The Minnesota State Fairgrounds on a sunny day
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What to See, Eat, Drink and Do at the Minnesota State Fair

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A busy day at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds  / Andrew Parks

What to See, Eat, Drink and Do at the Minnesota State Fair

By Andrew Parks

Everyone has an opinion on the Minnesota State Fair — especially locals.

For instance, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan is a big fan of the fair's annual llama costume contest, rickety Ye Old Mill ride, and avant-garde crop art. Governor Tim Walz, on the other hand, is all about cheese curds and chocolate shakes.   

And that's just how the State Capitol rolls. Here is how everyone from top chefs to longtime media personalities define "must-dos" every year. And if that's not enough State Fair coverage for you, there's always our beginner's guide and in-house insights.

A newborn pig at the Miracle of Birth Center

A newborn pig at the Miracle of Birth Center / Andrew Parks

Angela Davis, Radio Host

I love walking through the Miracle of Birth Center to see the newborn animals. They’re so cute. I enjoy looking at all the babies and toddlers in strollers as they pass by, often wearing little sunglasses. They’re either smiling and laughing or cranky and crying.

And I always try to take in one of the live musical performances on one of the stages. This year I have tickets to see Chaka Khan and Boyz II Men at the Grandstand. I’m so excited. Chaka Khan is one of my favorite singers.

Pronto Pups are the first things I search for every year. Other must-haves include the roasted corn, pork chops on a stick, and a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies.

As for drinks, lemonade pairs well with everything.

Listen to MPR News with Angela Davis.

Fine Arts Show at the Minnesota State Fair

Fine Arts Show at the Minnesota State Fair / Andrew Parks

Jason DeRusha, Radio Host 

I never miss the State Fair Fine Arts Show. Ever since our kids were younger, we would do the scavenger hunt with the different hidden things on various pieces of art. In fact, we have a piece of art in our home that we were inspired to buy from one of the Minnesota artists we saw in the Fine Arts building. It's one of the state's finest art galleries, with painting, photography, sculpture, glass and mixed media curated to really give a snapshot of the creativity happening in our state.

Listen to DriveTime with DeRusha.

The Ball Park Cafe at the Minnesota State Fair

The Ball Park Cafe / Andrew Parks

Stephanie Hansen, Podcaster

I have been known to be at the gates at 8 a.m/ for the fair's opening day. I usually grab a breakfast sandwich from the fair's oldest diner, The Peg, and I’ll sit and plan my day.

On opening day, I like to try as many new foods as possible, and I always make room for music and shopping at the International Bazaar, and I'll take a selfie at the Adam Turman booth with his iconic Minnesota murals. I’ll grab an ear of roasted corn and a pile of garlic fries at the Ball Park and wash it all down with a Kirby Pucker beer. The Mini Donut Beer by Lift Bridge turns 10 this year, so I will likely add that to my list. Don't miss the Biscuits at Lulu’s and the peaches with goat cheese at the Produce Exchange.

One of my favorite fair days is the insanely popular 4-H Llama-Alpaca Costume Contest, beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 30, in the Warner Coliseum. Seeing people dressed up with their llamas is a riot, and the costumes are so clever.

State Fair time means fall and winter aren’t far behind, and usually, by the time I have finished the last corn dog, cookie, or curd, I am ready.

Read the "True North Cabin Cookbook".

Minnesota State Fairgrounds

Minnesota State Fairgrounds / Andrew Parks

Sharyn Jackson, Food Reporter 

As a member of the Star Tribune Taste team, eating our way through all the new foods on day one of the State Fair, my personal favorite activity at the fair is to eat for pleasure – not work. That means going back around day eight or nine, when I’m ready to eat again, and revisiting all my favorite bites from years’ past. Those almost always include the grilled peaches from Produce Exchange, the giant eggroll from Que Viet, a chocolate Kiwanis malt, and the deep-fried, cream cheese-stuffed olives from Fried Olives.

They’re not new, they’re not fancy, but they’re delicious, and bonus: I get to choose them myself.

Read the Star Tribune's State Fair coverage.

Fresh French Fries at Minnesota State Fair

Fresh French Fries  / Andrew Parks

Gavin Kaysen, Chef / Restauranteur 

I am going with my two older sons this year. We always hit the Fresh French Fries, Corn Roast and Pronto Pup stands.... Oh, and Mini Donuts.

Eat at Spoon and Stable.

The Perfect Pickle at the Minnesota State Fair

The Perfect Pickle / Andrew Parks

Ann Kim, Chef / Restauranteur 

I love the fair and think of it as an extended farewell to the summer party! I don't usually get too fancy; my fair must-haves are the classics. I always get corn on the cob from the Corn Roast stand, the perfect Fresh French Fries that are made to order from just-sliced potatoes (they're always hot and crispy), a corn dog with ketchup and mustard, and of course fried pickles from the Perfect Pickle.

My love for those pickles runs deep — so deep that I created Young Joni's Perfect Pickle Pie as an homage a few years ago. It started as a special, but now it's a permanent fixture on our menu. This way, I can enjoy one of my favorite flavors of the fair year-round!

