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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, over 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 1989. I have seen (and eaten) a lot. With that, here’s my advice for planning a trip to the Minnesota State Fair.
10 tips for planning a trip to the Minnesota State Fair
The day you go makes a big difference.
If you don’t want to battle massive crowds, go on the Tuesday (day 6) or Wednesday (day 7) of the State Fair. Many 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 10 favorite foods going into the 2020 State Fair.
Don’t park at the Fairgrounds.
It’s $15 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is the cost of an admission ticket (the cost of three Pronto Pups). Oh, and it’s cash only for parking. 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. 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. See the full list of free park and ride spots here. The U of M lot is #14 on the map. 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.
Don’t overpay for tickets.
You can purchase 2021 admission tickets on the State Fair’s website for $12, 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.
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.
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.
Don’t pay for water.
Backpacks, bags and coolers are allowed on the Fairgrounds, meaning you can pack water, pop and snacks for the kiddos. 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.
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. I’m serious about this one. A great food vendor (they shall not be named) is charging nearly $4 for a 20 oz bottle of Dasani. It’s robbery.
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).
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 top 10 Fair foods come from that one spot. But don’t get stuck in the hot, sweaty mess. Check out my video tutorial on Food Building shortcuts which are rarely used.
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. 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.