A decade ago this month, I started this blog with a brief welcome post:
Life is a wonderful journey. As we reflect, our favorite memories confirm that the best things in life truly are not things, but rather experiences: travel near and far, the simplicity of nature found in the garden and great outdoors, and good food with family and friends. Sit back and enjoy — you can always clean tomorrow!
Ciao ~ Kat B.
Over the years, my blog contributions and creative energies have ebbed and flowed … but one thing has not changed over the last 10 years, and that is my enthusiasm for the Minnesota State Fair. It checks all the boxes — travel (near), celebrating the abundance of harvest and Minnesota’s great outdoor offerings (garden), and SO. MUCH. GOOD. FOOD (EAT … with a couple hundred thousand of your friends)! With over 300 acres of animals, attractions, entertainment, and food to explore, it is almost impossible to see it all. A game plan is essential to maximize the chances of checking off the sights you want to see and foods you want to eat.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
The Minnesota State Fair website is your comprehensive resource for everything related to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, which runs for the 12 days leading up through Labor Day (August 25 – September 5 in 2022). Use the Daily Schedule feature to narrow down the events and options for the day(s) you plan to attend.
To help with navigation while at the Fair itself, be sure to download the app through your cell phone browser at app.mnstatefair.org and have a handy map in hand with all your favorites flagged! The website has more instructions on downloading and using the app, here.
2. GETTING TO THE FAIRGROUNDS: TRANSIT AND PARKING OPTIONS
With over 200,000 people visiting the Fair on popular days (all-time record? 270,426 in 2018 on the Saturday before Labor Day!), don’t underestimate the importance of planning how to get to the Fair and where to park if you’re driving. If you are going to drive your own vehicle, go early …. as in, plan breakfast at the Fair.
And if you aren’t going to drive your own vehicle, or plan to go to the Fair later in the day, use the free Park ‘n Ride option or one of the Metro Transit express options. Even with Park ‘n Ride, the lots can fill throughout the day. The MN State Fair’s Twitter account tries to post timely updates of parking lot status, with the hashtag #MSFParking, but on popular days, many of those lots can fill by late morning and you may need to drive to more than one to find an opening. They will open up throughout the day, so make sure you’ve printed out the maps of different lot or stop options, be patient, and you will find a spot and a ride!
If you are planning to attend a Grandstand show in the evening or stay until the fairgrounds close at 11 p.m., you may want to rely on a rideshare option or drive your own vehicle due to the Park ‘n Ride buses ending service at 11 p.m.
If you’re flexible with your schedule and hoping to attend the Fair on a lower attendance day, check out the historical attendance records (keeping in mind that 2021 still had depressed attendance due to COVID-19), and you can get a feel for patterns of popularity. Weather, of course, will always be a factor — on a gloomy day, or with unseasonably hot or cold temperatures, you may find a few less folks to share the Fair with.
3. WHAT TO EAT!?
Where do I begin!?! What to eat at the Minnesota State Fair is largely driven by personal preferences, and everyone has their own lists of favorites, must-haves, or “not worth the calories” items. I will share with you our food strategy and some good research options to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices, but note that we aren’t deep-fried candy bar aficionados — you’ll have to check out someone else’s blog for those tips!
First, where can you look for a good overview of your food options at the Fair?
- New to the Fair? The MN State Fair’s “Food Finder” on their website — an fully searchable database with filters to slice and dice your food options in enough ways to please everyone!
- A State Fair veteran? Start with the “New Foods for 2022” list.
Let’s not forget something to wash those curds down. If you want a beverage beyond the run-of-the-mill lemonade, you have 47 new options premiering or exclusive to the Fair and 43 returning favorites! The liquid list can be found here.
Various food critics and editors profile their “best picks” (or most unique ones) from the new food and drink lists. If you are having trouble narrowing down your choices, let them pick for you:
- Mpls-St. Paul Magazine: Minnesota State Fair New Foods 2022 PREVIEW!
- The Current (MPR): Minnesota State Fair’s new foods for 2022 go deep on international flavor
- Eater Twin Cities: These Are the Wackiest New Foods at the Minnesota State Fair
- And while this is a few years old, many of Andrew Zimmern’s food recommendations are timeless in our book! What to Eat at the Minnesota State Fair
Beyond creating your food wish list, you need to plot out your sequencing — if you’re going to hit the Midway rides, perhaps put space between the stomach-dropping amusements and deep-fried cheese curds, or alternate a healthier option with heavier fare. We always start our day with a fresh fruit and creme crepe from the French Créperie (often a coin flip between raspberry and blueberry), each getting our own crepe. The roasted ear of corn from Corn Roast dipped in butter is another 1:1 ratio item, which is not the case with most of the other foods … in order to maximize tasting, we usually share.
So, what do we put on our “must have” list? What are we adding to our “try to make room for” list? Increasingly, we have found a second day at the Fair is needed to make room for old favorites and a smattering of new ones, since the old favorites list keeps growing as new foods turn into traditions, although periodically some old favorites disappear (e.g. what had become a new favorite a few years ago, the Bacon, Lettuce and Heirloom Tomato Sandwich from the Minnesota Farmers Union Coffee Shop that does not appear as an option this year).
