The Minnesota State Fair’s website is a must-visit before you head out to the Great Minnesota Get Together. Watch my segment on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to learn about State Fair Bingo cards and how to create a custom list of what you want to see and eat at the Fair.
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 1990. I have seen (and eaten) a lot.
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.
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.
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.
One of the best parts of the Great Minnesota Get Together is the people watching. Photo courtesy: Minnesota State Fair
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 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.
The 2020 Minnesota State Fair runs August 27th thru September 7th.
The Minnesota State Fair is over 320 acres of food on-a-stick, animals and people watching. However, when there are nearly a quarter-million people walking around — or worse, huddled in one spot eating corn-on-the-cob — you could get a bit frazzled.
My other favorite day is Thrifty Thursday, which is always the first day of the State Fair. Everything is clean, people are happy, there are discounts on admission and there are typically less people who attend the first day, although it is higher than days 6 and 7.
So what dates should you avoid? The second Saturday, which is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, is always the worst when it comes to large crowds. In 2018, more than 270,000 people attended the Fair that day alone. That was an all-time single day attendance record. Compare that to the 120,000 people who attended on day 6 — a difference of over 150,000 people.
It’s not the most publicized, but it’s truly a fun night. And it’ll make your friends jealous.
Every year on the Thursday before the Minnesota State Fair starts, traditional and new Fair food vendors gather in the International Bazaar for an event called Taste of the Fair.
And you can attend.
In addition to the food, event-goers can play Midway games, listen to music by performers playing during the Great Minnesota Get Together. And guess what? There aren’t mile-long lines to try even the most sought after food! I have gone before — it’s a lot of fun.
Tickets to Taste of the Fair are $85 (as of 8/6/19, they are $100 with late registration) and benefit the Minnesota State Fair Foundation, the group responsible for maintaining and upgrading the buildings and fairgrounds. Your ticket price is all-inclusive, meaning you will get food and drink provided once you enter the event.
The 2019 Taste of the Fair is on Thursday, August 15, 2019 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Learn more online.
The Food Building at the Minnesota State Fair is a blessing and a curse. There’s delicious food but it can get so crowded. I’m here to help you know exactly where to go so you’re not stuck sifting through the masses of people.
Before I go any further, you need to know exactly what you want from the Food Building before entering the Food Building. If you want a Wild Rice Cheeseburger (my favorite Fair food) and are on the west side of the building, you really need to walk around the outside of the building before going inside.
They may not be glamorous, but once you’re inside the Food Building, there are multiple shortcuts you can take.
Say you just picked up your cheese curds and want that Wild Rice Cheeseburger. Instead of walking through the entire building, you can take the doors near the Seafood Shoppe and walk straight ahead to get right to that burger.
This video shows the opposite route. Say you have a Wild Rice Cheeseburger and want a cinnamon roll (one of my other favorite Fair foods). You don’t need to push your way through crowds.
There’s also a shortcut that takes you out near the cheese curds. That can be helpful if you need an immediate exit from too many people.
The State Fair prints a Specialty Brews & Beverages brochure, which is available online. You can also ask for it at any information booth on the Fairgrounds.
Some new beers to look out for:
Mankato Brewery is pouring the Cake’d Up Celebration Ale, a deep-fried cake flavored beer. It’s description: “The lightly hopped ale features a distinct vanilla aroma and ends up with a comforting, cake-like finish.” They’ll be serving inside The Hanger, an aviation-themed food hall on the north end of the Fairgrounds (formerly the Pet Center).
Funnel Cake Cream Ale, available at Coasters, near the Midway
LimeLight, available at The Blue Barn, in the West End Market
That’s in addition to two returning beers I adore:
The Mini Donut Beer is a delight. Last year, I ate a bag of mini donuts while sipping the beer. I have no shame. They rim the cup in sugar. You’ll find it at the Ball Park Cafe on the outside of the Food Building.
Grain Belt’s Blu beer is now available at bars around Minnesota, but it was debuted at the Minnesota State Fair. In the West End Market, you’ll find it as a frozen drink and a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer afternoon. My recommendation is to grab one (or two) and bring them with you to the rooftop of Lulu’s Public House, which offers prime people watching from above.