Gravity, a carpet, and one huge slide combine to return Alfonzo to earth posthaste. Credit: Aaron Nesheim

After an hour of frustration circling the Minnesota State Fair on opening day, I finally had to Venmo $25 to a woman to park on her lawn. 

Welcome to the Great Minnesota Get-Together. 

My co-worker Joey Peters, a St. Paul native, parked a mile away and walked to the gate. “It’s an old habit,” he said. Just normal stuff for local people. 

I’m originally from Louisiana, and grew up going to the state fair in Shreveport. It’s nice enough, but considerably smaller. The food is good, though – especially the funnel cakes. And I went to the Sioux Empire fair in Sioux Falls while I was living in South Dakota last year before being hired as a reporter by Sahan Journal. I had never spent more than 15 minutes looking for parking. 

But this was on another scale altogether. Everyone in South Dakota regards the Minnesota’s State Fair as the “big one.” My expectations this year were huge. It’s my first year in Minnesota, and if I had to pick one thing to experience, it was going to be the fair. 

Before going, I knew two things. You either love the fair or you hate it. People always mentioned the crowds, but really–how bad could they be? Turns out more-than-100,000-people bad on any given day. That’s about one third of the people that attend the Louisiana State Fair through its whole two-week run.

I also knew from my reporting that there’d be an abundance of food vendors. I prepped for them by skipping breakfast and packing some water in my backpack. 

So my expectations were lots of people, lots of food, and a bunch of walking. What I got was,  well, that and much more. 

The first thing I did after I got through the gate was get a map and head south. By the time I felt I’d walked a considerable distance and had taken in the sights I was hungry. The crowds appeared to grow by the thousands every hour. It was a cloudy and breezy day which made the high temperatures of the day feel less scorching. I felt like I was a part of an ant colony, everybody busy doing different things around me. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I knew that if I wanted a true Great Minnesota Get-Together experience, I had to start eating as soon as I got there and then take a break – before eating again.

Here’s what I did start to finish – and what I thought of it:

Peterson’s Porkchop on a Stick

It was about 11 a.m. and the line for these already was huge! This stand seemed popular with both older and younger fairgoers. It took about 20 minutes to order. When I finally got it, I only had a few bites, but wasn’t overly impressed. I mean, it’s just a pork chop. I heard the seasoning they sell is good. Maybe I’ll buy some of that next time. Since it was my first bite of the day, I didn’t linger much and tried to move on as quickly as possible.

Fresh French Fries

Minutes after the pork chop, and right across the street, I was ready for a French fry chaser. These were okay. Best fries at the fair, I assume, because it’s the only place selling fries, and they come in shareable sizes with lots of ketchup available. Ideally I’d like other dipping sauces like mayonnaise, ranch or BBQ sauce. A classic nonetheless.

Pronto Pup

Next stop was actually two stops. I had to see which dog was the best one. And it turns out a corn dog is better– just kidding. The Pronto Pup, with its lighter breading and sweeter taste, is the superior dog at the Minnesota State Fair. They’re literally everywhere. The harder one to find was a regular corn dog. I can see people wanting a traditional corn dog sometimes, and that’s okay too. But I think the Pronto Pup is as quintessential as you can get at the Minnesota State Fair.

Malt Shake from Dairy Building

By this point I was getting tired. It still wasn’t noon and I’d made good progress but was nearing the end of my stomach capacity. I need something not as dry or solid as the food I’d been eating. Dogs decided, I headed into the Dairy Building for an unexpected surprise. I truthfully don’t like malt shakes but this one was great. It’s the one thing I finished all the way through. It was refreshing and cool on a hot summer day, and sweet but not too sweet. I got the vanilla but most people in line around me went for the chocolate.

Miracle of Birth building

After my shake, I needed a break. Most people eat around noon so I did the opposite to avoid longer lines at the food stands. I thought my co-workers were pulling my leg when they suggested seeing live birthing animals, but I ended up liking it. The little sheep and piglets were so cute! But not all visuals are as appealing. A word of caution too, not all animals are born alive. Be prepared for a couple heartbreaks. Still, I did enjoy the “miracle” that is birth. 

DNR Fish Pond

Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, I felt it was time for some cookies, but I ran into the DNR Fish Pond on the way. Someone please email me and explain people’s fascination with this. Heck, it was hard to even get close enough to see the fish. There were so many people. Is it a Minnesota thing? In the future I might walk by and glance but probably wouldn’t spend too much time here. The fish did look big, though. 

