The Great Minnesota Get-Together takes place over 12 days in August and September, ending on Labor Day.
Over one million Minnesotans start planning their State Fair visits well in advance, deciding when to attend, which activities to enjoy, and, most crucially, what to eat.
For my family, planning starts with buying Blue Ribbon Coupon Books and advance discount tickets. We read all of the new food previews and marvel at the creativity and choice. We download the State Fair app and plot how best to allocate the precious real estate inside our stomachs. After all, there are hundreds of different foods and drinks — you can’t exactly try them all.
Park and ride to the fair
This year, my kids and I woke up bright and early on the fair’s second day and headed to Eden Prairie’s SouthWest Station to catch the shuttle bus to the fairgrounds. In tow were my East Coast-based parents. Many other Eden Prairie residents had the same idea, which led to a wait of about 45 minutes. Soon enough, however, we hopped on board and headed to Falcon Heights.
We got off the bus at the main entrance and breezed through security. Flashing our pre-paid tickets, we hurried through the gates with the excited crowd.
Making a game plan
One thing quickly became clear: it was gonna be a hot one. The temperature the day before had topped 88 degrees but felt like 95, and today looked to be similar. Slapping on hats, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen, we picked up paper maps to chart our course.
But first: food. Deciding how to break our pre-fair fast always feels momentous. Should we get the Blue Barn’s Nordic waffles and blueberry lemonade? Minneapple Pie with the new cookie dough filling? Smoke-flavored ice cream? Mouth Trap cheese curds? In the end, we went for a quick win with some fried pickles and some lemonade, with a plan to pick up cinnamon sugar doughnuts as soon as we saw them.
Feathered and furry friends at the animal barns
Typically, we immediately take the Sky Ride cable car. However, with the heat and humidity, we decided it might be wiser to visit the animal barns before the dew was fully off the day and while the air was a bit … fresher.
After admiring a few gorgeous alpacas outside the barns, we oohed and ahhed over the glossy and stunning horses, the loudly baa-ing curly-haired sheep, and the fuzziest bunnies imaginable. We cooed at the nibbling ducks that quacked and the large, placid geese, and narrowly avoided being pecked by a curious chicken.
Cinnamon sugar doughnuts
Having admired nature’s creatures, it was time to eat again. We bagged some deliciously hot, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth sugary doughnuts from Tiny Tim’s. These, along with Tom Thumb Doughnuts, are our family favorites; no one can eat just one!
The Giant Slide
Next, we headed to our family’s favorite ride — the glaring yellow behemoth known as the Giant Slide.
Forking over $4 per ticket, we grabbed oversized black felt mats and climbed the stairs to the top. On the way up, a reporter from WCCO, who happened to be heading up too, asked me if I had a strategy for riding the slide. Deciding it was best to be truthful, I said, “Not to embarrass my children by screaming.”
From the top of the slide, I always enjoy a sweeping view of the fair. My kids and I then settled on our mats and pushed off. As we rose and fell over each large hump, I caught my breath — and once again broke my annual resolution not to scream. Oh well, traditions can be a good thing.
Al’s milkshakes and Demetri’s gyros
The slide gave everyone an appetite, so we stopped next door at Al’s to pick up a hot fudge milkshake. My parents also split a huge gyro from Demetri’s, declaring it one of the best they’d ever enjoyed.
Raptors, Smokey Bear, and more at the DNR building
It was almost 11 a.m., so we headed to the raptor show at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) building to learn about majestic hawks and owls. In honor of National Fire Prevention Day, we also picked up Smokey Bear temporary tattoos. Smokey himself ambled around greeting people.
Lots of sweet flavors at Spring Grove soda
Shade was hard to come by, so I quickly zipped past the DNR’s marsh to pick up refreshing black cherry, rhubarb berry, orange cream, and root beer at the Spring Grove soda booth.
Ag-Hort-Bee is a must-see
Next, we walked to my absolute favorite fair spot, the Agriculture-Horticulture-Bee (Ag-Hort-Bee) building. This large, buff-colored Art Deco structure houses vegetable, plant, and flower displays, bees, honey, and related crafts, artistic garden designs, Christmas trees, local beer, scarecrows, seed corn, and, of course, crop art.
We admired rare African violets. We tasted several different kinds of honey. We marveled over the giant pumpkins (this year’s winner clocked in at a whopping 814.5 pounds). Then we braved the massive crop art line to see Prince, Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Barbie, Abraham Lincoln, and other visions rendered in artwork created with mortar board, glue, and lots of Minnesota-grown seeds.
Butter sculptures and ice cream at the Dairy Barn
Weaving through the beer aficionados sampling their golden-hued flights, we exited Ag-Hort-Bee and dipped into the Dairy Barn to pick up some ice cream and see the Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculptures. By the end of the fair, artist Gerry Kulzer will have sculpted the heads of Princess Kay and each of the nine finalists out of solid 90-pound blocks of Minnesota-made butter.
