Minnesota State Fair Ferris wheel lit up at night

A Beginner's Guide to the Minnesota State Fair

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The main Ferris wheel on the Minnesota State Fair's midway  / Lane Pelovsky

A Beginner's Guide to the Minnesota State Fair

By Erica Wacker

As the million-plus people who attend the Minnesota State Fair each year can attest, summer isn’t officially over without a trip — or three — to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

The biggest, busiest, yummiest, hottest and funnest (yeah, we said it) event of the year takes over the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul for 12 days every August through Labor Day. Here's how to have an unforgettable State Fair experience if you're a first-timer....

Minnesota State Fair main entrance

Minnesota State Fair 

What to Do Beforehand

Taylor Swift was speaking directly to Fairgoers when she sang: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” With more than 20,000 animals, 900 shows, 500 foods, and 90 pounds of butter sculpted into a princess (more on that later), you need to go in with a game plan.

First things first: tickets. The best way to save a few bucks is to buy your tickets in advance, either on the State Fair website, via phone, or in person at the Fairgrounds or your local Cub Foods store if you’re in Minnesota. Tickets are not date specific, so you can buy them even if you don’t know when you’re going to go. Tickets are always available at the gate and they don’t sell out; discount days for seniors, military and kids are listed on the State Fair website. Kids under 5 are free every day!

Your ticket grants you all-day access to the Fair’s many buildings and exhibits, but you’ll need money for food, rides, games and merchandise. Most vendors accept cash and credit cards; we recommend bringing both so you have options and can avoid on-site ATM fees.

More information, including an accessibility guide, maps, hours and frequently asked questions, is available on the State Fair website. It also provides details about such new initiatives as a sensory-friendly morning on the midway and a universally designed mobile restroom for guests with disabilities and their caregivers.  

Pro tip: If you’re going to a Grandstand show, you need to purchase an admission ticket in addition to your concert ticket.

Minnesota State Fair Eco Experience

Minnesota State Fair (Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis)

Getting There

No matter your preferred mode of transportation, the State Fair has you covered. Many locals swear by the park and ride: free buses that takes attendees to and from the Fair from more than two dozen locations around the Twin Cities. Buses run continuously from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. 

Public transit is another low-cost, low-hassle option. Several express buses drop off at the Transit Hub on the west end of the Fairgrounds, and Metro Transit’s A Line and Route 3 buses bring riders to the Snelling entrance. There are also free bike racks at the south, north and west ends. 

Driving and parking in one of the paid lots is the least desirable option, for both your wallet and your sanity. Taxis and ride-sharing are also available, but beware of surge pricing. 

Pro tip: If you want to drive, beat the crowds and park for free along Como Avenue. Arrive by 8 a.m. and you’ll be able to find a spot within a half-mile walk from the main entrance on Snelling Avenue. 

Seed art at the Minnesota State Fair

The Seed Art booth at the Minnesota State Fair 

Must-See Attractions

No matter what you’re into — pets, fine art, farm equipment, politics — you’ll find it at the Fair. The seemingly random array of exhibits, shows and activities come together to make it one of the most eclectic and thought-provoking places on Earth.  

One of the most popular exhibits is the Crop Art in the Agriculture Building, which is just as it sounds: art made out of seeds, stems, rice, beans and other crops grown in Minnesota. Any Minnesota resident can enter, and people line up to see the winning pieces on display. Many pay homage to pop culture or feature political tropes, and every single one is a masterpiece. 

Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculpture booth

Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculpture booth  / Minnesota State Fair

Another food-based art exhibit of sorts can be found in the Dairy Building, where a rotating refrigerator displays busts of Princess Kay of the Milky Way carved out of butter. Each sculpture begins as a 90-pound block of butter and takes about six hours to complete. The real Princess Kay is crowned on opening day of the Fair and goes on to promote the Minnesota dairy industry. 

Have you ever witnessed a farm animal giving birth? At the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, you will see newly hatched chicks, suckling piglets, lambs just discovering their legs, and possibly a calf being born with a crowd of people cheering mama on. 

Pro tip: Hit these popular exhibits early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. 

Someone holds up an ear of grilled corn in front of a State Fair crowd

Minnesota State Fair

Eating & Drinking 

Foodies flock to the Fair for their annual Pronto Pup (don’t call it a corn dog), grilled sweet corn, and a malt or cone from the Dairy Building. Others make it their mission to try as many of the new foods as possible, which are announced each July with much fanfare. Every media outlet and food blogger in town publishes their list of the best new foods, so consult their picks before you commit. 

Along with new foods come new beers from local Minnesota breweries like Stillwater’s Lift Bridge, St. Paul’s Summit and New Ulm’s Schell’s. For a critical mass of choices in one place, head to Ball Park Café, or choose from several flights at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild exhibit in the Agriculture Building. 

People sharing cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair

If eating and drinking is your top priority, go with a group who shares your vision. Portions are not small, and sharing will maximize your ability to sample. Strategize ahead of time and save your must-tries on the State Fair app, or go old school and circle them on the printable State Fair map.  

Pro tip: Outside food and drinks are allowed, a nice option for those with food allergies, picky kids, or to save a little cash. Bring a water bottle and refill it often, and BYO baggies and takeout containers to bring home leftovers (essential for the famous overflowing buckets of Sweet Martha’s Cookies).

A bandshell performance at the Minnesota State Fair

A bandshell performance at the Minnesota State Fair 

Live Entertainment 

You have likely blown past 10,000 steps by now and it’s time to find a place to sit down. The Fair wraps up every night with a big show at the Grandstand, featuring national touring acts like Brandi Carlisle, the Jonas Brothers and Diana Ross. But hundreds of other performers take the stage all day long, from comedians and musicians to dancers, lumberjacks and stunt dogs. The Amateur Talent Contest and the parade are daily favorites. 

A farmer kisses their llama at the Minnesota State Fair

A farmer kisses their llama at the Minnesota State Fair  / Jim Hoffman

Animal shows are also a big draw; after all, farming is the reason the Fair exists in the first place. Grab a seat as farmers show off their horses, stock dogs and cattle in the 5,000-seat Coliseum. The most popular animal show of all is the 4-H Llama-Alpaca Costume Contest, where the animals and their owners dress up in coordinating costumes and strut their stuff. 

Pro tip: If you need a place to cool off, the Schell’s Stage and Family Fair Stage have covered seating, and the Coliseum is the Fairgrounds’ only indoor sit-down venue. 

For more fun ideas, check out our 25 Must-Dos at the Minnesota State Fair

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.