Editor's Note: Patch staffer Zac Farber did all the actual research for this post. I'm simply providing a wee bit of color commentary.
Whether you're ready or not, nearly two million people are expected to descend on the Minnesota State Fair’s 320-acre grounds starting Thursday and the following 11 days for concerts, contests, cows and corn dogs.
Here’s Mendota Heights Patch's rundown on what you need to know to get to the fair and find your way around:
As a State Fair rookie a few years ago, I showed up at about 8:45 p.m. thinking I'd have a fun night of flourescent-lit craft displays and pie ribbons. I was wrong. Admission gates open daily at 6 a.m. Ticket sales end at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. on Labor Day). Grounds close at midnight (10 p.m. on Labor Day), but most buildings are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and many vendor stalls start packing it in prior to that on weekdays.
Adults (13-64) pay $12, seniors and children 5 and older pay $10, and children younger than 5 are admitted for free. Promotional days are offered throughout the fair. Pre-fair discount admission is available for purchase through Aug. 22 at Cub Foods in West St. Paul. If you're not sure you're going to go this year, buy an advance ticket anyway. You know you're going to go. Don't fight it.
The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are located at 1265 North Snelling Ave. N. in St. Paul. Maps and directions are available on the fair’s website. Note that light-rail construction on University Avenue will slow traffic flow; the fair’s website promises tips on how to avoid the congestion, but right now they're just linking to MnDOT traffic information, which is always smart to check regardless of destination.
Bad Idea: Directions from Mendota Heights would indicate taking I-35E to I-94W to Snelling's north exit is the way to go. Don't do that. Stay far, far away from Snelling and University Avenue whenever possible for the duration of the fair unless you want to patronize a local business or visit an ill family member.
If you insist on driving directly to the fair, state fair parking lots cost $12 and can be accessed off Larpenteur, Snelling, or Cleveland avenues. Discount tickets can be purchased in advance through Aug. 22 at Cub Foods or the State Fair Box Office. (Motorcycle parking is offered for $6 on Como Avenue.)
Better Idea: Free parking is available at 34 locations around the fairgrounds. Complimentary buses leave every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight to pick up fair-goers. In 2011, the park and ride program gave more than 900,000 rides. This is where the people-watching begins, so wear dark shades and enjoy.
Great Idea If You've Got $5: State Fair Express buses operate from 17 Twin Cities locations on 15- and 30-minute loops. The closest to Mendota Heights is at Signal Hills Shopping Center by K-Mart in West St. Paul. Check the fair’s express bus website for more information. Buy in advance and your round trip ticket will cost $4, or $15 for four rides.
For the Two-Wheel Types: Kudos to you. Free bike racks are offered at the Como-Snelling and Hoyt-Snelling gates and at Commonwealth-West Dan Patch from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. If you plan on winning a giant stuffed gorilla at Midway, be sure to bring a bungie cord and a basket.
For the After-Work Crowd: Three buses service the fair and accept cash or transit passes. Route 960 goes from Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis to the fairgrounds in about 15 minutes. Route 84 travels along Snelling Avenue. Route 3 connects downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul along Como Avenue. Fares range from 75 cents to $3, and come with a transfer you can use within 2.5 hours.
Navigating the Fair
The state fair’s website has downloadable maps of the grounds and daily activity schedules. To find where the mashed potatoes-on-a-stick booth will be located this year, you'll need to check out the "fair finder" tab. The mobile website and stand-alone apps for iPhones and Android phones also include a map and the ability to search listings of events, merchandise and food.
Oh, and and the aforementioned destination, "Potato Man and Sweetie," is located on Liggett just south of Midway. Mmmmm.