How to survive the State Fair with small kids in tow

Updated throughout with 2017 information on Sept. 29, 2017

Part of the fun of going to the fair is seeing the wonder in your children's eyes as they take it all in. Big Tex has made sure there's plenty for smaller kids to do at the fair — there's even a Kidway section of the midway for little ones not quite tall enough for the big rides. Here's a list of some of our favorite attractions, and where you can find them on the fair's official map. Bonus: They're all free with fair admission.

Pee Wee Stampede and Rodeo

Kids 3-6 ride on stick horses — and even stick bulls — during mock rodeo events. Gear is provided to add to the fun. Daily at noon and 3 and 4 p.m. at the Ranch Arena (No. 28 on the fair map).

Little Hands on the Farm

One of the best parts of this mini pretend-farm attraction is that there are little snacks for kids at the end (kids earn play money by selling their crops, then use it to buy the snacks). But before that, there are a lot of fun things to do: Kids can put items in their baskets, plant seeds, ride on tiny toy tractors and learn about farming. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Admiral Nimitz Circle (No. 31 on the fair map).

See the animals

Carson Barter, 5, of Dallas, competes in the Pedal Tractor Pull during the State Fair of Texas in 2016.

The Children's Health Barnyard petting zoo is a one-stop spot to see a whole bunch of kinds of animals in one place. The perennial favorites are the baby goats, but there are always more exotic creatures to look for, such as giraffes and zebras. It's at Nimitz Drive and MLK Jr. Boulevard. Another option is to go to the livestock shows and barns to see the animals and the people who raised them. Want to learn more about the livestock? There are Livestock 101 presentations and livestock guided tours in Ag-Power Plaza.

Kids' Pedal Tractor Pulls

Speaking of tractors, kids 4-12 can test their tractor-driving skills in contests to see who can pull the most weight. Prizes — and cheering crowds — are involved. Try it out daily at noon and 2, 4 and 6 p.m. between the Swine Barn and Horse Barn (No. 33 on the fair map).

Nighttime fun

Stretch the boundaries of bedtime a bit, because there's plenty of fun to be had at the fair in the evening. The Starlight Parade, held nightly at 7:15, is a merry little procession of illuminated floats, costumed characters and more. Pro tip: Watch the parade from the shores of Leonhardt Lagoon across from Cotton Bowl Plaza or in Big Tex Circle. Next, Head for the Esplanade (across from the main fair entrance; map No. 7) for the Mattress Firm Illumination Sensation light show, presented nightly at 8, featuring fireworks, as well as dancers and acrobats doing their thing with pop music playing in the background.

Kids' Boardwalk

Get heckled by the Buford Buzzard puppet and check out other family-friendly acts in this area daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. You'll also find arts and crafts, face painting and games. Find it on First Avenue, west of Leonhardt Lagoon (map No. 27).

Tips for your fair trip

  • Plan it out: Do yourself a huge favor and print out the State Fair map ahead of time. With dozens of locations marked, plus numerous symbols for restrooms and such, it can be difficult to quickly find specific places within the fairgrounds. You'll soon discover that kids' activities are spread out over a lot of ground. Figure out which areas you want to visit and plot your path. Mark them on your printed map so you're not trying to navigate the fairgrounds among the crowds. Don't forget to take it with you.
  • Games: While food and rides require the use of State Fair coupons (priced two for $1 at various machines and booths around the park), games on the midway require the use of a reloadable Big Tex card, which you can find near the gaming areas.

  • Keep track of your kid: Do you have a runner? The first thing you need to do upon arriving at Fair Park is to take your kids to the nearest information stand and tag them with a Safe Kids ID Band that will help them if they get lost. The bracelet is designed to keep kids' names and info secure while giving parents two ways to "claim" their child should they become separated.

  • The restroom situation: For those still in the diaper years, changing tables are located in every women's restroom and most men's restrooms. If you need some privacy to feed or change your infant, there are air-conditioned Baby Care stations near the intersection of Nimitz Drive and MLK Jr. Boulevard (next to the Children's Health Barnyard, and on First Avenue near the children's aquarium.
  • Limit the length of your visit: The fair has a lot going on — music, carnival sounds, crowds, games — so it can be a sensory overload for young kids. Plan to stay only about two to four hours if you have preschoolers or toddlers, unless you want to deal with tired-kid temper tantrums in public.
  • Take lots of snacks and drinks: The fair (awesomely) allows guests to take in coolers and food, so you can take munchies that will satisfy picky eaters. The best part: saving money on expensive fair foods. There are, of course, rules as to what you need to leave at home.
  • Follow your plan: There are so many awesome things to see and do at the fair that it's easy to get sidetracked. Schedule another trip to the fair if you find more things you want to do (a season pass is great for this), or start your fair to-do list for 2018.

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