There is something old-fashioned and quintessentially “summer” about going to a county fair. Even if you didn’t grow up in the country, a visit to a county fair can make you feel like a kid again (and bring out the childlike wonder in your little ones).
If you go
1060 East Peterson Road, Grayslake
Wednesday-Friday, Saturday-Sunday; kids 5-13; free kids under 5. Cash only.
Coupons for discounted admission are available at visitlakecounty.com and the fairs Facebook page.
If you are going with small kids, the best time is right when it opens on Wednesday morning. Paid parking is available in the paved lots or there is free parking available in grass lots (its rough terrain for small strollers).
Other local county fairs
525 S. Rand Road, St. Charles
Sunday; free kids 3 and under.
2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton
; kids; free kids under 3.
11900 Country Club Road, Woodstock
; kids, veterans and seniors. Family passes online for (2 adults and 3 kids).
889 S. Court St., Crown Point, Ind.
; kids 9-12; free kids 8 and under. parking.
30820 111th St., Wilmot, Wis.
; kids 8-11; free kids 7 and under.
And the best part? You don’t have to give up city living to enjoy it! The Lake County Fair, just a quick drive north of the city, is the county fair of your dreams, whether you’re a little bit country or a little rock ‘n’ roll.
For country mice
For farm-obsessed toddlers and preschoolers, the county fair will be an unforgettable experience. Skip the petting zoo and animal shows and head right to the livestock barns, where families can see all the livestock being entered into competition (including those raised by local kids participating in 4-H). Sometimes you can even meet the farmers and kids that raise the animals and learn about—and maybe even pet—cows or horses.
Then head inside the Expo Hall to the Farm Bureau’s Ag Adventure Area. Your little farmhands can milk a cow, dig in corn bins, ride tractors and more. It’s a perfect place to cool off on a hot day or as a transition to going home.
Tractor lovers will want to see the displays by local vendors. And the Farm Heritage Association antique tractor parade is a must-see. We usually grab a bite to eat and have dinner while we watch the parade go by.
And if all that’s not enough for your animal lover, there’s a petting zoo, animal shows and a rodeo on Saturday.
For city slickers
The Midway is the place to be if you are looking for thrills. You’ll find all the typical carnival games and rides, from the kiddie rides that go in a circle to hang gliders and a Ferris wheel. If you have older kids, try to go at night to see it all lit up. But for kids who love to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl until their stomach threatens to revolt, be sure to go during the day when unlimited ride wristbands are available.
If you prefer to keep your feet planted on the ground, head to the Expo Hall to see the talent of Lake County up close and personal. Everything from food to textiles, sewing to painting is on display, with adult and student entries. The Expo Hall also houses business and organization booths. Kids will especially like meeting law enforcement officers and seeing their cars and motorcycles.
If speed is your thing, the fair does not disappoint, with Motorcross and Demolition Derby events throughout the weekend. There will also be tractor pulls and school bus racing.
And, of course, the food. From foot-long corn dogs to deep-fried Oreos and donut cheeseburgers, this is the stuff you just can’t get anywhere else (and believe me, it’s worth the calories). The huge bags of cotton candy and fresh-from-the-fryer funnel cake are the cherry on top of a perfect day for my kids. And for my money, there’s nothing that says summer more than a fresh-squeezed lemon ice on a hot afternoon.