Here’s How to Visit the Texas State Fair on a Budget

You can have frugal fun at the fair. It just takes a little planning.

By Courtney CollinsOctober 9, 2015 8:56 am|

This story originally appeared on KERA. Audio will be available shortly.

Thousands of Longhorns and Sooners are already streaming into town for Texas-OU weekend. The Red River Showdown kicks off at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning.

If you can’t afford a ticket to the Cotton Bowl, clever folks at the State Fair of Texas can still have a lot of fun on the cheap.

Here’s KERA’s resident cheapskate, Courtney Collins.

There are few places on this earth that serve fried butter, showcase high-jumping border collies and feature a kid’s show narrated by a talking buzzard.

Tomorrow, add in crazed football fans from the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma in town for their annual grudge match.

Sooner Megan McClellan says there’s nothing like it: “It’s crazy, it’s hectic but it’s so much fun to hang out with fans of both teams.”

Crazy, hectic and… potentially expensive. Tickets to the game cost more than $100. For those who just want to tailgate and roam the fair, you still have to pay $15 to park. Adult admission? It’s $18!

To save on parking: take the DART. Once you’re inside the gates, there’s a shocking amount of free.

It starts with the concerts and shows. If you’re looking for a few good vibrations Sunday night, the Beach Boys are free. Same goes for the All-New Mattress Firm Illumination Sensation.

For the little ones, the Kids Boardwalk doesn’t cost a thing. It has sandboxes, giant chessboards, face painting, temporary tattoos and crafts.

The charge for the fair’s famous car show? Zip. The Big Texas music exhibit? Nada.

“Canstruction,” a dramatic display of architecturally arranged canned goods, is built on a foundation of free.

Fair food’s a little trickier, but there are some sneaky ways to snack on the cheap. Step one: Stay away from the fried stuff. The name of the game is samples.

At the Food and Fiber pavilion, you can get a lot more than pickles. A lap around the place yields apples, chips and salsa, candied almonds and a full-size vanilla ice cream cone.

Mitch Williams worked at the State Fair for 23 years and used to rely on this place for a midday pick-me-up. “Back in the 70s and 80s, when I used to work here, you could run through here and fill up on samples,” he says. “You could actually make a lunch.”

If you’re free to fair-go during the week, you can save a lot of cash at the gate. Seniors get in free every Thursday. On Wednesdays, all it takes is four cans of food and four bucks.

Although Texas-OU weekend is State Fair prime time, folks on a tighter budget should wait until next week.

Remember, Big Tex himself doesn’t care if you spend $200, or $10.