If the Manatee County Fair only whet your appetite for fair fun, you’re in luck. The Florida State Fair, which opens Thursday, is an easy drive up I-75 to Tampa.
The fair runs for 12 days at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
It’s sort of the first half of a doubleheader of major fairs in Hillsborough County, with the Florida Strawberry Festival starting March 1 in Plant City. In fact, it’s the first state fair of 2018.
The Florida State Fair is a lot like our own Manatee County Fair, only much larger. It includes all the fair staples — livestock shows, a midway, live music (Dennis Lee, who played at the Manatee County Fair, will also be at the state fair) and racing pigs — plus laser lights shows, helicopter rides and sea lions.
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One thing you’ll see only at the Florida State Fairgrounds is Cracker Country, a restored 19th-century Florida village with 13 buildings that were moved to Tampa from sites around Florida.
Unlike the Florida Strawberry Festival, the state fair doesn’t feature a lot of big-name entrainment. But the Country Gold show, which has become a tradition at the fair, features some great classic country stars: Moe Bandy, T.G. Sheppard, Leroy Van Dyke and Rhonda Vincent. They perform at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.
There’s a page on the fair’s website devoted to new, deliciously unhealthy foods that will be available this year. Among them is a Southern Catfish Sundae featuring hand-cut french fries, fried catfish and a spicy remoulade sauce on top. Another offering is a chicken and waffle pizza, described as “a syrup-based pie topped with fried chicken, waffle pieces, bacon, mozzarella and more syrup.”
Details: Feb. 8-19, Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa. Adults $9 advance online, $13 gate; children 6-11 $5 advance online, $7 gate; senior advance online $7, $9 gate. Armbands good for any day of the fair, $30 advance, $35 gate; weekday armbands $20 advance, $25 gate. 813-621-7821, floridastatefair.com.