Things to Do

Your Guide to the Arizona State Fair 2021: Tickets, Rides, Discounts, Live Music, and More

The midway at the Arizona State Fair.
The midway at the Arizona State Fair. Melissa Fossum
click to enlarge The midway at the Arizona State Fair. - MELISSA FOSSUM
The midway at the Arizona State Fair.
Melissa Fossum
If you need another sign that life is slowly returning to normal, the Arizona State Fair makes its comeback this month after a two-year hiatus. There have been a few changes (like the cancelation of its popular concert series in the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum), but the event is still just as over-the-top as ever.

Over the next four weeks, metro Phoenix residents can stroll around the Arizona State Fairgrounds at 19th Avenue and McDowell Road and partake in all of the usual delights of the event, which runs from Friday, October 1, to Saturday, October 30. Flashy thrill rides and carnival games dotting the midway. Vendors selling food packed with enough cholesterol to earn worried looks from your doctor. And more homespun and crafty creations than you'd see on an entire season of Making It.

What else can be had at this year’s fair? The following event guide contains extensive details about literally everything you need to know, including what to eat, bring, do, and see.

When and Where Is This Year’s Event?

The 2021 edition of the fair takes place from Friday, October 1, to Saturday, October 30, at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road. It will run from Wednesday to Sunday each week and will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

What Are the Hours of Operation?

The fair will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday, October 1, for opening day. Regular hours will be noon to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon to 10 p.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

How Much Is Admission?

Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors 55 and up and children 5 to 13, and free for kids 4 and under. They’re available for purchase through the fair’s website or at the event.

Will There Be Discounts or Deals This Year?

Yes. From 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, fairgoers can bring 10 cans or nonperishable food items to donate to Operation Santa Claus and St. Mary’s Food Bank and get in for free. Anyone 55 or older can also get complimentary admission on Wednesday, October 13, through the fair’s website as part of Humana’s Friends 55+ promotion (there’s a limit of two tickets per person and you have to use the password “21FAIRFUN”). Veterans will also be eligible for free admission on Friday, October 15 (click here for more details).

Patrons can score $3 food items at each food stand from noon to 6 p.m. every Friday (except opening day). And kids age 5 to 14 who read three age-appropriate books approved by their parent, guardian, or teacher will receive free ride passes (full details are available here).
click to enlarge The scene at the Arizona State Fair in 2018. - MELISSA FOSSUM
The scene at the Arizona State Fair in 2018.
Melissa Fossum

Where Are the Entrances?

People can enter through the main gate off of Monte Vista Street and 19th Avenue, a second gate located just north of the coliseum, or on the opposite end of the fairgrounds near the intersection of McDowell Road and 19th and Grand avenues. (A fourth gate along McDowell near the cattle barns won’t be used this year.)

What’s the Best Way to Get There?

East Valley drivers can take Interstate 10 to the 19th Avenue exit and then head north. Those coming from the west Valley should get off at 27th Avenue, head north to Thomas Road, west to 19th Avenue, and then south to the fairgrounds. If you’re in the north Valley, take Interstate 17 to the McDowell Road exit and head west. Valley Metro offers bus service to the fairgrounds along McDowell through its No. 17 route.

What’s the Parking Situation Like?

Official parking lots will be available on either side of 19th Avenue. The entrance to the west lot is along Encanto Road near 20th Avenue and it's $8 per vehicle. The north lot costs a little more ($12 per vehicle), but is located within the fairgrounds. The entrance is at 19th Avenue and Monte Vista Street. Reserved parking is also available in the north lot’s VIP section for $25 per vehicle and you can pay online.

Another option is the privately owned lots along Grand Avenue or McDowell Road near the fairgrounds, which will run you anywhere from $10 to $50. Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are also known to let people park in their driveways or on their front lawns for a certain fee, although it's not endorsed by the fair.

Will There Be Security Screenings?

Yes. According to organizers, security will use a metal detector wand on every person entering the fair, and all backpacks, bags, and purses, and bags will be searched for stuff that's prohibited (see below). Patrons can either take the offending items back to their cars or toss them in the trash.

What Should You Bring?

Comfortable walking shoes are a no-brainer, as is a fully charged smartphone, a face covering or mask, as well as hats, sunglasses, or other sun protection if you’re going to be there during the day.

What Can't You Bring?

Outside food and drink (including alcoholic beverages) aren’t allowed in. The same goes for firearms, narcotics, laser pointers, selfie sticks, glass bottles, sharpie markers, sharp metal objects, weapons of any kind, and anything else that could be considered to be dangerous, destructive, or disruptive.

What Are the Fair’s COVID-19 Policies?

A negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination isn't required to enter or attend the fair. Neither are masks, though they're "more than strongly encouraged" by organizers. (They’ll have free masks available to everyone.) Social distancing will be recommended, particularly while in exhibition buildings, in line for food, or in seating areas like the Grandstand. Hand-washing and sanitizer stations will also be located throughout the fairgrounds.
click to enlarge The Flying Dutchman and OMG thrill rides at the fair. - MELISSA FOSSUM
The Flying Dutchman and OMG thrill rides at the fair.
Melissa Fossum

What Sort of Rides Will Be Available?

The fair’s selection of 59 different rides run the gamut from laidback and quaint (like Ferris wheels, the carousel, and the Skyride) to more thrilling experiences guaranteed to get your pulse-pounding, including the Mach 1 “booster” ride, various roller coasters, or the centrifuge-like Rave Wave. You can also partake in such longtime fair favorites as the towering Euroslide, Flying Dutchman swings, and the Tilt-A-Whirl. Here’s the complete ride list.

