Visit the Illinois State Fair
It is that time again. Every year when the weather is warm and the kids are headed back to school…When the smells of fried food and great barbeque start to waft through the air. Food. Music. Competition. That can only mean that the Illinois State Fair is in town. This year, the fair runs from August 8 to August 18 and is held in Springfield. Illinois held its first state fair in 1853 as a way for farmers to come together and share notes and techniques. To this day, the Illinois Fair is a celebration of the state’s rich agricultural history. Famers and agricultural enthusiasts from across the state visit the fair to share their successes and compete against one another. The event is rooted in the land and its bounty…and the way in which these things bring us together as Illinoisans.
Admission to the fair is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-12. Children under 5 are free and seniors 60 and older are $3. With a movie ticket now costing an adult $11 for 2 hours of entertainment…the fair is a pretty good deal. Of course, there are other costs associated with a day at the fair. Food isn’t cheap and parking can run you between $3-$7, but when you look at the value of the entertainment and experience – the fair simply can’t be beat.
Now, when I first moved to Springfield, I had never even heard of the State Fair. I had been to the Taste of Chicago and even the Milwaukee Summerfest, but the Illinois State Fair was entirely unfamiliar to me. So, it took me several years of fair going to create my own list of fair tips. Fortunately for you, I have provided those tips below. I just saved you three years of trial and error in Illinois’s August heat. You can thank me by having a great time at the Fair!
1) Check out the schedule. The fair has different themed days. Check out the fair’s website to see which days interest you. Some offer discounts for particular groups.
August 11 -- Veterans Day
Veterans and their families are admitted to the grounds for free. A veterans parade and activities are some of the highlights for the day.
August 12 -- Senior Citizens Day/Scout Day
Fair visitors 60 and older are admitted to the fairgrounds for free. Special events in the Senior Citizens Center, including inductions into the Illinois Senior Hall of Fame, take place throughout the day. The Scout Day Tent will be located directly outside the entrance to the Carnival Midway.
August 13 -- Agriculture Day
Illinois agriculture, which is featured throughout the fair, is highlighted on this day. Grand champion junior livestock including the barrow, steer, wether, poultry trio and rabbit trio are auctioned at the Governor's Sale of Champions, and the best of Illinois processed foods are auctioned at the Commodity Auction.
August 14 -- Governor's Day
While the Governor attends much of the Illinois State Fair, this is his day to host special guests, including former Illinois Governors.
August 15 -- Republican Day
Illinois Republicans host special guests on this day. Past activities have included rallies and parades.
August 16 -- Futures for Kids Day
Many of the activities on this day are centered around our younger visitors. Several competitions are held including decorated diaper, diaper derby, ponytail contest and smile contest.
August 17 -- Park District Conservation Day
Members of more than 45 Park Districts from throughout Illinois entertain fairgoers across the grounds and host activities in Conservation World.
August 18 -- Family Day
The general admission price is lowered to $3 per person to encourage more families to enjoy the last day of the fair.
2) There are some great free entertainment options. The Ethnic Village offers free music and dance every day from Noon-10:00 PM. The Million Dollar Quartet will also be performing on Monday, August 12 at 7 PM. This is a hit musical inspired by the famed recording session that brought together rock 'n' roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The show has entertained audiences around the country and is fun for the entire family. The Twilight Ballroom also offers jazz, swing, blues, big band, orchestral, and dance music from 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM nightly. The Happy Hollow stage offers free daily entertainment for kids.
Finally, the dive show is a favorite of mine. It is always a little corny and goofy, but the divers’ skills are impressive and it is always entertaining. Shows are held at 2:00 PM, 3:30 PM, 6:00 PM, and 8:00 PM August 10-19. Whenever my family or friends from Chicago visit the fair, I love to take them to the high dive show.
3) Ok, so we all know what the fair is really all about. The food. And, there is plenty of it. You can spend a lot of money and gain an entire pants size eating your way through the State Fair. If you go through the main entrance, you are immediately faced with several vendors offering to fry just about anything that you can imagine. Past that is the Ethnic Village where you can get a great bratwurst, jerk chicken, and a nice selection of international beers.
It seems every avid fairgoer has their favorite food stand. For my money, I love Voss Corn Dogs, Culler French Fries, IL Pork Producers, 17th Street Bar and Grill, and the Cream Puffs served in the dairy building. There is always something cool and different at the fair (chocolate covered bacon, a meat parfait, etc.), but you can’t go wrong with these old favorites.
4) If you have kids, you might want to take them to see some of the fair’s agricultural offerings. The Butter Cow is exactly what it sounds like. A life-sized cow carved out of butter. It has been the unofficial mascot for the fair for years and there is always considerable excitement surrounding the unveiling of the dairy sculpture. While you are taking in cow related entertainment, you may also take the kids to milk a cow in the 25/Q Series Barn. It is open every day from 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM. Kids will also love the baby animal area where they can pet chicks, piglets, and much more. It’s one of my favorite attractions and it’ll surely bring a smile to a child’s face.
5) Finally, if you are a thrill seeker or want to keep the kids entertained on a budget, you might consider a MegaPass. A MegaPass entitles its holder to UNLIMITED free rides the whole fair long. These passes are least expensive if purchased in advance of the event, but they are still for sale throughout the fair for $75.
6) Politicians love the fair. It is an opportunity to shake hands, kiss babies, and spread the word about whatever it is they are working on. Each constitutional officer has a tent at the State Fair and some of those tents can be pretty useful. Agencies have them as well. Typically they offer free water, which can be awesome on a hot day. They also offer some services that you would ordinarily have to wait hours in a government building to receive under regular circumstances….
7) Check out the Portrait of a Soldier. This exhibit is a traveling display of hand-sketched portraits of fallen service members from Illinois who have been killed since September 11, 2001. The display is truly moving and worthy of visit. In all of the loud, wild excitement of the fair, there is a beautiful hush in the Portrait of a Soldier tent that is touching.
8) If you miss the fair or are looking for a double dose of Illinois fun, you may want to consider attending one of the state’s best kept secrets – the DuQuoin State Fair. That’s right! Illinois has a little-known second state fair. This fair is held August 23 – September 2. This hidden gem is just about 3 hours south of the lodge. The event is a little smaller than the Springfield Fair but offers big name musical acts and a lot of racing.
There are a lot of people who know more about the Illinois State Fair than me. Some have been going their whole lives, but I do hope this little article is helpful to anyone considering a visit. The fair is meant for all Illinoisans to enjoy and really is a unique family vacation option.