A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair

Giant turkey legs, sticky cotton candy fingers and screams of delight emanating from the Midway. These experiences come only once a year and that time is almost upon us.  August 10-20, 2017 is officially Iowa State Fair time. While rides take center stage in the minds of a lot of Fair visitors, your kids will be blown away by some of these more off-the-beaten-path fair attractions.

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

Animals & Agriculture

While Iowa has a very rich agricultural heritage, many Des Moines kids have never experienced farm life. The fair offers a chance for kids to take a behind-the-scenes look at some of the state’s agricultural history and a trip to the Iowa State Fair just wouldn’t be complete without walking through at least one of the many animal barns.

The Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center is a great place to start. Chickens, cows and pigs on the cusp of having babies are on display for Fair visitors to see. Although Mother Nature dictates when these animals actually go into labor, it’s not uncommon for Fair visitors to see the birthing process. If nothing else, you’re guaranteed to see precious newborn piglets, chicks and calves.

Right next door to the Animal Learning Center, one of the fair’s most popular stops for the littles is Little Hands on the Farm.  Children get to learn about farming in a fun interactive way.  They start out planting, then feed what they’ve grown to their animals and then they finally sell everything to earn cash to spend at the Grocery Store.

Another top spot for an agriculture experience is the John Deere Agricultural Building, which features the world-famous Butter Cow.  One of our favorite destinations in this building is the Iowa Honey Producers Exhibit. They have honeycomb exhibits where you can look for the Queen bee. In addition, there’s all kinds of produce and florals on display and you won’t want to miss checking out the large pumpkins on the lawn.

Local’s Tip: If you’re looking to take a load off, a good way to take a little break is to attend one of the many livestock shows.  We particularly like to watch the horse shows in the Jacobson Exhibition Center, which is air-conditioned ;).

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

Arts & Entertainment

Arts and culture and the Iowa State Fair?  No, it’s not an oxymoron, there’s actually quite a few places to see great art, hear live music and even learn a little something while you’re there.

The Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center is always a must stop on our Fair Day visit.   It’s a showcase for Iowa artisans and a Fairtime residence for an impressive variety of artists. My daughter traditionally gets her face painted here and they have several art demonstrations scheduled throughout the day for kids to try their hand at and learn about various art mediums.

Sprinkled throughout the Fairgrounds are a myriad of free shows and demonstrations to watch. Steve Trash and Vodvill Klown, for instance, will be presented three times daily during the run of the Fair on the Hy-Vee Fun Forest Stage. Also, the Anne & Bill Riley stage is host to a number of fun acts throughout the Fair.  There are literally hundreds of daily activities and shows to see at the Iowa State Fair; check the daily schedule on-line or pick one up when you get to the Fair and make sure to note your “can’t miss” events.

Local’s Tip: If you can afford it and there is an act suitable for your whole family to see, I suggest springing for one of the Grandstand concerts. I’m pretty sure I attended my first “real” concert at the Iowa State Fair and it’s one of my fondest memories of the Fair. Last year, my kids and I went to Meghan Trainor and it was not only the highlight or our trip to the Fair but of the summer.

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

Contests & Competitions

The fair offers an assortment of contests for all ages. These range from cooking and visual arts competitions, with advanced entry, to walk-up contests you can participate in at the spur of the moment during your Iowa State Fair visit. Kids can participate in a Checkers or Chess Tournament or you can enter your babe in a Decorated Diaper Contest and Diaper Derby. Off-beat skills like Youth Rooster Crowing and Joke Telling are included in the Heritage Contests at Pioneer Hall. And, kids can start practicing now for other fun contests like blowing the biggest bubble with their bubblegum, pie eating or Big Wheel Racing, which all take place on Iowa Parks and Recreation Day, August 17, 2017.

Local’s Tip: Older kids will relish an opportunity to try their hand at something a little more serious.  New this year, the Iowa State Fair with the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council will be hosting Fair-ovation Sunday, August 13, at the Oman Family Youth Inn for grades 3rd – 12th. Fair-ovation is an opportunity for your child to gain feedback on their ideas, inventions and concepts from professionals in a variety of fields, all while vying for the top prize. This contest is open to individuals and teams. Entry forms to participate in this competition are due by August 1, 2017 via mail or email.

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

Food & Fun

It’s no secret a major fair attraction is the food. Especially among older kids, the menu items they probably enjoy only once a year will be a big draw. Whether you have a sweet tooth that craves caramel apples and cotton candy or you’re more into corn dogs and turkey legs, you’ll find all the variety you desire. Before you fill up, hit one of the “Thrill Parks” for classic rides and games.

This year the Iowa State Fair unveils Thrill Parks: Thrill Ville, Thrill Town and Thrill Zone. These ride areas on the Fairgrounds have received facelifts, but the big change is they now offer wristbands in lieu of tickets and you will be able to load them digitally at Thrill Park Booth “Reload Stations”.

Local’s Tip:  If your kids are anything like mine, they will ask you constantly, when they will get to ride rides.  My advice is to just tell them upfront when you plan to go and how much money you’re willing to spend.

A Local’s Guide to the Iowa State Fair – dsm4kids.com

Save Some Cash

Trying to stretch your family entertainment budget? There are a few ways to save on your Iowa State Fair admission.

Purchase Advanced Admission Tickets

Get your 2017 Fair tickets now and save over 30 percent. You can print your tickets at home; purchase them at the Administration Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm (Monday – Friday); or you can purchase them at participating Iowa HyVee, HyVee Drug, Fareway, Price Chopper and Cash Saver Stores (while supplies last).

  • Adult tickets (ages 12+): $8 (thru August 9th); $12 (at the gates)
  • Child tickets (ages 6-11): $4 (thru August 9th); $6 (at the gates)
  • Ages 5 and under admitted FREE

Attend the Fair on one of these Discount Days

Half Off Adult and Child Tickets After 5

Half price adult and child admission from 5:00 to 10:00 pm at the gate Monday through Thursday.

Opening Day

On Thursday, August 10 bring 3 cans of non-perishable food for a $3 discount (7:00 am to 5:00 pm) on an adult admission only.

Veteran’s Day

On Monday, August 14, $9 admission (7:00 am to 5:00 pm) for active and former members of the United States military and their spouses.

Older Iowan’s Day

On Wednesday, August 16, $9 admission (7:00 am to 5:00 pm) for Fairgoers ages 60 and older.

Extreme Sunday

Half off regular admission until 9:00 pm on Sunday, August 20.



What are your tips for attending the Iowa State Fair?  Share it with us below! We can’t wait to hear your insider tips!

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