Minnesota State Fair 2016: 20 Ideas for Free Family Fun!

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The time is drawing near for families to finalize their State Fair plans!

What’s that? You haven’t yet decided if you’ll be attending this year? (I do tend to forget that not everyone is quite as obsessed with this Minnesota ritual as I am.) I can empathize: I find it uncomfortably hot, crowded and expensive much of the time, too. But after years of dragging my brood to the Fair for days on end I’ve honed my plans for making the most of it. I can’t do much to control the crowds or the weather; however I’d love to share 20 of our favorite free fair activities that help keep the costs down.

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Little Farm Hands – This sweet little mock-up farm is one of the Fair’s most popular free attractions for kids. Plan to go first thing in the morning to avoid lines and the worst of the day’s heat. Kids walk through various farm chores, “harvest” their crops, and then spend their earnings at market for great edible snacks.  8am – 7 pm (map).

Miracle of Birth Center – Ever hoped to watch a live cow give birth? With a little luck you just might happen upon one of the nearly 200 animal births that occur at this exhibit each year at the Fair. The attached FFA Chapter House & Leadership Center offers age-appropriate kids activity packets and the chance to earn a blue “Ag Explorer” ribbon. Entertainment, magic shows, and trivia are hosted throughout the Fair on the outdoor Christensen Farms Stage. Check the daily schedule for more information. 9am – 9pm, Judson Ave. next to the Warner Coliseum (map).

Alphabet Forest in Baldwin Park – There are all kinds of alphabet activities to enjoy here at the Family Fair in Baldwin Park. Win blue ribbons for completing a Fabulous Fair alphabet game card, meet local authors, curl up in the book corner, make alphabet craft projects and more.  9am – 8pm, Cosgrove St. across from the 4-H Building.

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Other Baldwin Park activities – The Family Fair Stage hosts kid-friendly acts throughout each day. Longtime favorites of ours include Break-Shop Bumpin’ dance troupe and comedic juggler Sean Emery. Click here to get the 2016 Family Fair Stage lineup. Also fun for little ones near the stage is a chance to dig in the Great Big Sandbox.

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Visit the Minnesota Farm Bureau – Take a scavenger hunt throughout the exhibit, talk to farmers, snap a pic in the family photo booth, and enter your kid’s name in a drawing to win an ag-related children’s book! 9am-9pm.

Eco Experience Nature Adventure Play Yard – My kids could spend hours here, digging in the sand, damming the stream, skipping stumps, and searching for the fairy house. You might not want to budget that kind of time at the Fair, but it’s worth a stop in to get some ideas on how to make your own backyard more friendly to free play. Located outside the Eco Experience building on Randall Ave. 9am – 9pm.

Become a Fine Arts Detective – This scavenger hunt has my kids engaged and exploring the Fair’s annual Fine Arts Show. (Bonus: I get a chance to view the art myself!) Kids who complete the hunt can earn a ribbon. 9am – 9pm, Fine Arts Center, Cosgrove St. & Randall Ave. (map).

Themed days: STEM, Fire Prevention and more! – Kids get hands-on while exploring science and technology, fire safety, local libraries, and National Parks Centennial Day. Tip: Download the free State Fair app to access daily event schedules.

EquiMania! – This interactive exhibit in the Horse Barn teaches the Fairgoer about equine health, anatomy, careers and more. You don’t have to be a horse lover to enjoy the hands-on activities. Located in the Horse Barn on Judson Ave. at Ligget St. 9am – 9pm.

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Hand-milk a cow – I love watching my little city-slickers coax milk out of a cow. Each is awarded a ribbon and their own carton of milk for the effort. Bonus: visit the nearby Moo Sample Station for samples of cheese or ice cream sandwiches! Check your daily schedule for exact times. Land O’ Lakes stage, outside NW corner of Cattle Barn (map).

4-H Building activities – Even before we joined 4-H we made a yearly stop in this historic building to play with the aquatic robots and flight simulators. (Hey, 4-H isn’t all about cattle and crops!) Also fun to watch is the State Fair Arts-In program which showcases original musical revues. 9am – 9pm, Cosgrove St. & Wright Ave.

Boy Scouts Adventure Summit – The wait was worth it last year for this free obstacle course crisscrossed with swinging steps, rope climbs and a pole slide finish! Waiver and closed-toed shoes are required for participation. 9am-9pm, in the North Woods (map).

Other free shows – Sprinkled throughout the Fairgrounds are myriad free shows and demonstrations to watch. The All-Star Stunt Dog Splash, for instance, will be presented three times daily during the run of the Fair in the North Woods (map). Also, the Arts A’Fair pop-up performances are back this year by popular demand. Drumming, dance, theater, puppetry and more entertain – get the complete schedule here.

Math-on-a-Stick — I was super excited about this brand new attraction when it opened in 2015, and that’s saying a lot since math and I have never gotten along well. Aimed at kids to get them exploring early math concepts, they can go on a number scavenger hunt, play with geometric tiles, visit with mathematicians and more. Located in Baldwin Park, daily 9am-8pm.

Minnesota DNR Building – There’s so much to explore at the historic DNR Building: spot local species in the Wildlife Wing, fantasy fish at the outdoor pond, and partake in free naturalist activities inside and out. Try climbing the Fire Tower for a unique birds-eye view of the Fairgrounds (open 9am-5pm weather permitting). Located in the DNR Park. 9am – 9pm.

Giant Sing-Along – No need to be shy when you’re singing along to karaoke favorites with a field of other Fairgoers! Kids can snag their own mics and belt out the tunes with help from lyrics projected onto a monster screen. Located on Murphy Ave. across from the Pet Center. 9am – 8pm.

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FAN Central – A mecca of local pro sports teams and their assorted promotional games and merchandise. If you’ve got a little sports fan in the family, pop in to shoot free throws and try your hand at lacrosse. Located on Underwood St. across from the Food Building. 9am – 9pm.

The Common Table – New in 2015, the exhibit aims to teach Fairgoers about sustainable food and get conversations started about the consequences of our food choices. Kids can draw or write in their own favorite seasonal food on a chalkboard display, tend a “garden” and more.

Minnesota Twins Experience – My son could spend hours here rotating through ongoing games of backyard baseball for kids. East side of Cooper Ave (map).

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Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting your money’s worth for those admission tickets. I hope you’ll consider coming out and joining the masses in this infamous Minnesota tradition.

As always, feel free to chime in with your own family’s tips for free fun at the Fair!

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About the author

Anne Kingston

If we left it up to Anne to write her own bio, it would never get posted. She doesn't enjoy talking about herself, but Anne does love exploring the Twin Cities with her family and sharing her finds here. She, her husband and their four kids are lifelong residents of St. Paul.


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