I’ll never forget the Nebraska State Fair of 1996.
My grandmother’s cinnamon roll recipe had just earned me a purple ribbon at one of the county fairs in Nebraska, entering me eligible to exhibit at the State Fair.
You see, being born and raised in Omaha, 4-H for me wasn’t what it is to many rural Nebraskans. Instead of farming or livestock, my 4-H group was almost more of a “Practical Life” kind of learning group. While it may sound stereotypical, looking back, many of the focuses were on things like cooking, sewing, etc (but I still recall SO many months of charity work, giving back to the community, volunteering and more.)
BUT, it was those Cinnamon Rolls that I made that actually got me something I still own over 20 years later(and yes, clearly still brag about!). I earned my first (and only!) purple ribbon at the Nebraska State Fair!
And yes. I still make those delicious cinnamon rolls every single Christmas!
But, it’s been years since I had been to the State Fair.
Between things like sports and extracurricular activities as a teen, “being too cool” for it in college, it relocating a bit further away from home, me moving away for several years in my 20s, and then being really super pregnant last year and on #babywatch were all just a few of the excuses that had prevented me from attending.
But this year was different. I was going to make the Nebraska State Fair happen!!!
^Pin This To Your “Things To Do In Nebraska” Board!^
And, in true WellTraveledNebraskan form, I was on a hunt for things that were unique, quirky and fun about the fair. I mean, we all know all the classics you can find at any fair and carnival:
- Fried Foods
- Yada Yada
So what makes the Nebraska State Fair such a worthy destination for any and all you fellow Nebraskans? Well, there are some truly memorable exhibits to be seen each and every year.
Here’s my list of 21 Fun and Quirky Reasons To Visit
(Note: this list was written based off of the 2019 Nebraska State Fair. However, I tried to focus on themes or exhibits that you could find, more or less, each year.)
I Can’t Believe It’s
Each year, there is a new butter sculpture. Yes. Butter.
It was actually really cool (no pun intended-it had to be cold in the exhibit so the butter doesn’t melt!) to see them creating and sculpting it right in front of our eyes.
Talk about unique artistry!
The Most Impressive Sand Castle
Ok, ok, it’s not a sand CASTLE, but check out this amazing sand sculpture!!! It was absolutely gorgeous! The artist was even at work creating more and more beautiful details into the exquisite sand decor!
A Water Skiing Squirrel
Now, most of you know that I am not a huge fan of animal tourism, but this touring exhibit claims that they rehabilitate squirrels. The back story even made it sound like the squirrels then become basically like pets to the family, so you could actually see just how genuine the handlers were and how well cared for the animals were.
But anyway, just imagine this cute little squirrel, complete with a miniature life jacket on, doing laps behind a remote controlled boat!!
I’m not going to lie. I’m not sure who thought this was more adorable and fun: my 3 year old or me!
Get Up Close and Personal With A Giant Eagle’s Nest
Nothing says “‘MURICA!!!” like a bald eagle (or drinking Busch Lites while lighting off fireworks, am I right!?).
There is this huge Eagle’s Nest on display that is truly impressive to see in person.
It’s no wonder the Bald Eagle is our national symbol- it’s pretty bad a#$%!
World’s Largest Overalls
I’m not sure who was bored one night and thought “Gee, I’d like to create the world’s largest overalls!” But apparently someone did and they are proudly displayed at the Nebraska State Fair
No, Nebraska’s Not Flat
One of my biggest goals with this WellTravledNebraskan blog is to get people to realize that Nebraska is NOT just cornfields and flat prairies!
This interactive exhibit was a great visual to show the elevation in Nebraska.
Spoiler Alert: The elevation increases significantly the further West you go!
Interesting Happy Hour Inspiration
I love me a good cocktail.
I especially love me a good happy hour!
This year’s theme at the fair was “Soybeans” so at the “Beach Bar” during happy hour, the price reflected that day’s soybeans prices!!
I’ve got to say, that is pretty creative!
Not many people know that I am actually also a Birth Educator (#FunFact). So, in addition to my writing, I totally geek out about all things birth.
And while I saw plenty of expecting mamas at the fair waddling around, this room wasn’t for them!
Birth (whether by humans or livestock) is a beautiful and natural thing and I LOVE that the State Fair shows this.
There is actually a room at the fair that expecting cows, pigs, sheep, and ducks can give birth in. And the best part is, when they are welcoming their baby, curious minds can actually experience it all right there.
Granted, instincts often kick in with these animals and instead of birthing in front of all those strangers, many end up having their babies overnight in the dark and quiet, but some will birth right there for all to see. And then of course, even if you missed the birth, you can oogle and awgle over the precious little newborns for a few days!!
