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 at the State Fair is big, too. In 2017, over 1,997,000 people walked onto the Fairgrounds. Three daily attendance records were set.

2018 marks my 29th consecutive year attending the State Fair and my 14th year working at the Great Minnesota Get Together. I have seen (and eaten) a lot.

Here are my top tips:

  1. 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 my 2018 new food reviews here.
  2. Don’t park at the Fairgrounds. It’s $14 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is the cost of an admission ticket (or like 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 stinky 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, making for a quick trip. See the full list of free park and ride spots here. The U of M lot is #12 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.

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    If you’re planning to attend a Grandstand show, taking a Lyft to get home is a best bet.
  3. If you want to take a ride share service, use Lyft. The State Fair has a partnership with Lyft and they offer $3 off one ride to or from the Fairgrounds when current Lyft users enter promo code MNSTATEFAIR18 August 23 – September 4, 2018. If you don’t have a Lyft account, sign up with promo code MNSTATEFAIR and you’ll get $5 off your first four Lyft rides through September 10th. A suggestion: park in one of the free MetroTransit lots and have a Lyft driver bring you to and from the Fairgrounds. Note that ride share pick-up and drop-off locations are a bit of a hike from the Fairgrounds itself. One is at the far northern end of the Fairgrounds, the other is beyond the bus corral on the west end.
  4. Don’t overpay for tickets. If you’re seeing this before 9:00 pm on August 22, 2018, you’re in luck. You can purchase tickets on the State Fair’s website for $11, saving you $3 a ticket. 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. Check out this page for details. Remember kids under five years old always get in free.

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    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
  5. 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.
  6. If someone in your group needs a wheelchair or scooter, reserve it now. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 with 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.
  9. Speaking of beverages, start studying what you will drink. 27 beverages will make their debut at the 2018 Minnesota State Fair. Whether its Caramel Corn Cream Ale, deep-fried cake flavored beer, or the delightful blueberry flavored beer, a listing of all new and returning beers are available on this brochure. It’s also available at Information booths on the Fairgrounds (you might have to ask for it).

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    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. The State Fair does not offer prizes for completed bingos.

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

Click here to see a feed with all of my Minnesota State Fair advice. The 2018 Minnesota State Fair runs August 23rd thru September 3rd.

All photos courtesy Minnesota State Fair

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