Politicians, fashion trends and even star athletes may come and go, but there is one cultural bedrock, our beloved deep-fried Gibraltar, that always sticks and without fail helps soften the last mournful days of summer: the Minnesota State Fair, which opens Aug. 21 and runs through Labor Day.

This year, some of the biggest changes to the fairgrounds since a Depression-era spurt of construction will bring a fresh look to the Great Minnesota Get-Together while paying homage to those ties that bind generations. The changes are part of more than two dozen new attractions and exhibits.


… Loved the old Heritage Square: Be ready for a shock. It’s gone, replaced by the new West End Market, the biggest fairgrounds project since the construction of the International Bazaar in 2008. Like the bazaar, Heritage Square had been built as a temporary exhibit that hung around far longer than intended.

A cluster of new buildings includes: the fair History & Heritage Center, which showcases artifacts and photos over the past 150 years; the Schell’s Stage and Margaret Schilling Amphitheater, site of free music and entertainment each of the fair’s 12 nights; dozens of artisans and craftspeople selling their wares; new food options, including The Blue Barn (from the same owners of Highland Grill, Edina Grill and others) and LuLu’s Public House (the fair’s first rooftop patio).

… Take the bus: The new transit hub in the northwest corner of the fair — near the West End Market — should get you in and out more safely and efficiently. No more crossing Como Avenue for those using the fair’s extensive park-and-ride system, which is used by about half of the fair’s 1.8 million annual visitors.

… Miss those streetcars: You will walk under a beautifully restored, sky-blue metal archway that dates from the 1930s at the new West End Gate as you pass through the transit hub. The sign, long forgotten in overgrown brush in a far corner of the fairgrounds, once stood at the Como Avenue gate where streetcars looped in until the late 1950s.

… Like newspapers, and who doesn’t?: The Minnesota Newspaper Museum has moved from its Heritage Square site to near the main entrance of the 4-H Building.

… Make a beeline for the Mighty Midway: There will be four new ways for hurling your body around in ways nature never intended — the Crazy Dance, Hurricane, Rock It and Stinger. The names say it all.

… Like to think while munching on a Pronto Pup: “The Common Table,” an interactive exhibit at the Agriculture Horticulture Building, aims to engage fairgoers about the ecological, social and economic effects of food choices and teach about creating a sustainable food system.

… Are up for about anything: Researchers from more than 30 University of Minnesota departments are seeking adults and children to be part of studies on an array of topics such as genetics, bullying, heart disease and distracted driving. They will look for you at the “Driven to Discover” exhibit on Cosgrove Street across from the Education Building.

… Thought Trigger was the talented one: The horse show will feature more free competitions, breeds and demonstrations than ever before. Highlights include the Freestyle Liberty competition, where horses without riders or restraint strut their stuff to music.

Jim Anderson