An Introvert's Guide to the Biggest State Fair in America

Scroll to Read
Image Caption
One of the tallest traveling Ferris wheels in North America lights up the night at the Minnesota State Fair. / H Brown Ton Photography

An Introvert's Guide to the Biggest State Fair in America

By Said Shaiye

As an introvert, it’s hard to go to the Minnesota State Fair and not feel overwhelmed by the large crowds.

Held annually over the 12 days leading up to Labor Day, the Minnesota State Fair covers 322 acres with rides, attractions and food (so much food). Typical daily attendance is between 100,000-200,000 people, with a record 270,426 single day visitors in 2018.

That makes it the largest state fair in America—and a tall order for someone like me, who has a hard time teaching a class of 26 students.

America's Most Absurd & Incredible Food Event

But, in addition to being an introvert, I’m also a foodie. So every year, for the greater good of my belly, I push my introversion aside to attend the most absurd, over-the-top and delicious food experience in the country: the Minnesota State Fair.

You will find no shortage of foods-on-a-stick at the fair, up to and including alligator. A friend of mine recently joked that after so many years attending the fair he had earned the nickname yaxaas cune, which is Somali for alligator eater. My personal policy is, “don’t eat anything that could eat you if it had the chance,” but being Somali means, amongst other things, that you appreciate ironic nicknames.

As a Muslim, pork is one of the Big Absolutely Must Not Dos in our faith, so I’ll leave the great Pronto Pup vs. Corn Dog debate to someone else. Fortunately, with nearly 500 foods every year, it’s never a problem finding delicious things to eat. Some of my favorite fair foods are Sweet Martha’s cookies, brisket grilled cheese sandwich from RC’s BBQ, chocolate dipped frozen bananas from Go Bananas and cheese curds. Lots and lots of cheese curds.

Ordering food at the fair requires patience. You will be shoulder to shoulder with hordes of people just as hungry as you are, many of whom are rushing off to try this year’s Next Big Food. I think that’s one of the reasons so many foods are offered on a stick—who has time to sit down when there’s so much to explore, see and consume?

People gliding down the Giant Slide at the Minnesota State Fair

Grab a mat and ride the iconic Giant Slide at the Minnesota State Fair.

Rides & Activities at the Minnesota State Fair

A trip to the State Fair isn’t complete without jumping on a few rides. The Big Giant Ferris Wheel is a good option, as is the Very Large Slide. Obviously, these aren’t the actual names of those attractions, but I’m a whimsical guy. Just go with it.

If you’re the family type (or just a kid at heart), there are a ton of kid-friendly activities at the fair, too. Don’t miss out on the petting zoo (my favorite), or the snake zoo and reptile show (not my favorite, but maybe yours?). I especially recommend you spend time in the butterfly house—it’s like being in a Disney movie.

I find spending a full day at the fair a bit taxing, but the incredible foods, attractions, people watching and other things to do are well worth the challenge. Just remember to come prepared with a good pair of walking shoes, an empty belly and some noise-cancelling earbuds if you’re the crowd-averse type like me.

Said Shaiye

Said Shaiye is a Somali writer who calls Minneapolis home. He is an MFA Candidate at the University of Minnesota. His debut book, Are You Borg Now?, is forthcoming from Really Serious Literature.