I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to the Erie County Fair.
I know! Crazy, right? I’ve been to county fairs in other states and am a regular at the Niagara County Fair. But this is my first year to finally hit the big one.
For my first sojourn, I’m armed with all kinds of discounts on parking, admission, rides and food to do it up right.
• Gate admission. Prices are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors over 60 and children 12 and younger are free. But if you buy your tickets before the end of the business day Tuesday (at the box office or ECFAIR.org), they’re just $7 for adults and $5 for seniors.
On weekdays, admission is just $5 if you arrive on the grounds before 11 a.m. If you go on opening day Wednesday, admission is just $2. If you go Thursday, it’s only $4.
Firefighters and fire auxiliary members get in free Friday with proper ID. Veterans and active military with proper ID get in free Sunday.
Students ages 13 to 22 get in for $5 after 5 p.m. every day with school ID.
Bring in a specially-marked Diet Pepsi can and get in for $5 after 7 p.m. on weekdays. Get in free Wednesday by bringing in a canned good to donate to the Food Bank of Western New York. Bring a canned good Aug. 13 and get $5 off admission.
New this year is the “bounceback” ticket. Bring back your old admission ticket (used any day Wednesday through Sunday) and get in for $1.75 any day from Aug. 11 to 15.
• Rides. Rides are free from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 14. That’s 90 minutes of free rides sponsored by the Strates family to celebrate their Florida-based company’s 90th year operating rides in Hamburg.
Bring an original Tops receipt on weekdays and ride all day for $20. Buy a “Strates Show Fun Card” online before the end of the day Tuesday and save 33 percent – you’ll get 70 credits for $23.
Bring in a canned good on Saturday and get a ride-all-day wristband for $20.
• Food. Unlike many other local events and attractions, you can actually bring a cooler into the Erie County Fair. That means you can stock it with all the food and drinks you need for the day. Just leave the booze and glass bottles at home.
The Buck-A-Roos concession stand near the children’s rides has 10 menu items for $1 apiece. One-dollar grilled cheese? I’m in!
On Aug. 14 the fair will host its first ever “Taste of the Fair.” More than 100 vendors will charge $1.75 for sample-sized portions of everything from Walleye Fingers to Marinated Pork Butt.
For drinks, spend $5 on a commemorative cup and get $2 refills of non-alcoholic drinks all day.
• Parking. Parking is $2 on opening day Wednesday and $4 Thursday. The regular rate is $5.
If you take the bus, routes 14 and 16 have extended hours for the fair.
And don’t forget all the free shows! The schedule is jam packed with free live entertainment, from alligator shows and acrobats to zydeco bands, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and laser light shows.
The fair runs Wednesday through Aug. 17 at 5600 McKinley Parkway in Hamburg.