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How to Celebrate the Minnesota State Fair in 2020

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The Minnesota State Fair is the biggest and best state fair in America / Robert Ferdinandt

How to Celebrate the Minnesota State Fair in 2020

By Brian Fanelli

The 2020 Minnesota State Fair is cancelled. Long live the DIY Minnesota State Fair. 

Although cancelling the fair was a necessary precaution, its absence puts a giant slide-sized hole in the hearts of those who measure our summers in corn dogs scarfed and butter heads sculpted. But if you're willing to embrace the DIY spirit, you can still get your fill of smile-inducing thrills, fair food favorites and nostalgic traditions, whether virtually or in real life around the state.

Here are a few of the ways you can recreate the Minnesota State Fair experience in 2020.

Woman holding Pronto Pup at Minnesota State Fair

The pancake-battered Pronto Pup in all its deep-fried glory / Minnesota State Fair

Get Your State Fair Food Fix at the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade

Curbside pickup but make it the Minnesota State Fair. That's the basic concept behind the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade, a "meandering drive-thru experience" on the fairgrounds featuring 16 of your favorite food vendors including Turkey to Go, Tom Thumb Donuts, Que Viet, Pronto Pups, West Indies Soul Food, El Sol Mexican Foods, Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar and more. The event will also feature fun activities and entertainment along the parade route, and appearances by State Fair mascots Fairborne and Fairchild. 

Tickets for the Fair Food Parade go on sale July 31, with timed-entry admissions for Aug. 20-23, 27-30 and Sept. 3-7. Each vehicle ticket is $20 and includes entry for up to five passengers. 

People sharing cheese curds

Sharing cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair / Christina Sindelir

Track Down Your State Fair Favorites With the Fair Food Finder Map

Stuffing your face with foods-on-a-stick, local suds and deep-fried absurdities of every stripe is a time-honored State Fair tradition, so when organizers cancelled the 2020 festival, Minnesotans got to work creating a DIY solution for tracking down all your favorite foods: the Fair Food Finder Map. Born out of the Fair Food Finder public Facebook group, use the map to plan a road trip to all your favorite State Fair vendors.

Corn Dogs & Pronto Pups

At the Apache Mall parking lot in Rochester, Solem Concessions is serving up cheese curds, foot-long corn dogs, fresh cut fries and lemonade every day of the summer. More of a Pronto Pup person? Head down to Faribault and pick one up at 4828 Morristown Blvd., home of the stand's proprietor Kathy Heise. 

The Blue Barn

From the beginning of August to Labor Day, perennial favorite The Blue Barn is driving their new Little Blue Food Truck around the Twin Cities to serve up delicious State Fair flavors like chicken in a waffle cone, Iron Range pierogies and more.

Egg Rolls on a Stick

At the State Fair, Que Viet's larger-than-life egg rolls on a stick are a deep-fried force to be reckoned with. They'll be serving them this year at the Fair Food Parade, but if you can't get tickets to that just head to their northeast Minneapolis location to sate your appetite on the equally delicious, regular-sized, handheld egg rolls they serve all year. 

Cheese Curds

When it comes to curds, there are plenty of places to get your fried fromage fix. For the quintessential, no-frills curd, it's hard to beat Miller's Cheese Curds—a fair staple normally found next to the Giant Slide. This year, you'll find Miller's at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud all summer long. Or for a more nuanced take on this fair favorite, pick up an order at Foxy Falafel in St. Paul, where your curds are battered and tossed with dill and served with local honey.

State Fair Beers

Normally only available at the Ball Park Cafe during the State Fair, this year you can pick up a crowler of Lift Bridge Brewing's ever-popular Mini-Donut Beer to enjoy at home. Crowler pre-orders open July 29, with more details available on the brewery's Facebook event page. For best results, serve this malty brown ale in a pint glass rimmed with cinnamon and sugar like they do at the fair. Lift Bridge is also serving their Key Lime Pie beer normally found at the Cafe Caribe. Both beers will be served Aug. 27-Sept. 7.

Giggles' Campfire Grill is typically a great place to sip State Fair-exclusive suds and ciders; this year, their line-up is available at Excelsior Brewing Company and Sociable Cider Werks. Reserve a table at Excelsior Brewing between Aug. 8-Sept. 7 to sip the S'Mores Beer, or post up on the patio at Sociable from Aug. 1-Sept. 7 to enjoy a Sparkling Honey Hive or Raspberry Hard Cider.

Get more details about where to find State Fair brews.

Livestream the Princess Kay Butter Head Sculptures

Since 1955, the Midwest Dairy Association has held an annual competition at the State Fair in which women compete to be crowned the year's Minnesota Dairy Princess. To commemorate the occasion, a sculptor spends all 12 days of the fair carving "butter heads" in the likeness of the newly designated "Princess Kay of the Milky Way" and the nine members of her court. Watching the butter head sculptures get carved is equal parts impressive, informative and kitsch—the center of a Venn diagram about why the Minnesota State Fair is the best place on earth.

