I LOVE the Minnesota State Fair. People kinda love it or hate it, and I’m firmly in the “lover” category. I go at least once every year and have a marathon session of walking around exclaiming over my favorite things whilst stuffing myself with foods on a stick.
The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the U.S. by average daily attendance. Often referred to as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” the fair is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region, attracting more than 2 million guests annually. I prefer to be there with fewer than 2 million people, so I go on a weekday.
Much to exclaim over
There is so much to exclaim over at the fair. I usually start at the Dairy Building and the butterheads. That would be the heads of the crowned Dairy Princess of Minnesota and 11 finalists. Carved, life-sized, in 90 pounds of butter. Each. (Do not miss this. You haven’t really been to the Minnesota State Fair unless you’ve seen the butterheads, officially known as the Princess Kay butter sculptures.) And I’m quite sure you will exclaim, or at least drop your jaw when you witness this marvel for the first time.
Hot for Horticulture
Next up is the horticulture building. The Agriculture and Horticulture Building is a wonder of Art Deco-era architecture. It’s an octagon; the center rotunda has intricate skylights and always a lovely flower display. There’s lots to see in the building, including an entire section on apples (the University of Minnesota has developed some incredible varieties, including the famous Honeycrisp). Try the apple cider, it’s delicious! Below are a few of my favorites in the horticulture building.
Have you ever heard of crop art? Well, crop art is art created with seeds and it is FABULOUS. The Twin Cities was home to the late great Lillian Colton, a crop artist extraordinaire. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibited her work in 2004.
Her daughter, Linda Paulsen, is also an incredible crop artist and appears at the fair every year demonstrating crop art creation. Lined with row upon row of seed corn and vintage seed sacks, the crops section is home to the crop art competition display, showcasing the yearly contest winners. There is always a line to see the art (while waiting, we ate my lefse from the food building).
I just love the variety. There’s a junior category. A senior category. There’s a lot of painting-type works but also some 3-D art and wearables, and there’s always a number of political statements and something featuring famous native son Prince. Mary Tyler Moore depictions are popular, too. The TV station in the Mary Tyler Moore Show was in downtown Minneapolis. She threw her hat on Nicollet Mall.
For more info on crop art at the Minnesota State Fair, visit cropart.com. Want to learn more about Lillian Colton? Check out the book Seed Queen: The Story of Crop Art and the Amazing Lillian Colton, by Colleen Sheehy.
Who doesn’t love exclaiming over giant vegetables? This prize-winning pumpkin was 674.5 pounds! Wow!
The Ag and Horticulture building has so much more. I love the flower shows: There’s a different display every day. You might see dahlias, or gladiolas, or bonsai. The Scarecrow Contest is always fun, and be sure to check out the Bees and Honey section.
Creative Activities Building
I loooooove the Creative Activities building so, so much. Crammed full of creativity in many forms, from knitting and crochet to quilts, woodcarving, beading, bedazzling and FOOD—pickles, jams and jellies, pies and cakes galore. All entered in contests hoping to win that coveted blue ribbon!
There is so very much to exclaim over. I am terribly annoying in this building. There are hundreds of things on display and I have to inspect every single thing (and prefer to do so with someone beside me I can pinch and say, “will you look at that!”) I can only give you a sample of the wonders that are the creative activities. The lighting is terrible and everything is in glass cases that glare, but I’ve done my best to show you some of what I consider the top stuff.
Below is a Starry Night all in embroidery (!), a quilt and detail of another quilt (how I love to look at all the quilts. There are racks of ’em) and a miniature porch. There’s always a number of miniatures; they’re fascinating.
Also in the Creative Activities building is all the FOOD. I love it so much. I’d love to win a blue ribbon for my pickles, or something. Is there anything more beautiful than your own root cellar stocked with jars of preserves you have made yourself? No, but if there were, it would be the case of prize-winning jellies at the Minnesota State Fair. So many beautiful colors!
The cake display always holds me spellbound. Loving everything sugar as I do, especially cake, this is no surprise. Soooo many cakes, oh my. I have more interest in the pies now, too, having begun pie-baking lessons. I doubt I could ever get a pie looking as good as the blue-ribbon winner pictured below.
