How to Have a Cheap Date at the State Fair

There are a few free rides to be found at the fair, but the Texas Star isn’t one of them. (photos by Kyle Pennington)

I don’t think it was by chance that I was chosen to take up the challenge of coordinating a cheap date at the State Fair. Not by a long shot. As a college student, a need for frugality is the norm. Oh, those tacos are $2? No thank you, Mr. Warbucks. I’ll take my dollars somewhere they’ll be appreciated, not your fat-cat establishment.

As a rule, the State Fair of Texas is an expensive endeavor, fraught with tales of inexplicably priced corn dogs and long lines designed to make you believe that the chunk of change you’re about to throw down is worth the wait. But rules are made to be broken.

Off the bat, you can shave a few precious dollars from your tight budget. If you bring an empty Dr Pepper can, you’ll be eligible for an $8 admission any day after 5 p.m. If it’s a Tuesday, you can get a $5 dollar admission. Let’s say for the purpose of this article you and your romantic partner have chosen to attend the fair on a Tuesday.

Current total: $10

Not too shabby a start.

At this point, you are free to enter Fair Park and wander about as you please. But you came to do something fun, not burn calories. On the contrary – we’re going to see just how many calories you can pack on today.

The petting zoo is irresistible.
The petting zoo is irresistible.

First, check out the Big Tex museum. It’s air-conditioned and full of cool stuff, from past news clips and old souvenirs, to replica boots and photo ops. There’s also a 20-minute video about the rebuilding of Big Tex if you want to burn a little extra time indoors.

Once you’ve thoroughly explored Mr. Tex, head northeast to the Pan Am Arena. There you’ll find a cool little show featuring talented canine acrobats. It’s touted as the “ultimate” dog show in the State Fair brochure, but I just can’t agree. Not until I see a pair of shih tzus sword-fighting on a wooden plank.

When that’s done, hop over to Big Tex’s Barnyard, home of the State Fair petting zoo. They tried to keep this gem a secret by putting “children” in the name on the map, but don’t be fooled. I had the time of my life at the petting zoo. For a city boy like myself, it’s easy to forget how awesome a goat is, and how pigs work. But there are also zebras, camels, water buffalo, emus, kangaroos, and a baby giraffe that I couldn’t leave alone. Baby giraffes don’t grow on trees. You’ve got to stock up on face time.

Grab some hand sanitizer on the way out, and walk east to the Chevy test drive tent. Be over 21 and don’t be drunk (which should be easy since you haven’t spent any money on beer), and you can drive the new 2014 Corvette Stingray, among other new Chevy models, including the 2014 Silverado and the Volt. It was a lot of fun. There was an obstacle course for each vehicle, and the Chevy experts were happy to pretend like I could afford their cars.

Current total: Still $10

At some point, you’re going to need sustenance. The smell of fried spaghetti and meatballs is alluring, but don’t fall victim to that siren of sauce. You have options.

The Food & Fiber Pavilion is chock-full of neat things to eat: jalapeno-infused pickles, key lime pie almonds, soda samples, and ice cream cones, to name a few. There’s also a short video about corn that was strangely riveting. The Wolf brand chili tent has free chili for you and your lover to share. You can follow it up with the free 5-Hour Energy bottles and Lance brand crackers in the tents next door.

The creative arts building is an interesting corner of the fair. The walls are adorned with quilts and doilies. There are creepy glass dolls and Lego structures. There’s a giant butter sculpture too, though I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. But the best part was the chef demo, where we got to learn about local restaurants and cooks, and then eat their wares (more free samples!). Check it out if you’re still hungry.

After all of the free food and yarn creations, it would be reasonable to want to take a load off. You can take all the time you need in one of several hammocks by the Pan Am building. It’s shaded, quiet, and best of all: it doesn’t cost a dime.

Current total: $10

The most beautiful four-letter word in the English language.
The most beautiful four-letter word in the English language.

I know the aim of the game is to save money, but let’s face it: there’s only so much fun you can have without sliding a couple tens to the coupon lady. Take your date to the Texas Star. He or she will have earned the experience, having had to put up with your penny-pinching all day. It’s $7 bucks for each of you, a small price to pay to avoid any future resentment.

The Illumination Sensation show at night is also good fun. It has everything: fireballs, country music, and multiple sports montages superimposed on top of each other. A cool little fireworks show tops everything off at the end, serving as a nice exclamation point to your whirlwind day at the State Fair.

There’s no reason to drop a fat stack of cash on an already expensive trip. Take it from me, college kid: I know what I’m talking about.

Final cost: $24


Jake Austin Medina is a D Magazine intern and a frugal journalism major at the University of North Texas.


  • Debra Johnson Green

    This is great place for an inexpensive date.

  • BrentDude

    You dumpster dived for the cans and walked there? I’m sure that made for an impressive date.

    • Jake Medina

      Only the best for my gal.

  • JDW

    Great ideas! gotta do what you gotta do, can I get an Amen?

  • Hu Dat

    the fair is a rip off….i will never be back there again….