Call me crazy or call me Minnesotan (or I guess this year, you could call me hungry and pregnant), but I’ve probably never looked forward to a Great Minnesota Get Together more than I am this year. This will be the year we nail it and leave with zero regrets. I was invited to a State Fair preview event with some of my favorite blogger friends and there, much to MinneMama’s content, we learned about all the kid and family must-sees (and eats) at this year’s big event and I’m happy to share what I learned with you here – new foods, fun events, and can’t-miss attractions that will knock your kids socks off!
Noteworthy Tips & Tricks…
Save money early. Do this by purchasing your admission and midway tickets at the state fairgrounds or your local Cub Foods. We got ours at Cub and saved $3 per ticket and almost $15 on ride tickets. Well worth the stop, but be sure to do it before August 26. Regular rates are $13/ages 12+ or $11/ages 5-12. Kids under 5 are free. Reading this after the 26th? Try attending on a discount day like Thrifty Thursday, Kids Day or bring your library card on a special day and save! Also, if you’re an organized couponer like myself, pick up a Blue Ribbon Coupon book for $5, which will save you money at tons of food and fun locations throughout the fairgrounds.
Plan, plan, plan. The next thing my family does is plan our day. This year, I downloaded the MN State Fair app onto my iPhone and used that to plan our route (not to mention I perused every.single.food.vendor.listed). The app offers a very clear map that drops pins at all your selected “favorites” as well as a list of every show on every day, food and merchandise vendors and their locations, restrooms, ATMs, animal barns, and more.
Avoid the crowds. Like most public events, the fair is definitely busiest on weekends. We usually take a vacation day and head out on a Monday or Wednesday. We get there as the gates open (or that is our attempt, at least) because it is far less crowded in the early hours. Come noon, the roads pick up and dodging people while pushing a stroller definitely gets more complicated. Sometimes we just say “whatever” and pay to park, but other times we have taken the free park and ride shuttle service. It’s really great and super convenient (even with strollers).
ID your kids. This year, the fair offers ID bracelets at all guest service booths which allows parents to label their kids in case they get lost. Seriously, tens of thousands of people cruise this fair every day. Kids get lost. It’s not a terrible idea to ID them.
On to the Fun Stuff…
If you bring your kids to the fair, here’s a short list of attractions that are definitely worth a visit. Pick and choose depending on your childrens’ interests, but they are all pretty amazing:
Alphabet Forest: Perfect for early elementary-age, the Alphabet Forest has a photo booth that lets you spell out words and display it to the world. There are letter crafts, an ABC search-and-find, and local authors to meet and books to read. FREE
Little Farm Hands: Good for kids of all ages. My kids love wearing the apron and collecting the goods in their buckets while helping with “farm chores.” Being city kids, I love that this gives us the opportunity to teach them about the origins of the food we eat. They also enjoy riding the small tractors and grabbing their free apple at the end. FREE
Great Big Sandbox: Good for kids of all ages. This is a great spot because it’s well-hidden and well-shaded, meaning it’s not busy and it’s fantastic for a quick cool-down. It’s exactly as it sounds, leaving the fun in the hands of a few sand toys and your kids’ own imagination. FREE
Kidway/Midway: RIDES and GAMES! So many rides and games! These areas are NOT free, but if your kids like getting the full-on fair experience, the Kidway and Midway might be a great way to spend a couple of hours. We love doing this at night because the lights just make everything that much more spectacular! Check the fair website for discount days and early bird specials to make your tickets spread further.
The Giant Slide: The best and most traditional $2.50 you’ll spend all day. Just gotta do it.
Butterfly House: One of my family traditions. For $3/person, you can spend as long as you’d like taking photos of all the butterflies that land on your head, clothes and shoes. Just be careful where you walk and make sure your kids are old enough to respect these small beautiful insects (and not set a goal to squash them).
Live Shows: From stunt dogs to skateboarders to lumberjacks and magicians, there is always a show going on that is A) free and B) completely able to entertain your child for a good chunk of time. Check out the full daily schedules and pick and choose what you’d like to see. Keep in mind these shows fill up quickly so count on arriving early or missing it completely.
