The time is drawing near for families to finalize their Minnesota State Fair family fun 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. But our family is SO THRILLED to find it returning in 2021!) 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 things to do at the Minnesota State Fair with kids that help keep the costs down.
More Fair: FFTC’s Guide to the 2021 Minnesota State Fair
20 Best Things To Do at the Minnesota State Fair with Kids!
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).
Ever hoped to watch a live cow give birth? Traditionally, this is where you’d head and, with a little luck, just might happen upon one of the nearly 200 animal births that occur at this exhibit each year at the Fair. However, in 2021 the barn will be hosting newborn animals only. Still simply adorable! 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).
Moo, Baa, Oink & Goat Booths
While we’re on the subject of farm animals, the State Fair is B’n’B to hundreds of them during the 12-day run. Four of the barns – Cattle, Sheep, Swine and Goat – host educational booths where you can do things like get hands-on with the animals, play trivia games and score those free pig ears you see all the cool Fairgoers sporting. 9am-9pm or open with the barns.
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, Baldwin Park – Cosgrove St. across from the 4-H Building.
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.
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 appreciate the 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 & more
Kids get hands-on while exploring science and technology, fire safety, local libraries, and Minnesota history. Tip: Get the free State Fair app to access daily event schedules so you won’t miss the one-day-only events.
The Family Fair Stage hosts kid-friendly acts throughout each day. Longtime favorites of ours include Monster Shop Bump’n (pictured) and other high-energy, interactive performers (shout out to comedic juggler Sean Emery who has retired after performing every fair since 1991!). Click here to get the 2021 Family Fair Stage lineup. Also fun for little ones near the stage is a chance to play with words in the Alphabet Forest. We hope the chance for kids to dig in the Great Big Sandbox will return in 2022 – this attraction will be closed this year.
Llama Costume Contest
This is one of the true hidden gems at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s tricky to catch (one evening only) but lots of fun. In 2021, this 4-H contest has moved to Warner Coliseum and will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1. This means more seating for fans and AIR CONDITIONING!
CLOSED IN 2021: 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.
Hand milk a cow
I love watching my ‘lil 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 free State Fair Arts-In program which showcases extremely talented youth performing original musical revues. 9am – 9pm, Cosgrove St. & Wright Ave. Shows performed multiple times daily
Boy Scouts Adventure Summit
The wait was has always been worth it 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).
Free live entertainment
There are a few beloved options missing from the 2021 Minnesota State Fair lineup – we’ll look forward to the Giant Sing-Along and the 3rd Lair Skatepark to return next year. But plenty more fan favorites will still be around including All-Star Stunt Dogs Splash, the Timberworks Lumberjack Show and the raptor shows on the DNR Garden Stage. To help you sort through your options, we’ve rounded up what we feel are the 10 Best Bets for Live Family Entertainment at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair.
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.
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 65-foot fire tower for a unique birds-eye view of the Fairgrounds and work up an appetite for more of that Fair food (open 9am-5pm weather permitting). Located in the DNR Park. 9am – 9pm.
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.
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 other activities. Located in the Agriculture-Horticulture Building. 9am-9pm.
Minnesota Twins Experience
My son could spend hours here rotating through ongoing games of backyard baseball for kids. Rest your barking dogs on the bleachers and spectate. East side of Cooper Ave just east of the International Bazaar (map).
Free attractions we hope to see return in 2022
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 Underwood St, new location for 2019. 9am – 8pm.
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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