How Much Are Tickets for Rides and Midway Games?

It depends on how many you want to buy. It's roughly $5 per 10 tickets, which can be purchased either at the fair, online, or through the downloadable FunPass app on iOS or Android. The amount needed for each ride varies: kiddie stuff is around 4 to 8 tickets while premium experiences like the La Grande XL Ferris wheel or the Titan (which flings you 170 feet in the air) are 20 tickets or more.

Is It Possible to Beat the Games?

Possibly, if you’ve got enough skill, practice, patience, and luck. There are also tons of YouTube videos revealing all of the secrets and pitfalls of the most popular carnival games. YMMV.
click to enlarge The Dole Whip watermelon Tajin taco. - ARIZONA STATE FAIR
The Dole Whip watermelon Tajin taco.
Arizona State Fair

What Sort of Food Will Be Available?

This is the fair we’re talking about, so the eats will largely be of the greasy, sugary, or bad-for-you variety. More than 40 confirmed food vendors will be selling staples like frybread, kettle korn, tacos, pizza, funnel cakes, and all manner of hot dogs and corn dogs. Guilty pleasure spot Bacon A-Fair, which wraps everything from parmesan-stuffed Brussel sprouts to turkey legs in the fried meat, will return for 2021.

What Are the New Food Items This Year?

Indulgent selections like cotton candy ice cream tacos, Flamin' Hot Cheetos soda floats, fried chicken funnel cakes, pickle dogs, mermaid and llama candy apples, Flavor Burst ice cream, chocolate tamales, and fried olives will all debut at this year’s fair. You can also buy huge watermelon slices shaped like tacos filled with pineapple Dole Whip, topped with Tajín spice, and featuring a tamarindo candy straw.

Will Alcohol Be Available For Purchase?

Of course. Multiple drink vendors will be selling beer, wine, and mixed drinks. Naturally, you’ll have to be 21 or older to imbibe.

Can You Bring in Water or Empty Bottles?

Yes. Patrons will be allowed to bring in a single 20-ounce sealed bottle of water or an empty plastic bottle, which can be refilled at water stations around the event. You can also purchase fresh bottles of water from vendors.
click to enlarge Metalachi will rock the Arizona State Fair on Saturday, October 16, and Sunday, October 17. - JEREMY SAFFER
Metalachi will rock the Arizona State Fair on Saturday, October 16, and Sunday, October 17.
Jeremy Saffer

Will There Be Live Music This Year?

Yes. The coliseum's popular concert series won't be happening because of financial and safety reasons, but local and touring tribute and cover bands will perform on the Wallace and Ladmo Stage in the northeast corner of the fairgrounds. Shows will take place every night the fair is operating through Thursday, October 28, and sets will be at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Here’s the schedule:
  • Friday, October 1: Bench Warrant (hard rock/metal covers)
  • Saturday, October 2: Unchained (Van Halen tribute)
  • Sunday, October 3: Amor Prohibido (Selena tribute)
  • Wednesday, October 6: Queen Nation (Queen tribute)
  • Thursday, October 7: Prince Again (Prince tribute)
  • Friday, October 8: The (2) Queens (Aretha Franklin/Tina Turner tribute)
  • Saturday, October 9: Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute)
  • Sunday, October 10: Evil Waze (Santana tribute)
  • Wednesday, October 13: Journey Unauthorized (Journey tribute)
  • Thursday, October 14: AZ/DC (AC/DC tribute)
  • Friday, October 15: Country artist tribute
  • Saturday, October 16: Metalachi (metal covers with a mariachi twist)
  • Sunday, October 17: Metalachi
  • Wednesday, October 20: Life in the Fastlane (Eagles tribute)
  • Thursday, October 21: Bad Miller (Bad Company tribute
  • Friday, October 22: Uptown Funk (Bruno Mars tribute)
  • Saturday, October 23: Riff Raff (AC/DC tribute)
  • Sunday, October 24: Adventures in Parrotdise (Jimmy Buffett tribute)
  • Wednesday, October 27: Syknnyn Lynnyrd (Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute)
  • Thursday, October 28: Hard Day Night (Beatles tribute)

What About Other Entertainment?

They'll have that, too. The Grandstand Arena will host events like Figure 8 Racing from October 1 to 3 and October 28 to 30; monster trucks from October 8 to 10 and October 22 to 24; high school rodeos on October 14; Native American rodeos on October 15 and 16; and quarter midget racing on October 20 and 21.

Meanwhile, the Community Stage will feature a variety of entertainers throughout the run of the fair, including hypnotist Chris Mabrey, magician Louie Fox, Zuma Zuma African Acrobats, the Native Spirit Dancers, and “Balloon Man” Skip Banks, a comedian whose act you have to see to believe. Beyond that, if you’d like to witness strongmen battling for supremacy, an arm-wrestling tournament is scheduled for Saturday, October 23, inside The Hangout.

The full entertainment lineup and schedule can be found here.

What Else is There to Do?

Check out the Thunderbird Model Railroad Club’s trains underneath the Grandstand. Buy weird t-shirts or funky jewelry in the Mercado. Spend some time staring at fluffy bunnies and other livestock. Browse stuff you can’t afford in the Shopping Pavilion. Get an eyeful of crafty creations or impressive-looking photography and artwork under the coliseum.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.