Stop what you’re doing and find out when your state fair takes place. Once you find out what you’ve been missing, you’ll want to make sure you clear your schedule to attend! If you haven’t been taking part in the time-honored tradition of visiting a state fair, here are 10 reasons why you need to be at the next one.

1. Animals

Fuzzy ducklings at the fairFuzzy ducklings at the fair — Photo courtesy of iStock / ideabug

Farm animals headline at state fairs, whether they’re being shown for a 4-H contest or housed in educational exhibits.  Those of us who haven’t had opportunities to visit farms or ranches will enjoy the experience of interacting with critters like cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep and more.  You might even get to pet some adorable baby animals!

2. Calorie-packed food

While it might seem impossible, there actually are ways to eat healthy at the state fair.  But we’re not interested in that.  It’s not a true state fair experience unless you leave reeking of oil and clutching a grease-soaked bag of fried Oreos to-go.  Where else can you try a hot beef sundae, a Twinkie dog and any number of fried desserts all in one place?

Read more: Ranked: State fair foods that pack the most calories »

3. Crafts

From traditional arts and crafts to the more outside-the-box displays – like sand or butter sculptures – there is an amazing amount of handiwork to admire at the fair.  Peruse the booths, pick out a souvenir to take home, or watch in awe as craftspeople create right in front of you.

4. Cook-offs

Among the many contests occurring at state fairs are cook-offs.  You’ll find everything from the more conventional baking and chili competitions to the more bizarre like Goo Goo Clusters or Spam.  

Read more: The most unique state fair cook-offs »

5. History

Great New York State Fair in 1954Great New York State Fair in 1954 — Photo courtesy of Great New York State Fair

Annual state fairs have taken place in the United States since the 1800s, so many have long and storied histories that are worth exploring. It’s amazing to observe how state fair culture has changed over the years.

Read more: A visual history of the oldest state fair in the country »

6. Eating contests

Cream puff eating contest at Wisconsin State FairCream puff eating contest at Wisconsin State Fair — Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

You might find eating contests to be an ill-mannered display, but it’s difficult to deny that this pastime is woven into the fabric of American culture.  And not all eating contests have to be as revolting to watch as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. 

At state fairs, many of the competitions include children, dialing down the “eww” factor and cranking up the “aww.”  For instance, the Chug-a-Lug contest in Iowa, where kids see who can gulp down a glass of milk the fastest. 

Read more: The most bizarre state fair eating contests »

7. Music

Concerts at state fairs are getting bigger and betterConcerts at state fairs are getting bigger and better — Photo courtesy of E+/South_agency

Musical performances have long been a tradition at state fairs, but it seems that the concerts get bigger and better with each passing year.  Lineups are jam-packed with weeks of shows that highlight big names as well as up-and-coming musicians.

State fairs have also inspired many artists to relate their own views and experiences on the midway, making for a festive playlist that you can enjoy en route.

Read more: Add these 10 songs about going to the state fair to your playlist »

8. People

People-watching is an undeniably entertaining fair activityPeople-watching is an undeniably entertaining fair activity — Photo courtesy of iStock / Jacob Ammentorp Lund

One of the most fun things to at the state fair is completely free: people-watching.  You can find hours of entertainment just sitting back and taking it all in, with folks trying to figure out just how to eat a giant turkey leg gracefully, families making new memories and crowds laughing themselves silly on rides.

9. Recipe sharing

This stunning cake is a blue ribbon winnerThis stunning cake is a blue ribbon winner — Photo courtesy of Pat McDonogh, The C-J

Food is a huge draw for fair-goers, and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to take home some recipes.  Many events across the country have cooking demonstrations where you can learn how to make select dishes.  And some cook-off winners are willing to share their recipes, allowing you to create award-winning items at home.

Read more: How to make the bourbon cream tipsy cake that won a blue ribbon »

10. Rides

The Ferris wheel is perhaps the most iconic fair ride of them allThe Ferris wheel is perhaps the most iconic fair ride of them all — Photo courtesy of iStock / kamisoka

Of course, the rides are a huge attraction at state fairs.  There’s always something for everyone, whether you seek thrills on the Zipper, twisting-and-turning amusement on the Scrambler, or low-octane fun on a Ferris wheel.