You don’t have to live in New England long to hear about… The Big E! (Never called by its long name, which is the Eastern States Exposition). I’ve been going to The Big E since I was a kid, and loved touring the animals, crafts, and other booths with my mom and aunt. Now I’ve been bringing my boys and they’re already learning that fall means… time for The Big E! So if you’re in New England, here’s ten reasons we love family fun at The Big E!
This post was partially sponsored by The Big E; I received a one-day media pass to attend. No other compensation was provided.
10 Reasons We Love Family Fun at The Big E!
The State Houses.
Every New England state has a building on the fairgrounds. The interesting fact here is that each state actually owns the land their building stands upon. Inside each building, you get a taste of every state’s culture, foods, industries, and specialities. Plenty of food and crafts to be found in the state houses. I personally love Vermont and Maine houses the best, because they have amazing handicraft vendors every year. Plus, Vermont has my favorite food: a slice of apple pie with Cabot cheddar cheese on top! Maine has the baked potatoes (although so does Connecticut!). I did enjoy the Connecticut building so much this year because I got to meet a local children’s author and a hand-dyed indigo textile artist.
The Big Slide!
McDonald’s always sponsors The Big Slide and my boys love it. I have done it with my youngest the past two years because he’s not quite tall enough to ride by himself. For $2 you get a gunny sack and climb to the top and whizz down. Last year we even caught some air! At the end, they hand you a coupon for a free medium french fry at participating McDonald’s! So that’s another good deal for family fun at The Big E!
The Butter Sculpture.
Where else can you see 600 pounds of butter shaped into… something new every year? I loved this year’s sculpture of The Big E parade complete with marching butter band and horse drawn wagon. Just amazing the amount of time and effort that goes into the sculpture. Find the butter sculpture by the Mallory Complex just to the left of Gate 9A.
Early American History.
In front of the state houses is Storrowton Village. An actual village from Early American History. Here you can visit the blacksmith’s shop, learn about one-room schoolhouses, and several times a day learn about Early American crafts, games, and more. This year I joined my 8-year-old son to participate in a potato sack race – let’s just say that I’ll leave that to the 8-year-olds from now on!
Besides the state houses, you’ll find craft vendors along every street and in the Young Building and the Better Living building. I personally, find the craft booths in the state houses and on Hampden Avenue to be the most interesting, but there are gems to be found throughout the fair. I loved the New England building because it’s just crammed with quilts, laces, crocheted and embroidered items and so much more from around New England. Truly amazing work.
Kids will love this building! Giant pumpkins, baby chicks hatching, ducks, piglets, goats butting heads. You can learn about farming and animals and see so many cute animals at play!
Okay I might be the only one who scopes out these vintage foot rests (I base that on the fact that I never saw another person except me and my kids actually using them and anybody I say “Footsie-Wootsie” to says, “HUH?”) but you have got to try a Footsie-Wootsie if you go to The Big E! You sit on this elevated chair and put your feet on the metal footrest. Insert a quarter (YES, just a quarter!) and the footrest starts vibrating (as does the whole chair) for about 30-60 seconds (never timed it!). Afterwards, your tired feet feel amazing! I have to admit, we indulged in several Footsie-Wootsie treatments this year! haha!
Yummy Fair Food.
I am choosy when it comes to fair food. I don’t generally love fried food, but I will try out new things. For instance, fried Oreos are quite interesting – but I doubt I’ll have them again. Like I said I love the Maine Baked Potato and the Vermont house apple pie with cheese (and get a cider!).
Fair food isn’t cheap, so splitting those speciality items is a great idea both for the wallet and the stomach. The kids and I split a fried dough and the boys split an ice cream from J. Foster’s. Everyone was happy to have a little bit of these treats!
I also found the BEST deal on milkshakes at this year’s fair. Right outside the Mallory Complex is the 4-H Milk Bar booth selling chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry milkshakes for just $1.50!! They are smaller, 16 oz size, but that fit the bill for this mom with young kids – they don’t need a giant milkshake anyway!
There are always a few food disappointments each year. This year, I tried Chompers Taco Balls – they were interesting, but to me too heavy and I could barely eat one (although I had to buy 5 for $10!). And the “cone of cookies” from Stella’s Milk N Cookies didn’t actually come in a cone, they didn’t have white milk, and the cookies tasted like they were made with shortening, not butter.
I have yet to find a great cup of coffee at The Big E, sad to say! Am I missing something? With all the smaller roastery’s around, I am shocked there isn’t a specialty coffee booth! Omar’s is probably the closest, although it’s not my personal favorite.
The 5 o’clock parade is different every day because it’s hosted by the highlighted “town of the day.” But you’ll probably always see a marching band, dignitaries, celebrity look-alikes, and miniature and Clydesdale horse-drawn wagons. Sometimes some floats have thrown candy, but this year they only gave out fidget spinners.
The later parade is the Mardi Gras parade, and it’s pretty exciting! We didn’t stay this year because it was too cold, but last year, it was a vibrant display of lighted floats, candy throwing, bead-throwing, and lots and lots of music. On weekends, the two parades are run at the same time for a big long parade.
Sheep-Shearing and more.
What the kids and I really love at The Big E are all the animals. The Mallory Complex is where you’ll see most of the fun from sheep-shearing demos, to goat milking, and then the Swifty Swine pig racing outside. The Coliseum has the horse events, which we didn’t get to this year but have been in the past. There’s also sheepdog events, and other activities.
Helpful parent tips for a family visit to The Big E!
Go on a weekday. That’s my very best advice. Monday is the best. The crowds are way down, so you won’t wait too long for the bathroom, food, rides, parking, etc.
Arrive before the park officially opens. You can park, buy tickets and get in before all the crowds. Then enjoy the quiet streets and sites without all the bustle. The Fire Station is a delicious and interesting place to grab a breakfast sandwich while you’re waiting for booths and buildings to open, and it’s right near the state buildings. Which leads me to….
Start with the state buildings in the back and work your way forward. You’ll end up near gate 9A where you parked and have covered the fair!
Plan your trip in advance. Print out the daily schedule and note what you’d like to see and where and when it’s happening. Plan accordingly, because traversing the fairgrounds five times isn’t fun with kids in tow. Also note what foods and food vendors you’re interested in trying – some of these are hard to find, so it’s helpful to know where they are located.
Pack some of your own food. Although there’s so many yummy foods to try, it can add up quickly when you have kids, and then sometimes they don’t like what they wanted to try. So always pack some snacks to tide kids over between treats.
Bring a water bottle and when you run out, buy water in the state buildings, because almost every food booth there sells water for $1!
A word about the circus – Besides obvious issues with circus animals… I can’t recommend the circus show. I went two years ago with the kids, and there were many risque elements to the routine that made it inappropriate for children. After such a long wait to get in, it was frustrating that the show wasn’t fully family/kid friendly. I hope The Big E will take note and work with the circus to eliminate those elements from the show in future.
All in all, our family always has always had a wonderful time at The Big E, and we plan to continue making it one of our traditional fall family field trips as the years go!
Visit The Big E website to get details, plan your day, or buy tickets!
What are your favorite Big E moments!? If you’re not local, does your family attend any local fairs? What’s your favorite thing to do?
More Fall Family Travel in New England
- Visit Pumpkintown, U.S.A
- Take an interactive hayride at the Hurst Family Farm
- Visit the Durham Fair in Connecticut and find out what we loved to eat at the Durham Fair!
Thanks to The Big E for providing me a media pass to attend. All opinions are my own