Sweet Martha’s Cookies

Finally I arrived and no surprise here, I loved these! It was just before 1 p.m. and the people I got in line with told me the line is usually twice as long. Make sure to get the “ice cold” milk when ordering and eat the cookies while they’re hot. I’ve known about Sweet Martha’s since I was in college in Louisiana and saw an Insider video about them on Facebook. I never expected to actually be here eating them. So it came with an extra sense of joy for me.

These are a must when you go to the fair. Every. Single. Time.

Roasted Corn

Brace yourself, Minnesotans. This one might trigger you. After trying the most-requested thing at the fair, I went to the second-most requested food item. And to be honest, I think the roasted corn is overrated. There. I said it. Why, you may ask? Well because… it’s just corn! The only thing I could add was salt and pepper. A word of advice: try making some Mexican corn, you know, give it a little razzle-dazzle. Add some lime juice, mayonnaise or sour cream, grated parmesan cheese, and some dried chili pepper powder. 

Turkey Leg

Leaving one food disappointment, I continued on and found another. This one at least had a shorter line. But  that could be because it was after lunch time.  I think a lack of seasoning might be a trend with some of these fair foods, but don’t shoot the messenger. Maybe it’s because I’m a southern boy, but something was missing when I took that first bite of the drumstick. The seasoning was left out, and you add it if you wanted it. But even then it wasn’t enough. 

Group outdoor karaoke 

I didn’t participate in this because by this point, around 1:45 p.m., I was starting to tire. I had only been at the fair for about three hours, but sometime I want to go back and do this. It was nice seeing people hop in and sing the Katy Perry songs along with the rest of the group. It seems to be a fun group, or even family, activity if you can convince more people to join you. Otherwise, I’m sure you can just make friends with those already singing.

Daily Parade

The 2 p.m. parade gave me the best excuse to just sit down and relax after walking around all morning. It was shorter than expected but a nice little break from all the hustle and bustle going on around the fairgrounds. I only watched the first couple high school marching bands go by before tuning out to recharge. It also helped me update Sahan Journal’s Instagram story that I’d taken over for the day. 

Alfonzo meets Shrek deep in the swamps of the Minnesota State Fairs Agriculture / Horticulture Building.

Space Tower

After a midday break I wanted to get some sights in so I headed off to the Space Tower. I didn’t get on the ride until about 3:30 p.m. From the outside, I got the impression it’s one of those rides that brings you up and then quickly drops you. But it’s not. You sit down and it slowly spins up while giving you a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. You can see all the fairgrounds and a nice view of both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was intrigued for the first minute or so, and then I was bored waiting for it to go down another two minutes. It gave me lazy river vibes – but with a view. 

Alfonzo records a video of the sweeping views the Space Tower presents of the State Fair, with Minneapolis, and St. Paul spinning in and out of view in the distance.

Giant Slide

By the time I got to the Giant Slide I was exhausted. I thought it’d be something I just checked off my list – but wow, was I wrong! I underestimated this one. And then I paid the price. Our photographer definitely had a good time capturing my ride. It started with an “oh crap” and teeth clenching before an eventual smile broke through at the end when I knew I made it down safely. When you’re finished, though, watch out for people coming in hard after you. I almost got swept by a little girl.

Sky Glider

You get to choose between the enclosed Skyride and the more exposed Sky Glider. I chose the latter purely because it got me from the south side of the fair to the northside closer to where I entered the fair. It’s a cheat code if you will. It’s the last thing I did, and I did it this way on purpose.  The views weren’t as nice as the Space Tower, but it does move you a considerable distance – in my case, closer to the exit. The $6 ticket was worth the extra wear and tear on my legs as I tried to make my way to my exit gate just past 4 p.m.. 

Final thoughts on the fair

My first day felt jam-packed with things to do, but I think that made it less fun than it could have been. In total I spent just over five hours at the fair and probably about $150. Parking and admission ran me a little over $40, food was the big expense at just under $100 and rides were less than $20. Next time, I’ll try to relax and enjoy myself more. If I were to go back, the first place I’d visit would be the Miracle of Birth building, and I’d probably follow that up with some cookies.

To answer the big question, I love the fair more than I hate it. But for me, the love loss comes from the cost rather than the crowds. I’m sure families save up all year for this.

Next time, I’ll also plan my parking better to avoid that expense. And I won’t eat as much. 

Outside of food, there’s so many things to do at the fair. The most important thing to do is take in all the sights, because your stomach can’t handle all that food. 

Oh, and if you can, (I didn’t know this before I went) go find the firefighters. Chat with them a bit and take a photo. It seems to be this year’s biggest thing to do–that, or you could eat all the weird pickle-flavored foods. There’s something for everyone, I guess.

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...