How to do the state fair

The buzz is building! 

Happy State Fair month, Minnesota parents! To prepare you for the bittersweet end-of-summer fun fest, we’ve created a guide to getting the best out of the fair with your kids — at any age.

Jen with baby

Infants (0–12 months)

If the combination of huge crowds and your baby (and her accompanying gear and stroller) make you nervous, get to the fair early. Really early. Gates open at 6 a.m. You can move freely before the temperatures rise, settle in and strategize in the calm. Most attractions open at 9 a.m., but the Food Building, select barns and other sites open at 8 a.m. Some food vendors open even earlier. 

If you’re a chill parent (maybe this is Baby No. 3) with a comfy baby carrier and a go-with-the flow infant, go at the time of the day that works best for your family. 

Remember, fair admission is free for ages 4 and younger.

Do, see, eat

  • Tiny babies will enjoy looking around at the art and the agriculture buildings — mellow, cool, with lots of colors and shapes. 
  • Older infants will love the baby animals, especially early in the morning before the crowds arrive. 
  • Apple cider freezies (Agriculture Building) and fresh fruit smoothies are basically frozen baby food and don’t require teeth!

Pro tips

  • This is your chance to start a tradition with an “every year” picture in front of a fair landmark. The Super Slide? Fairborne or Fairchild mascot statue? You pick.
  • Go back a second time as grownups. Leave Baby with Grandma. Make this a ritual so you can continue to “do you” at the fair through the upcoming parenting years.

Little Farm Hands

Toddlers (1–5 years)

This is a super-fun age for fair-going. The fair is wonderful, but also presents prime conditions for a Level 4 meltdown. An early start is good, depending on your kiddo. (The Kemps Little Farm Hands attraction opens at 8 a.m., followed by the Kidway rides at 9 a.m.)

Do, see, eat

  • Little Farm Hands. The toddler years are perfect for this fair favorite. Your tot will love “working” the farm and trading in earnings for something yummy at the General Store.
  • The Family Fair at Baldwin Park brings you the Alpha Bet Forest, Math-on-a-Stick, crafts, Fair Hair and a big, shaded stage featuring dance, magic, juggling and music from kid-friendly artists such as the Okee Dokee Brothers. It’s a kid party, away from the fray. Perfect for both the toddler who loves to boogie and the toddler who just needs to chill out. 
  • Tractor-made ice cream (close to the Family Fair) is a lesson in physics, agriculture and yum. Pizza on a stick by the Mighty Midway is also a best bet for cheese-loving tods. 

Pro tips

  • The State Fair Parade begins at 2 p.m. each day and travels by the Kidway. Hoist your cutie onto your shoulders and enjoy a slice of Americana. This is a nice way to end the toddler day.

parade float

School kids (6–10)

This is an important time, fair-going Minnesota parents. You are raising proud State Fair enthusiasts! This is the age to push the limits of stamina and begin training for full morning-to-midnight trips to the fair. Go until you can’t go anymore and then refuel with a Pronto Pup and go more! Go more than one day! 

Do, see, eat

  • The Miracle of Birth Center is in-your-face education. Wow! Gross! Awwww, how cute! Inspire all of these emotions and more as you watch cows, pigs and sheep give birth. If you’re lucky enough to catch a live birth, your family might get the honor of naming the newborn!
  • Midway games. This is as good a time as any to spend $50 on a $2 Pikachu plush. It’s for the fun of it, right? The best games for enjoyment-to-frequent-win ratio include the Alien Blasters (Ghost Busters) ball-shooting game and the roll-the-ball horse game. High-frustration-high-reward (big animal) games include the ring toss and anything involving a baseball or a softball. 
  • If you’ve avoided our dear Sweet Martha through the toddler years, it’s time to give in. Cookie pails in happy, chocolate-stained hands are a brilliant marketing scheme that will certainly catch your kid’s attention. Sharing is caring. Time to drink the Kool Aid ice cold milk ($2 all-you-can-drink at the dairy booth on the corner of Judson and Clough). Bring a gallon Ziploc bag to stash the insane overflow of cookies so you can put the lid on the pail!

Kids with Sweet Martha's cookies

Pro tips

  • The laser light show at the North gate is right near the giant Ferris wheel, which is spectacular at night. Plan to do those back to back.
  • Kids Days and Library Card Days make multiple trips to the fair more affordable. Find all the discount days

Tweens and Teens (11–18)

A lot will depend on your child’s level of maturity. This group loves tradition, adventure and independence. Keep your routine, slightly boring perusal of the DNR fish. But try new things, too. Expect that they’ll want to go on rides that make you sick. Tolerate their desire to meet up with friends along the way.

Do, see, eat

  • This is a great age group for the International Bazaar — live music, eclectic and affordable shopping, daring foods. 
  • Eat everything. Pork Chop on a Stick, Pickle Dog, of course cheese curds and — a classic teen favorite — fries.

fries

Pro tips

  • Need to budget? Let your older, in-the-know kid pick one food, one ride and one Midway game. There’s plenty to see that’s free, so set simple limits on the rest.
  • If you’re not ready to let your tween or teen attend the fair solo, let them have some freedom within semi-close proximity. Establish check-in points every hour or so while they explore the fairgrounds with friends or siblings. 

The payoff? You’ll get to grab yourself a wine slushie and catch up with an old friend or peruse the fine arts exhibit at your leisure. 


Jen Wittes is a mom of two, who lives near the fairgrounds in St. Paul, so she goes to the fair — a lot. Read her award-winning story about the founder of Sweet Martha’s Cookies, Martha Rossini Olson.