ideas might be a fun new kitchen gadget or a new type of feed for livestock,” Thompson says.
While state fairs of today have evolved and developed from their initial forms, the Oklahoma and Tulsa State Fairs still showcase novel products and practices. A variety of contests continue to be part of the fairs’ line-ups: everything from livestock shows and barrel racing to photography, cooking, woodturning and fiddling.
“It is a mix of new and unique combined with traditions and heritage,” Thompson says. “The variety of information presented in an entertaining manner is part of what makes fairs distinctive.”
Munz says the Oklahoma State Fair’s 2018 theme, “Old Fashioned Fun, New Fashioned Fair,” highlights this juxtaposition of time-honored traditions with ever-evolving attractions and exhibits.
No matter how they have changed over the years, the Oklahoma and Tulsa State Fairs strive to keep families in the forefront of the fair experience.
“Our No. 1 priority is to provide guests with a safe, clean and family-friendly event. Entertainment options are carefully considered and selected with families in mind,” Thompson says.
So this fall, make new memories with the family: head out to the state fair, hop on a ride, sample the latest fair food, play some games, and learn something new.
“Come out and let yourself be a kid again,” Munz invites.
“Where else can you find ‘As Seen On TV’ products to purchase, watch sea lions perform, eat a grilled cheese donut and ride a rollercoaster, all in the same day at the same place?” Thompson asks. “Guests could visit each of the 11 days and experience something new every time.”
When and Where
Oklahoma State Fair: Old Fashioned Fun, New Fashioned Fair | September 13-23 | okstatefair.com
Tulsa State Fair: It’s Go Time | September 27-October 7 | www.tulsastatefair.com
OKL's Top 5 Tips
Children enjoy getting an up-close look at state fair animals | Photo by Laura Araujo
1. Buy tickets early to save on general admission. Also check fair websites for special discount days, military discounts, and more.
2. Free on-site parking is available at the Oklahoma State Fair. The Tulsa State Fair’s Transit System provides a free shuttle service from a number of local pick-up locations (see website for details); paid on-site parking is also available.
3. Visit the state fair on a weekday to avoid the biggest crowds.
4. Plan your day before you go. Use the maps on okstatefair.com to locate your favorite food stops, vendors and attractions. Or, create a custom itinerary using the Tulsa State Fair “Plan Your Day” feature at www.tulsastatefair.com.
5. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. The Oklahoma State Fair operates a free tram for those who need a break from walking.
The Fairest Food Around
S’mores Caramel Apple | Photo by Hayley Leatherwood
The state fair is a place of innovation—and fair food is no exception. Though most people have their traditional favorites, it’s hard to pass up novelties like a deep-fried Bacon Onion Bomb or a Mashed Potato Sundae.
A few new food items you can expect to see this year are:
Chicken Fried Bacon: A new spin on the chicken fry, this time battering bacon and deep frying it for extra greasy goodness.
Cinnamon Roll Fries: Cinnamon roll dough is cut into the shape of a fry, deep fried, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with vanilla icing.
Dragon’s Breath: Fruity cereal is soaked in liquid nitrogen, freeze dried and served over cotton candy. The person eating it looks like they are breathing out smoke.
Grilled Cheese Donuts: Cheese is sandwiched between glazed donut halves and grilled to perfection.
State Fair Attractions
Cassidy Terrell, an East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member from Beggs, Oklahoma, competes in barrel racing at the state fair. Photo by Laura Araujo
Both the Oklahoma and Tulsa State Fairs offer a variety of entertaining and educational attractions. Nightly concerts are included in the gate admission price; learn about animal husbandry at one of the fair’s birthing centers; test your creative skills in a number of walk-up competitions; shop products made by fellow Okies at the Made in Oklahoma store; enjoy hands-on fun at the petting zoo; or purchase tickets to a magical Disney on Ice performance.
In addition, here are some of the attractions unique to each fair.
Oklahoma State Fair
Junior Livestock Show
The Oklahoma State Fair Junior Livestock Show attracts 700,000 attendees annually and features 2,500 exhibitors and 6,000 animals. Oklahoma’s Electric Cooperatives serve as a title sponsor for the livestock show.
Xtreme Bulls Tour, September 21-22
This PRCA tour makes a two-night stop at the Oklahoma State Fair for an evening of bull riding followed by live country music. A ticket is required.
Tulsa State Fair
The Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show, September 29-30
Fairgoers get an up-close look at hundreds of cakes and confections as part of the 25th annual Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show. The show’s Grand National Wedding Cake Competition attracts professional cake decorators from across the globe.
The Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show’s Grand National Wedding Cake Competition at the Tulsa State Fair draws crowds to view hundreds of sweet creations. | Photo by Laura Araujo
Red Dirt Rodeo, October 5-6
This PRCA rodeo features bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding followed by live musical entertainment. A ticket is required.
Shhh! Best-Kept Secrets
Interactive exhibits: There are hundreds of contests open to fairgoers of all ages—in everything from fine arts to culinary arts to woodworking; many require advanced registration while some allow walk-up participation. Other hands-on areas of the fair include the Oklahoma State Fair’s “Hands On Spot” in the Modern Living Building and the Tulsa State Fair’s “Just for Kids” Building.
The Tulsa State Fair Dairy Bar: Located on the west end of the Oklahoma Ford Dealers Barn, the Dairy Bar is one of the fair’s most affordable and delicious ice cream stops. “It’s a little off the beaten path but absolutely worth the extra steps,” says Tulsa State Fair spokeswoman Sarah Thompson. While waiting on a milkshake or sundae, guests can watch as cows are milked in the milking parlor.
The bang for the buck: “For the price of outside gate admission, we can entertain you for anywhere between 6 and 8 hours. Comparing our gate admission prices to the cost of a first-run movie that only lasts for 1 to 2 hours, we feel we provide great value,” says Scott Munz, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Oklahoma State Fair. “Factor in our discount days and the value gets even better. It equates to a whole lot of fun for a small amount of money.”