State Fair is one of my favorite places to go in summer. After having missed the fair for two years due to the pandemic, I was thrilled to get the chance to visit on opening day.
Upon arriving, I took a quick detour to the Milk House — which also has been absent from the fair for the past two years. Buying flavored milk is not on my State Fair bucket list, but I know it's important to many people so I had to see which milk flavors are on tap this year. They are chocolate, strawberry, root beer and chocolate cherry. You're welcome.
Then I was off to my main destination, the Exposition Center — which is most definitely at the top of my personal State Fair bucket list. Granted, the air conditioning, especially after a few hours walking around in the hot sun, is a big draw. But what I really love doing is walking up and down the aisles, trying free samples, watching demonstrations and just seeing quirky products for sale.
I was relieved to see familiar booths selling all the familiar things: the massage chairs, the food processors, the waterless cookware, the knives sharp enough to cut through a can. Also The Pickle Barrel booths where I always stop to pick up my giant dill pickle (although I feel like the pickle cotton candy was new).
Here are a few other things that stood out to me in the expo halls.
Jewelry to proclaim your nerdiness
There are so many booths that sell jewelry in the expo center — of the hand-crafted variety, of the sterling silver variety, of the mass produced variety.
My favorite jewelry destination, by far, was Literary Alterations, which seems to specialize in basically whatever nerdy fandom you can think of. Being a nerdy fan myself (and also on the lookout for the booths my nerdy daughters will enjoy on our family visit to the fair later this week), I was excited to see Avengers charm bracelets, Loki rings, "Avatar the Last Air Bender" pins and "Hamilton" earrings. And, although I didn't have time to search through all the displays, the salesperson assured me there is "Stranger Things" merch as well.
A lot of flying things
Product demonstrations are everywhere in the expo hall, and some of the most exciting ones are at the booths that sell flying toys. At Gift of Wings and Super Fly Copters booths, vendors launched helicopters, planes and other flying toys in the air while kids looked on with widened eyes and dropped jaws (before inevitably asking their parents to buy them a toy).
I also saw kids flying in the air at the expo hall, where there are several trampolines set up. I even saw a vendor tossing a mop in the air (although I don't think that was the intended use of the product).
State Fair merch is all about the dairy puns
I always like to stop at the official merch booth, mostly because I'm amused by the puns and word play on t-shirts, hoodies and mugs.
I saw a few of what I consider to be standards — an image of a cow declaring "I'm Moooody in the morning," a graphic of a sheep with "Baaad to the bone" written around it.
But my favorites were appropriately dairy-themed. One t-shirt simply stated "Common Curdesy" and another said — in a nod to the pandemic-forced cancellation of the 2020 fair — "Back and butter than ever."
Oh, and the build-your-own cream puff toy was cool too.
Mazes are a thing
When you've been walking around the expo hall, winding through all the aisles, for a few hours, it can start to feel like you're in a maze.
Which is why I was delighted by the booths that decided to lean into the theme. At the Crazy Sock Maze, people can walk around and around tables, picking out their favorite socks — 3 pairs for $12 and 7 pairs for $25.
And there was also the Candy Castle Maze, with tables filled with all kinds of candy, including Tootsie Rolls, Laffy Taffy and saltwater taffy. You just pick up a basket and fill it with your favorites — $5.99 per half-pound.
While not part of the candy maze, there is another booth that sells saltwater taffy — Candyman on Main — that deserves a mention purely because it offers a ridiculously difficult, but also totally worth-a-shot challenge, namely free saltwater taffy if you are able to choose and fill your bag with exactly one pound — no more, no less — of saltwater taffy.
Medieval maps with a Wisconsin theme?
As I was walking through the expo center, I noticed some lovely maps on display. A closer look revealed that they were drawn and lettered in a way that was meant to give off a medieval vibe. An even closer look revealed that, while "medieval," the maps were also Wisconsin-themed, featuring things like Wisconsin cheese factories, Wisconsin wineries and the Ice Age Trail.
Invitations to sit down and relax. And even nap.
You need a place to sit down after walking around the fair all day. And the expo hall has many traditional places to do so, from benches between aisles and near the bathrooms, to tables and chairs in the lobby of the hall.
And then there are the fun options — the hammocks and swing chairs, the patio furniture and inflatable outdoor seats. And, of course there are a wide variety of massage chairs. At the Mattress Firm booth, where they let people try out their mattresses and massage chairs (although only if you're 18 or older), they lean into the restful theme with a sign that sets them apart to guests who have spent a long day at the fair — "The only booth where naps are encouraged."
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin State Fair Expo Center hosts variety of quirky items