The Dutchess County Fair
Let’s just be honest with ourselves. When someone says "New York” we all automatically envision Manhattan. Time Square, Starbucks on every street corner, tall skyscrapers and dreams come to die. As much as I love NYC, there’s so much more to New York than the small island that makes this state iconic.
The absolute best time to take a road trip upstate is the week of August 20th. Four words, one reason. The Duchess County Fair. The fair has been a yearly tradition for over 160 years and is located in Rhinebeck NY, about an hour and 45-minute drive from NYC. The fairgrounds are open year round, but this iconic fair only happens for six days each August, starting the Tuesday of the week of August 20th. I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl, and it was always the last fun thing we got to do before school started in the fall. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.
If you have little ones (or if you still consider yourself a kid), the rides here will keep your kids entertained for hours! It was like a mini Disney World as a kid. The rides require 2-5 tickets each (depending on the ride) and the tickets cost money. They are the most cost efficient if you buy them in bulk, so I suggest setting a certain amount for your child and telling them to budget accordingly. At least that’s what my parents did and it worked pretty well. The tickets are reasonably priced, but bring cash (cards are not always accepted). Try the zipper if you’re brave enough!
As a kid, I hated these, but as an adult, this is now my favorite part of the fair. There are a bunch of very large warehouses set up (we call them tents). It’s the mini Disney World for adults. The warehouses are filled with small booths, each independently run, selling various goods. A lot of these are small, family-run businesses in the area. The people here are so kind. Over the years, we’ve each found our favorite thing to take home from the fair. My favorite - the Ear Divine earrings. My dad’s favorite - German glue (the strongest glue you’ll ever see. They even prove it to you there). A lot of the vendors will even let you sample the product before buying. The wonderful thing about these crafts and products are that a lot of them are handmade by the people selling them. They’re very high quality and it’s always great to support small businesses.
Gossip alert! Go find the food tent right at the beginning before it gets picked at. Most of the booths in the food tent will let you sample the food. There is everything from toffee, to beef jerky, to dip. TRY THE DIP. This is literally the part that my whole family looks forward to most. They have a crazy amount of different flavors to try. We usually end up buying the package of seven or so. Bring cash! Although most of the booths now accept cards.
What would an authentic, upstate NY fair be without farm animals? The whole family will love this part (although it does smell a little). Go visit the animal tents! There are pigs, horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs, etc. They even have a pig race, and a dog show that you can watch!
Gossip alert! Go find the pregnant cows. They have about five or so that are very pregnant and are expected to give birth sometime in the six days of the fair. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a baby cow being born!
I hope you came hungry because there is just about every kind of food you can imagine here. They line up all the food carts in a row, so I suggest doing a few walk arounds before you decide. Some of our favorites include sausage & peppers, foot-long hot dogs, pierogis, snow cones, ice cream, etc. They do have a few healthy options for my health nuts out there, but this is one of those days that should really be a cheat day. You can always hit the gym hard tomorrow.
Gossip alert! These two foods have become iconic for us and we look forward to getting them every single year: the dog bowl of French fries and Zeppoles. The dog bowl of French fries is literally what it sounds like. It’s a lot of really amazing french fries served in a dog bowl. Perfect for sharing! The Zeppoles are not necessarily unique to the fair, but they are the best ones I’ve ever had. For those who don’t know, they’re actually pretty simple. Fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Yum!
Other Hidden Gems
Keep your eye out for the Skinny German Juggler Boy (yes, that’s actually what he calls himself). He performs in the square where all the food carts are. He does amazing acrobatic tricks and often times needs audience volunteers!
What To Wear
It’s hot! Most years I’ve gone to the fair have been scorchers. I suggest a good pair of walking shoes (obviously broken in), a light tank top or t-shirt, and a pair of comfortable shorts or a loose skirt. Definitely, don’t forget those sunglasses and lather on the sunscreen! You’re at a fair for goodness sake. Wear something you’re ok spilling mustard on and go have a good time!
For those lucky souls who have been to The Dutchess County Fair, comment your favorite part below!
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