Serious fairgoers know their stuff: Where to park (or not park), what to eat, whose head will be carved out of what and when you are most likely to get chased down by a high school marching band.
But for those who have taken a hiatus from annual trips to the Minnesota State Fair (you’ve never been?), here is a tutorial on how to navigate this year’s event, which runs through Monday.
Regular admission prices are $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and kids, children younger than 5 are free. Save yourself from standing in line and buy them at mnstatefair.org.
You could drive to the fair, get as close to the grounds as fate and humanity will allow, and fork over a wad of hot cash (like a heathen). Or you could ditch your vehicle in, for instance, a church parking lot far, far from the midway, board a free shuttle bus and get dropped off two-shakes from the signature state fair arch. (Spoiler alert: The latter option wins.)
Free rides run about every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight, and a list of drop-off spots is available here: mnstatefair.org/general_info/get_here/park_ride.html
Sharing post-fair exhaustion with a bus full of strangers is all part of the Great Minnesota Decompress Together. My seatmate last week, a stranger, fell asleep with a half-eaten caramel apple stuck to her fleece blanket, her head against the window. Insert heart emoji.
IF LOST, RETURN TO
There are a heckuva lot of people crammed into the same amount of acreage, so you will want to mind your mini-explorer, especially once you get to the farm animals. Make a stop at an information booth to get a tiny wristband, so you can fasten your phone number to your youthful companion’s arm. FREE wristband’s aren’t your thing? Write your phone number on your child’s arm with a Sharpie, then cover it with a clear liquid bandage. Information booth pro tip: Free sunscreen, y’all. Mind your SPFs.
HELLO UP THERE
So it’s your first time at the Great Minnesota get together? One good way to get a sense of the whole who-what-where-when and how is to take the slighly obviously named Skyride — a one to three-ish person car that cruises high above the crowds from the West End Market area — east to a point near the Space Tower. Economically priced at $3/person for a one-way trip, which recently yielded a unique vantage point for a Prince dance party and a breath taking view of the 48+ person deep line for a late-night bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies.
THAT CERTAIN FLUTTER
It seems idyllic, right, a building enclosed with netting where butterflies flutter freely, landing on the hats, T-shirts and open palms of anyone willing to pay a few meager bucks ($3) for entry. You’re handed an information sheet and a sugared Q-Tip at the door — for feeding them, not you — then you’re free to roam among the beautiful insects.
There are, obviously, butterfly whisperers who will attract dozens to land on their person. This can be a peaceful experience. (Or not.)
It can also be a quick lesson in your own aversion to things that might potentially brush lightly across your skin. Ahem. No butterflies were injured during this life lesson.
You can also watch from outside the netting for zero dollars.
GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL
And because every moment spent walking in public is an opportunity to connect with your Pokemon friends (shout out to my Valor homies), don’t forget to hit some Pokestops. This map details the various Pokestops and gyms littering the fair grounds.
FOODS FOR YOU
Remember that article we wrote about the insane new fair foods this year? Well go read it real quick: ( 11 New Insane foods to eat this year at the Minnesota State Fair )
Obviously, if this is your first time, you’ll need to try the classics. In no particular order, here are the things you must eat: Cheese curds from Mouth Trap (battered, not breaded), located in the Food Building; Original Giant Turkey Sandwich from Turkey to Go (is there an “infinity” setting on their crock pot, ‘cuz this stuff is ten.der) located on the east side of Clough Street between Carnes and Judson Avenues; a bucket of chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar (yes a BUCKET) at multiple locations; All-you-can-drink-milk (which you can drink while eating your cookies) located on the northeast corner of Judson Ave. & Clough St.; and Mac & cheese cupcake from Lulu’s Public House (the deliciousness lives in the bottom of this cupcake, not the top) at the West End Market.
You missed the Dixie Chicks’ doubleheader earlier this week, but there is still plenty of entertainment to be had. For instance, the Timberworks Lumberjack Show (sawing, log rolling, speed climbing) plays four times daily (noon, 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and Flippenout, an extreme trampoline show ala cirque du soleil, is at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. daily at Expo Place at the northeast corner of Murphy Avenue and Cooper Street. There is also a daily parade at 2 p.m. that covers a 14-block route (north on Cosgrove Street, west on Randall Ave., south on Underwood Street and ends south of the Haunted House) and features the high school marching band competition, animals, floats and more.
STATE FAIR BINGO
There are a few must-sees and must-do’s on the Great Minnesota Gawk Together scorecard: You must see Princess Kay of the Milky Way’s head carved in butter. You must drink all the milk you can possibly drink. You must leave the premises with a bucket worth of chocolate chip cookies in your gut. And make sure you get a selfie with Fairchild, the state fair’s mascot, who turns 50 this year.
Written by Christa Lawler for the Duluth News Tribune, with some additional writing by Myke D.