State fairs are a cherished national tradition, a chance for communities across the 50 states to celebrate their culture, customs, food and agricultural heritage. Along with seasonal county and regional fairs, these annual events started in the 19th century as a way to promote the respective state’s agricultural pedigree through livestock competitions and the showcasing of food and other farm products. As the country moved from an agrarian-based to more industrial economy, state fairs evolved to include carnival rides, live concerts and other forms of popular entertainment. At their core, however, state fairs are a celebration of the American farm community and the contribution that these individuals, enterprises and businesses make at a local and national level throughout the year. Traditionally, state fairs occur in summer or fall. Here are our picks for five of the best state fairs around the United States (scroll to the bottom of this post for more detail and dates for state fairs in each of the states).

 Ohio State Fair | Columbus, OH | July 27 – August 7, 2016
Best State Fairs in the United States
Rodeo riders at the Ohio State Fair

One of the earliest fairs of the summer, the Ohio State Fair in Columbus is also one of the country’s largest and most varied state fairs. Things kick off with the fair’s more traditional dressage and cattle shows, accompanied by a few quirky events like the Old Familiar Beard Bash and Artistic Upcycling competitions. This year’s big-name acts run the gamut of musical genres, from elder statesman Kenny Rogers (on his farewell tour) to country twangers Maddie & Tae to pop-rockers DNCE. More info at: www.ohiostatefair.com

Iowa State Fair | Des Moines, IA | August 11-21, 2016
Best State Fairs in the United States: Iowa State Fair
Iowa’s famous butter cow sculpture, sculpted by Sarah Pratt

We’re willing to bet that the presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle will make an appearance at the Iowa State Fair for a photo-op with the people and some sort of food on a stick (there’s no shortage of options—the fair’s website list 75 choices!). In existence since 1854, the Iowa State Fair features the famous Butter Cow sculpture, along with modern distractions like amusement rides on the Midway and live music day and night (2016’s headline acts include Dierks Bentley, Meghan Trainor and Jason Derulo). More info at: www.iowastatefair.org

Kentucky State Fair | Louisville, KY | August 18-28, 2016
Best State Fairs in the United States: Kentucky State Fair
Ride at the Kentucky State Fair (The Pug Father/Flickr)

The Kentucky State Fair takes place at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center, and attracts over half a million visitors each year to enjoy the amusement rides, Midway shows and Kentucky-focused exhibits. This year’s event, which starts in mid-August, includes shows by country singer Reba McEntire and comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, as well as the ever-popular World’s Championship Horse Show. More info at: www.kystatefair.org

Oregon State Fair | Salem, OR | August 26 – September 5, 2016
Best State Fair in the United States
Juggler at the Oregon State Fair

In operation since 1861, the Oregon State Fair celebrates the farming heritage and culture of the American West, with sheep-rearing competitions, livestock shows and a number of exhibitions to encourage youngsters and adults alike to learn about the state’s farming industry and lifestyle. Foreigner and Melissa Etheridge are among the headline acts this year, along with the usual slate of fun carnival rides and local flavors and libations. More info at: www.oregonstatefair.org

State Fair of Texas | Dallas, TX | September 30 – October 23, 2016
Best State Fairs in the United States: Texas State Fair
Crowds at the Texas State Fair fairgrounds

As they say, everything’s bigger in Texas, and this holds true for its annual state fair, a massive, sprawling event at Dallas’ Fair Park. Lasting over three weeks, this year’s show will include 75 concerts with headline acts like Nelly, Kacey Musgraves and Skillet. This being Texas, you can expect heapings of BBQ and brisket, as well as a demo kitchen where celebrity chefs from around Texas will be preparing some of their top culinary hits. Texas’ massive agricultural industry will be represented with livestock shows and competitions and a dedicated Ag Awareness Day midway through the fair on October 11. More info at: www.bigtex.com

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