There is only one place on earth where you can devour deep fried cheese curds at 8am, visit a butterfly house, see live baby animals, drink bottomless milk, soar to the top of a ferris wheel, sing karaoke with thousands of people, sip a caramel apple beer, get your socks scared off in a haunted house, and buy a bucket of cookies as big as your head. That’s right, friends – it’s State Fair time once again!
For my third year in a row, I graciously accepted my invitation to the #GreatMNBlogTogether event on the fairgrounds last week. And this year, the focus was on something I rarely think of when I imagine my day at the State Fair – SHOPPING. I always see the vendors strewn about the grounds and I’ve been in the Grandstand to use their bathroom a couple of times, but never have I actually taken the time to SHOP. I never knew what was there, or if it was worth looking into at all. This event opened my eyes to an entire fair niche that now has me 100% intrigued. In fact, I would add to my list above: visit the upper level of the Grandstand to check out the boutiques, pick up some Christmas gifts for my girlfriends (“Mama Needs a Cocktail” shirt for everyone, perhaps?), pick my son up a Timberwolves jersey from Fan Central, peruse the West End Marketplace for, like, hours and hours with a Schells beer from LuLu’s Public House in my hand, and pick up a souvenir or two for my kiddos from the Merchandise Mart.
The 2016 Great Minnesota Get Together takes place August 25 through September 5. If you’re planning a fun day out with the family, be sure to check out my tips from last year’s post on “Family Friendlifying the State Fair.”
As far as this year goes, I’ll give you a quick rundown of some new foods I got to sample, in case any of them trip your trigger (and they should if you’re even the least bit Midwestern):
- Minnesnowii Maple Bacon Shave Ice (drizzled in maple syrup). Yes, it sounded revolting to me too. But guess what? It was A-MAZ-ING! This one will be a huge hit on those hot fair days (and they come in a drip-free bowl with those fun spoon straws, so kids can enjoy them without a massive mess). Visit Minnesnowii Shave Ice in the West End Market to try this weird little wonder.
- Minnesota Corn Dog. Speaking of maple syrup, do NOT dip this special corn dog in any condiment but! From the outside, this looks like any old corn dog, but they filled it with blueberries, apples, wild rice, ground sausage and maple syrup. Does that sound Minnesotan enough for you? Enjoy this surprising treat at Gass Station Grill just outside the Food Building.
- Rustic Beef Pastry. French Meadow Bakery, you will line the streets of my heaven! This year, their big surprise is beef and baby spinach topped with goat cheese on a buttery crust. See? Heaven. Visit French Meadow on Carnes Avenue near the Giant Slide.
- Grilled Cheese Bites. O’Garas strikes again with their deep-friend deliciousness! This year, these little cheese nuggets taste just like mini versions of the sandwich…but with a bloody mary dipping sauce. O’Garas is right near the Sky Ride and Leinies Bandshell.
- Tot Boss! Now, I’m not usually one to play favorites, but YOU GUYS…it’s the TOT BOSS! And it’s his first year at the State Fair! And he’s funny and kind and centers his entire business on TATOR TOTS served out of a food truck! Check out his booth on Underwood Street, just south of Kidway to try loaded tots, chili tots, poutine tots, tot nachos, bacon-wrapped tots, and more. Also serving gluten-free options. Just…yum.
Now, on to the main event: Shopping at the State Fair!
We had the privilege of hearing Pam Simon speak, who is the concessions and exhibits manager behind this huge puzzle of a shopping experience. Making sure there’s a geographic balance, similar products aren’t side-by-side, each area has enough products for men, women, and children, etc.…it sounds like a whole lot of work! She gave us the inside scoop on each of the fair’s “neighborhoods” and what can be found there. Here are the areas I’ll definitely be checking out this year:
- West End Market: In its second year, this open-air shopping district is going to be my first stop! With an uptown, “hipster” vibe, 59 vendors make up this trendy section meant to attract a new generation of fair shoppers. Be sure to check out the “i like you” boutique and “Machine Age Lamps” industrial booth for local and unique gear.
- Grandstand: While this building can feel slightly overwhelming (and very busy), I’ll be heading to the second level this year to do my shopping. Apparently, it’s little-shop-central, with representatives like The Holly House Boutique and Wish Boutique (where you can buy some cute “Hockey Mom” gear, “Mama Needs a Cocktail” shirt or a wine holder that holds an entire bottle – can I get an Amen?) or adorable baby clothes and gifts.
- Fan Central: Because I have two huge sports fans in my house, we will be making a stop at this small, 7-vendor building and picking up some local sports gear. Located near the Giant Slide on Underwood Street.
- International Bazaar: Need a tasty beer or specialized food you can’t find anywhere else at the fair? Try the International Bazaar’s ethnic cuisine! And also, do some shopping for a wide variety of ethnic goods such as soaps, kids clothing, scarves, mittens, blankets, toys and jewelry. Birchberry Native Arts had a beautiful selection of White Earth Tribe-inspired items, like necklaces and moccasins.
Have your kids with you? Try these shops on for size:
- Toys n More by Fell (remote control vehicles) in the Merchandise Mart
- Enchanted Tree House (puzzles, clothing, tutus, piggy banks) in the Merchandise Mart
- Fairy Finergy (fantasy capes, tiaras, wings, wands) in the Merchandise Mart
- JM Cremp’s Adventure Store (edible insects, blocks, bow and arrows, erector sets) in the Grandstand
- Lucy’s Toys (handmade stuffed toys, puppets and blankets) in the Creative Activities Annex
- Roseberry Kids (clothes, hats, booties, books, slippers) at the International Bazaar
Shopping at the State Fair can be quite an experience…one that is ALMOST as good as EATING at the State Fair! I like that 75% of the vendors are local from Minnesota and that the goods are uniquely theirs. I’m happy to spend a little extra cash on products that are made and sold with love and heart.
But if you’re trying to save a little money, visit the fair on Thrifty Thursday (opening day, August 25) or Kids Day (closing day, September 5). You can also pick up a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book for $5 (with coupons for both goods and food). Hurry and run to Cub Foods to pick up your discount admission and midway/kidway tickets before August 24, 2016 – it’s worth it for the savings you get there!
And Prince fans might want to visit on Purple Pride Day, Friday, August 26 from 5pm-close, when purple will be the color of the day. Vendors will have purple products for purchase, there will be purple fireworks and a purple laser show. All that’ll be missing is some purple rain.
So dig out that stroller hook and take some time this year to support these hardworking vendors. Hey, Christmas is only four months away – get a jump start on your holiday shopping!
Sidenote: Be sure to stop by and say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Fairchild, the State Fair mascot, who turns 50 this year. I don’t know about you, but I think he’s aging incredibly well and doesn’t look a day over 49. Happy birthday, Fairchild. Thank you for joyfully representing my favorite adventure of the year!
My blogger friends have some great write-ups on this year’s State Fair as well. Give them a read for more information:
- Stacie Rae “New State Fair Foods”
- Family Fun Twin Cities Guide to the State Fair
- The Beth Next Door “Shop and Nosh”
- More than Just Dessert “Shop and Food”
- Mad Mommy’s “Eating, Shopping & More!”
- Rachel in the Cities’ “State Fair Preview”
More will be added as they are written. Now, GO – Enjoy the food, the fun and the finds at the MN State Fair!