Art for the Artsy
And for all you culture snobs out there, the State Fair has ART! A whole building dedicated to it, no less! In fact, it’s the largest juried art exhibition in Minnesota. Another building in which I must exhaust myself and my companions by perusing absolutely all that is on the walls. Some of the art is for sale if you want to make an acquistion.
It’s a must, of course, to visit the Mighty Midway after dark and see all the bright lights. The New York ride is one of my favorites on the midway. Dazzling.
The Big Wheel (not on the midway, but near machinery hill) is a new-ish State Fair icon and a neon spectacular. The ever-changing light show is quite mesmerizing. I can’t recommend riding it, though.
I usually think of a ferris wheel as romantic, with a cozy seat for two. In this case 6 people are crammed together into an oversize car; my partner and I couldn’t even sit next to each other. The views are obscured, and the rather expensive ride consisted of exactly 3 turns. Bit underwhelmed.
Foods on a Stick!
Eating one’s way around the fair is a thing. We all have our faves: here are some of mine. I always get the lefse in the Food Building; it is a nice palate cleanser from pretty much everything else, neither fried nor fatty. Unsurprisingly, my favorite fair foods lean toward the sweet.
I love the Fudge Puppies: a Belgian waffle, on a stick, dipped in chocolate and covered in whipped cream and sprinkles. What’s not to like? Also worthy of love are the cream puffs, in which you can have your whipped cream flavored vanilla or chocolate. (Choose chocolate, of course.) I do try to split this giant with someone else, in case you’re wondering.
The corn roast is classic Minnesota State Fair and always delicious. And neither fried nor fatty! The French fries are both, but yum. The mini donuts are also classic and don’t miss. You can watch them making the mini donuts from the footstool provided.
Bit of trivia: Q: How many ears of corn does the corn roast booth go through each day? A: 25,000 ears. Whew.
Classic State Fair
Other things I love are the classic and vintage concessions buildings at the fair. My absolute favorite is Kones after dark, but Cheese on a Stick is so classic and wonderful as well. It’s right next to the beautiful vintage Merry-go-Round.
A friend’s mother, who is right around 77, told me she rode that selfsame Merry-Go-Round when she was a kiddo. Apparently quite a lot. She mentioned something about riding for 2 hours.
Another must-do for me is one of the sky rides. The fairgrounds are huge (322 acres, to be exact). This is good, as you walk around getting some mild exercise after having consumed approximately one billion calories. (Do I exaggerate? Sadly, no.) Tired? Just want to have fun? Hop on one of the sky rides for either a one-way or a roundtrip.
Pro tip: If you are wearing clogs, flip-flops or slip-ons and riding the Sky Glider (vs. the gondola-style Sky Ride), your feet dangle and your shoes might fall off! I recommend taking them off and holding them right away, as straining your toes to keep them on the whole ride is kinda stressful. It’s impossible to remove them en route, as you might end up dropping a shoe on an innocent pedestrian below.
What’s up with the brassieres??
There is a place where the sky ride goes over some buildings, and it is tradition to throw brassieres there. You will notice many lying about on the roofs. By the looks of it they were brought along for the purpose, as I’ve never noticed anyone actually disrobing and throwing their brassiere, but who knows. There are a lot of alcoholic beverages at the fair.
So much more
There’s lots more to see and do at the fair. The giant slide is a must. There’s baby animals, and very large animals, and shows (check out the free music shows). The education building has educational vendors, the Grandstand has every possible kind of vendor, plus there are lots more vendors. My favorite is the International Bazaar. There are tractors, cars, camper trailers you can go inside and take a look at. I love the Butterfly House. There are about a thousand things to eat, including fried pickles on a stick. A Parade happens daily. There’s rides and games of chance on the midway. The Grandstand features shows every night of the fair, often big names.
The fair has a great, and free, Park and Ride system and I highly recommend using it, as street parking is limited and it wastes a lot of fair time driving around looking for a parking space. For the Park and Ride, you park at a designated parking lot and hop on one of the shuttle buses that appear regularly. Just be sure to remember which parking lot you were dropped off at, as you’ll have to go to the same one to catch the shuttle back to your car.
When is the fair this year?
2023 Minnesota State Fair Dates: August 24 to Labor Day, September 4. For more info on the Minnesota State Fair, from the official new foods to how to participate in an amateur talent contest, click here.