Families, I’ll be the first to empathize with you. I find the Minnesota State Fair 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 — and it’s hands-on down my favorite time of the year! I can’t do much to control the crowds or the weather; however I’d love to share ten of our favorite free fair activities that help keep the cost down. (For reference, my kids’ ages are 10, 8, 6, and going on 4 years.) Also, if you stick with me after the lineup, I’ve had the great fortune to have been able to taste a dozen of the brand-new-for-2015 State Fair foods! I’ll dish the ones you won’t want to miss.
But first, the free, so there’ll be cash left over for the new treats:
Eco Experience Nature Adventure Play Yard – My kids could have spent 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.
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 as evidenced by my own little Fairgoers. Located in the Horse Barn on Judson Ave. at Ligget St. 9am – 9pm.
Math-on-a-Stick — I am super excited about this brand new attraction, 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.
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. Housed within Little Farm Hands is the Seed Survivor exhibit. My son loves the video games designed to teach about the elements necessary for a seed to grow. My daughters are happy planting sunflowers to take home. I’m thrilled they’re learning a thing or two. 8am – 7 pm (map).
Alphabet Forest in Baldwin Park – There are all kinds of alphabet activities to enjoy here at the Family Fair in Baldwin Park. Last year we finally won blue ribbons for completing our Fabulous Fair alphabet game cards! We also met a couple of Homegrown Authors, curled up in the book corner, made alphabet craft projects and more. This year, Family Fun Twin Cities will be volunteering for a shift at the Alphabet Forest on Saturday, August 23, from noon-3pm — swing by and say hello! 9am – 8pm, Cosgrove St.
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. If you miss out, there are still darling babies on display, a tractor simulator, and other exhibits to enjoy. 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 Christensen Farms Stage outside the barn. 9am – 9pm, Judson Ave. next to the Warner Coliseum (map).
Hand-milk a cow – Dairy farmers coach the kids as they coax milk out of a cow! I love watching my little city-slickers do this. 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 State Fair daily schedule for exact times. Land O’ Lakes stage, outside NW corner of Cattle Barn (map).
Minnesota Twins Experience – My son could spend hours here rotating through ongoing games of backyard baseball for kids. He also loves practicing with the speed pitch machine while the girls have at the TC Bear bouncy house. East side of Cooper Ave. (map).
Be a WCCO Weather Fair Forecaster! – It’s a blast to watch the kids forecast the weather at this interactive exhibit. They can play around with green screens or insert themselves into a lineup of WCCO personalities. A teleprompter and touch screen helps kids deliver the forecast with style!
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.
And onto the eating (not free, of course, but you know it’s one of the top reasons you hit up the Fair):
- Salted Caramel Puff malts & shakes – they don’t skimp on the quality of the rich, gooey caramel and the texture of the puffs is seriously addicting! Find it at the Dairy Goodness Bar, Dairy Building
- Mac-and-Cheese Cupcake – lunch for the kids taken care of. I liked the breadcrumb crust. Find it at LuLu’s Public House, West End Market
- Grandma Deb’s Snicker Bar Salad – I’m not wild about the pudding consistency, but the diced apples give it a nice crunch and taste great with crushed Snickers. Find it at the Blue Barn
- Grilled Venetian-style pizza – I loved the crispy crust. And the fact that the flavors aren’t your run-of-the-mill ‘za. Find it at Mancini’s al Fresco
- Maple Bacon Funnel Cake – I suppose you could call it breakfast, but there are better places to find that. Find it at Funnel Cakes in the Food Building
- Tipsy Pies – loved these! I was able to sample the State Fair Rhubarb Blue Hunny Do, the Bapple, and the Salted Caramel Apple and can’t wait to go back for more. Find them at Sara’s Tipsy Pies in the Food Building
- Tikka-on-a-Stikka – a generous serving of white chicken meat in a surprisingly smoky yogurt and tikka sauce. Super good. Find it at Hot Indian, Taste of Midtown Global Market booth in the International Bazaar, Aug. 27-Sept. 1 only.
- Kimchi & Curry Poutine – my favorite sampled new Minnesota State Fair food! The fries topped with kimchi and curry gravy are fantastic. Find it at Rabbit Hole, Taste of Midtown Global Market in the International Bazaar, Sept. 2-7 only.
- Totchos – I’ve had better quality tater tots, but the generous toppings, including sour cream and green onions were a nice touch. Find them at Boulevard Grill, Coliseum
- Chocolate-jalapeno Ice Cream – didn’t care for the jalapeno chunks, but the spice was nice when paired with a rich chocolate base. Find it at Rainbow Ice Cream carts
- Stuffed Italian Meatloaf-on-a-Stick – If I enjoyed Italian seasoning, I’d give this a full-sized try. Find it at Green Mill in Baldwin Park
- Cannoli – Try it in full or mini sizes. Find it at Mancini’s al Fresco
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’d like to reward you with links to a few other of my fellow bloggers’ posts about the Great Minnesota Get-Together:
Dining With Alice is hosting a State Fair Family Pack Giveaway
MinneMama Adventures has some good tips for taking little ones to the Fair
Whimsy Factory has a couple lesser-known activities you might not have heard about
and Carpe Diem with Jasmine covers some great ideas as well.
The Minnesota State Fair runs August 27- September 7, 2015.