Travels with Children

The adventures I embark upon with my four young children.

Minnesota State Fair!

Well, it’s official.  I’m “brave.”  Or at least that’s what I heard from a number of people when they encountered our group as we walked around the Minnesota State Fair today.  I’m sure “crazy” crossed the minds of a few as well, but those were polite enough to keep it to themselves.

So, is it possible for a mom of four young kids to take them to the fair?  Absolutely!  I’ll admit that, even with all the places I’ve taken the kids, the fair made me a little nervous, but it really turned out well.

Here’s how we did it.  Hopefully other parents hoping to go to the State Fair will find some useful tips here.

We left home at 6:45 a.m.  (Skip this next part if you have your own favorite route and/or parking plan.)  I went in on the new Hwy 212 (love that road!) and around on 494 to Hwy 5 onto W 7th St.  Up the hill on Snelling (where you forget you’re in the city), and here’s my parking trick that we found by accident several years ago:  Stay in the left lane on Snelling until you pass the Energy Park Drive/Como exits.  Then get in the right lane by the fairgrounds and miss the long lines waiting to turn left at the east entrance(s).  Go back into the left lane, but don’t turn left on Larpenteur.  Continue north to the next light (is it Roselawn?) and turn left (west) there.  Go to the 4-way stop at Fairview and turn left there, then left again on Larpenteur.  Get in the right lane and turn into the fairgrounds parking area.  If you’re in the left line for parking, you should end up in the Camel Lot very close to the north gate.  We’ve had very good luck with this plan the last four times we went to the fair.  (End of route/parking recommendation.)

We arrived at the fairgrounds right at 9:00.  After putting on sunscreen and loading up the stroller with snacks and water, we headed to the gate.  I took pictures of each of the kids so I’d remember what they had been wearing in the event that we got separated.  Our first step once paying for our admission was to stop at the information booth just inside the gate and fill out ID bracelets for the kids.  These are free and allow you to write your name, your child’s name, phone numbers, and important medical information on a small card, which is then inserted into an orange bracelet to be placed on the child’s arm.  The only way to get the information out is to cut off the bracelet, so you don’t have to worry about losing it or having your child tamper with it.  I always rest easier once I have these on the kids.

The Eco Experience was our next stop.  We actually went through it twice throughout the day.  It has interesting exhibits on recycling, wind energy, water quality, and so on, and has a lot of activities for kids.  There’s a scavenger hunt/passport that kids can get filled out at various stations throughout the building and then get a prize at the end.  There’s also a nice little play/activity area next to the stage where we spent some time later in the day.

One other important thing about the Eco Experience is that it has one of the best unisex/handicapped restrooms I’ve found on the fairgrounds, so if you have a stroller and/or small children, you don’t have to let them out of your sight while you use the restroom.

Down the street, the Thrivent Builds/Habitat for Humanity “big red truck” was a very family-friendly area, and it surprised me that it was one of the kids’ favorites at the end of the day.  The truck tour is very moving, and there are supervised activities for the kids to do.

Across from that, I spent $6.00 on a small bag of sand to divide between the kids and let them pan for jewels at the Niagara Cave booth.  They came out with a nice little bag of colored rocks and will enjoy going back and looking at them another day.

We headed across the fairgrounds to Famous Dave’s for an early lunch at 10:30.  Here I tried our only real “fair food,” the Pig Lickers (chocolate covered bacon), and it was yummy!  Famous Dave’s is a family favorite, so we split two meals and had plenty of food for the five of us.

Along the way (I think just south of the Kidway on the east side) we happened upon a JFK exhibit.  It includes a replica of the car Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated, and some other memorabilia.  The kids liked the height chart of the presidents and loved that one was as tall as Mom and several the same height as Dad.

After lunch we went to look at the animals.  The kids were most interested in the Miracle of Birth Center, but it seems that everyone else at the fair was as well.  We couldn’t even get the stroller in the door, so we exited through the grain bin amidst some disappointment.

Next stop, the all-you-can-drink-milk for $1 each, with our choice of chocolate or white milk.  The cups are 12 oz., so we didn’t end up needing many refills, but it was nice to have something cold and healthy to drink mid-day.

All-you-can-drink milk at Minnesota State Fair

Then we were off to see Princess Kay.  The newly crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way had the honor of sitting in the 40-degree rotating booth for 8 hours today while her likeness was carved in a block of butter.  The kids thought it was really neat to see.

Princess Kay butter sclupture

We stopped at the WCCO radio booth on Carnes Avenue and the kids were really excited to see and hear the on-air personalities.  Susie Jones and Mike Lynch each took some time to visit with us, and the kids were just slightly confused that Dave Lee wasn’t there since he’d been on the air as we drove in the morning.

They also had some confusion over whether the 830-WCCO people were on TV somewhere else, so we headed down the street to WCCO-TV and watched part of their live-from-the-fair noon broadcast.

