You either love it or hate it … the Minnesota State Fair has few “meh” responses. Coming from a Fair lover, there is a strategy to maximizing your time and experiences (and food!) at the Great Minnesota Get-Together (taking place now through Labor Day)!
I have some of my top tips (“use the free ‘park & ride’ system”) in my blog post from a couple years ago, Minnesota State Fair 201: An Advanced Fairgoers Guide. Heads up – bring lots of cash – and be prepared to spend an obscene amount of it! (ATMs on the fairgrounds.)
Print out a map from the website to help map out a plan of attack! And generally figure out how you’ll tackle the fairgrounds so you don’t spend the day zigzagging to where you want to go or what you want to eat! If you’re taking transit, you’ll get dropped off at the transit up in the upper left corner of the map, so you can plan your journey from there (e.g. the Blue Barn is one of the first food stops on your right as you enter the gates … always several great items at that location…. However, we always start our Fair visit with a fruit and whipped creme crepe from the French Creperie!!).
Look at the day’s schedule of events for the day you plan to go – are there certain shows or exhibits or special events you want to try to attend? Seating fills early in some venues so you want to make sure you’re there before the lumberjack show starts, for example, in order to grab a seat. Take note of where any scheduled events are so you can plan your trek accordingly.
Plan on sharing foods to maximize sampling different items! E.g. one order of curds for several people, but maybe you have your own roasted corn, share a shake, but have your own lemonade, etc. We learned that a Fudge Puppy needs at least 3 people to share so as not to fill up with rich sweetness! We would rather sample more items with smaller portions each but everyone has their own strategy!!
That being said, what are some of our favorites?! (the website “Food Finder” is a great tool to plan ahead of time!) We don’t always get to all of them but these are ones that have made the list many years:
- Fruit and whipped crème crepe from the French Creperie
- Ice Cream Shake from the Gopher Dairy Club or from the Dairy Bar
- Roasted Corn from the Corn Roast – rolled in butter, eaten nearby, and then cobs thrown in the big bins for composting!
- One son swears by the Mexican tortas from Manny’s (I get too filled up with them but will do a bite or two) – I love Manny’s pina colada in a hollowed-out pineapple (family-friendly and non-alcoholic).
- Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade (this year looks like the Blue Barn mixed things up with blueberry lavender lemonade or basil blackberry lemonade)!
- I can’t leave the Fair without having a pronto pup (flour-battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick) slapped with a streak of ketchup and mustard – while others swear by the MN State Fair corn dogs!
- Deep-fried vegetables (Vegetable Fries) at Vegie Fries with dipping sauce are quite good.
- Mediterranean lemonade at Holy Land Deli (in the Int’l Bazaar) – best, most refreshing lemonade and one of the better lemonade values!
- Sweet Martha’s cookies (this, too, fills me up too much – but when fresh they really are great! – you’ll see many people walking out with a bucket o’ cookies that are overflowing – the veterans bring a gallon ziplock bag and put the ones that don’t fit in the bucket in the bag, so they can put the lid on the bucket for the ride home)!
- Mini donuts – Tom Thumb’s are my faves!
- Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas – my boys always loved these.
- Wine slushie – on a hot day, I love these (at the French Creperie).
- The Rabbit Hole in the Int’l Bazaar always has some fun and tasty food offerings if you’re there the days they are (they rotate with another vendor).
- Walleye Cakes from Giggles Campfire Grill.
- Honey ice cream (various flavors) from the Ag-Hort building MN Honey Producers booth.
- With the Original Cheese Curds closed, the Mouth Trap cheese curds would be the second choice (in the Food Building) if we need curds
If there are certain items you know you want to eat/try, note where they are on the map so you can coordinate with other exhibits and buildings you want to visit.
As for the new foods to try this year – we will pick a few, and that is really a personal preference thing! I look at the list posted on the website and then check out some of the early reviews of them, too. And then a lot of times it depends on the weather – is it hot? Is it cool? Are we thirsty? Etc. Makes a difference for what food or drink sounds good that day!
Here are some of the early reviews:
Some of the new foods that may make that “had to try” list this year:
- Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press Coffee at Farmers Union Coffee Shop or Vietnamese Iced Cold Press Coffee at Que Viet
- Hamline Dining Hall’s Cranberry Wild Rice Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce
- Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale at Tejas Express
- Thai Rolled Ice Cream at Rainbow Ice Cream
- Steak Taco on Naan at San Felipe Tacos
- Duck Bacon Wontons at Giggles Campfire Grill
But it’s not all about food, and you need something to help pace yourself! The group activities page has a “Best Bets Guide” to help organize your trip, as well as fun print-outs like a Bingo card and scavenger hunt. Some of our non-food Fair favorites:
- Animal Barns — wander the eclectic poultry aisles in the Poultry Barn; get a set of paper headband pig ears from the Oink Booth in the Swine Barn and see the piglets and biggest boar; take in the array of cattle or goats or llamas ….classic slices of Minnesota farm and 4-H life.
- Creative Activities and Fine Arts buildings – see the winners of arts and crafts of all sorts!
- Miracle of Birth Barn – – watch live births or see newborn farm animals – warning: this barn takes patience as it is PACKED with people – or get there early early in the day to try and beat some of the crowds.
- Shopping in the Grandstand shops or Int’l Bazaar – really something for everyone!
- Check out DNR’s fish/trout pond and climb the fire tower.
- Crop Art! In the Ag-Hort building – State Fair creativity at its best!!
- Eco-Experience, Education … every building has something interesting – wander and explore!
- U of M’s “Driven to Discover” building – find a research study to participate in while you’re at the fair! Just takes a few minutes of your time, sometimes with follow up, sometimes not – some interesting projects.
- Don’t forget the classic butter head carvings of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court (in the Dairy Barn).
- Listen to a live MPR broadcast and visit their booth. https://www.mpr.org/statefair
- Find some deals and freebies! http://www.mnstatefair.org/pdf/17-DDGG.pdf
- Free music and dance shows in the Int’l Marketplace area’s stages; various bands and talent competitions on other stages, etc. – check out the daily schedule for what might interest you or just see what captures your interest as you wander.
- Enjoy the perfect venue for a warm summer evening concert or show in the Grandstand.
- See if your favorite senators or other political personas are in the house.
- Grab something to eat, sit and watch the parade that goes through the grounds at 2 PM daily.
- If you want rides or fun houses or carnival games … or a Haunted House …. All that is there, too!
- Take a ride on SkyGlider or SkyRide … when you need to give your feet a break, relaxing and fun to get a bird’s eye view of the fairgrounds – or handy if you want to get from one section of the grounds to another.
It is called the Great Minnesota Get-Together for good reason. Embrace the people-watching experience, grab your favorite food-on-a-stick, and join almost 2 million other folks doing the same during the last hurrah of summer!