County fairs came about in America in the 18th century and were a place for farmers to show off their livestock, merchants to sell their wares, and homemakers to prove they made the best blueberry pie in town. All over New York State, county fairs have evolved into multi-day events with midway rides, live entertainment, parades, and talent shows. The tradition carried over to the state level, too, when the very first state fair in the nation was held in Syracuse in 1841. Meanwhile, those blueberry pie competitions have turned into major food festivals that have taken on a life of their own, allowing local chefs, both professional and amateur, to show off their culinary skills while feeding hungry festival goers. Read on to find a county fair near you or a food festival you simply can’t resist.
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Cattaraugus County Fair (Chautauqua-Allegheny)
The Cattaraugus County Fair takes pride in their affordability, which means an entire family can have a whole lot of low-cost fun. A slew of live grounds entertainment comes with the cost of admission. Check out “Horses, Horses, Horses,” where 12 miniature stallions will waltz, bow, and walk on their hind legs. Then watch adorable sea lions balance balls and do handstands during “Sea Lion Splash,” and be sure not to miss the sure-footed Swifty Swine Racing Pigs. And while grandstand events are not free, admission is relatively low, allowing you to see a rodeo ($5), a demolition derby ($8), and a big rig truck pull ($8) without breaking the bank. Celebrating its 179th year, the fair will also feature a midway with rides and games and dozens of food vendors selling everything from candy apples and ice cream to pizza and fried dough. July 31-August 6, Little Valley. Tickets start at $12. Children under 2 get in free.
Gouverneur and St. Lawrence County Fair (Thousand Islands)
An action-packed week kicks off with a Firemen’s Parade, then the fun continues with midway rides, concessions, agricultural exhibits, harness racing, tractor pulling, a demolition derby, and live performances from country-pop band Sawyer Brown, boyband tribute group Larger Than Life, and musicians from the local area. Got a talent you want to show off? Bring it on stage at the Talent Show, open to St. Lawrence County residents in age categories 3-11, 12-16, and 17 and up. Winners could earn a chance to go to the New York State Fair. August 2-7, Gouverneur, $25-35. No rides until Wednesday, August 3.
Annual Spiedie Fest & Balloon Rally Expo (Central New York)
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A festival that began nearly three decades ago to determine who made the best Spiedie (a sandwich filled with cubes of marinated meat) has evolved into one of the biggest hot air balloon festivals in the nation. This year, the fun begins on Friday, August 7 at 6 PM, when the skies above Otsiningo Park will transform into a patchwork of color during the Hot Air Balloon Launch. There will be additional balloon launches throughout the weekend, in addition to tons of family-friendly events like “Puppies of Penzance” (a 20-30 minute dog show), “Squawk! The Amazing Bird Show,” and an appearance by the Wimpy Kid himself from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book and movie series. There’ll also be balloon tether rides, a volleyball tournament, a 5K Run/Walk, and a concert each night of the festival. The Spiedie cooking contests take place on Sunday in two rounds, with backyard chefs competing for the Grand Champion Belt and other prizes. August 5-7, Binghamton, 1-day pass: $10 (does not include concert), 1-day pass + concert: $20, 2-person weekend pass: $99 (includes festival and concerts).
Erie County Fair (Greater Niagara)
The Erie County Fair wants you to stay active this summer so they’ve issued a Summer Fit Challenge. Get out and do any number of activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking–and even going out for ice cream! Snap a selfie during the activity and upload it to a BINGO board. You win by completing four activities in a row and every winner will receive one free admission to the fair. Once there, check out the rides, food, and games at the midway. Then browse competitor exhibits in the categories of fine arts and photography, livestock, home wine, home brew, horse pulls, woodcarving, needle crafts, and much more. And if you’ve ever wanted to attend an event where old cars intentionally ram into each other until only one is left standing, you’ll have two chances to attend the (self-proclaimed) “World’s Largest Demolition Derby,” featuring around 100 vehicles. Throughout the fair, there will be a variety of free and ticketed live performances from acts like The Fab Four: Ultimate Beatles Tribute, Grand Funk Railroad, Zach Williams, and Nelly. August 10-21, Hamburg, 13 and over: $13.50 advance purchase, $15 at the gate, kids 12 and under are free. See Gate Specials for more free admission opportunities.
