The official Florida State Fair celebrates its 112th year with 112 amazing things to do – all included in the price of admission. This 12-day showcase of the state’s culture, arts, talent and entertainment, and agriculture takes place in February with a little something for the entire family.
“Fairgoers will enjoy the newly revamped midway area, with open aisles, colorful canvas tents, umbrellas and seating areas,” says Jennifer O’Brien, marketing and communications manager for the Florida State Fair Authority. “The whole family will experience thrills and chills in the Kid Zone, Family Zone and Thrill Zone,” she says. “The biggest and best rides are at the Florida State Fair first!”
As in previous years, food will be a focal point of the fair. Patrons will find traditional favorites and plenty of new fair fare. Because Florida’s annual celebration is the first state fair of the calendar year in the United States, many food vendors introduce their food offerings at the event. In 2016, fairgoers will again choose their favorite People’s Choice Burger from a wild burger lineup created by Carousel Foods, O’Brien says.
A Celebration Rooted In State History
The present-day celebration each February has come a long way from the fair’s beginnings. Early Tampa railroad magnate and hotel developer Henry B. Plant started what would become the Florida State Fair. He had the idea to host an event located on the grounds of his newly built Tampa Bay Hotel in downtown Tampa overlooking the Hillsborough River around 1891. This festival provided entertainment for the hotel guests of his 500-plus room resort, and it enticed others to come to Tampa via his Plant Railway and Steamship Line. That event ceased after Plant’s death in 1899, but it wasn’t the last time Florida residents would see a big celebration in the heart of their state.
In 1904, on that same site, T.J. Laud-Brown proposed a fair in conjunction with the first annual Gasparilla celebration. This annual event was renamed the Mid-Winter Festival a few years later, and in 1915, finally became today’s Florida State Fair.
A Growing Celebration
What started as a modest exhibition by today’s standards quickly grew to include a stadium, coliseum and stock stalls. The fair was one of Florida’s first organized, planned and promoted attractions, providing a focused event, as well as large permanent structures suitable for year-round use.
Today, fairgoers will see the newly renovated Florida Center, loaded with competitive arts, crafts, textiles, photography, woodworking, horticulture, sustainable exhibits, student exhibits and more. This area also features an incredible carousel balloon sculpture, made from over 10,000 balloons that will develop before fairgoers’ eyes each day, O’Brien says.
For animal lovers, the hands-on experience of the newly expanded Ag Venture and Mooternity Ward will be bigger and better than ever, O’Brien says. Competitive youth livestock competitions will culminate with the anticipated Champion of Champions winners. Patrons can also see a wide variety of horse shows and dog shows throughout the 12-day event. Agricultural seminars and demonstrations will be ongoing during the fair.