Minnesota Newspaper Museum
After the Dairy Barn, we stopped by the living history exhibit known as the Minnesota Newspaper Museum. Visitors can watch the type being set for “The Maynard News,” talk with editors, get copies of printed newspapers, and even take home a freshly folded newspaper hat. The exhibit also teaches people about the importance of community news. We at the Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) believe in their mission: “Free Press — Free People.”
Fine Arts Building
Next, we toured the Fine Arts building to appreciate the many creative and brilliantly executed works, including by several talented Eden Prairie artists. We also saw the large, intricately executed crop art image of a cow that was the basis for this year’s State Fair poster.
Ollie’s Crab Fritters and Home Depot Plinko
Once again feeling peckish, we picked up piping hot Ollie’s Crab Fritters and some Cokes. Reinvigorated, we toyed with the idea of playing Plinko at the Home Depot booth in hopes of winning one of the cool yardsticks we saw other people swinging around.
Very good dogs at the Pet Pavilion
However, one look at the long line prompted us to turn toward the Pet Pavilion. There, we were treated to several extremely good dogs performing tricks alongside their owners. An especially shaggy, gorgeous German shepherd captured our hearts.
Skyglider: See the fair from the air
At this point, we were seriously dragging, and our feet needed a break. Fortunately, we were close to the Skyglider cable cars. Fortuitously arriving at the ticket booth right before a huge crowd of people, we hurried to the front of the line. Putting our feet on the chairlift’s pavement markers, we were swiftly scooped up and swept gracefully into the air.
What a view and refreshing breeze we got as we journeyed across the fair! We looked down on the sing-a-long as kids sang “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie, watched the farmer’s helpers “picking” apples, and heard the antique tractors’ motors ticking and chugging as we passed over them.
We watched the massive Ferris wheel slowly turning and the Space Tower rising, affording incredible views to their brave riders.
We passed the colorful, glittering Kidway, where gleeful children zipped around on rides. And before we knew it, we were gently deposited at the end of the line.
Root beer, roasted corn, or Pronto-Pups?
At this point, the heat had pretty well drained our early enthusiasm, and we concluded it might be best to come again the following week when it would be (we hoped) cooler.
But first, we grabbed a sweet, fizzy chilled root beer from Bridge ’n Barrel, said hello to a diaper-clad baby who was casually waving around and gnawing on two giant ears of roasted corn, and considered getting Pronto-Pups or jalapeño cheese on a stick.
Fried olives on a stick and lemonade
Ultimately, we headed toward the Grandstand for one of my favorites — deep-fried battered peppadew-stuffed Olives on a Stick. My dad and I thought these went perfectly with large ice-filled cups of freshly squeezed lemonade.
Save room for Sweet Martha’s Cookies
As we wove through the crowd and past the Midway toward the exit, we hardened our hearts to the sights and smells of truly delicious Sweet Martha’s Cookies. We knew we wouldn’t even be able to eat enough of the giant mound of gooey chocolate chip cookies to close the lid for the bus ride home. Next time, we’ll bring a plastic bag, and then, nothing can stop us.
Check out the Fair Wear
On the way out, I quickly stopped at the Fair Wear booth to check out this year’s merch. T-shirts, hats, posters, stickers, magnets, and more were there. I purchased a jigsaw puzzle with the crop art State Fair poster design so I can revisit my fair memories any time.
Then, we boarded the best ride of the fair — the shuttle bus back to Eden Prairie. It started drizzling as we pulled away in our air-conditioned coach with delightfully comfy seats. Goodbye until next week, and thanks for the memories, Minnesota State Fair!
EPLN staffers share their top picks
We asked EPLN staffers to share their inside tips for the Minnesota State Fair’s best food and drinks:
- Jim Bayer, reporter: “Corn Roast booth near the Grandstand. Everybody knows that one.”
- Joanna Takes, co-editor: “Caramel apple sundae (apple slices, caramel sauce, peanuts, vanilla ice cream) from stand on sidewalk in front of the Grandstand.”
- Amy Nylander, calendar editor: “Que Viet Concessions’ Vietnamese iced coffee.”
- Harini Senthilkumar, student reporter: “My favorite State Fair food is definitely the Perfect Pickle’s Fried Pickles. It’s next to the Midway Entrance, at the corner of Liggett Street and Dan Patch Avenue.”
- Steve Schewe, publisher: “Cherry drizzle at the Dairy Barn.”
- Steve Mulholland, sports reporter: “Sadie’s Frozen Custard. I always get it on my way out as we’re leaving the fair. It’s near the entrance by the Miracle of Birth building.”
- Babar Khan, reporter: “Corn Roast at Dan Patch Avenue and Nelson Street.”
- Rick Olson, photographer: “I love Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies. Located next to the Grandstand.”
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