I’d say no one knows how to embrace summer quite like Minnesotans, and the Minnesota State Fair is the ultimate summer celebration. Growing up, my family didn’t love going to the State Fair, but luckily I was honorarly adopted by my best friend’s family for the State Fair every summer and they taught me the ways of the fair! There is so much to do and see at the fair, and everyone has their own way of enjoying the experience, but this is what we like to do!
Need to Know:
The Minnesota State Fair runs every summer the week before Labor Day through Labor Day (12 days in total). It is a popular attraction for people from all over the state and even the country, so I recommend going on a weekday to avoid the overwhelming crowds that show up on the weekends. You can check the Gopher Gauge to get live updates of the crowds. If you’re coming from out of town and want ideas for other things to do in the Twin Cities, check out my guide to the Twin Cities!
You can buy the $16 entrance tickets online or at the gate when you arrive. If you want to attend one of the grandstand concerts, those are seperate tickets that you can purchase here. You can buy tickets for pretty much everything else inside the fair on the day of.
Parking at the actual fair entrances is very limited. Luckily the fair has set up an amazing network of FREE park and rides to get to the fair. You can park your car at one of the numerous lots with free shuttles to and from the fair. Check out the map to find the one that works best for you.
Welcome to the fair! We like to arrive early to beat the crowds and the heat depending on the weather. All of the main buildings open at 9:00 a.m. so that is a great time to arrive. We like to start the day at the main entrance on Snelling. From there, you are right by the Creative Activities building where you can see the arts and baked goods entered into this year’s competition, then wander into the Education building to view the wide array of Minnesota colleges and education organizations promoting their schools.
Around now you might start to be getting hungry, so we usually start the fair day with a corn dog or Pronto Pup. I recommend you just don’t look at your watch and consider the fact you’re eating fried food at 9:30 am, just embrace the State Fair day. If you prefer a more “traditional” start to the day, you can get a Swedish Egg Coffee and cinnamon roll at the Salem Lutheran Church stand outside the ECO Experience.
Naturally, now you can head into the ECO Experience and check out the local environmental groups, initiatives, and activities.
After you’ve explored the buildings, it’s time to head up Machinery Hill. You can check out the showcase of tractors and cars, then grab a dixie cup of kettle corn at Henry’s Kettle Korn. Depending on what time it is, you can catch a Timberworks Lumberjack Show or the All-Star Stunt Dogs Splash Show at the Northwoods Stage.
Further up Machinery Hill you will find the Hangar with multiple food options and live music. I loved getting a gluten-free grilled SOTA Sandwich from Brim! Then you are in the perfect spot to take the Sky Glider back to where you started. In my opinion, there’s not a ton to do on Machinery Hill, so it is a perfect opportunity to save your legs some walking and take the Sky Glider one-way back for $5 per rider.
The Sky Glider entrance is also right by Carl’s Gizmos, which Andrew Zimmerman rated the top food at the fair. I happen to disagree – but it might be worth a try!
Once you’ve gotten off the Sky Glider, you’ll be right in the midst of more great food options! This is usually where I head to World’s Greatest French Fries and get some fresh fries. While you’re here, head into Fan Central to pick up Minnesota team merch and see what kind of activities are going on! Right across the street, swing by the Ballpark Cafe and grab a Mini Donut Beer by Lift Bridge. I know you don’t believe me right now, but give it a try before you tell me it would be gross. It’s actually delicious, like a cinnamon amber.
Next, you’ll pass Ye Old Mill – a State Fair tradition. I’ve never been on this ride and really have no desire to sit in a little boat and go through a dark tunnel to look at some weird dioramas, but hey, apparently it is an experience.
Next you head to the International Bazaar and check out any live music happening. If you’re hungry, you can grab some Island Noodles which are wonderfully delicious. Then meander over to the Horticulture Building to check out everything from the new University of Minnesota Apple to the flower arrangements, from the local beer flights to the apple cider freezes.
Time to head to the Dairy Building to grab the freshest ice cream you’ve ever head. You can get a cone, sundae, or malt from the counter and then enjoy your treat while watching butter blocks get carved into Princess Kay of the Milky way busts. This is also a great place to buy wild rice!
Right outside the Dairy Building is one of my favorite (underrated) state fair foods, pork chop on a stick. Enjoy your pork chop and check out the Minnesota Public Radio booth.
Then head over to the CHS Miracle of Birth center to see the baby animals! If you are into animals, there are tons of barns to explore where you can see horses, cows, chicken, sheep, and more! You can also check out the Coliseum schedule to find horse shows and competitions to watch.
Then onto another one of my State Fair highlights, the Giant Slide! For $3, you can slide down the big yellow structure.
Another State Fair favorite for many is the Corn Roast. After the Gian Slide, you’re in a perfect spot to grab some corn (heavily dipped in butter). Make sure you stick around and eat it near the stand so you can compost your cob! You can also swing through the Grandstand and check out, what I like to call, “infomercial central.” The building is filled with product demonstrations, and essentially live infomercials.
Swing over through the DNR building to learn about Minnesota’s natural resources and check out the fish pond. There’s also usually some great live music at the DNR Stage!
If you came to the fair looking for a thrill – check out the Midway and take on any rides or games you desire.
From here, you’re right by the West End Market (formerly Heritage Square) where you can get some tasty Nordic Waffles, new foods at the Blue Barn, and beers or slushies at the Schilling Amphitheater and listen to live music! Take your drinks to explore the many artisan shops and local vendors, then also explore the heritage museum to learn about the history of the State Fair!
For the last stop – grab your bucket of fresh Sweet Martha’s Cookies to bring home!