21 Ways to DIY Your Own North Carolina State Fair Experience

October in Raleigh won’t be the same without the bustle of the N.C. State Fair—but you can still get much of the fun! Here’s how. 
by Addie Ladner

The North Carolina State Fair was canceled this year, for the first time since World War II. And while we might not miss the bumper-to-bumper traffic it brings to Raleigh, we will miss the fireworks, the farm animals, the antique equipment, those Cinderella-sized pumpkins and of course, carnival food. So this year, craft your own State Fair! We’ve gathered all you need to create a day-long adventure that combines the best of N.C. in food, history and craft. Here’s the vision: pick up your favorite State Fair-inspired food to go, then picnic in a spot that offers great North Carolina culture and views. Here are 21 ways to create your own N.C. State Fair experience in 2020. 

Where to Find State Fair Food in North Carolina
From turkey legs to fried Oreos, everyone knows that the wild and crazy and mostly-not-good-for-you food at the State Fair is a must-do. They just announced they’ll be offering much of that food to go from the fairgrounds, but if you don’t want to brave the crowds, consider these spots to get your favorite foods.

Photo credit: Catering Works

Where to find Savory State Fair Food
Leave it to Catering Works to create a complete drive-thru State Fair experience and offer carnival-inspired food from corn-on-the-cob to fried chicken biscuits to smoked turkey legs to pumpkin spiced latte flavored popcorn (cotton candy too!). Family sized-options are also available. Think fair food, done next-level. Sign up for a time to purchase and pick up here. Catering Works has committed to donating a portion of the proceeds from this to the Judy Zelnak Center for Hope.

Daddy Bob’s Barbeque also doesn’t want you to have to miss out on the unique fried concoctions the State Fair often presents one’s palate. Head to Angier to taste their fried Oreos, cookie dough, pickles and don’t forget a corn dog to go with it.

For gyros—the popular Mediterranean street food pita sandwiches wrapped in a foil pack and doused in tzatziki sauce—head to Mona Pita,  Tazza Grill, or Jasmine & Olivz. And there’s no shortage of just classic hot dog options in town with places like Chargrill, Snoopy’s and Roast Grill

Photo Credit: Anna Routh

Where to Find North Carolina State Fair Sweets
You won’t have to stand in line this year for Howling Cow’s coveted ice cream: Just drive down rural Lake Wheeler Road to the recently-opened Howling Cow Dairy Education Center and Creamery. Might we recommend sitting on their back porch with a combo scoop of Wolftracks and Campfire Delight? Swap the fireworks show for open pasture. There’s also the option to grab a dozen donuts from Peace Street’s Krispy Kreme or for something a bit more artisan and warm, how about S’mores and pumpkin beignets from La Farm? 

Photo Credit: Anna Routh

Take a picnic at one of these historic Raleigh spots
After you’ve decided on your generously seasoned rib-sticking State Fair meal, set up shop at the 19th-century old farmstead Historic Oak View County Park for your version of yesteryear. Don’t forget to say hi to the chickens and goats and take a stroll through the pecan groves. Not too far from one of our desert State Fair spots, Howling Cow Creamery, is Historic Yates Mill Park, another remote spot to set up. For a historic trip that’s inside the beltline, consider having your State Fair picnic at Mordecai Historic Park. 

Photo Credit: Jeff Pettitt, courtesy of Historic Yates Mill

Take a N.C. State Fair field trip
Take a drive to show your kids North Carolina farm animals and a good time at Crossroads Corn Maze or Naylor Family Farm and Corn Maze. If local makers are what you most looked forward to every year, head to Seagrove Pottery. For a bit of kitsch, consider one of these 10 Larger-than-Life  Tourist Spots, from a giant frying pan to a re-created Eiffel Tower. 

Photo Credit: Bob Karp

Enjoy the State Fair from home
Stream last year’s fireworks show, cook from last year’s fair’s winning hearty recipes by way of their annual cookbook and check out this link with recipes, crafts, animal webcams and more from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Buy this unfair State Fair T-shirt from the NC Pork Council to show your sadness for missing this year’s fair and enjoy your meal from the comforts of your (hopefully) COVID-19 free home.