The Minnesota State Fair, which once again commences Aug. 22 thru Sept. 2, 2019, is a big deal.
When you look at gross sales, you could say it 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 2018, over 2 million people walked onto the Fairgrounds over its 12-day run, making it the most attended in the Fair’s history. Five daily attendance records were set.
If you haven’t attended the Minnesota State Fair, it’s a spectacle you should witness at least once. The people watching, the food and the entertainment are all on-point. For hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans, the State Fair is nostalgic and a tradition marking the end of summer.
2019 marks my 30th consecutive year attending the State Fair and my 15th year working at the Great Minnesota Get Together. I have seen (and eaten) a lot.
With that, here are my top tips so you can maximize your experience at the Great Minnesota Get Together:
- The day you go makes a big difference. If you don’t want to battle massive crowds, go on the Tuesday (day 6) or Wednesday (day 7) of the State Fair. Many kids are in school and historically, those days see the lowest number of people walk through the gates. I also recommend going the first Thursday (day 1), especially if you do your homework about what new foods you want to eat. The Fairgrounds are also clean.
- Don’t park at the Fairgrounds. It’s now $15 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is the cost of an admission ticket (or like 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. 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.
- Don’t overpay for tickets. If you’re seeing this before 9 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2019, you’re in luck. You can purchase tickets on the State Fair’s website for $12, saving you $3 a ticket. On the first day of the Fair, adults will save $2 on every ticket at the gate. The State Fair offers discounts to kids and seniors on various days, including multiple days where kids and seniors will save up to $3 on tickets. Remember kids four and younger always get in free.
- 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.
- If someone in your group needs a wheelchair or scooter, reserve it now. You can reserve a wheelchair or scooter online, even before the Fair begins. They must be made 24 hours in advance and are only good for full-day rentals.
- 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 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 stay hydrated. Please don’t pay more than $1.75 for 20 oz. 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. The new beverages brochure for the 2019 State Fair is available online and will also be available in print form at information booths (you may have to ask for it).
- 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 you’re new to the State Fair, start by eating the basics. If you haven’t attended the State Fair before, you might get a bit annoyed with how the media and native Minnesotans obsess about it. They do because it’s a tradition spanning generations. The Fair is about the animals, the blue ribbon contests and the concerts, but the food is the star. For first-time Fairgoers, start with these five foods: Pronto Pup, Corn-on-the-Cob, Sweet Martha’s Cookies, Cheese Curds, and Tom Thumb Mini Donuts.
Know before you go:
- Three-time Grammy award-winning artist, Brandi Carlile, who came out in 2002, will headline The Current’s Music on a Stick concert in the Grandstand on Saturday, Aug. 31. The tunes begin at 6:30 p.m.
- It is not planned by the Minnesota State Fair, but there traditionally is a ‘Gay Day’ meetup on the Fairgrounds. Those who participate are encouraged to wear a particular color and meet a specific spot on a certain date. At the time of press, details for the 2019 meetup were not available to Lavender.
Mike Marcotte has a Minnesota State Fair guide on his website, www.givemethemike.com. He can be seen on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live.