Fall colors aside, you know autumn has arrived in South Carolina when the State Fair opens in Columbia. This year, the annual rite of the season -- highly anticipated by adults and children alike -- takes place Oct. 13-24 on the State Fair Grounds located a block from USC's' famed Williams-Brice Stadium.
With the continuing pandemic, special precautions have been taken to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Hand sanitizer stations will be available throughout the fairgrounds and facilities, including bathrooms, will receive enhanced cleaning. Mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CSC) will be followed and social distancing encouraged.
Originally organized in the mid nineteenth century to promote the state's agricultural industry, the State Fair continues to showcase South Carolina's home-grown produce, from pumpkins to watermelons to sweet potatoes, along with beef and dairy cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and miscellaneous small stock, including rabbits, turkeys, pigeons and waterfowl.
Other attractions and events include a petting zoo, swine racing, Border Collie demonstrations, horse exhibitions, donkey and mule competitions, a flower show, home arts and crafts, sand sculptures and a cookie kitchen offering fresh-from-the oven, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies. Yum!
There's also a Heritage Village where you can watch artisans work their magic in a variety of media from glass blowing and bowl turning to tinsmithing and blacksmithing.
Add to that a wide array of entertainment, including concerts, comedy shows, roving robots, stilt walkers and a circus at the fair, plus all the carnival food you can eat with special treats like deep-fried lava cake, roasted corn and a "Steak N Eggs Sundae."
But it's the 70-some rides in the 9-acre midway that draw so many to the State Fair each year. Among the new additions in 2021 are DUMBO and the Tea Cup.
With so much to see and do, you could attend all 12 days of the fair and enjoy a new experience at each visit.
Here are some of the not-to-miss joys of the fair, one for each day:
Fried Oreos: This is the holy grail of the fair -- the absolute thing you must eat. There's no real explanation, other than to say it's one of the best treats you'll ever put in your mouth. Warm and crispy on the outside; gooey and crunchy on the inside. And all covered with powdered sugar. If you can only eat one thing, make it a fried Oreo. Still hungry for more? Try the fried Snickers or the Krispy Kreme doughnut burger, topped with bacon, of course.
Baryard Cackle Review: This seven-character singing chicken show featues Rocky Da Rooster and his singing hens -- Tanya Clucker, Loretta Hen, Patty Eggless, Reba MacEggtire, Patsy Coop and Sh'nia Twang.
Duck waterslide: In the building housing the champion chickens, don't miss the baby ducks. They slide down a short conveyor belt and splash into water, then climb back up and do it again. Also, say hello to the champion Gamecocks while you're there.
High flying swings: Not for the faint of heart, but it's the best place to take a photo of your daredevil kid, flying high over a sea of humanity.
Bag of doughnuts for the road: The doughnut stand stretches all along the walkway toward the parking lot. It's there for a reason. Snag a bag for the ride home (order the cinnamon-coated ones, and make it a large.) After all the other things you've done, you might as well cap the night off right.
Fiske fries: It's one of the fair's oldest traditions and should almost be a requirement. Hot, crispy, gone in a flash. The mushrooms also are fabulous.
Lemonade: It's fresh squeezed and oh, so refreshing. Buy the big cup and you can get it refilled at a discount.
Sand sculpture: Working with 75 tons of sand, artists build an amazing sandcastle in the Goodman Building. Watch the work in progress over several days. It's as detailed as sculptures you see in fine art museums, and will go away as quickly as it came.
Giant turkey leg: You've probably noticed a trend here -- food. Decadent food is one of the big draws and best parts of the fair. Indulge your inner caveman and gnaw on a giant roasted turkey leg. They're always bright red and savagely delicious.
Ride until you're dizzy: If you just can't get enough Tilt-a Whirl, Tea Cups and Skyglider, you're in luck. Pay-One-Price wristbands are available to enjoy unlimited rides, even on weekends. Purchase your ride voucher in advance -- online or at a Circke K -- for a discounted price. You can also buy individual tickets for the rides at the fairgrounds. Just keep in mind what you've eaten before you climb on that bright, shiny ride that spins around and around.
Pig races: You thought nothing was cuter than two dozen ducklings on a waterslide, right? That's only because you haven't seen four piglets gamboling and squealing around a tiny racetrack. The Swifty Swine Racing and Swimming Pigs perform daily outside the Abernathy Arena. And guess what the winning piglet's prize is? An Oreo, of course.
The 2021 S.C. State Fair runs from Oct. 13-24 at the State Fairgrounds, 1200 Rosewood Drive, Columbia. Click here for ticket information. Parking is $5; $20 on Saturday, Oct. 6, during the USC vs. Vanderbilt football game.