There aren’t too many places on the planet where you can watch a retired NASCAR announcer provide color commentary on a race between four pot-bellied pigs speeding around a sawdust track, and then 2 hours later gnaw unforgivably on a deep fried pork chop-on-a-stick.
It happens daily at the Wisconsin State Fair. The annual 10-day event is famous around these parts for deep-fried everything, food-on-a-stick, a giant slide and world-class agricultural venues. What more could you ask for, right?
That was my thought when I decided to brave the crowds (more than 800,000 descend on State Fair Park in Milwaukee for the event each year) and navigate the scene with my 3-year-old daughter. I wish I could say that attending the State Fair is a family tradition. However, that’s not the case. Last month I happened to be in Milwaukee on a Monday for another function and decided to treat my animal-loving daughter to an afternoon at the fair for being such a cooperative little trooper.
In the end it was one of the smartest travel decisions I’ve ever made. If you ever find yourself in Wisconsin during the month of August I highly recommend making a pit stop at the State Fair. The place is loaded with dozens of family-friendly activities… and not all of them involve eating.
Take a look at our top picks for attractions that are too big to miss at the Wisconsin State Fair:
Let me get this out of the way first: If you say you’re not at the fair for the food you’re lying. People travel hundreds of miles each year to gorge on dishes they can’t find anywhere else. There are close to 100 food vendors at the Fair selling everything from alligator-on-a-stick to deep fried smores (very sweet, but extremely messy to eat). State Fair is where more than 100,000 ears of roasted corn are devoured each year; more than 300,000 cream puffs are inhaled; and 6,436 pounds of Blue Ribbon Brownies are relished. The latter have been a State Fair staple for more than 20 years. New this year, were a few items I didn’t have the stomach to try–like deep fried sauerkraut. (Cooks take all the juice out of the sauerkraut, mix in a little mozzarella cheese, season it, roll it into balls and fry it.) Instead, I settled for a State Fair standby—-a butterfly pork sandwich. Luckily, I ate it before we went to the…
This is one of the signature events at the State Fair and one of the reasons I decided to brave the crowds in the sweltering August heat with my daughter. This summer she was obsessed with “Charlotte’s Web” (the movie version starring Dakota Fanning) and more specifically with Wilbur the Pig. Needless to say, getting the chance to watch four little Wilbur look-alikes tear around a race track for a prize of cheese puffs (this is Wisconsin after all) was a dream come true for her. The pigs races take place every two hours and we ended up sticking around for three races (that’s how much she loved watching the porkers). I should note that in order to give the pigs a break between races they bring out some other hilarious contenders. We watched ducks and Billy goats charge around the track as well. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before in my life. And talk about dedicated fans, the crowd of about 500 hundred (as much as they could squeeze into a venue that was meant to sit 200 comfortably) was on their feet screaming the entire time. For a minute there I thought I was at Lambeau Field watching the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears.
My rating: 5 stars. Don’t venture to the State Fair without sitting in on at least one pig race.
We live in Dairy Country so it’s no surprise that the State Fair offers some of the best livestock around. My daughter had a blast watching a sheep being sheared (“Look Mommy that baa-baa is naked!”) and the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales getting showered and shined for their appearance in the daily parade. We covered every inch of the animal exhibits from the kid’s petting zoo (complete with camels, llamas, and snakes) to the bunny auction. We even got to see “Wilbur’s Mommy” nursing five “Baby Wilburs.”
My rating: 4 stars. It would have gotten five if it weren’t for the overhwelming smell of “good country living.”
Wisconsin State Fair is a shopper’s paradise! The place is stocked with household gadgets, jewelry, clothing, home improvement items, pet supplies, books, toys, and more. Who knew you could get all your holiday shopping done within yards from where pigs are competing for Cheetos and kids are flying through the air on trapezes? Intially, we decided to duck into the Wisconsin Expo Center just to escape the 92-degree temps for a while. (It’s one of the only air-conditioned buildings at the Fair.) We ended up staying for nearly 2 hours. If you are looking for a gift that is sure to turn heads, the Wisconsin State Fair Expo is where you’ll find it. For a buck you can grow your own lizard. (Place a plastic thumb-sized lizard in a cup of water and presto-—you’re suddenly the proud owner of a foot-long pet.) Want Elvis to keep you company at night? For $129 you can take the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll home on a lamp–complete with swinging hips singing “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” However, if you are looking for something a bit more practical, consider forking over a few bucks for “Aah Toilet Paper Foam.” The vendor told us it was created so “you don’t have to drip dry.”
My rating: 5 stars for the air-conditioned comfort and 2.5 stars for having too many items for a 3-year-old to resist (I ended up walking away with a bag full of Hello Kitty Christmas tree ornaments.)
The State Fair also has several other kid-friendly activities, including comedy acts, magic shows, interactive game shows, live musical entertainment, and dozens of thrill rides. My daughter also had a ball participating in the 4-H veggie races (you design “vehicles” from fresh veggies and release them down a plywood slide). She won a purple ribbon for her carrot creation. She also made a macaroni frame at the kid’s arts and crafts booth and we won her a stuffed Nemo in the game area. All in all we had a fabulous time.
If you plan to visit the Wisconsin State Fair next year I would suggest going mid-week (we went on a Monday and vendors noted that the weekend crowds are enormous) and remember to pack a ton of bottled water, comfortable shoes, your patience… and your appetite.