As every summer winds down, the excitement around Central NY revs up with the annual event known as the New York State Fair. Since 1841 Syracuse has played host to ‘The Fair’. Originally designed to be an agricultural and household fair, today’s fair still celebrates the region’s rich agricultural history, while introducing and recognizing many new services and products of the state.

During the last week of the summer treat yourself and your family to a day at The Fair. With tickets available at various outlets throughout the state, sometimes at a reduced cost or even free, it turns out to be a cheap way to enjoy a day of fun. Park your car for $5, pick up a program for another $3, and you’re ready to start your day. Inside The Fair’s program you’ll find a run down of events for the day, a map of the grounds, and many money-saving coupons for rides, food, and other attractions.

I try to visit The Fair at least once or twice a year, and here are some of my favorite Fair highlights. When I first arrive my wife and I head to the Midway. Though we don’t take in any of the rides, I must say they do have some pretty wild ones if your stomach is up to it. I do however try my luck at a few games of chance, and attempt to cash in on a new stuffed animal. (Like my house needs another one of those. That’s ok though, it’ll make its way to a local charity this upcoming holiday season.) Of course such strenuous Midway games can work up an appetite, and you can find great deals on classic Fair food around every corner. In the mood for a deep-fried Snickers? How about garlic shrimp-on-a-stick? Me, I keep my eyes open for the hot dog and a Coke for $1. Hey, I’ll take two!

Later on I make it a point to watch the chainsaw guy carve a lighthouse sculpture out of a block of wood in about ten minutes. Rachel and I will then ask each other, “Do you think that’s all he does?” I mean, how much wood do you have to carve AND SELL to pay the rent and feed yourself?  Anyways, further down the Midway be sure to stop into a few of the tented flea markets scattered about. Hey, they’ve got ‘Coach’ and ‘Louis V’ for only $20, and they ‘say’ it’s the real stuff! (They wouldn’t be fibbing, would they?)

The Horticulture Building is always kind of a neat place to visit. I can never figure out how one rose gets a Blue Ribbon, while another rose sitting right next to it, looking EXACTLY like the other, only gets Honorable Mention. Oh, and I can’t wait to come across the vendor pushing the latest and greatest back and neck massager, though the price tag usually makes me more tense than when I started. While there make sure you get a sample of the free grape juice too! Mmmm tasty.

One of my ‘must-stop’ places when visiting The Fair is the Center of Progress Building. I love walking the aisles and listening to the vendors recite the reasons why we NEED their product. Rachel likes to visit the ‘miracle’ jewelry cleaner booth and get her rings cleaned for free, and sometimes she even ends up buying their product — can you say, “sucker!” As you mosey further down one of the aisles don’t miss those new fabric softener balls for your dryer. You NEED them!

After the Center of Progress Building, I love gawking at the enormous hot tubs they now make. I’m serious; they make them with stereos and even TVs built in! Some are the size of small inground pools. Price? How about $18k! For that why not just get an inground pool? I had often asked myself in previous years, “Who buys a hottub at the Fair?” But after a visit to the wine tent in 2005, I ended up answering my own question. People that visit the wine tent before walking past the hottubs are the people who buy hottubs at the Fair.

While checking out the hot tubs, be sure to enjoy the free 2:00 & 8:00pm concerts at the State Fair Court. The days’ shows are always great with acts from all genres of music.

And then there’s that wine I mentioned. Ahh yes, the State Fair Wine Village. Whoever invented the White Wine Slushy is an absolute genius in my book. With dozens of various wineries from the Finger Lakes region, a cigar kiosk, and a few cheese booths set up nearby, one can easily spend an hour or so at this venue. Heck, I lost four hours there one year.

Rounding out a day at The Fair it is a ‘must’ to visit the purple A-frame Pizza Frite booth for some 2-foot long fried dough and walk through the Clydesdale barn just to say, “Man, look at the size of those horses!” (It’s a tradition-type of thing we do.)

So as you prepare for these last few weeks of summer, why not start, your own summer tradition for you and your family, and visit the great New York State Fair? This year the NY State Fair (nysfair.org) runs from August 22nd through Labor Day (September 2nd).

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