It’s here! Well, almost. Starting Thursday, Minnesota’s biggest party begins its 12-day run. Every year, about 2 million people attend the State Fair, the largest daily attendance of any fair in the country. The fairgrounds — all 320 acres of them — can be a little overwhelming, what with the 300 food vendors dishing up 500 tasty delights (including 80 on a stick), the 900 free shows (by more than 100 performers), the 12,500 head of livestock (which produce 3,000 tons of manure), the rides (30 on the Mighty Midway, another 30 on the Kidway) and …
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. We’ve got the inside scoop. We asked experienced fairgoers for their tips on getting the most out of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Go early, go late, go often
Alyssa Bicking of Minneapolis likes to get to the fair early, grab a cup of coffee and some Tom Thumb Mini Donuts and wander the fairgrounds while it’s calm and quiet. The gates open at 6 a.m., but many of the attractions don’t open until 8 or 9.
Liz Pomish of New Hope prefers the fair after dark. The gates close at midnight (you have to enter before 10 p.m.) and many exhibit buildings close at 9 p.m. But there’s plenty to do after dark. Pomish suggests hitting the midway or Adventure Park. The nighttime view from the Space Towers is a stunner, she said.
Other recommendations: Go more than once, if you can. Avoid midday and weekends. And if you go the first couple of days, you’ll experience the fair at its clean-and-shiny best.
Dress for success
Sure, you want to look good in your State Fair selfies, but you really need to dress comfortably.
“Dress for the day, not for fashion,” said Bradley Koenig of Hector, Minn.
Wear walking shoes with closed toes. (Remember that livestock? We’re talking 3,100 horses, 2,800 cattle, 1,400 goats, 1,400 sheep, 1,370 swine and 200 llamas and alpacas.) Choose clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Come prepared for Minnesota’s constantly changing weather. Pack a warm layer for nighttime and a poncho or umbrella if rain is in the forecast. And be sure to bring a hat or sunglasses, sunscreen and a refillable water bottle.
Get digital advice
Carrie Helgerson of Minneapolis suggests bringing extra power packs to keep your phone charged so you can take photos and navigate the fairgrounds using the Minnesota State Fair app (free at the Apple App Store or Google Play store). The app features the popular Food Finder, Fun Finder and Merch Search tools.
You also can get these tools — with Google Maps integration — on the fair’s mobile website. Go to m.mnstatefair.org on your phone’s browser.
There’s plenty of ground to cover, so don’t try to do it all. Chelsea Rostad of West St. Paul advises planning ahead by using the State Fair app and bookmarking all your must-sees, must-dos and must-eats before you go.
Also, many of you said that pacing is essential. Take lots of timeouts. Find a bench or a curb, sip some water and watch the Great Get-Together go by.
The food. Oh, the food! From corn dogs and corn on the cob to alligator on a stick and Bacon Fluffernutter, fair food is an adventure in eating. Don’t stick to your favorites. Vow to try something new. This year alone, there are 31 new options to taste. Check them out at mnstatefair.org/find/new-food/.
Save money and time
There are plenty of free attractions — from the animal barns to the nine free stages to the Creative Activities building. But face it, you’re going to need to bring some dough.
Readers recommended carrying cash rather than waiting in line for the ATM at the fair. To save, buy the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book. It’s only $5 and offers 150 coupons on food, merchandise and attractions. It’s available until Aug. 23 at various participating Cub stores. During the fair, you can pick one up on the fairgrounds at State FairWear Gift Shops and Bargain Book & State Fair Poster Carts.
How to get there
In two words? Don’t drive. Almost all of our readers recommended taking the bus. Ride the State Fair Express Bus Service (metrotransit.org/StateFair) or the free Park and Ride shuttles, which leave from more than 33 Twin Cities locations (metrotransit.org/state-fair-shuttle-service).
Bike parking is free and the three bicycle lots (Gate 2, 6 and 16) are open from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Taxis, Uber and Lyft have set drop-off and pickup sites at the fair.
Go with a group
The fair tends to be a group activity, with whole extended families, tennis teams and book clubs going en masse. But negotiating the fair as a group isn’t so easy. That’s why Rebecca Zenefski of Shoreview suggests you go with people who share your interests and energy level. Just don’t forget to set a meeting place. Even in the age of smartphones, you can get lost at the fair.