Our state fair is a great state fair is a great is a great is a great state fair, hey!!! I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help myself:) The granddaddy of all fairs, the Iowa State Fair, kicks off one week from today! Pack up the kids and enjoy animals, concerts, carnival rides, funnel cakes, corn dogs and much, much more! Here’s our list of insider tips to navigate this incredible fair with your kiddos.
Know Before You Go
- Dates: August 13th – 23rd, 2015
- Hours of Operation: Grounds:7:00 am to 1:00 am; no entry or re-entry after 9 pm on Extreme Sunday, August 23; Buildings: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm; Midway: 10:00 am to Midnight
- Cost of Admission: Adults (Ages 12+) $11.00; Children (Ages 6-11) $5.00; Children (Ages 5 & Under) FREE
- Parking: Official fair parking is available for $10.00 in North, Sims and Northeast Lots. Bicycle parking is available inside Gate 10 for $2.00. Residents and businesses surrounding the fairgrounds also offer parking for a fee. In addition, you can park off-site and ride DART from three different locations in Des Moines. Sites are listed here.
- Food: Outside food and beverages are not permitted on the fairgrounds. Not to worry! The Fair offers a wide variety of food and beverages for purchase at countless concession and restaurant locations.
- Restrooms: Restrooms are scattered throughout the fairgrounds. The “best” ones can be found in newer, air-conditioned buildings. Locations are designated on this map.
- Prior to your visit check out the Iowa State Fair’s website where you’ll find everything you need to know about the Fair.
Finding Discount Tickets
Save some moola by taking advantage of these special offers:
Advanced Ticket Purchase: Available now through August 12th. Advance prices are $8.00 for adults (age 12+) and children (6-11) are $4.00. Tickets can be purchased on-line, at the Administration Building, participating Hy-Vees, Hy-Vee Drugstores and Fareway Stores.
$5.00 Off Adult Tickets after 5: Admission is $6.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids ages 6-11 from 5:00 to 10:00 pm; Monday through Thursday (not good with any other offer).
Veteran’s Day: On Monday, August 17th, active and former members of the United States military who can show proof of veteran status enjoy $8.00 gate admission from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Canned Food Drive: On Tuesday, August 18, get $3.00 off regular admission, 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, with a donation of at least two canned food items. Limit one discount per donation (not good with any other offer).
Older Iowans’ Day: On Wednesday, August 19, Fairgoers ages 60 and up get in for $8.00 at the gate until 5:00 pm (not good with any other offer).
Extreme Sunday: $5.00 off regular adult admission and $2.00 off admission for Fairgoers age 6-11 until 9:00 pm on Sunday, August 23 (not good with any other discount).
Corporate: Many companies offer discounted tickets or Play Packs to their employees, especially if they’re a fair sponsor. Be sure to check to see if your company is one that does.
Fair Play Packs: These value-packed kits offer discounts on admission, food and select rides. Available on-line while supplies last.
- Five Midway Ride Tickets for $14.00. Each ticket good for one ride. Must be purchased by August 12. Available while supplies last.
- Weekday Mega Pass is $25.00. Unlimited mechanical rides any one weekday from open to close. Must be purchased by August 12. Available while supplies last.
- Any Day Mega Pass for $30.00. Unlimited mechanical rides any one Fair day, including weekends. Must be purchased by August 12. Available while supplies last.
- Weekday Wristbands are $25.00. If you missed the August 12th deadline you can purchase a wristband from a Midway ticket booth.
While You’re There
The Iowa State Fair is naturally on our family’s summer bucket list. We usually just go for a day and try to see and experience a few new things and of course, revisit some old favs. As a kid, we also made an annual visit to the Fair, but it was more of a pilgrimage. Grandparents and cousins would pack up everything and camp. We would spend a few days to a week at the fair. This article is really more of a “City” guide to the fair and for those that will be making a day trip.
There are so many things to do and see at the Fair that you will never be able to experience it all in a day. There are prize winning animals, fruits and vegetables, floral arrangements, baked goods, and canned goods. You’ll want to feast on fair foods and ride rides. But the Fair is really more than that. So how should you plan to take a city family to the Iowa State Fair?
General Tips, What to Bring & What to Wear:
- The earlier you get there, the less crowded the Fair is. The later in the day, the more crowds arrive (especially those coming for concerts). It’s also a lot less crowded on a week day, then on the weekends.
- Do not enter at the Midway gate. Just speaking from experience. If you enter at the Midway Gate with kids, you may never leave!
- Bring a water bottle. Technically, you aren’t supposed to bring in food, but you can bring in an empty water bottle and then fill it up once you’re in the Fairgrounds.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen and you may want to wear a hat. Some areas of the Fair are shadier than others.
- You’ll want to bring hand sanitizer. It is offered in a few locations, but it’s handy to have with you. You may also want to bring wipes, especially if you have little ones.
- Cash is good to have on hand. Some vendors accept your card and there are ATMs located on the Fairgrounds, but it’s just more convenient to bring some cash with you.
- Pack the stroller. There is a lot of walking, so you will want a stroller for young children.
- Wear comfortable clothes. It’s August in Iowa and it is likely to be hot and sticky. Most of the events are outside, but there are air conditioned buildings, which are great places to take a little break.
- Wear closed toed comfortable walking shoes. If you do wear flip flops, be prepared for really DIRTY feet at the end of the day! If you walk through any of the animal barns, you will be glad to have your feet protected.
