Tickets to the first-ever Minnesota State Fair Food Parade sold out in two hours at the end of July. It was one way Fair officials responded to the Great Minnesota Get Together being canceled in 2020 due to the Coronavirus. A second Food Parade takes place October 1-4 and October 8-11.
The Food Parade features 16 food vendors (Fall Food Parade vendors are listed below), giving Minnesotans the chance to get a taste of the Fair.
You may find tickets to the Food Parade on Craigslist, but it’s highly recommended you do not buy them, as you cannot verify they are not invalid copies of tickets. Fair officials limited ticket sales to not overwhelm vendors and create overwhelming lines of cars.
I attended the first Food Parade on the first day of its 13 day run in August 2020 and the Fall Food Parade on its first day in October. Here’s my experience of both parades, along with answers to the questions you asked on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
“How many people can you have in your vehicle? Can I invite more friends?”
There is a limit of five people ages 4+ per Food Parade ticket. If you want more people in your car, you can buy an EXTRAS ticket when you arrive to the event. You need a regular Food Parade ticket in order to buy an EXTRAS ticket.
“Where do I enter the Fairgrounds?”
You will want to enter the State Fairgrounds on Snelling Avenue at Hoyt Avenue, near the State Fair water tower. That’s just south of Larpenteur Avenue. Note that there is construction on Como Avenue, the road on the south side of the Fairgrounds.
“How was traffic on Snelling? Assume it’s easier to enter driving southbound on Snelling? How much time did you spend in traffic on Snelling before you got to show someone your ticket and get into your times entry queue?”
We zipped right in. There was absolutely zero traffic on Snelling. We left the corner of Snelling and Hoyt and scanned our ticket soon after. The scanning station is quite a distance away from the entrance.
It is slightly easier to approach the Fairgrounds driving southbound, just because you don’t have to wait for the left arrow, but you can approach from the north or south. Note that this is the only entrance.
“How long does it take?”
This was the most common question I received. The August Food Parade and the October Food Parade experiences were quite different. Once we started moving, the August parade took only 1 hour, 11 minutes. The October parade took 2 hours, 23 minutes once we started the route.
The August parade went too fast. The October parade was too slow. Between the August and October parades, the State Fair added more vehicles to each time slot. I should also note that in August, I went at 2:00 pm, which is noteworthy, as there are no cars going through the parade before in the 1:00 pm hour. In October, I went at 4:00 pm, meaning we had to wait for cars in the 3:00 pm time slot to get through.
For the October parade, here’s a glimpse of the timeline:
- 3:45 pm — Arrived on the Fairgrounds. Once you arrive, you are able to become a Friend of the Fair for $25. In return, you receive a car flag.
- 3:50 pm — Scanned ticket at gate, received goodie bag (see below), chance to use restroom and ATM, corralled to spot in Midway.
- 4:34 pm — Our row of cars started to move. Before the first stop, don’t miss a great photo opportunity! Safely take a picture of your passengers in front of the Minnesota State Fair logo on the building connecting the Coliseum to the Cattle Barn. Remember you’re asked to stay in your car.
- 4:50 pm — Received food from the first stop, Turkey to Go.
- 4:53 pm — Received food from the second stop, Fresh French Fries.
- 5:16 pm — Received food from the third stop, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds.
- 5:21 pm — Received food from the fourth stop, Que Viet.
- 5:21 pm — Received food from the fifth stop, Sweets & Treats.
- 5:33 pm — Received food from the sixth stop, Pronto Pups.
- 6:15 pm — Received food from the seventh stop, Tom Thumb Donuts.
- 6:15 pm — Passed the eighth stop, West Indies Soul Food.
- 6:18 pm — Received food from the ninth stop, Minneapple Pie.
- 6:30 pm — Received food from the 10th stop, Hansen’s Foot Long Hot Dogs & Corn Dogs.
- 6:32 pm — Passed the 11th stop, Butcher Boys/Pitchfork Sausage.
- 6:40 pm — Received food from the 12th stop, Cheese On-A-Stick and Fresh Squeezed Lemonade.
- 6:42 pm — Passed the 13th stop, Giggles’ Campfire Grill.
- 6:43 pm — Passed the 14th stop, El Sol Mexican Grill.
- 6:44 pm — Passed the 15th stop, The Hangar.
- 6:57 pm — Received food from the final stop, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar.
State Fair officials ask that do you not arrive no more than 30 minutes before your ticketed time. There really is no need to.
“What did you bring with you?”
I packed a cooler with bottled water, because I knew we were going to consume a whole lot of salt.
I also had really awesome plastic plates with built in cupholders. They are from the State Fair Foundation’s Taste of the Fair event, which is typically held the Thursday before the Fair starts. It’s a great way to taste classic and new Fair foods in an intimate setting. Learn more about Taste of the Fair here.
We also packed napkins, Shout Wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Make sure someone in your vehicle brings cash, as Pronto Pups is cash only. I should note that Turkey to Go is credit card only. The State Fair’s website lists what methods of payment each vendor accepts.
You will need your own pen to write down your orders. Menus are provided. I would also bring a clipboard. You can attach your menu to it. And you can also clip your credit card to it, making it easier to find when you need to pay.
Face coverings are strongly encouraged, especially for drivers or those placing orders with vendor staff. Masks are not provided. The State Fair is selling Fair themed face coverings online. Learn more here.
I would strongly recommend bringing some Tupperware, as we had an overwhelming amount of food. With the exception of Sweet Martha’s, nothing is served with a lid, so I would recommend bringing some storage.
