Getting the most for your money at the Maryland State Fair

Some years we go to the fair and are shocked to see how quickly we go through our cash. This year we (at least the parents) had just been saturated with rides and games at the beach. Did we really need to do that all over again so soon?

So during our trip to the fair this year—the 10 best days of summer are happening now!—we let our children ride a few rides and each play one game with a guaranteed prize. That was it.

I know. I’m such a stick in the mud. One of the men trying to get us to play a game yelled something like, “Boys, your mom and dad don’t want you to have any fun!”
It’s true. I am completely anti-fun. Or spending lots of money on fun.
But our children were happy. And I was really struck by the many free options available there.
Once you’ve parked and paid your admission at the gate, you can almost make a game of seeing how much you can do and collect that’s free. There is so much to do:

Visit the animals. There are cows to admire and horses and bunnies and chickens and goats and pigs and more. There were even little hatching chicks, coming out of their eggs in an incubator. I could have watched them all day.

Go to one of the many free events. There’s the thoroughbred racing, which I seem destined to miss every year, and there are all kinds of events happening in the Cow Palace. You just need to snag a schedule—or look it up online before you go—and you’re golden. 

Stop by the vendor tables. If you can pull yourself away from the huge stuffed Pikachu you’re longing to win, try to find the vendor tables. Many of them have giveaways—often with a wheel you can spin to see which prize you win. One table had a large Connect Four game. We picked up Frisbees and chapstick and pens and sunglasses and who knows what else.

Look at and then beyond the produce. Our children couldn’t believe we dragged them to see the tiniest cherry tomatoes you can imagine and jars of honey and big lumpy pumpkins. But inside that same building was a racetrack where children could race remote control cars for free. We also got to make slime and snow at a table sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Our children won stress-relieving rubber chickens to squeeze, picked up cow origami sheets to make, and found coloring books and dog hats. There had to be more that we missed, but we were running out of steam. And it was a school night.

Take in the sights and smells of the fair. Watch people walking past and wonder how far they traveled to enjoy the fair. Read the sign next to that grill full of smoking meat and imagine what a pork sundae might be. Inhale the scent of cooked turkey legs, watch the Ferris wheel light up against the darkening sky, and feel the rumble of the tractor as you ride on a bench behind it, headed back toward your car.

I’m still finding toys and freebies we picked up on our evening visit to the fair. The whole experience is enough to bring us back year after year.

If you go, no matter what you spend or how many deep-fried, bacon-wrapped Oreos you eat, I hope you have fun! 

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.