- The show will go on. Rain or shine. Make sure to check the weather and be prepared for whatever Mother Nature may have in store.
- Plan your outing. Take a look at the Fair’s website before heading out. It’s mind boggling how many things there are to see and do, so it’s a great idea to prioritize your “can’t miss” list before you arrive.
- Remember live demonstrations and performances only occur once. So, you might want to schedule your day around them.
Can’t Miss FREE things to See at the Iowa State Fair:
- Butter Cow. Sculpture of a cow made out of 600lbs of butter in the Agriculture Building. In addition to the Butter Cow, a celebration of the 80th anniversary of beloved family board game, Monopoly, will be on display. While in the Ag building you’ll also want to check out the humongous pumpkins, beautiful blooms and find the queen bee at the Iowa Honey Producers booth.
- Competitions. The Iowa State Fair hosts more than 45 competitions testing the talent, creativity and sheer zaniness of their Fairgoers. You’re sure to find one worth watching or you may even want to enter! Take in a classic like the Cow Chip Throwing Contest or a newer edition such as the Mohawk/Mullet Contest.
- Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. This is one of our family favs. My kids love seeing all of the baby animals. The chics and ducks are particularly adorable. There’s also baby piglets and their mother. This agricultural education exhibit features live births of various species including calves.
- Art at the Cultural Center. I’m always amazed by all of the creativity in this building. It’s also a beautiful air conditioned building and is a nice respite from the hubbub of the Fair. You can also check out Art Attack in the Cutural Center’s Courtyard, and relax while your kids enjoy hands-on crafts – specifically designed with them in mind.
Best FREE Entertainment 4 Kids:
- Hy-Vee Fun Forest & Stage. Let the kids hang-out on the play area or enjoy live kid-friendly entertainment that is offered throughout the day. All shows ASL interpreted.
- SwashChucklers Comedy Pirate Show. Go sailing on a Comedy Treasure Cruise with these Silly Sea Dogs in the Kids Zone. Fast-Paced, Family-Friendly, Truly Funny Comedy Pirate Entertainment. Shows daily at 11:00 am, 2:00 and 5:00 pm.
- The Red Trouser Show. Located on Expo Hill this high-end street theater production is full of acrobatic tricks and hilarious stunts. This highly skilled duo uses fire, juggling and illusions to provide a unique show that leaves awe-stricken audiences laughing.
- 4-H Building. Check out the projects created by some very talented and creative 4-Hers. Kids can participate in daily hands-on adventures and check out worthwhile programs like Share the Fun.
Best for Young Children:
- Kid’s Zone. A special area packed with food, rides and entertainment, geared towards young Fairgoers. The Blue Ribbon Kids’ Club Tent is located here. Fair, kids’ club members have the opportunity to participate in seven FREE fun-filled activities, which start at 10:00 am and last 30-60 minutes. Visit the Blue Ribbon Kids’ Club page for membership benefits, registration information and event details.
- Little Hands on the Farm. Kids ages two to ten become farmers at this FREE, hands-on exhibit. Kids will actively participate in the workings of a pint-sized farm operation where they plant, harvest, sell and more.
- Giant Slide. Grab your gunny sack and climb your way to the top of the 45 foot-high, 150 foot-long slide for a thrilling ride to the bottom. Very young kids can ride with parents. $2.50 admission.
- Altoona Lions Spin Art. I did this when I was a kid and my kids now spin some art every year at the Fair too. This will be the Altoona Lions 51st year at the Iowa State Fair. Kids love it, because it is fun. Parents love it because it’s a great bargain at just $2.00 per piece of spin art.
- Hedrick’s Petting Zoo. Open 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, North of Gate 11. You’ll see a kangaroo, zebu, zebra, goats, emu and more. The petting zoo is FREE but you may purchase animal feed for $1/small, $5/large.
- Animal Rides. Camel Rides and Pony Rides are offered near the Petting Zoo – there is a charge for rides.
- Animals Galore! It’s just not a trip to the Fair, without making your way through one of the many storied livestock buildings. A kid favorite, the barns are all open for viewing a variety of animals as their owners care for them and prepare them for competition. Check out the Avenue of Breeds, Cattle Corner, Pig Place, Horse Haven and Sheep Stop. Can’t miss, the big boar and I Milked a Cow.
- There are many Exhibit Buildings throughout the Fairgrounds. You will see vendors, exhibitors in various categories, and displays including: quilts, jams, produce, farm equipment and machinery, agricultural vendors, energy efficiency, fine arts, and more. Explore a bit and you’ll discover your own family favorites. One of our family favs in the Varied Industry Building is the giant running water faucet without a pipe attached. Many vendors give out samples or handouts (tattoos, coloring books, fans) for children.
- We always try to save the Midway til the end of our trip. The kids love riding rides at The Midway. The Midway offers traditional carnival rides such as a ferris wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl and Scrambler. They also have several kiddie rides and carnival games to play. A full list of attractions and height requirements is here.
- There are many more Concerts and Shows, ticketed and FREE, offered on several stages throughout the duration of the fair. You can introduce your kids to some oldies like 38 Special or Sir Mix-A-Lot. Or take in something closer to their generation like Jamie Lynn Spears.
Iowa State Fair
3000 E Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50317
Do you have a favorite attraction or must-see exhibit at the fair that your kids love? Let us know in the Comments below!