Steuben County Fair (Finger Lakes)
Step back in time by visiting a one-room schoolhouse, a pioneer museum, a log cabin museum, and more at one of America’s oldest fairs. These historical landmarks harken back to the earliest days of the fair, which is now in its 203rd year. And while they proudly highlight their past, the Steuben County Fair offers plenty of the expected fair attractions, too, including carnival rides, a rodeo, a lawn mower demolition derby, and a monster truck show. Kids will love Oscar the Robot and the Party Animals Petting Zoo, and no one should miss a chance to see the swift feet of Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs. Fair goers can also expect plenty of livestock exhibits and vendors selling all their favorite fair snacks. August 15-21, Bath, $5, children 5 and under, free.
Essex County Fair (Adirondacks)
Get a dose of the tropics in the Adirondacks with this year’s theme, “Hawaiian Luau at the County Fair.” Not to be missed is Luau Logan’s TroPIGal Revue, featuring Luau Logan as Master of Ceremonies and his cast of comedy characters and performing animals. Another exciting headlining act is the Aquatic Acrobatic Show, with five generations of acrobats performing feats on a stage custom designed to deliver magnificent special water effects. There’ll be plenty of traditional attractions too, including midway rides and food, livestock exhibits, and a floral hall, plus competitions for the best baked goods, pickled vegetables, chutney, jams, and jellies. The Main Grandstand will feature truck and tractor pulls, a demolition derby, and much more. August 17-21, Westport, $10, children 3 and under, free
Hudson Valley Ribfest Rockin’ BBQ (Hudson Valley)
Get your fill of juicy ribs from local and national vendors at this family-friendly grilling event. And it’s not just for meat lovers. There’ll be something for all palates, including non-meat eaters. Beer, wine, and soda will be available for purchase. In addition to sampling savory grilled meats, barbecue enthusiasts will be able to browse vendors selling barbecue related accessories. Attendees can also expect a full lineup of rockin’ live music during the three-day Ribfest. August 19-21, New Paltz
Long Island Seafood Festival (Long Island)
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Attention seafood lovers: save the date for a two-day feast of oysters, clams, lobster, crab, and more at this summer festival, held on the grounds of the Long Island Maritime Museum. Expect succulent seafood from participating restaurants like Blue Island Oyster Company and Claws Seafood Market. While at the museum, check out Oyster Sloop Priscilla. Built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006, Priscilla was one of the last boats to dredge oysters in the region (the beds were exhausted in the early 1960s). Additional festival events include a main stage with live music and an arts & crafts fair, as well as face-painting, sand art, and pirate entertainment activities for kids. August 20-21, West Sayville, $10, children under 12, free
The Great New York State Fair (Finger Lakes)
County fairs in New York State date back hundreds of years but did you know that the first state fair was also held here? It took place over two days in September 1841 in Syracuse and drew crowds of up to 15,000 people. More than 180 years later, the tradition continues. The New York State Fair has grown to be a 13-day affair and at last count (in 2019), more than a million people attended. Just like that first fair back in 1841, fair goers this year will get to view tons of agricultural exhibits. But unlike in the 19th century, attendees this year can fill up on traditional fair cuisine like deep fried oreos, sausage and peppers, and wine slushies. There will also be daily concerts from world-class musicians. On the schedule this year are Foreigner, Boyz II Men, City Girls, Nelly, Boy George & Culture Club, and many more. August 24-September 5, Syracuse, $3 daily for adults, seniors and children 12 and under, free. Advanced online ticket purchase required.