Amazing for Kids
Of course a State Fair is great for kids, right?
BUT, Nebraska’s State Fair really goes a step above and beyond.
There was basically an entire road, which I’ll just dub “Kid Alley” because the entire area was designed Just.For.Kids.
- There were shows specifically for kids to enjoy and take part in (a kids tractor pull and a magic show).
- There was a place to “grow corn and earn money” which you then could go to the “grocery store” to see how economics work (how cool!?) Oh, and then the “grocer” gave us a coupon for a free ice cream cone! #Winning!
- There was an entire play area with a ball pit, crafts, and games.
- If there wasn’t so much to see and do at the rest of the fair, we easily could have spent so much time with the kids in this section alone!
And this wasn’t even the same place as the really great play area!!
If you’ve ever wanted to see the world from above, you could always take the State Fair’s SkyTram to get a birds eye view!
Nebraskans are proud people. We love our state and are proud to show that off.
I really enjoyed seeing all of the apparel and #NEStrong merchandise or amazing 4-H displays that showcased our love for our state. The best part was that a lot of it was either homemade and entered into the fair or is locally produced.
Nothing beats supporting local artists, businesses, and shops!
All the Local Sponsors
Nebraskans really know how to step it up to support one another. One way this can be seen on a larger scale at the fair is by all of the local sponsors. For example, it is great to see local businesses like Runza and Hyvee being a part of the Nebraska community
Other Things You Should Check Out At the Nebraska State Fair Each Year
All of the 4-H Exhibits and Entries
There is such a plethora of items entered into the fair each year. Some are the most beautiful artistry items that surely took hours upon hours to meticulously create.
Others are fun kids projects that helped them learn about a topic.
Some are mouthwatering goodies like baked goods or the most perfect looking bell peppers you have ever seen!
Holy…well…COW! This steer was GINORMOUS!!! It was fun to stand right up next to this giant beast!
This guy surely could make a ton (literally) of bacon. But instead, he’s lived his life helping sow’s make more piglets.
Attend a Show
There are so many great shows every day and almost every hour to be seen at the Nebraska State Fair.
We hopped into the dog herding show for a few minutes and it was fascinating to see the owner working with his dog to herd the calves around the arena!
Of course there are the classics as well like the:
- Truck and Tractor Pull
- Demolition Derby
See the Exotic Animals
Of course you are going to find all the typical livestock at the fair like the horses, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and more.
But you can also see animals like a camel (and even ride on it) at the Nebraska State Fair.
Eat An Indian Taco
Fairs and Fried foods go hand in hand.
At the Nebraska State Fair, you can’t go a few steps without another food stand touting the “Indian Taco.”
Basically, take a delicious fried indian flatbread and load it up with all the fixin’s of a taco (meat, chili, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes…) and you’ve got a classic fair food.
Go To One of the Nebraska State Fair Concerts
This year, there were actually a lot of really great names, lineups and shows to bring in some great concerts in Nebraska!
One way to save big money is to buy a concert bundle. You choose the “bundle” of shows you want to see, which also includes gate admission and you’ve got yourself several shows for the price of what is often one show at a regular arena!
Attend (or participate in!) a Food Competition
I always chuckle at state fairs for things like their food competitions. Personally, there is NO way I could eat my weight in pickles (although the cake eating one has me intrigued….). There is such a wide variety of contests you can enter in though. I mean, hey….#freefood??
Compete In Other Things
Maybe stuffing your face with bananas (yes, that is one of the food competitions!) isn’t really your thing.
What about a facial hair and mustache contest!?
Want to show off your improv talents?
Think you have the best culinary skills in the state?
These are all just a few more of the other competitions that can be found at the fair!
Take a Ride On The Wild Side
I love roller coasters and rides. And while carnival rides always have me a wee bit nervous, the adrenaline junky in me usually wins out (I mean, this is the gal who went Skydiving in Nebraska after all).
While the carnival rides aren’t included in the cost of gate admission, there are some pre-ticket bundles you can get, such as the $20 ride all day wristband.
Go For a Few Days
The Nebraska State Fair is SO jammed packed with things to do, that I really wish we had planned on more than just one day.
Next year, here’s the following itinerary I plan on doing:
Day 1: Take our time doing all the indoor exhibits (4-H, livestock, quilts, Nebraska history, etc)
Day 2: See the free shows such as cattle herding and tractor pulls
Day 3: Attend a concert and hit up the carnival rides
Money Saving Tips: Nebraska State Fair Tickets
I’ll admit that I kicked myself for not pre-purchasing the tickets before the fair started.
