So I went to the Minnesota State Fair last weekend. And I don’t think I’ll ever need to eat again.
If you haven’t been to the fair before — or lately — make this the year you check it out. They don’t call it the great Minnesota Get Together for nothing.
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.
I hadn’t been to the fair in years 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. It 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 and waffles.
I tried fried cheese on a stick (shown above) on Judson Street. Seriously, where has this been all my life?
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 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.
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 of all over the state.
You can score a flight of four Minnesota craft beers for 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.
The exhibit hall itself is pretty cool as well. It’s full of crop art, vintage seed sacks, flower displays and lots of that classic fair stuff you’d find at any county fair, just on a much larger scale. There’s also livestock and dairy cattle in nearby buildings, if you’re into that sort of thing.
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.
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.
We finished our day 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.
If you’re driving to the Minnesota State Fair, 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.
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.
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?
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Lodging and tickets for this trip were provided by Roseville Visitors Association. All opinions are my own.