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10 tips for planning a trip to the Minnesota State Fair

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When you look at gross sales per day, you could say the Minnesota State Fair is the biggest restaurant in the world. In 2017, they brought in over $51 million in food and beverage sales in 12 days. In comparison, Tao in Las Vegas brings in $42 million in sales over an entire year.

Attendance during the State Fair is big, too. In 2019, more than 2.1 million people walked onto the Fairgrounds, making it the most attended in the Fair’s history. Six daily attendance records were set.

I have worked at the State Fair for more than 15 years. Each year, I’m there at least 10 days. I have attended the Great Minnesota Get Together every year since 1990. I have seen (and eaten) a lot. With that, here’s my advice for planning a trip to the Minnesota State Fair.

1. The day you go makes a big difference.

If you don’t want to battle massive crowds, go on the sole Tuesday (day 6) or Wednesday (day 7) of the State Fair. Some kids are in school, and historically, those days see the lowest number of people walk through the gates. I also recommend going the first Thursday (day 1), especially if you do your homework about what new foods you want to eat. The Fairgrounds are also clean. Get a list of my favorite foods going into the 2023 State Fair.

2. Don’t park at the Fairgrounds.

It’s $20 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is now more expensive that the price of admission ($18). They do accept cash and credit/debit cards for parking. That’s way too much money, not to mention, the headache of sitting in traffic to get out of the Fairgrounds. My best bet: use the park free, ride free service overseen by Metro Transit. To avoid being crammed on a Metro Transit bus with a bunch of people for 45 minutes, park at a park and ride site near the Fairgrounds. I really like the station on the University of Minnesota campus (#11 on the map via the above link). The bus takes the U of M Transitway, which goes directly from the Fairgrounds to your car on a road not open to the public, making for a quick trip. Note that many of the lots fill up quickly; the State Fair does a great job updating which lots are full on their social media channels.

Minnesota State Fair
If you’re planning to attend a Grandstand show, taking a Lyft to get home is a best bet. Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair.

3. Don’t overpay for tickets.

Before the Fair starts, you can purchase 2023 admission tickets on the State Fair’s website for $15, saving you $3 a ticket. Typically, on the first day of the Fair, adults will save $2 on every ticket at the gate. The State Fair offers discounts to kids and seniors on various days, including multiple days where kids and seniors will save up to $3 on tickets. Check out this page for details. Remember kids four and younger always get in free.

Minnesota State Fair Butter Sculptures
Whether your friends are made of butter or are actual human beings, take a picture of them when you enter the Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

4. Take a photo of your group when you get inside the Fairgrounds.

The Fair is massive. Some days, nearly a quarter-million people come through the gates. It can be easy to lose your little ones. Take a picture of those tiny Fairgoers right when you get in the gates. You’ll be able to show the photo to police and will know exactly what they’re wearing. Information booths also have free wristbands kids can wear so they can reunite with you quickly in case they get lost.

No matter who you go with, you may also want to select an easy landmark as a meeting point in case you get separated. You can’t always rely on phones and not everyone knows the Fairgrounds like the back of their hand.

Also on Give Me The Mike…
The most underrated foods at the Minnesota State Fair

5. If someone in your group needs a wheelchair or scooter, reserve it before you go.

You can reserve a wheelchair or scooter online, even before the Fair begins. They must be made 24 hours in advance and are only good for full-day rentals. See the price breakdown, along with a link to reserve, here.

6. Don’t pay for water.

Backpacks, bags and coolers are allowed on the Fairgrounds, meaning you can pack water, pop and snacks. Just know that you’ll have to carry around whatever you bring with you — the Fair doesn’t have lockers or a bag check. You won’t be able to bring a cooler with you to a show at the Grandstand. No outside alcohol is allowed onto the Fairgrounds.

7. If you have to buy water, don’t pay too much.

Prices for bottled water can vary greatly on the Fairgrounds. The Coca-Cola booths are one of the worst spots to get hydrated. Please don’t pay more than $1.75 for 20 oz. Check out this article for spots you should circle on your map if you need H2O. Remember you can bring a water bottle on the Fairgrounds and water bottle filling stations are scattered about.  A great food vendor (they shall not be named) is charging nearly $4 for a 20 ounce bottle of Dasani. It’s robbery.

Also on Give Me The Mike…
9 Minnesota State Fair foods every new attendee should eat

8. Speaking of beverages, start studying what you will drink.

A list of the specialty beverages served only at the Fair is available online. The brochure will also be available in print form at information booths (you may have to ask for it, as it’s not always sitting on the counter).

9. Don’t get stuck in the Food Building.

The Food Building is one of the most congested places on the Fairgrounds. It’s also one of the most delicious. Two of my favorite Fair foods come from that one spot. Know that you can enter the Food Building through the Commissary on the east side of the building and avoid the crowds.

Minnesota State Fair Giant Slide
One of the best parts of the Great Minnesota Get Together is the people watching. Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

10. Enjoy the people watching.

All walks of life make their way to the Fairgrounds, and State Fair officials embrace that, offering a State Fair bingo card that’s free to download (look on the right side of the page). The State Fair does not offer prizes for completed bingos.

More Minnesota State Fair coverage

If it’s your first time at the Minnesota State Fair, I recommend using this guide to make sure you taste the most iconic foods at the Great Minnesota Get Together.

Click here to see a feed with all of my Minnesota State Fair advice.

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