How to do the State Fair of Texas right.
DALLAS – Over at Fair Park, they’ve put Big Tex back together, warmed the corn dog grease and tuned up the Ferris Wheel. All you have to do is make your plans to zip up I-35 to the State Fair of Texas, which runs now through Oct. 21.
The fair’s 132nd year brings some new attractions, including a greenhouse on the Midway where you can learn to grow vegetables indoors, a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights champions inside the Hall of State, an exhibit on Texas innovations and inventions also in the Hall of State, and a Livestock Birthing Barn where, if you time it right, you can see new animals make their entrances to the planet.
This year, too, the children’s petting zoo and as well as Little Hands on the Farm created for kids (feeding goats, planting seeds and such) will move inside the Coliseum under a Home on the Range theme. That means, among other things, good air conditioning and ready access to bathrooms. Also look for the Amazing Archery Show, a hula hoops show, a basketball show and, of course, all new dog stunt shows – always a favorite.
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There’s a science to visiting the fair. You want to enjoy it without getting exhausted, and especially without arriving annoyed after a bad parking experience, so ... let’s think about the elements:
Getting to the fair: There’s a parking lot (cost: $15) on the fairgrounds, but once it fills up, you’re left with buying expensive parking in people’s yards and business lots. Sadly, some people will motion you into lots, you’ll give them money, and you’ll later learn they didn’t own those lots and your car got towed.
Best option? Take the green line Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) line to the fair. It drops you right at the entrance. Check dart.org for stations, as well as park and ride locations to stow your car if you’re not staying downtown.
Where to stay: Two recommendations, both longtime Dallas hotel names that have undergone major transformations: the Statler and the Adolphus.
The 407-room Adolphus, grand dame of downtown since 1912, is even grander than she was in the good old days now that she has shops, a spa, a fitness center and a rooftop pool and bar. As part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, its large rooms have all been redecorated in elegant contemporary style, and the service is as great as it’s always been. Nothing like landing in a luxurious nest after a rough day at the fair.
The French Room, which long has had a reputation as one of the best places to eat in Dallas, has reopened as quite possibly the most romantic room in town with an entirely new, inventive menu that’s still evolving. If you’d like something more casual, City Hall Bistro offers salads, flatbreads and entrees including a top-flight jidori chicken.
To get to the fair, just walk three blocks to the Akard DART green line station.
The Adolphus has a State Fair package starting at $304 that includes your room, two fair tickets and two DART rides to the fair, along with a 15 percent food and beverage discount.
Six blocks east sits the 19-story reborn former Statler Hilton, which opened in 1956. The Statler, where the Jackson Five played, Ike and Tina Turner famously busted up and my husband had his high school prom, is mostly condominiums now, but 159 rooms have been renovated as a contemporary boutique hotel in Hilton’s Curio Collection. The sleek, high-tech rooms feature midcentury modern touches such as chairs and lamps, and bathrooms are spacious and contemporary.
Plentiful food options include Fine China, a high-end but reasonably priced Asian restaurant whose offerings include fresh dim sum and inventive noodle dishes (try the black garlic noodles). The succulent Cantonese roast duck alone is worth a dinner reservation. Over Easy serves breakfast, Bourbon & Banter is a speakeasy-style bar in what was once a barber shop, Scout is a huge sports bar with pool tables, and atop the 19th floor you’ll find – what else? – a pool and bar.
To get to the fair from the Statler, take the free hop-on D-Link bus (catch it at Jackson and Harwood, a block from the hotel) to the Pearl Arts District DART station to get the green line to the fair.
What to ride at the fair: Buy plenty of ride tickets, because they’ll go fast (they’re also used for food) and lining up for more is a pain. You can use them year after year, so they won’t go to waste. New rides this year include the Orbiter (a new spinning ride), Haunted Castle (I’m assured it’s just a tad scary; the old Haunted House was not) and Airmaxx, a swinging ride that speeds up and eventually spins you 360 degrees.
What to see: Go see the animals. Really. There’s nothing like spotting a 4-H kid snuggled up with his cow in the barn, and if you’ve never watched a pig race before, you’ve been missing out.
The car show’s always a great chance to see what you might want next. This year, the classic car part of the show is moving close to Beer Haven.
Be sure to check out who made the best relishes and quilts in the Creative Arts Building, and do stop and watch those weird demonstrations of new gizmos. They’re hilarious.
There’ll be plenty of live music, too, including Austin Mahone on Oct. 7, the Molly Ringwalds on Oct. 12, Ludacris on Oct. 13, Bidi Bidi Banda on Oct. 19 and Casting Crowns on Oct. 20.
What to eat and drink: This is not your day to eat wisely. Indulge. Get a Fletcher’s corn dog and a funnel cake, of course. It’s not the State Fair without them.
This year’s new food entry is Backyard Steak Out & Pizzeria near the livestock barns. Can’t go wrong with steak or pizza.
You might want to try this year’s big-deal fried food, the cotton candy taco. It’s made with a waffle cone taco shell, which encloses marshmallow cream, cotton candy and chocolate. Also new this year: coconut-coated soft-shell crabs and strawberry cream cheese-stuffed sopapillas.
A place not everybody finds is the Tower Building Food Court, tucked between Big Tex and the Cotton Bowl. Inside you might find fried catfish or alligator. You might find a funnel cake queso burger. The offerings are different every year, but the lines tend to be shorter than outside.
You’ll find beer gardens as well as a wine garden at the fair, too. New beverages this year include a corn dog ale, a beermosa made with orange Pixy Stix and Blue Moon beer and a fruit punch Kool-Aid spiked with pickle juice. Haven’t tried them. You’re on your own.