Agriculture, Education & Animals: There are literally barns on top of barns filled with your favorite farm animals and buildings covered in art submissions and hands-on learning experiences. One of our favorite stops is the Dairy Building because, well, the Dairy Goodness Bar is serving a caramel puffcorn malt this year that is TO. DIE. FOR. Plus, this building has butter sculptures that will blow your mind! Hit up the Miracle of Birth building to fill your cuteness quota (I will personally be passing on this barn this year, for good reason), but kids love it and the baby animals are oh-so-adorable.
Math-on-a-Stick: It’s like Alphabet Forest for numbers! Math-on-a-Stick will be located right next to the Alphabet Forest, actually. Pick up a number game scavenger hunt, practice creating geometric patterns, pick up a few flash cards, and participate in an interactive activity by one of the visiting mathematicians.
Some other items worth noting that are fun for families to enjoy together:
- Take a lift from one end of the fair to the other (and give your feet a rest) in the Skyride ($4/person)
- For the (very) brave, I challenge you to try the Haunted House. This is legitimately freaky. ($4/person)
- Take a chill boat cruise through the old-but-classic Ye Old Mill, which is over 100 years old! ($3.50/person)
- Spend an evening admiring the skills of the entrants in the Amateur Talent Contest in the Bandshell. It will make you wish you were better at something. (Free)
- If you too know every word to T. Swift’s Shake It Off, you won’t want to miss this year’s Giant Sing Along.
Don’t Forget the Food…
Now, I know I’m not a food blogger so I’ll keep this short, but I have to give a shout-out to the new foods I tried this year (and a few oldies but goodies that are staples in my house). Best tip ever: BUY ONE SERVING AND SHARE IT. Saves stomach room and gives you ample space to eat a greater selection. Jeez, I’m so midwestern.
1. Martha’s Cookies: This is my husband with his very favorite purchase from the entire year. These cookies are a must every year because they come warm, they taste amazing and their servings are certainly overflowing. Last year, for the first time, I talked him down to a paper cone instead of a bucket because – my lord, honey! PS. These go lovely with a cup of All-You-Can-Drink Milk.
2. Mouth Trap Cheese Curds: You want a real American deep-fried cheese curd? Head to the Food Building and wait in line. Then buy two just so you don’t have to wait in line again. Trust me.
3. Bayou Bob’s Frozen Grapes: Everyone raves about their alligator, but my kids dig the cheapest food of all time – their frozen grapes. They taste amazing on a hot day and tend to give your stomach a break from, say, my #2 listed here.
4. The Corn Roast: It’s like the giant slide of food. You just have to do it every year without asking why.
5. French Meadow Bakery’s Dough-sant: It’s what happens when a croissant and a donut make a baby. And it’s just as sweet!
6. Fresh French Fries: They have two stands for a reason. Don’t pass up this little piece of yellow and red heaven. Their fries are just a state fair gotta-have.
7. Pronto pups, pickle- (or cheese-) on-a-stick, poutine, and 1919 Root Beer. Just cuz.
8. Salted Caramel Puff Malt from the Dairy Goodness Bar: Does it sound weird to you too. It was. In the most wonderful way imaginable.
9. Stuffed Italian Meatloaf on-a-Stick: Green Mill never fails to surprise us with something fun and flavorful at the fair. This option is no different. Easy to stroll with and delicious to eat if you’re craving Italian but want to avoid a slice of pizza.
10. Boulevard Grill’s Totchos: You better believe this will be the first thing I seek out when I get to the fair in the morning. It’s tater tots with all the fixins. I mean, c’mon. Just…c’mon.
There you have it, folks. A small selection of what you can do with your family at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. Go in with a good attitude and don’t expect the day to go perfectly, but if you take it in stride and roll with the punches (and potty breaks, spilled drinks and sticky fingers), you will find yourself falling in love with this great get together (almost) as much as my family. HAVE FUN!
Want more information from mouths of the experienced? Here are some of my favorite blog posts from some of my seasoned mama friends to help you out: