From Sarah C.:
When I moved to the “big city” of Raleigh in 1996, I began my annual visit to the NC State Fair. I’d never been to a state fair prior and the entire event mesmerized me from the rides to the food to the people watching. The last two years DH & I decided to skip. Although we’ve definitely seen plenty of folks with their wee little ones there, we didn’t envision taking a then 4 or 15 month old very exciting for us. This year, we decided to give it a shot with our now 2 year old son thinking we’d make a morning out of it. Surprise to us, it went so well we spent 8 hours! I could write a quite lengthy post, but will try to keep it brief and highlight a few of the fun things to do with the younger crowd (although most the entire family will enjoy!).
Smokey Bear – There often seem to be a number of people who miss Smokey. Believe me, you will know if you see him. He “hides” in the NC Forestry exhibit which is accessed behind Heritage Circle and across a bridge. Stop by to have a chat with him & get a picture taken. When you leave, head further into the exhibit to see a sawmill in action and pick up a free pine tree sapling (the website says only Fri-Sun for the saplings) as well as stickers, rulers, tattoos (this seems to be the new “in” thing this year), etc.
State Fair Ark Animals – Located in the Expo Building, this is a great spot to see the animals – touching is not allowed here. We saw donkeys, cows, pigs, goats, a horse, and lambs. Just beyond the Ark section NC State Animal Science Club has their cow milking booth. Older kids might enjoy a chance to milk a real cow.
Children’s Barnyard – Here is where kids can touch the animals. We skipped it because D is still so young. There are hand washing stations located outside of it. Nearby is the pony ride – it’s $5/per ride. There is also a petting zoo near Gate 9 according to the map.
Flower & Garden Show – Ok, I confess this is my favorite part of the Fair. I always enjoy seeing the gardening entries. A few things the kids will love – the giant adironack chair you can sit in for a photo op, a large chicken made of chicken wire on a surfboard in the air plus his “nest” of giant eggs in a boat on the ground, pumpkin carving (check times to see this live), and a garden featuring two trains! Be sure to check out the gourd display – you can pick up free gourd seeds to plant next year. Another learning opportunity for the kids!
Field of Dreams – Kids under 12 can pick up a basket and participate in this exhibit. Pass several small fields of plants to a picking area where kids fill their baskets with specific quantity of produce items. Continue along the path to the farmers market where their produce is weighed and the child gets “paid” (in funny money, of course). Then head into the tent to shop with the “money.” Each child gets a shopping bag of goodies including an apple & lunch pack of Mt.Olive Pickles. (By the way, if you’re a Mt. Olive Pickle lover, check out their booth in the Commercial Building for free stickers and 50 cent pickles.)
Kiddieland Fun Park – This area between Dorton Arena and the Education Building, contains all the rides for the kids. Riders must be at least 36″ tall or accompanied by a paying adult. Each ride notes specific requirements or check the website (link below) for further details. There are also a number of roaming acts and free shows here.
Weigh in – Step on the scales at the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Standards Division exhibit to get a printout with your weight on it. Ok, so some of the adults might not be too anxious but the kids will find it fun. They can come back each year for a new printout & see how they’ve grown. (And I laugh while I write that as both DH & I got our weights which we’ve done for years – yes, we’re brave like that! – but D skipped as he was amazingly content in his stroller at that moment.)
Cultivate a Career exhibit – This interactive exhibit teaches about the various career opportunities in agriculture. One perk for stopping here, our son was given a free herb growing kit so be sure to visit this tent!
Got to Be NC exhibit – I personally love shopping local and this tent is all about that. Another plus, several of the vendors offer free samples as well as items for purchase. This can come in handy when you have a hungry child. From hot dogs to hot sauce to peanut butter to ice cream, it’s here.
Musical Acts – Find a variety of free musical acts throughout the Fair. We paused in Heritage Circle and D started to get his groove on to the Back Porch Bluegrass Band.
Sponsor Tents – There are lots of great sponsor tents that feature goodies for the kids. My favorite was the UNC-TV / PBS & Marbles tent. There were cut-outs of characters to take photos with (the man in the yellow hat & Curious George, Clifford, Sesame Street gang, etc) and games to play. Pick up a nice free shopping bag, stickers and pencils. The Governor’s Highway Safety Program area had patrol cars to check out, a child seat safety section (be sure to get a free emergency contact sticker for your car seat), those click-it or ticket clickers (if you’ve ever been to the Fair, you know what I’m talking about), etc. Ford had a number of their cars on display that you can climb into (what kid doesn’t like getting behind the wheel?). If your child loves buses, check out the school bus between the Expo & Kelley buildings.
Scavenger Hunt – The Fair has a couple of different scavenger hunt options this year if you really want to explore the Fair a little further. One requires your mobile phone using a free app or using your texting service (see the website link below for details). Another is a single page PDF you can download and print. This could be fun for older kids to help them learn a bit about the Fair & the state of North Carolina – 2011 State Fair Adventurer Scavenger Hunt PDF.
Fireworks – If you & your kids can survive the Fair until 9:45pm, be sure to catch the fireworks display.
Final tips …
- I’m sure you know this, but will mention it just in case – if you have younger kids, take the stroller! The fair is huge, parking is close but still a walk so little legs will tire. If you do forget, strollers and wagons are available to rent on a first come, first serve basis. Also, if you have a buddy harness, it’s another helpful way for keeping your little one close by.
- There are lots of hand washing / antibacterial stations but you may want to pack your own sanitizer & hand wipes for extra convenience.
- Food & drinks can be brought in. Packing your child’s sippy cup & snack trap might be old habit, but don’t forget yourself even if you plan to buy food.
- If you didn’t purchase tickets in advance, you can buy them at the gate and kids 5 & under are free.
- There are changing tables available in most bathrooms. There are family restrooms in select areas. “Mothers” rooms are located only in Scott, Martin, Expo and Graham buildings