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Well folks, it’s officially the most wonderful time of year, because the Minnesota State Fair is here! A self-proclaimed fair fanatic, I find myself unashamedly attending the annual 12-day affair a minimum of four times each year to ensure that I’m getting an appropriate fix of unhealthy food, people watching and timeless memories to last me the 365 days until the next one. Having acquired an expert level of state fair knowledge over the past decade, I’ve done everyone a solid by offering up my top 10 tips to ensure you’re enjoying every single minute of your trip to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

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Order Your Tickets Online

Ordering your tickets online ahead of time instead of getting them upon arrival is a decision that can absolutely make or break your state fair experience from the very start. By choosing the online route, you opt in for a sustainably sweet paperless ticket and instantly cut down the amount of time you’ll be standing in line even before entering all the chaos.

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Determine the Best Arrival Time

Speaking of time, you need to weigh out the potential options for you and your crew when choosing your arrival time. If you’re planning to spend an entire 8-hour span at the fair, start in the morning as you can see all the sights with a couple of snacks at the start then go all in for a meal come lunchtime. If your only goal is to engage in a few hours of successful people watching, the evening is definitely for you. Also, when the Grandstand opens for seating for whichever headlining act is performing on any given night, rare open spaces reveal themselves in many pockets of the fairgrounds.

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Take a Shuttle

There’s a lot of debate when it comes to the best way to get to the fair. You might think that spending $20 to park on someone’s lawn a quarter mile from the grounds is the smartest decision, while others spend upward of an hour finding on-street parking — followed by a 30-minute walk both in and out of the fair. My suggestion? Take a free Park & Ride shuttle that drops you off right at the front door (it’s actually the back entrance, but whatever). Did I mention that it’s free?

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Wear Sunscreen and Closed-Toe Shoes

I shouldn’t have to tell you this because, well, common sense, but please wear sunscreen. I repeat myself: Please wear sunscreen. Oh you forgot to? Luckily for you, the friendly information booths all offer complimentary SPF, meaning there’s no excuse for getting sunburned. Also, I believe that closed-toe shoes should be a requirement for admission to the fair, but many people seem to think otherwise.

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Pick Up a Map

I know that I just argued that paperless is the way to go, but when it comes to a map, pick one up from an information booth. (I mean, they’ve already printed them, right?) For annual attendees, it’s the perfect tool to help you maneuver to the new attractions that have been added to the beloved experience.

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Share Everything You Eat

Now that you’re in, it’s time to eat. I’m sure you’ve got a few items on your wish list that you can’t wait to scarf down faster than you can proclaim “you betcha.” I will say this once and only once: Do yourself a favor and commit to share everything you eat. Some food selections like a Pronto Pup or corn on the cob may seem antithetical to this commitment, but for the sweet treats, sharing is beyond caring.

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Balance Fried with Fresh

The most notorious mantra for most fair goers is, All fried everything. Honey — no. Yes, fried pickles, cheese curds, deep-fried candy bars and even bacon on a stick are what dreams are made of, but think of what your clouded vision is blocking out. Like this year’s Farmers Union Blueberry Key Lime Pie or Brim’s gluten- and dairy-free Grilled Sota Sandwich. The options are truly endless, so dine thoughtfully.

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Get a Bucket of Sweet Martha’s To Go

The most iconic staple of the state fair? Sweet Martha’s Cookies. The million-dollar empire serves up the mandatory treat of the Great Minnesota Get-Together. But wait until the very end of your day to buy your bucket of the best chocolate-chip cookies in the North. Not only will they hold up better, but you’ll have a sweet fair reminder for the next few days. (Also, they freeze really well.)

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Visit the Agriculture Horticulture Building

The Agriculture Horticulture Building showcases the endless beauty of Minnesota and everything our great state has to offer. Displaying the achievements of individuals both young and old, the presentation of statewide-grown produce, flowers, baked goods and the like truly takes my breath away and is the showstopper of the fair. This is a tradition not to be missed.

Photography provided by Minnesota State Fair

Enjoy the Fair with Zero Expectations

My final tip is this: Leave your expectations at the door. Looking at the many uncontrollable elements of the fair (weather, lines, crowd sizes, etc.), one simple interaction or unexpected occurrence has the potential to ruin your entire trip — when it should do the exact opposite. The fair is the place where all are welcome and encouraged to celebrate the place we call home. So when you feel that inevitable sense of annoyance coming on, just remember that we’re all in this together. It is the Great Minnesota Get-Together, after all.

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