Guys! I have been so excited to write about this topic all summer because, honestly this is, and always has been, one of my all-time favorite things about Minnesota. The Great Minnesota Get-Together, where you can eat everything on a stick, spend way too much money, make great memories, and have the best end of summer celebration anyone could ever ask for. Being a steadfast goer my whole life, it was hard to miss this last year when I was away so this year I celebrated by going twice! 🙂 The fair is a huge Minnesotan activity and takes some tactical planning in order to do it right, so read on and have fun!
Since 1859 the fair has been a celebration of Minnesota’s assets and contributions as a state, as well as a place for pure, light-hearted summertime fun. Beginning with classic competitions like biggest boar and best sugar beet, the fair encouraged lots of agricultural attention, seeing as this was the original cornerstone of the state. Over time however, the attractions widened to have major shopping opportunities, fine art exhibitions, big-name musicians, rides and games, as well as shows like dog agility, lumberjacking, butter carving, and international dancing. Attendance has skyrocketed over the years and just this year set the all-time record of having over 2 million visits attend between Aug 23 and Sept 3rd, just under half of the entire population of Minnesota! This year we also set the highest single-day attendance at 270,426 people on September 1st 2018! Spread over 322 acres, the fair will take you all day, so come prepared with weather-appropriate clothing, good walking shoes, and a water bottle. For more information on vendors, history, and dates, please visit the official site at mnstatefair.org
First and foremost, getting there. Since the fairgrounds are located in the city proper, driving is not an option unless you want to pay $40 for parking. What most everyone does is park at a free park-and-ride around the area and take a shuttle bus to the transportation hub located on the west end of the fairgrounds. Buses run between every 5 and 30 minutes from 6am to midnight everyday of the fair so accessibility is not an issue. For locations on park and rides and other transportation methods, click here.
Before you leave, I also suggest looking into Blue Ribbon Coupon Books. Available at tons of locations before the fair, you can buy the book and have access to hundreds of vendor and food coupons, helping you save some extra cash! Most effective in larger groups, I don’t think its necessary for groups of one or two.
Once you have arrived, you can buy a ticket at the front gates, or you can bring your previously purchased discount ticket from either the website or Cub Foods. There is a bag check, but their is no limit on bag size or bringing in food/water so don’t worry about having to chug your full bottles before you get in. If you’re like most buses, you’ll enter into the fair at the West End Market (see map below) which transitions well either into the Midway and Barns or Grandstand and Giant Slide. Whichever direction you choose, I suggest being purposeful with your route in order to not waste time or energy. I highly recommend seeing the animals because I think its both fun and supportive of the fair’s roots. Also keep in mind there are two sky rides traversing the grounds that are a huge help to get you far, rest your feet, and have an awesome view from above. See the map below I’ve attached below to help you plan.
Some highlights that I personally love are broken down by section;
Rides and Games
What’s a fair without riding a few rides and winning a stuffed animal?
Mighty Midway and Kidway
The Midway is by far the best area to get your carnival fix, and is located right next to the transportation hub on the west end. The Kidway is the small version of the Midway with small-child-friendly rides and games. With an array of rides including Ferris wheels, giant swings, power towers, scramblers, zippers and many more. If you’re a thrill seeker, come prepared. My favorites were always the fun houses, zigzagging you through obstacles and mazes, sometimes getting you lost. There are many funhouses with different themes both here and at the Kidway, and are usually a bit cheaper than traditional rides. Games are also huge at the fair, with the potential to win giant stuffed animals and inflatable toys. Most rides cost about four or five tickets, with each ticket costing a dollar. Bulk prices exist on ticket sheets and some days are discounted, so plan ahead if you want to spend time on this.
As a standalone tradition of the fair, the giant slide is a must for first-time goers. Located at P26 on the map, for a few dollars you can grab a burlap sac, climb a few flights of stairs and ride what will most likely be the biggest slide of your life!
Ye Old Mill
For over 100 years Ye Old Mill has made its appearance at the fair and, however rundown it may be, is still a classic. Built for pairs, you ride a short boat ride all “tunnel of love” style and see classic Minnesotan characters like Paul Bunyan and Babe.
For those who love a bit of a scare, the Haunted House is located at the southeastern corner of the fairgrounds and costs just $4. Equipped with actors in costume, I must say that for a haunted house that’s not allowed to touch you, this one is pretty good. Also, it’s air conditioned!
Shopping is a classic at the fair with hundreds of artisan vendors, local businesses, and upcoming products represented all over the grounds.
West End Market
Located right as you walk into the fair, West End Market is the newly-renovated welcome mat and is a great way to warm yourself up for the day. With a stage, booths, and a few key food places here, like Nordic Waffles and The Blue Barn this was actually one of this year’s highlights for me.
Tucked back into the most southeastern corner, the International Bazaar is a wonderful place to get lost for a while. Bigger than West End, this market is focused on cuisine, culture, and crafts from countries around the world. Here, I ate awesome Middle Eastern food and something called Island Slaw, but had a fair amount of other choices. I mainly go here for the artisan shopping.
With anything and everything, inside the grandstand is where you can spend a few hours of your day looking at everything from sand art, to knives, to paddleboards. This will feel like the biggest infomercial ever.