We are probably in the minority of Fair goers who do not always get the mini chocolate chip cookies at one of several Sweet Martha’s locations, despite it being a Fair staple! We have found unless we have a larger group, even a small cone of cookies gets to be too much for two people when the rest of our food list is a mile long! And those little chocolate chip gems are best when fresh and warm, so while you can take them home (and they are popular to buy by the bucket for your favorite college student to share in the dorm), we just prefer a few and call it good.
As for selecting new foods or beverages to sample in 2022, there are a few that have caught our eyes:
- Mov + Nqaij (Rice + Meat), with a refreshing Dej Qab Zib from new vendor Union Hmong Kitchen
- Sweet Potato Poutine (vegetarian), The Blue Barn
- For those in the “love” black licorice camp, the Gray Duck Sundae will make your list, from Bridgeman’s Ice Cream … my son will be eating this item by himself while perhaps I try Saffron/Almond/Pistachio Kulfi, Indian-style ice cream from Hot Indian Foods.
- Cold IPA by Bent Paddle Brewing Company (because how can we overlook a hometown from Lake Superior favorite?), Ball Park Cafe
- MN Brew Together – Blue Macaroon for a little Fair novelty, by Modist Brewing and Forager Brewery, Ball Park Cafe
Once the day arrives, weather sometimes dictates whether a cold brew or wine slushie hits the spot, or a Swedish egg coffee from the Lutheran Salem Church Dining Hall.
(click on each photo in the gallery to learn where to find some of our favorites)
4. WHAT TO SEE!? WHAT TO DO!?
The list is endless — shopping, music, arts and cooking competitions, animal displays and showings, educational exhibits, rides and games at the Midway and Kidway…
The Explore Minnesota website has their own curated list of “must-dos” (many which overlap our list below): “25 Must-Dos at the Minnesota State Fair.”
- Crop art and scarecrow contest display, Agriculture Horticulture Building
- Butter sculptures of Princess Kay and her court, Dairy Building
- Animal barns: Cattle, Swine, Poultry, Sheep and Goat, Horse and more … and check out the llamas if they’re in when you are!
- Sky Ride and Sky Glider ~ buy a ticket to ride the gondola or ski lift and get a birds eye view of the masses of people below. Either are great options to take a break, or skip to a different corner of the fairgrounds. The open-air Sky Glider is our favorite of the two.
- Ride the Giant Slide!
- Watch and listen to some of the live programming from the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) booth every day of the Fair or at Dan Patch Park on MPR Day (the Friday before Labor Day).
- Check out the MN DNR’s (Department of Natural Resources) Fish Pond, stocked with Minnesota fish. If you need a preview, they have a fish cam recording from prior years.
- Close out a perfect Minnesota summer evening with a performance at the Grandstand, and watch the fireworks as you leave! The Grandstand show schedule can be found here.
Every year we find something new, rotating our focus to different buildings and exhibits from year to year — explore sustainable living ideas in the Eco Experience building, participate in one of many University of Minnesota research studies in the Driven to Discover building, view this year’s entries in various handcrafts and baked good items in the Creative Activities building, watch the Lumberjacks Show or take in the Daily Parade (at 2:00 p.m.). Even with this lengthy blog post, I barely scratched the surface of what the MN State Fair has to offer.
You can purchase discounted admission, ride and attraction tickets to the MN State Fair until August 24, 2022 at various retail outlets, by phone, or online. Details can be found here. For more discount offerings when at the Fair, purchase a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book for $5 (with proceeds going to support the Minnesota State Fair Foundation), or visit on one of the other discount days for Seniors, Military, Kids.
What are your favorite traditions at the Minnesota State Fair?
Share them in the comments!
Check out some of my other Minnesota State Fair blog posts from prior years:
5 responses to “Game Plan for the Great Minnesota Get-Together”
Reblogged this on travels with toby and commented:
This is such a great guide that I’m sharing it on my blog. Minnesota State Fair starts next week!
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Oh oops, forgot some traditions. We always see the crop art and the ag building(biggest gourd is a favorite too!), the animal barns and I’ve gotta have a pronto pup and a chocolate malt. Sometimes we get Sweet Martha’s cookies but not always. Same with the mini donuts. I try to visit the Grand Stand shops but didn’t last year. We like the sky ride if it’s the end of our day and it will get us closer to our bus stop. Oh yes, and we never miss the art building.
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Yes yes almost across the board with your comments! We also like to hit the Grandstand shops but sometimes those get squeezed out if tight on time! One of the super hot years the cooking towels we bought there were a lifesaver! 🥵
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What a great guide for the fair! We typically go 2-3 times because like you said, you just can’t see it all in one day. Except last year I wasn’t very keen on going again due to Covid. Still undecided this year if I’ll go more than once. But I’ll definitely be there on opening day!
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We were hesitant last year also – but went with masks ready for crowded locations but ended up with a picture perfect weather day and half the crowds of normal – spoiled as we are unlikely to ever experience that again! 🤣 We went early in the day and left as crowds picked up – NO line for cheese curds! 😯
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