Let me begin by saying I am an Iowan. I like Iowa. I understand Iowa. The Iowan traditions are familiar and comforting to me. We ask kids to tell a joke before they get candy when trick or treating. We don’t allow the good fireworks, but the cops (mostly) know to look the other way the weekend of July 4.

And we have the state fair by which all other fairs can be judged. There, I said it.

I got into a facebook discussion with one of my sister’s friends named Gianna after the Iowa State Fair had concluded. Apparently, she took offense to something I said about how the Iowa State Fair is far superior to all other fairs as if that just isn’t factual. I understood her local blinders about how great the Minnesota State Fair is in her eyes and got to wonder if maybe I have similar blinders about the Iowa State Fair. So I visited my sister over the Labor Day weekend and visited the Minnesota State Fair for one day.

One day is not enough time to give any fair a proper evaluation. But one day is really what I had available to me. My sister and her husband have four kids, ages nine months to eight years. They were real troopers for the one full day we spent, but asking them to do a second day would be pushing it.

The Minnesota grounds are pretty flat. The Iowa State Fair features a hill that can be a bit challenging for some, but the hill adds character to the fair. And there are rewards for climbing the hill, whether you want to sample some new dairy products, catch a great interactive kids show, stomp some grapes into wine or just find a great deal on lemonade. A flat fair is outside of my definition of what the fair should be, so I’ll accept this as a preference based on familiarity.

Both fairs have a ride called “Ye Old Mill.” Its hook my confidence a bit when I saw that the ride is essentially identical from one fair to the other. And from what research I have done, it appears that Minnesota had their ride first. So I must give a point to our neighbors to the north.

The Minnesota State Fair also has a permanent structure haunted house. “Seems a bit early in the year for that,” said the sensible Iowan.

There are food stands throughout the Minnesota fairgrounds, but the center of the food is essentially a giant food court. Lots of fish items are served. We shared an order of “Smelt,” which tastes better than it sounds. In the food stands, I got a sense that this fair is all about Minnesota while the food stands in Iowa are all about Iowa. Sure, you can get a corn dog at both fairs, but the differing items are where the state shines through. And because of this, it is difficult to declare a winner.

I expected much better stages in the Minnesota fair. In Iowa, you can walk around and visit several stages capable of holding hundreds of people to see a free music show or talent contest. I didn’t see that in Minnesota.

The Iowa State Fair is much better organized. We have buildings and areas on the grounds for certain types of attractions. The Minnesota State Fair appeared to have a more haphazard method of “first come first served” when deciding where to place things. It was like visiting a town that didn’t have any zoning. If you want to see the items you can only buy at the fair, I can name about four buildings where you might find it. If you want information about a local college, the Education Building is a great place to start, but your search may take you elsewhere. This could be another familiarity issue, but I don’t think so.

So Gianna and I have contemplated a challenge next year. She will visit the Iowa State Fair and I will visit the Minnesota State Fair. I’m thinking we can make categories to judge one against the other. Food, People Watching, General Feel, Free Attractions, Butter Sculptures and so on. Maybe I will have recovered enough to compare the Ye Old Mills, but I don’t think a Haunted House category is suitable in August/September.


  • Oh, I am so excited! I can’t wait to see how this goes!
    And I must say that I enjoyed your evaluation!
    (Did I say that once already?)
    You were quite fair. So February is when we are making the official categories?

    Chris WILL SOOOOO not do this with me. He hates the fair. So I think I’m going to have to have a girls weekend with Dacia, head on down, and drag her along on this expedition. It would only be better with her anyway, right?

  • Nope, can’t do that! The Bus is the way to go! (otherwise I know someone who lives by the fair and has people park in their lot–either way, there is no way I could be completely unbiased)

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