Hello, new Minnesotan. We’re so glad you’re here. Sure, the weather can be intense (the heat wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the humidity!), but it’s an okay place to be, right? Especially with the State Fair just around the corner.
I know. I know. We haven’t shut up about the State Fair since your feet hit the ground at Lindbergh terminal, but trust us: it’s worth the hype.
But we know it can be intimidating if you’re going into it blind. The Minnesota State Fair is the 2nd largest state fair in the country, after all. That’s why I, your extremely Minnesotan friend, have created this handy guide to the fair.
First, grab your backpack. You’re going to want both of your hands free so you can hold a milkshake and grab a selfie with a cute animal at the same time. Put all of this in it:
-a map (print one or pick one up on your way in)
-a rain poncho (if there’s a chance of rain!)
-a water bottle
Comfy, walkable shoes are a must. I’d recommend a worn-in pair of sneakers that you won’t mind getting a little dusty. Do not wear flip-flops. Do NOT wear flip-flops. FOR THE LOVE OF PRINCE ROGERS NELSON DO NOT WEAR FLIP-FLOPS.
If you’re planning on parking at the fair, DON’T DO THAT. You WILL get stuck in traffic for a million years and you WILL pay extravagantly for a bad spot in direct sunlight.
Instead, park & ride! So many convenient locations to choose from! Easy peasy and free-sy!
GREAT! YOU’RE HERE!
Alright, here we go.
Now, every Minnesotan knows that the best way to start your fair day is with a balanced breakfast. For the homey, nostalgic fair morning of your dreams, head to the Hamline Dining Hall on Dan Patch Avenue. It’s the oldest vendor still in operation at the fair, and it’s barely changed in years. Grab a tray, pick out your grub, and make some new friends at one of their long community tables.
Once you’ve had your fill of conversation and church basement coffee, head east on Dan Patch then South on Nelson to the front of the DNR building, where you’ll find the fish pond. Get up close and personal with the fishy diversity that lies beneath the surface of our 10,000 lakes.
Next up is the Miracle of Birth barn, which is exactly what it sounds like. Baby farm animals, and mama farm animals soon to give birth to baby farm animals. If you’re too squeamish to watch an infant cow be thrust into the world before your very eyes, don’t worry. Actual live births are a pretty rare occurrence. But a flock of tiny ducklings to squee at? That’s pretty much a given. It gets crowded, so go early.
East on Judson, you’ll find the rest of the animal barns. My can’t-miss critters are the dairy goats and the rabbits. The goats are by far the happiest fair animals to let you love on them, and the rabbits, while less social, are a sight to behold. For a great place to take a break, have a seat in The Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum, where you can see daily horse and cattle shows.
When you’re done with the barns, you’ll probably be ready for a snack. Head back west on Judson, where you’ll find lots of tried-and-true classics like Australian Battered Potatoes and MinneApple Pies, plus all the ice cream treats you could ever want inside the Dairy Building. There, you’ll also find the spectacle that is the carving of the “butter heads.”
The “butter heads” are busts, carved out of actual butter, of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way Pageant finalists. It’s like Miss America, but all the girls live or work on dairy farms. I’ve heard that the Princess Kays get to keep their butter likenesses after the fair, and that some throw corn feed parties in their hometowns where they butter the corn with…themselves.
Kitty corner to the Dairy Building, you’ll find the Agriculture and Horticulture building, which, in my opinion, is the heart and soul of the Minnesota State Fair. It showcases Minnesota’s proudest innovations: really good beer, really good apples, and a whole lot of weird stuff.
Should you stand in line to see the crop art? Of course you should stand in line to see the crop art. But first, grab yourself a cold glass of apple cider or an apple cider freeze pop so you have something to sip on while you wait. At just $1.25, it’s a well-known fact that the apple cider pops are the best deal at the fair, and the most refreshing.
If you’re craving more agriculture-based creativity, check out the scarecrows, the flower arrangements (featuring new flowers every day!) and the beeswax crafts. If you’re a beer drinker, definitely grab a beer flight (or two) and sample some of Minnesota’s best craft beer. If you’re a winter-lover, admire (and sniff) the blue-ribbon Christmas trees. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, treat yourself to some honey ice cream.
Thanks to its distinct roundabout design, any direction you go from the Agriculture and Horticulture building yields something fun. Choose your own adventure:
To the south: The haunted house. It’s more camp than horror, with a few mild jump scares from some really committed fair employees in halloween masks. Plus? It’s air conditioned.
To the southeast: The International Bazaar. Good food, global entertainment, and rows of tchotchkes to peruse.
To the east: The space tower. Haven’t been in a long time, but plenty of fairgoers go back every year for the sky-high view.
To the north/northeast: Go to the food building and get a smorgasbord to share with your crew, then find a seat at the Leinie Lodge bandshell to sit and enjoy. If you’re there at the right time, you’ll get to catch the fair’s annual Amateur Talent Competition. The bandshell area has a bar that serves Leinenkugel’s beer, which we won’t judge you for partaking in even though Leinie’s is made in (gasp) Wisconsin.
To the northwest: The old standby rides. Take a magic burlap sack ride down the giant slide (just remember to hold on to your hat) or float through Ye Olde Mill.
To the west: Wine slushies! Enjoy a fruity, refreshing slushy in the Minnesota Wine Country building. For a non-alcoholic alternative, pick up a lingonberry sno cone across the street.
Time is but a construct now
Want to admire more of Minnesota’s creative achievements? On Cosgrove Street, you’ll find the Creative Activities building and the Fine Arts Building, where you can see everything from handmade lace to bronze sculptures.
At the northernmost tip of the fair, you can catch dog agility training at the Pet Pavillion or belt out the hits at the giant sing-a-long. Take the SkyGlider back south and get a birds-eye view of Machinery Hill, plus some great photo ops.
Not done yet?
Wow, that’s impressive. You’re a Minnesotan through-and-through. How about a few rides and games at the Midway to round out the day? If you’re not already nursing an upset tummy from all the food, that is.
- If it looks good, eat it.
- Don’t throw coins in the fish pond.
- If a horse is coming, get out of the way.
- The best cheese curds are at the Mouth Trap inside the Food Building.
- The lines at the Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar on Carnes are always shorter than at the one on Dan Patch. You’re welcome.
Enjoy yourself, new Minnesotan
We’ll see you again at the fair next year!