Since it’s an election year, there were plenty of candidates’ booths, and we spotted one of our U.S. Senate candidates.

We picked up a very large rootbeer for $3 at the 1919 stand, drank our fill, and had some left over.  It was a decent price as far as soda goes at the fair.

Another bathroom stop under the grandstand ramp (not nearly as family-friendly as the Eco building), and we were off to the booths at the Education Building.  Here is where I came to the distinct realization that the fair with kids is different than the fair without kids.  The Education Building is usually one of my favorites, but we breezed quickly along the outer edges to avoid the crowded aisles.  (Note to fair-goers:  There are a lot of strollers, wheelchairs, and scooters throughout the fairgrounds.  If you stop to look at a display, or visit with your neighbor, can you please pay attention to where you are and take a step to the side rather than stopping in (and blocking for everyone else) the middle of the aisle?  Thanks!)

I had promised the kids they’d each get one ride on the Kidway so they chose their rides and we bought the tickets.  The rides were discounted all day today (2-4 tickets instead of 3-5 per ride) and I believe they’re also discounted in the mornings throughout the fair.

Then we were off to Little Farmhands.  This is a really nice area for kids aged 3-10 where they can pretend to be farm helpers.  They plant “seeds,” harvest vegetables, feed the animals, gather eggs, and “milk” the cow, then take their goods to market and receive play money which they can spend in the store.  This area is free and is a really nice activity for kids to do. 

By then it was almost 3:00 and I thought our day was almost to an end, but the kids wanted to go back to the Eco Experience since we hadn’t spent much time there in the morning.  When we left there, a crowd was gathering at the Northwoods Stage, where we were treated to a presentation by Ron Schara of Minnesota Bound and his dog, Raven.  It was interesting and brief (only about 20 minutes long), which is a good combination for kids, and at the end the boys went up to pet Raven.  This was one of the highlights of their day.

Petting Raven

We were close to the parking lot, but I asked the kids one last time if there was anything they wanted to do again before we left the fair.  I didn’t exactly love their responses since they were on the other end of the fairgrounds:  1) see if Don Shelby was at the WCCO radio booth now, 2) see if the Miracle of Birth Center was less crowded now, and 3) check the progress of the Princess Kay butter sculpture.

So, back we went, stopping along the way to see the new Welcome to Minnesota mosaic on the side of the health fair building.

Minnesota mosaic

Don Shelby was indeed broadcasting by then, so the kids saw him banter with Jeff McKinney before we went to Miracle of Birth.  It was much more manageable mid-afternoon, and the kids could see the animals up-close and witnessed the birth of a lamb on the TV screens.  Princess Kay was still being sculpted but had much more detail than in the morning, and the kids were still really enamored with the process.

By this time, it was 4:30 so we started to head back to the car.  The crowds were growing as the afternoon progressed, and the boys finally started to complain that their legs were tired.  (I can’t blame them, as I was wearing down as well.)  I never thought that our outing to the fair would last for 8 hours!

The kids’ biggest disappointment was that Dad couldn’t go with us, but I have a feeling that we’ll be begged to go back annually now, so we hope he can accompany us next year.

If I had to pick one thing that made our day go smoothly, it was our stroller.  I debated taking the side-by-side double, but decided it might be wider than I liked.  Instead, I took a single stroller with a footboard.  (I saw a lot of sit’n’stands that would accomplish the same thing.)  Our two-year-old rode in the stroller, our four-year-old rode on the footboard, and the boys each hung on to one stroller handle.  The only times I had trouble were when they let go of the stroller–then the seven-year-old would tend to wander and the five-year-old would lag behind.  Having them all “attached” to me worked really well.

Our gang at the State Fair

I’m exhausted after our day!  Are you tired yet from reading about it?  I realize this is a reeeeaaallly long post, but I hope it will help some other parents brave the Minnesota State Fair with their kids and have a great time as well. 

Find all the details about the Minnesota State Fair at



  Cindy wrote @

Sounds like you had a great time! I’m so glad you decided to brave it. I really like your tip about taking a picture of the kids before you go in so you remember what they are wearing in case anyone gets lost. You have to love the age of digital cameras!

  Bob wrote @

Can someone tell me if going to the fair early, like 7am is worth it? This is something that we were told was a great time to go. Does anyone have any insight to this? We have two kids 3 and 1.5 so it seems like a time that would be a great way to introduce the fair to them.

  minnemom wrote @

Bob, I had hoped to get there a little earlier than I did, because the crowds really picked up in the afternoon.

It probably depends on what you want to do at the fair. The fair buildings don’t open until 9 a.m. Little Farmhands opens at 8, and I would have liked to try it early in the morning.

I don’t know if the vendors, etc. are all open early in the morning. I would think it would be a great time to just wander around and see the grounds without crowds.

Your little ones will probably enjoy people-watching no matter what time you go!

Anyone else have ideas for Bob?

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