There are several bundles and stellar deals (seriously, some of them don’t even make sense??) that can save you a fortune if you just buy before the first weekend. A few examples are:
Carnival Mega Pass: Only $79 for all you can ride the ENTIRE fair
Hometown Pass: Get 5 tickets for only $9! (This is the one I wish I had gotten!)
Concert Bundles: See 3 shows for only $79
Things I’d Like to See More Of
More Local Food Carts
It seems like no matter where you travel to nowadays, food carts are all the rage! It’s really no wonder though, as local restaurants can get to more hungry people easier this way.
Don’t get me wrong, I love fried oreos and a “hot beef sundae” as much as any fair-goer, but I also love supporting local businesses.
What a better way than through local restaurants where there are plenty of hungry attendees looking for their new favorite place to dine in Nebraska?
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a whole (local) food truck/ stand section of the fair showcasing amazing local mom and pop places from around the state?
More Local Vendors
While there were several vendors clearly from Nebraska, I would LOVE to see even more locally-owned shops and businesses having stalls in the arenas. While I actually love perusing through most of what was offered (did anyone else REALLY want to buy one of those gorgeous Spanish food grinders!?), I LOVE supporting people creating and doing business right here in the Good Life.
This may just be my own opinion, but how cool would it be to have an entire section dedicated to just locals??
Don’t get me wrong…I’m still stopping by that hot tub stall. A girl can dream, right!?
What to do at the Nebraska State Fair When it Rains (or floods)
Yeesh, Nebraska has had just an absolute devasting year due to the floods, and it seems like the plague wasn’t over, when the State fair grounds got flooded!
Most of the below suggested places or things to do at the Nebraska State Fair have already been briefly mentioned above, but here is just a little more information.
Everything on the below list is inside, but you may have to make a mad dash to get from one building to the next!
- SHOP SHOP SHOP at the Market Place
- Born to be wild: watch new animals being born at the Birthing Pavillion
- Spend hours wandering the 4-H entries of amazing hand made items, homegrown produce, and more
- See the Livestock. Go to any of the barns to see cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and more
- Get cozy with all of the quilts
- See what the Nebraska Building is showing off currently (2019 was all the fishing, wildlife, archery and shooting range events)
- See a livestock show (see kids from 4-H show off their hard work of raising their prized animals)
- See other shows in the arenas, such as the Draft Horse Show, cattle herding, and more.
- Head into any of the NUMEROUS indoor buildings! (I don’t remember exactly how many there are, but there are enough HUGE indoor facilities, that you could easily just spend your whole day inside at the NE State Fair if you really needed to!
- Have butterflies swirl around you at the Sustainability Pavilion
- See a concert
Nebraska State Fair FAQS
When is the Nebraska State Fair
The 2019 State Fair ran the last week and a half of August into the first few days of September.
What Time Does the Fair Open
This year, they opened daily at 10am until 10pm most days (with a few exceptions)
Where is the Nebraska State Fair
This was the 10th year that the NE State Fair has been in Grand Island
Address: 501 E Fonner Park Rd, Grand Island, NE 68801
Can I Leave the Fair and Come Back In the Same Day
Yes! Keep your ticket and if you need to leave during the day and want to return (same day) just ask to have your hand stamped at the gates.
Is There a State Fair Schedule
I highly encourage you to take a look at the schedule of events on the day(s) that you are at the fair and plan accordingly. We had a great time seeing what was going on that day and really appreciated the diversity in events.
Do the Nebraska State Fair Rides Cost Extra
All of the rides are apart of the carnival section of the fair. While you can enter this area for free, the rides do cost extra. There are plenty of packages though to purchase if you plan on riding several rides.
Are Service Animals Allowed At the Fair?
Yes. Service (and competition) animals are allowed. No personal pets though.
Are There Bag Checks at the Gate
There are currently no bag checks or restrictions for the fair itself (although, be prepared to have bags checked at the concerts). You can bring in your strollers and belongings throughout the fair
Can I Rent a Stoller, Wagon, or Scooter
YES. Right at the main entrance of the fair, you can rent all the above if you either forgot yours or just realize you need something while you are there.
Is There a Mother’s Nursing Room at the Nebraska State Fair
YES! If you prefer to have some privacy to feed your baby, you can find a mother-friendly facility in the Welcome Center
Is Parking Free
Yes, there are many grass lots that you can park at right at the fairgrounds, which are all free. Or, take a shuttle from one of the many stops in Grand Island
Are There Any Discounts To the Nebraska State Fair
There are a few that could benefit almost everybody.
1) There is often a military day where anyone with a valid military ID receives free admission
2) Volunteer in exchange for free admission: If you do a minimum of 20 hours of volunteering at the NE State Fair, then you can receive 2 admission passes to use whenever you want. If you are volunteering for less time, you can get that day’s admission comped