If you have a bit of country in you, then Coliseum shopping is up your alley. Surrounding the area for horse and livestock showing, the vendors sport plenty of boots, hats and button downs for all your cowboy dreams.
Speaking of the Coliseum, when you’re done shopping make sure you pop your head inside to see whatever show is going on! Everything from chariot horses and ponies, to cows and goats get a shot to compete for ribbons at the fair.
Featuring a big-name artist almost every night of the fair, the backside of the Grandstand is the perfect place to see an outdoor concert after your daytime activities are done. Ticket prices obviously vary, and be aware of view-blocking posts or seating gaps in the map. *Note: Although there are food and beverage stands by the entrances, you are allowed to exit the concert and re-enter with food. So, if you are willing to walk a block and save two dollars on your beer in between openers, do it!
Sounds just like you think, the Giant Sing-along is located on the north end of the grounds and is equipped with built-in stand up microphones and a giant screen featuring all your favorite karaoke hits. This is fun for people of any age!
Lumberjack show and Logrolling
I saw this show for the first time this year and thought it was awesome! Brought in from an outside Lumberjacking Show Company, four Jacks and Jills competed in various wood-related competitions, and was narrated along with some historical and interesting information about the history of Lumberjacking. Logrolling was incorporated into this show, but is also featured alone just outside the Eco building.
Live music stages
For the perfect opportunity to rest your feet and eat your next treat, live music stages are dotted all over the grounds and feature a variety of artists.
Everyday at 2pm, the Fair Parade rolls through the right-hand side of the grounds along Underwood St. and features local high schools from all over the state with bands, dance teams, and outreach programs. Fair royalty is also featured along with some street entertainers, and a giant rolling cow.
Fine Arts Building
For a little sophistication during your visit, take a look at the fine arts building featuring all local artists in the gallery. Photography, drawing, painting, and sculpting are all included and most are available for sale.
As stated before, agriculture was the foundation of the fair and is still the foundation of the state so if you’re attending the fair I highly suggest you celebrate in the Ag section!
With separate buildings for horses, cows, goats and sheep, swine, and poultry you can see breeds of all varieties from local farmers within the state. Sometimes, rabbits or geese and featured as well depending on space availability and health concerns.
Miracle of Birth Building
For kids and adults alike, this building is designed specifically for expecting animals who will be giving birth during fair days. With Vets constantly on staff, its an excellent way to learn about animal gestation and see some cute fuzzy babies.
This building is set a bit farther away from the rest of the ag stuff, but I think is still worth the visit. Featuring native flowers, bees, pines, apples, and grains you can see many local products and even try apple varieties that haven’t yet been released to the public (shoutout to my school, U of M, for breeding the Honeycrisp apple)!
This section honestly could be it’s own post because when you’re at the fair all you mainly do is eat. Food is everywhere and everything is so good. With classics like funnel cakes, cotton candy, French fries, hot dogs, and lemonade you can satisfy your old-time cravings in the best way. But, if you’re willing to experiment a bit, you can also branch out into alligator, deep fried candy bars, nitro ice cream, and fried pickles. Almost everything is on a stick for easy walking-while-eating access and great discounts can be found in the Blue Ribbon Book. Some favorites of mine are as follows;
Corn on the cob from the corn stand. Freshly dipped in butter and grilled with the husks still on, this stand is fun at night when the employees start dancing on the tables.
Cheese Curds. Still the top selling food item at the fair, we Midwesterners take our curds seriously! Available widely.
Sweet Martha’s Cookies has become somewhat of a legacy in Minnesota. Created by a woman named Martha, these warm and soft chocolate chip cookies has exploded into a multi-billion dollar company that grosses almost double what any other vendor makes during fair time. Available in overflowing cone or bucket, you need to eat down about a dozen cookies before you can move on.
All You Can Drink Milk! What goes better with cookies than milk? Again celebrating the midwestern dairy industry, for just $2 you can have a bottomless cup of ice cold milk made right at home.
Again, I want to stress how limited this section is. Unless you have gone to the fair before and experienced the variety of food options, I don’t think you’ll fully understand until you get there. Don’t even think of eating beforehand the day you go, and come ready with your stretchy pants.
Eco Experience Building
Obviously since I’m passionate about sustainability I can’t go without mentioning the Eco building. With a fun bingo activity inside, you can learn about all sorts of sustainable actions and also win a fun prize. This building is cool for kids as it’s very hands-on and science-y.
Going to college soon? The education building is your friend! With every single Minnesota college represented inside (U of M has its own wing) its like a college fair in the middle of your day!
Kinda old school, but still something I want to mention is the Craft Building. Seeing handmade quilts, clothing, and cross stitching is something my mom and I enjoy seeing together.
Tucked away at the very top of the fairgrounds, the pet building features selective dog breeds as well as agility shows, police demonstrations, and races. Guaranteed to find a cute collar or fun treat, dog lovers and encouraged here!
See some live, freshwater fish and learn about Minnesota’s forests at the DNR building by the grandstand.
And that’s a wrap! Everything that I personally feel will make your fair experience the best it can be! Of course not representative of everything, the fair has way more to offer, but I truly cannot recommend it more if you are in the Midwest. Come, help us beat Texas out as the Biggest State Fair in the country, and experience Minnesota Nice for yourself in this beautiful state 🙂