Eat at Young Joni.

Pickle Dog at Minnesota State Fair

Pickle Dog  / Minnesota State Fair

Lazerbeak, Musician

I’m a sucker for the pickle on a stick dipped in a cup of Kool-Aid. It’s from this place called Pickle Dog. Zero clue how the Kool-Aid and pickle combo came to be, but I remember hearing about it years back and it was just crazy enough to work. Sweet and sour contrast for sure, and definitely a nod to the nostalgia of my childhood — getting a Kool-Aid mustache and all that. And this year in particular it’s a must to see D4 and Hold Steady take over the Grandstand.

Listen to "Lava Bangers II".

SkyGlider at the Minnesota State Fair

SkyGlider / Andrew Parks

Laura Melnick, Artist

It is so hard to identify a single activity or food we love at the fair, but I would say that what I can’t do without is the SkyGlider ride. It offers such a wonderful view of the fair and deposits us right by the sweet corn, which I adore.

[My husband] Mark’s favorite diversion is watching the staff at the sweet corn booth dance on top of the roasters right after the fireworks every night.

Check out crop art from Laura and Mark.

Grilled peaches at the Produce Exchange

Grilled peaches at the Produce Exchange / Andrew Parks

Rick Nelson, Longtime Critic 

While the state fair should be a platform for celebrating Minnesota standard-bearers (roasted sweet corn, walleye cakes, wild rice burgers), one of my gotta-eats is an import: the tantalizingly ripe peaches at the Produce Exchange. Shipped at peak-season ripeness from Colorado and Washington state, their sweet, ultra-juicy bite is both an end-of-summer ritual and a refreshing palate cleanser to the fairgrounds’ endless supply of deep-fried, on-a-stick gut bombs.

The grilled peaches — paired with yogurt, honey and/or goat cheese — are spectacular.

Explore the Rick Nelson archive at Star Tribune.

A butter sculpture at the Dairy Building

A butter sculpture at the Dairy Building / Andrew Parks

Ben Nesvig, Humorist

I'm a huge fan of the fair, and every year I make at least one meme a day. There are the usual must-get foods that I have every year but I'll try to give a more interesting answer: Some artists toil in oils and clay. Us Minnesotans have the rare opportunity to witness a dairy virtuoso craft — a 90-pound block of Grade AA salted butter into breathtaking works of art. So my personal must-do is making a visit to the Dairy Barn to gaze at the greatness of the rotating butter busts.

Follow Minnesota Memes.

Corn on the cob at the Minnesota State Fair

Corn Roast, one of the State Fair's most enduring icons / Andrew Parks

Kat Peterson, Photographer

Honestly, trying to pick just one "must-do" at the Minnesota State Fair was a total fail. For me, it's all about the three C's: Corn Roast, Cows, and Cheese Curds. These things are the heart and soul of the fair, giving you a real taste of the traditions and flavors that make this event my favorite of the summer.

Follow Kat Peterson.

Creative Activities Building

Creative Activities Building  / Andrew Parks

Adam Turman, Illustrator 

I love the fair and I've got a few things I have to do every year. The Chicken in a Waffle at the Blue Barn is a must-have for me... It's the treat at the end of that waffle that makes it!

Additionally, I always cruise the Creative Activities Building. I'm floored by the amount of talent and beauty that's held in that space; it's next-level craft. And my friends and I just discovered the Ye Old Mill ride. What a blast; it’s like sailing through time. We giggled the entire time and now it's going to be an annual event.

Shop for screen prints. 

Crazy Mouse at Minnesota State Fair

Crazy Mouse  / Andrew Parks

Aubry Walch, Vegan Butcher 

Every year, my husband Dan, [my brother] Kale, Kale's partner, and I start our day at the Ag-Hort building for a beer tasting where most of the beers are vegan. After that, we snack on garlic fries at the Ballpark Cafe and fried pickles from Preferred Pickles; we bring our own vegan ranch for dipping.

Until recently, the vegan options haven't been great, so the most important part of our State Fair experience has always been riding the Crazy Mouse at the Mighty Midway. Even though it's not that scary, we all jump on and scream our heads off. Or maybe it's just me screaming and the other three laughing at me. We also always buy the picture from the biggest scream part of the ride, so we have years and years of photos.

Shop at The Herbivorous Butcher.

Maui-Sota Sticky Ribs at Charli T's

Maui-Sota Sticky Ribs at Charli T's / Andrew Parks

Jon Wipfli, Chef 

Charlie T's has been cooking barbecue at the fair for 26 years. He usually has a local collaboration beer on tap too.

Charlie [Torgerson] is an old-school bbq guy in Minneapolis. He’s probably the guy who’s cooked the most bbq around town, but has always been behind the scenes a bit. His ribs and brisket are always great, but when he does specials, that is what to go for.

This year he’s doing Maui-style sticky ribs; they look great, and portion of the proceeds is supporting relief efforts around the recent fires. A few years ago, he did a Naughty Biscuit thing which was also great. 

Bag some barbecue and burgers from Animales. 

 

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.