Minnesota State Fair: Decadent Foods and Farm Animals

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Swing ride at the Minnesota State Fair

Every summer and fall, state and county fairs like the Minnesota State Fair are held across the United States. These fairs began as a way to promote agriculture and animal husbandry through exhibitions and competitions.

Showcases and competitions involving animals and crops are still the foundation of these fairs, but they are so much more than that. They are sources of recreation and entertainment packed with food, carnival games and rides, concerts, and competitions for arts, crafts, and foods.

As a kid in the US, going to the county or state fair is a pretty exciting time. You get to eat junk food, see cute and cool animals, ride exciting rides, and play games to win colorful prizes. They are always a feast for all your senses.

These fairs run from a few days to a few weeks long. The difference between county and state fairs is generally the scale of the fair, with state fairs being much bigger than county fairs.

Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the United States by daily attendance (while the State Fair of Texas has a higher attendance overall, it runs for much longer). In 2019, the Minnesota State Fair had a whopping 2,126,551 visitors over its 12-day run.

Before visiting this fair in 2019, I had only ever attended local fairs in my area. The Minnesota State Fair was significantly bigger. The current size of the fairgrounds is 322 acres/1.3 square kilometers. It’s literally as large as an amusement park. For comparison, Disneyland in California is 500 acres, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando is 107 acres, and Cedar Point in Ohio is 364 acres.

A crowd of visitors at the Minnesota State Fair

Huge fairgrounds and many visitors

Visiting a state fair in the United States is like going to an amusement park with all their rides, games, and foods, but with the addition of agriculture.

Fair Food

One of the main reasons people visit any fair in the US is for the food. And does the Minnesota State Fair food deliver!

The fairgrounds are teeming with a mind-boggling selection of foods. To give you an idea of the range of foods: you can get burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, funnel cakes, cheese curds, elephant ears, fries, pulled pork sandwiches, cotton candy, slushies, caramel apples, roasted nuts, milkshakes, onion rings, poutine, popcorn (and caramel corn and kettle corn), pizza, doughnuts, and taffy.

The best cheese curds (fried cheese) I’ve ever had & a great elephant ear (fried dough coated in cinnamon sugar)

Some food stalls, including all-you-can-drink milk and fried pie

Many stalls carry classic American fair foods, but there are spots serving up international fare peppered throughout the fairgrounds. For example, you can grab Greek, Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, or Cajun cuisine if you so choose. The Minnesota State Fair also offers a concentration of global foods at the International Bazaar, which features a food court and a market area.

Many of the foods available are fried, including ones not typically fried outside of fairs and festivals, like pie, pickles, and candy bars. Many foods also are served on a stick; there are many foods commonly offered up on sticks (cheesecake, chicken, cotton candy, caramel apples), but other food-on-a-stick is a bit more uncommon (bacon, cheese, key lime pie, cookie dough, scotch eggs, pizza).

Fried food on a stick

Food both fried and on a stick from the International Bazaar

Some of the stalls are so popular that they only produce one food item. Case in point: Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. They have an army of employees to continually pump out and sell chocolate chip cookies. That’s it. No other types of cookies. Just chocolate chip cookies and milk, coffee, and water, if you need a drink to go with your mound of cookies.

I do mean literal mound of cookies. I split a cone of these wonderful cookies with my friends, but you can also purchase a bucket of cookies. Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar even has multiple stalls around the fairgrounds for all your cookie cravings.

Chocolate chip cookie cone from Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar

An abundance of chocolate chip cookies

Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar stall at the Minnesota State Fair

One of the Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar stalls

Then there are Pronto Pups, which are a classic Minnesota State Fair food, with over half a dozen stalls across the fair. Pronto Pups are corn dogs that are made with pancake batter, as well as cornmeal. I didn’t get the chance to try one, but they must be famous for a reason!

If you want to eat something a bit atypical in American cuisine, you can try alligator served up a few ways.

For the adults looking for something a bit boozy, the Minnesota State Fair also features a number of beers, ciders, alcoholic slushies, and cocktails across the ground. Many of them are only available at the fair, so try them while you have the chance!

[For more food: amazing Asian restaurants in London]

Fair Animals

In addition to eating scrumptious food, you can see an assortment of animals at state and county fairs in the United States. This means all kinds of livestock like cattle, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas.

You can also peruse a huge variety of poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigeons, and often quails, peafowl, and/or guineafowl. I always specifically love to see the fancy roosters and pigeons at fairs.

Poultry at the Minnesota State Fair

You can also see rabbits and sometimes other small critters like hamsters or guinea pigs. If you visit any fair, there will be adorable rabbits in every shape, size, and color.

Cute brown rabbit

Fluffy rabbit friend

At my local fair, there is a small building with baby animals. Obviously, it’s a very popular attraction. The Minnesota State Fair kicks this up a notch with the Miracle of Birth Center. This large building houses pregnant animals and their babies, once born. If you time it right, you might just be able to witness an actual birth!

Baby animals at the Miracle of Life Center

Pregnant sheep and two lambs

A very pregnant sheep

Besides visiting the buildings where you can view the animals at your leisure, you can also watch various competitions and exhibitions involving the animals. When an animal places in a competition, they will receive a ribbon and/or trophy that the owner displays by the animal’s temporary living quarters in the various buildings. See if you can find the first-place winners for each category of animal when you visit!

Fair Rides and Games

The Minnesota State Fair offers many of the classic carnival rides, including an enormous Ferris wheel, carousel, haunted house, giant slide, roller coasters, observation tower, and swing ride. They also have smaller, kiddie rides for younger visitors. You can ride the chairlifts or gondolas to get across the grounds while catching a birds-eye view of the fair.

Some of the rides at the fair

If you are able to stay at the fair from the day to the night, I would definitely recommend it! The fair looks very different in the daylight versus when the sun goes down. The vibrant colors that light up the fairgrounds in the evening are one of my favorite parts of fairs.

The giant slide, day and night

Here are some photos of the fair at night from a gondola. The windows were kind of dirty and foggy, making these photos not the best. But you can still get an idea of the views from gondolas and chairlifts.

Food stalls and rides from above

There are also a multitude of games strewn across the entire fairgrounds, with a variety of prizes, both big and small.

Fair Exhibitions

In addition to animal exhibitions, fairs have a variety of other displays and competitive exhibitions. In particular, there are judged showcases of arts and crafts in a variety of mediums. This can include photographs, drawings, paintings, quilts, woodwork, needlework, arranged flowers, and more.

Some plant arrangements with an underwater theme

You can also see award-winning fruits and vegetables; flowers; baked goods like cakes, pies, and cookies; and canned goods. Even if you aren’t especially into flowers, crafts, baked goods, et cetera, the showcases really are worth a quick walkthrough because they can be quite impressive.

Some cool flowers on display

The Minnesota State Fair also has these amazing garden kaleidoscopes: vegetation arranged to look good represented through a kaleidoscope lens.

Garden kaleidoscope at the Minnesota State Fair

A garden kaleidoscope

If you are a tourist in the United States and you have the chance the visit the Minnesota State Fair, or any state or county fair, you should definitely! While you will most likely have to pay for admission and any food, games, and rides you want to partake in, these fairs are a quintessential American experience you don’t want to miss.

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