Famous Food Festival “Taste the World” (Long Island)
For one delicious weekend in August, restaurants and vendors from the Tri-State area will gather in Deer Park to bring you cuisine from around the world. More than 60 vendors are expected to participate, showcasing international dishes prepared by a mix of new and experienced chefs. In addition to sampling global delicacies, attendees can enjoy live music, watch cooking demonstrations, hang out in the Cigar & Bourbon Lounge, do some axe throwing, and play a round of 9-hole mini golf. Bring the kids to this family-friendly event. There’ll be an entire section for them with face painting and entertaining activities. August 26-28, Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, online advance tickets: $8 (1 day), $14 (2 days), $20 (3 days). 1-day passes at the door: $14.
National Buffalo Wing Festival (Greater Niagara)
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Bring your passion for wings and a hearty appetite to the 20th Annual National Buffalo Wing Festival, taking place this year at Highmark Stadium, otherwise known as Home of the Buffalo Bills! There’ll be plenty of wings to sample, prepared by participating restaurants who make them best. There will also be many wing-related events, including competitive wing eating contests, wing pairings, and bobbing for wings, a contest that involves a baby pool filled with wings and blue cheese dressing; contestants must grab as many wings as they can without using their hands. Got your own secret wing sauce that friends rave about? Enter the Amateur Cook-off and prove it! September 3-4, Buffalo, $20, kids 8 and under, free
Queens County Fair (New York City)
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The land on which the Queens County Farm Museum sits has been farmed since 1697, making it a fitting site for old fashioned contests in pie eating and corn husking. Those competitions, along with hayrides, carnival rides, and midway games, will take place at the 39th Annual Queens County Fair. There’ll also be live music and theater, sack races, farmhouse tours, and competitive exhibits in produce, arts & crafts, and more, with entrants vying for a blue ribbon prize. Local food and beer vendors will be on site and the Amazing Maize Maze, which is the only corn maze in New York City, will open on the weekend of the fair. September 9-11, Queens, ticket prices vary
Saratoga International Flavorfeast (Capital-Saratoga)
Now’s your chance to expand your restaurant repertoire in Saratoga Springs! In early autumn, the streets of downtown will transform into a food-lover’s paradise at Saratoga International Flavorfeast, returning after a two-year hiatus. Simply obtain a Flavorfeast Passport and work your way down the list, sampling food from participating local restaurants. In one short afternoon, you might taste everything from sushi, paella, and pulled pork sliders to bread pudding, Panna cotta, and apple crumb cake. Attendees can also enjoy multi-cultural entertainment throughout downtown. October 8, Saratoga Springs
Taste of the Catskills Festival (Catskills)
Courtesy of Kip Shaw/Delaware County Tourism
What could be better than an autumn weekend in the Catskills, with its cool mountain air and colorful fall foliage? How about if that weekend also included a sampling of the best cuisine and craft beverages from around the region? That’s what visitors can expect at Taste of the Catskills, held on the grounds of family-run Maple Shade Farm. Dozens of local farmers, restaurants, and food-related businesses will be on-site, showcasing their food, wine, beer, produce, and more. A special dinner on Saturday will consist of entirely local ingredients and include a craft beer pairing. The weekend event will also feature workshops on farming, cooking, and more. Kids will love the sack races, egg tosses, and face painting, not to mention appearances by the Catskill Puppets and Chee Chee the Clown. October 8-9, Delhi
New York City Wine & Food Festival (New York City)
The glitz and glamor of New York City is front and center at this celebrity-filled wine and food festival, now in its 15th year. Events like walk-around tastings sound low-key until you see the line-up. For one of them, celebrity chef Anne Burrell will host a cocktail party inspired by Italian spirits and small plates. For another, “it” couple David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris will host a Drag Brunch. And the signature walk-around tasting event–Blue Moon Burger Bash–is hosted by television personality Rachel Ray. The festival goes on and on in this fashion, with celebrities galore, outrageously fantastic food, cooking demonstrations, intimate dinners, and much, much more. October 13-16, prices vary, events take place at locations around New York City.