The 2020 Minnesota Dairy Princess coronation ceremony will be livestreamed on the Princess Kay Facebook page Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 7:45 p.m. The next day, Thursday, Aug. 13, the page will livestream updates as a sculptor carves the newly crowned princess's likeness into a climate-controlled, 90-pound block of butter. Sculpting sessions for the other nine butter heads will be livestreamed daily through Saturday, Aug. 22.

dog jumping into ottertail lake at sunset

Dog jumping off a dock into Ottertail Lake at sunset / Allie Hoeft

Imitate the All-Star Stunt Dogs Splash by Sending Your Pup into a Lake

Watching America's favorite stunt dogs fly through the air and perform tricks on the North Woods Stage is a State Fair highlight for dog-lovers. No online performance has been announced for the All-Star Stunt Dogs Splash, but you can recreate the "splash" by sending your pup off the dock and into any of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes

Or recreate the essential State Fair experience of going on a long walk and cooling off with a beer by checking out some of Minnesota's many dog-friendly hiking trails and breweries. It might not be your ideal State Fair replacement, but your pup probably won't know the difference.

Chocolate chip cookie cone from Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar at the Minnesota State Fair

Nothing says "summer" like a heaping cone of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar at the Minnesota State Fair. / @hazel_starlene

Eat Too Many Sweet Martha's Cookies & Have a Nice Sit

Gorging yourself on a tub of Sweet Martha's cookies until you need to sit down and rest your legs for a bit is one of the fair's most gastronomically upsetting yet cherished traditions. And although there's nothing quite like picking up a tub of cookies straight from the source (which you can do this year via the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade), Minnesota has plenty of grocery stores where you can pick up a frozen batch to bake at home.

And, sure, you could eat one or two cookies and save the rest for later, but that's not the State Fair way. For the truest reproduction, keep eating until you feel physically sick, then find a nice bench in your neighborhood where you can sit down, watch the world go by and pretend you won't eat as many cookies next year. 

Mother and daughter on Alpine Slide at Wild Mountain

Ride the Alpine Slide at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls

Ride Minnesota's Other Giant Slides

No trip to the State Fair is complete until you grab a mat and take a ride down the iconic Giant Slide, but since that's not an option, we recommend getting your thrill fix on one of Minnesota's Alpine Slides. After taking a chairlift ride to the top, choose a sled and whoosh back down at whatever speed feels comfortable (they've got brakes!). You'll find open Alpine Slides at Lutsen Mountains and Wild Mountain, both of which offer contactless payment and enhanced sanitation for the sleds.

Pick Up a Sleeve of 50 State Fair Cups

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and serve it in these official State Fair cups. With the Minnesota State Fair cancelled, you can pick up your very own sleeve of 50 branded cups in 12-, 16- and 20-ounce sizes. Cups are available for purchase Tuesdays (9 a.m.–4 p.m.) and Fridays (9 a.m.–1 p.m.) in July at the fairgrounds' ticket office, or while supplies last. Cash or check only; send questions to [email protected]

Attend the Fine Arts Exhibition Virtually or In-Person

The State Fair's annual fine arts exhibition is a juried competition between hundreds of works submitted by Minnesotans across the state. With eight classes of artwork ranging from sculpture to ceramics, the exhibition is a tour de force of our residents' incredible creativity and talents, and this year you can view the Fine Arts Competition online.

Or for those seeking a closer look, the fair is also offering special in-person gallery showings Aug. 27–Sept. 7 in the Fine Arts Center on the State Fairgrounds. Tickets are $10 for a 90-minute viewing period, with social distancing and other health and safety precautions in place.

Llama and trainer in Batman and Robin costumes

The llama costume contest is a treasured State Fair tradition / Minnesota State Fair

Gawk at Adorable Animals Across the State

With everything from costumed llamas to stately horses and adorable baby goats, the Minnesota State Fair is full of furry friends to gawk at while wandering the grounds. And although there's nothing quite like the Miracle of Birth Center outside of the fair, there are plenty of zoos and wildlife centers where you can view animals across the state. 

The Minnesota Zoo reopened to the public on July 24 with a bevy of new health and safety precautions to keep visitors, staff and animals safer during their visits. With over 500 species and nearly 5,000 animals, you're guaranteed to see plenty of incredible creatures when you visit Minnesota's largest zoo

Up in Ely, you can meet wolves and bears at the North American Bear Center and International Wolf Center—both open to the public with enhanced safety protocols. These unique wildlife centers offer insights into the lives of the black bears and gray wolves that roam Minnesota's northern woods using a combination of educational exhibits and "ambassador" animals you can watch from observation windows.

Brian Fanelli

Brian Fanelli is a writer and editor for Explore Minnesota. When he isn't writing about life in The North, you'll find him browsing the sci-fi shelves in a local bookstore, biking one of Minnesota's spectacular trails or walking his Chihuahua around Minneapolis.