By Jody at Have Kid Will Travel
“Our state fair is a great state fair…”
The Iowa State Fair is legendary: with a book, movies and musical written about it millions of visitors descend on Des Moines, Iowa every year in August for the 10 day ag-stravaganza.
Whether you’re coming to see the butter cow- sculpted from 550 pounds of butter- or the largest bull, to ride pulled by a soy diesel powered tractor or glide over the treetops, or to eat food on a stick, the Iowa State Fair has something for everyone.
The Iowa State Fair has been located on the east side of Des Moines since 1886 and is known as “America’s classic state fair” because it features all the “traditional” fair events. From the State Fair website:
A proud tradition since 1854, the Fair inspired the internationally-acclaimed novel, “State Fair,” three motion pictures, plus Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical. Special features include one of the world’s largest livestock shows, the country’s largest state fair foods department (approx. 900 classes), the state’s largest arts show, hundreds of competitive events and wacky contests; 600 plus exhibitors and concessionaires selling quality and tasty treats, and 160 rolling acres of campgrounds.
There is so much to see and do at the fair that I couldn’t begin to share it all. So I will share my favorite things and some “insider” tips for a great Iowa State Fair visit.
- If you plan to bring your kids and they are under the age of 8 bring something to push, pull or drag them around in. They will get tired, they will get cranky and they will not want to walk all day. The state fair grounds cover 400 acres- which is a lot for adults to walk, let alone little legs. Wagons are available for rent on the grounds.
- If you have a lawn blanket bring it along. There are so many stages with free entertainment but seating is limited. Spread it out in the shade, relax and eat something (preferably on a stick).
- Bring a change of clothing. The fair grounds have two water attractions (as in water spraying from the ground) that attracts kids. It’s best to be prepared and let them play.
- Parking on the grounds can be a challenge. Many nearby homeowners open their yards for paid parking; the lawn we park on annually uses the money they make to pay for their son’s college tuition. You can also park at various locations around Des Moines and pay a nominal fee to ride the State Fair shuttle.
- Wear comfortable shoes that can get dirty. This is Iowa. There are large animals throughout the grounds. Unless you like poo between your toes I suggest tennis shoes.
- Bring your camera. How often will you get to see your child cuddle a baby chick? And you have to get a picture of the 2-ton bull- just to prove its existence!
- Don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray and hats. It’s August in Iowa. That means hot and humid.
- Bring baby wipes and hand sanitizer. You’ll be touching so many animals and other things and fair food is messy.
Things to do:
Fun for the kids:
- Animals, animals, animals. From cats, dog and rabbits to calves, piglets and chicks there are dozens of animals to visit and touch.
- The Hy Vee Fun Forest- kid-centered fun with a play area, a free entertainment stage and a garden.
- Blue Ribbon Kids, the fair’s free kids club for ages 10 and under. Sign up online or at the Des Moines Register service center on the main concourse. Hands-on fair fun.
- Little Hands on the Farm lets kids learn how farms affect their lives in an interactive way.
- Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center- see baby chicks, ducks, ostrich and turkeys hatch. Also newborn piglets, calves, lambs and kids (as in goats). And piles of hay to jump in!
- Milking parlor and butter sculpting on the north side of the cattle barn. Or try your hand at milking a cow!
- The midway.
- Live concerts in the grandstand.
- Food on a stick- over 40 items including Fudge Puppy (waffle drenched in chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream), Chicken lips on-a-stick (breaded chicken breast smothered with hot sauce, served with blue cheese dressing) and 3 kinds of deep fried candy bars.
- Snakes Alive!
- Sky glider.
For adults (in addition to all the fun kid stuff):
- The state fair museum- relive great State Fair moments from the past.
- Varied Industries Building- who isn’t drawn in by the product hawkers? (Plus lots of temporary tattoos for the kids!)
- The Ag Building. This is where the butter cow resides and you’ll find lots of great Iowa products to try and buy.
- The Cultural Center is filled with amazing photographs and art of all types. There is often something going on in the rotunda.
The Iowa State Fair is rooted in traditions that run deep into the soil of the state. While it may grow I hope it will never change.
What You Need To Know
The Iowa State Fair runs 10 days every August.
Gates open at 7am and close at 1am.
Ticket prices are $10 (at the time of publication) for ages 12 and up, $4 ages 6-11, ages 5 and under are free. Half price admission Monday-Thursday from 5-10 pm and all day on the fair’s final day. There are also Fair Packs available on the website.