Here’s your packing list:
- Bottled water/beverages (the vendors do sell beverages, but there’s really no need to buy them when you can bring your own)
- Tupperware with lids
- Napkins (you’ll need more than what vendors give you)
- Tide to Go/Shout Wipes
- Garbage bag for your car
- Face coverings
- Hand sanitizer
- Notepad (see why below)
- Cash and credit card
“Do I have to print out my ticket?”
You can either print out your ticket or show it on your smartphone.
“Can my dog come with?”
Technically, the State Fair asks that you leave your pets at home. However, the both times I attended, I saw dogs in vehicles. The second time I went, we saw a lot of big dogs who took up a lot of room in cars. Unless they’re really well behaved, I’m guessing many were right up in your face when Fair food arrived. I would say leave them at home.
“What foods are there?”
In total, there are 16 food vendors. The route is a one-way, so you’ll approach them in this order:
- Turkey to Go Turkey Sandwiches
- Fresh French Fries
- Mouth Trap Cheese Curds
- Que Viet (Egg Rolls On-A-Stick, Cream Cheese Wontons)
- Sweets & Treats (Cotton Candy, Caramel Apples)
- Pronto Pups
- Tom Thumb Donuts
- West Indies Soul Food (Jamaican Patties, Jerk Chicken)
- Minneapple Pie (Deep-Fried Apple, Pumpkin and Chocolate pie, served with Ice Cream)
- Foot Long Hot Dogs & Corn Dogs
- Butcher Boys/Pitchfork Sausage (London Broil, Italian Sausage)
- Cheese On-A-Stick and Lemonade
- Giggles’ Campfire Grill (Walleye Cakes, Duck Bacon Wontons)
- El Sol Mexican (Tacos, Burritos)
- The Hangar (Tater Twister, Fried Oreos)
- Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar
A complete menu, along with prices, are available on the State Fair’s website.
The back half of the Food Parade (after Butcher Boys) goes relatively fast. By then, the people in my car were extremely full from the classic Fair foods at the beginning of the route. We weren’t alone, as many cars around us were not stopping at Giggles’ Campfire Grill, El Sol, or the other vendors at the north end of the Fairgrounds, with the exception of Sweet Martha’s.
“Was the food as good as it normally is at the Fair?”
Most of it was. Many of the vendors are positioned at or very close to their booths, so they are able to use their own equipment.
“Can we get two menus so each couple can pay separately or do we all have to order off one?”
You only need one paper menu, however, for the October parade, they provided two to our car.
When you arrive to a particular vendor, you will tell them how many items you want.
While you wait for the parade to start, you will want to take orders for everyone in your car. Before the parade started, we stopped halfway through the list, which was smart. We ended up getting really full and ended up passing on food from many vendors on the back half of the parade route.
We found that it was best that the driver focuses on driving and doesn’t write down orders, grab food, track the credit card, etc. I sat in the back, behind the driver, and was able to handle credit card transactions and collect food. I should note there were a couple times that vendors would approach from the passenger side of our car.
“What’s inside the goodie bag you receive with your ticket?”
I should note that for the October Fall Food Parade, you do not get a goodie bag. You do receive a Minnesota State Fair branded lunch box, which you can use to store leftovers. For the August parade, you received a goodie bag, but it was nothing exciting.
“Is it possible to pay separately when at the booths?”
Yes, you can. However, remember that if you use four credit cards at every booth, you’ll slow the entire parade down.
Our group found it best to use one credit card for the entire route. After Sweet Martha’s, we pulled into the Fair’s parking lot (right before Snelling) to eat cookies and to figure out how much each of us owed. A notepad came in handy.
“Do you have to stop at each place or can one pass by a food you don’t want?”
So there aren’t really individual “bypass” lanes. The only vendors you can bypass are Tom Thumb Donuts, West Indies Soul Food, Minneapple Pie and Hansen’s Foot Long Hot Dogs & Corn Dogs. However, you have to bypass all four of them together. You can’t bypass just one or two of those four.
If we didn’t want food from a particular vendor, we would just drive by the workers.
“Can I get out of my car?”
Not really. You can get out of your car at a couple points to use the restroom. Those points are right after you scan your tickets and right before you arrive to Giggles’ Campfire Grill (towards the end of the parade). There are also some bathrooms marked “urgent use only” in the Kidway near West Indies Soul Food. It should be noted that all restrooms are Port-a-Potties and not permanent structures. Note that buildings (and its bathrooms) are not open to the public.
You are not allowed out of your vehicle for any other reason.
“How are families keeping kids occupied?”
In August, you were handed a State Fair Bingo card, but we did not receive this in October. Both times, we saw the Fair mascots, but it’s more of a “wave as we drive by” situation than a “stop and we’ll take a bunch of photos” situation.
“How do they manage demand for things like Sweet Marthas?”
Martha is the queen of the Fair. She serves up millions of cookies each year. I am fairly confident that she’s able to handle this more structured event. The State Fair knows how many tickets are sold for the Food Parade, and there is a limit of how many buckets each car can buy.
“Other words of wisdom?”
Don’t go alone. Considering the parade’s fast pace, it would be way too difficult to drive and eat at the same time.
If you want condiments with a particular food, don’t be afraid to ask for them. They’re not always offered.
Our car really liked State Fair Radio, which played a wide array of hits, including sing-alongs. The station, run by iHeartRadio, can be found at 101.3-HD3. It’s also easily found on the iHeartRadio phone app.
There’s a limit of five people per car. We had four people in our SUV, and we were glad we didn’t have a fifth person. With the garbage bag, the cooler of water, the trays of food and everything else, another person in the middle seat would have been too much.
The 2021 Minnesota State Fair takes place August 26 through September 6, 2021.
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