I went to the Minnesota State Fair last weekend. And I don’t think I’ll ever need to eat again. They don’t call it “The Great Minnesota Get Together” for nothing. If you haven’t been to the fair before, make this the year you check it out.
A little history
Last year the Minnesota State Fair welcomed over 1.8 million people (yeah, you read that right) and for twelve days in late August through early September, it really does seems like everybody is out strolling the fairgrounds for food, drinks, music, rides, entertainment, and incredible people-watching opportunities.
The fair is still on now through Labor Day, so if you haven’t made it there yet, there’s still time. The fair is so big (the second largest in the country, in fact) that it’s best not to even attempt to do it all. Just pick an experience that you’re interested in and let the day unfold from there.
It had been years since I’d been to the fair and my husband Derrick had never been, so we went just for the ambiance, with a goal of eating and trying as much craft beer as we could reasonably drink. Beyond that, we are just there to soak up the experience.
What to eat
That turned out to be a pretty solid strategy. The food is the undisputed star of the show. It seemed like everyone in my Twitter feed was buzzing about the new foods this year so I had a few ideas of what I’d like to try if the lines worked out.
Food on a stick is a classic fair food theme and the Minnesota State Fair has plenty of options, everything from hotdish, deep-fried lobster and Scotch Eggs (oooh) to bacon, chicken tikka masala, and waffles.
Sara’s Tipsy Pies, not-too-sweet fruit pies infused with local alcohol, were as good as everyone said they were. This one is the Hunny Do and features Third Street Brewhouse’s beer of the same name.
On Judson Street, the fried cheese on a stick was surprisingly addictive. Seriously, where has this been all my life? I’m not a fried food fan under normal circumstances. But the fair is like some kind of alternate reality.
The fact that we walked over six miles that day made it feel less decadent. The idea that you’re burning off everything you eat is the lie you have to tell yourself to really enjoy the food at the Minnesota State Fair.
It’s obvious that Sweet Martha’s Cookies are a fair tradition. We saw so many people carrying these huge buckets of chocolate chip cookies that it eventually convinced us to try them ourselves.
A hint — go around the side of the building for shorter lines. And be prepared to eat a bunch — that lid doesn’t close until you eat about a half dozen.
Try local beer
I’m not going to lie, one of the main reasons I was excited about checking out the fair was the Land of 10,000 Beers in the agriculture and horticulture building. It’s operated by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. The craft beer nerd in me immediately started planning brewery road trips all over the state.
A flight of four Minnesota craft beers is just $10, which is a great way to try beers from breweries and taprooms you might not venture to on your own.
There are six flights to choose from and you can choose a range of brews, from lighter beers to hoppier options. There’s also a pretty little garden outside of the exhibit where you can put your sampler on the railing and relax and watch the crowds drift by.
As for us, we went in search of more beer. I tried the Mini Donut beer from Lift Bridge Brewing Co. and it was fabulous. Sweet isn’t usually my thing. I’m much more into hops and more esoteric flavors on an average day. But when at the fair, you surrender to the collective fair wisdom and sample the exclusive, Minnesota State Fair-only brew. It was delicious, malty and mellow with a surprisingly addictive cinnamon sugar rim.
The Great Minnesota Get Together = great people-watching
We strolled the midway and took in the entertainment, carnival games and vendor booths at a leisurely stroll. The crowds always look crazy from a distance — just a sea of people as you gaze down the street — but Derrick took this shot just to prove that it wasn’t always a madhouse.
Our day ended at the International Bazaar, a collection of shops, food vendors and stages that offer shopping, flavors and entertainment from around the world. It was conveniently close to the gate where we entered and definitely had a bazaar atmosphere.
Getting to the Great Minnesota Get Together
If you’re driving to the Great Minnesota Get Together don’t be deluded and think it’s simple to get a parking spot on the fairgrounds. Sure, there are tons of spots available, but the number of attendees outnumbers them by far. If you’re driving, this is a case where close enough is good enough.
The fair offers an impressive Park and Ride system so you can leave your car in a paid lot and take a stress-free shuttle in. Shuttles leave about every 20 minutes.
It seemed like every business in the area (and certainly every hotel) knew the location of these lots and most people were happy to offer parking advice. The good folks at the Roseville Visitors Association put us up at the Courtyard by Marriott Saint Paul/Roseville which is just about 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and just a few minutes from the fairgrounds. The hotel even offered a free shuttle to the Park and Ride lot, which an absolute no-brainer.
You can avoid parking completely by taking the express bus, taking a Metro Transit bus or lightrail. If you’re riding your bike to the fair, they have three nifty bike corrals open from 6 a.m. to Midnight where they’ll store your bike in a secure location.
So what do you think about The Great Minnesota Get Together? Will I see you there next year? Don’t forget to check out the most photogenic spots in Minneapolis when you’re sightseeing across the river.
What about you?
What are your favorite things to do at the Minnesota State Fair?
What advice do you have for people who are going for the first time?
What’s your favorite thing to eat at a fair?
What other State Fairs should I visit?
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