The Iowa State Fair opened a few minutes ago and runs through August 17. I'm a big fan of the event, and after the jump, I've posted some of my favorite tips for enjoying the fair, along with the schedule for candidate appearances at the Des Moines Register's "soapbox" on the Grand Concourse. The Register will live-stream speeches by candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, as well as a few nationally known politicians from out of state.
The fair has almost endless free entertainment, but bring cash with you anyway, because the State Fair board had to backtrack on plans to eliminate cash purchases for food. Instead, vendors have been encouraged to accept credit and debit cards. I suspect most will stick with a cash-only system.
Getting to the fair
I usually park in someone's yard on Grand, because it's a short walk from there to the Grand Avenue entrance near many of the things we like doing. More important, when it's time to leave, tired kids have only a short walk back to the car. However, depending on how close you are to the fair, parking in a yard will cost between $4 and $10. If you don't want to pay for parking and you don't mind walking a mile or so, there is often free street parking way up on Grand (more than 10 blocks away). This year we might try the shuttle running to the fair from downtown Des Moines. Another shuttle runs from Southeast Polk middle school on highway 163.
Saving money at the fair
The Department of Natural Resources building features indigenous Iowa fish as well as some live turtles or snakes. A lot of people don't know about this attraction. If you enter the fairgrounds at Grand Avenue, it's on your left. Or, if you are walking down Grand from the midway or other streets, the Natural Resources building will be on your right.
Check the schedule for free entertainment on the various stages and shows. This year, acrobats will do a "Red Trouser Show" several times a day on Expo Hill. Last year we enjoyed the grape stomping up by "grandfather's farm," as well as the wildlife shows in the theater on the Grand Concourse, near the DNR building. You can also play marbles or watch people pitching horseshoes. At certain times of day you can listen to old-fashioned hymn singing or watch people carve ice or wood with chainsaws. A "one-man band" strolls around the triangle sometimes during the afternoon.
Bleeding Heartland readers of a certain age may be happy to learn that Floppy, the puppet from the classic central Iowa kids' tv show, will be on display in the Iowa State Fair Museum. To get there, walk up Expo Hill toward Pioneer Hall.
All day long you can see different kinds of farm animals in any of the barns on the south side of the Fairgrounds or at the Animal Learning Center, near the Midway. A smaller barn with rabbits and chickens is near the Ag building. It's fun to see the different breeds, although they don't seem to have rabbits in that building every day during the fair.
The shows in the livestock building are also free and can be entertaining, especially for kids.
The 4H building has amazing crafts on display.
Some of my friends love going to see the food contest judging and the "ugly cakes" display in the Elwell Family Food Center.
"Little Hands on the Farm" is a free attraction for little kids, but lines can be long. I prefer to wait until later in the day. Kids pretend to be farmers and sell their crops for a fake dollar that buys them a real treat in the shop.
Avoiding the Midway is an excellent strategy for saving money at the fair, but if you or your kids love rides, the best deal is a wristband for unlimited rides on most of the attractions. The Megapass is available in advance of the fair for $25. Once the fair is open, you can usually buy a wristband on weekdays only.
In past years a building near the giant yellow slide has featured an elaborate model train set. It's free to look at and can be a nice break on a hot, sunny day.
Favorite Iowa State Fair food
I am not a fan of the most popular fairgrounds treats, such as pork chops, corn dogs, grinders, and funnel cakes. For my money, the best meal containing meat at the fair is the lamb kebab from the Iowa Sheep Producers kiosk in front of the sheep barn. The best vegetarian meal I've had at the fair is the brick oven pizza near the grape stomping area at Grandfather's Farm.
I used to like popcorn at the fair, but in recent years the real butter has been replaced by the oil flavoring used at most movie theaters. Gross.
Most of all, I look forward to ice cream from the Bauder's truck, parked near the Ag building and the Pella plaza. At least once every year, I buy lemonade from the honey producers' table on the second level of the Ag Building.
Other State Fair tips
If you plan to pay for a ride on the Sky-Glider, take it down from Heritage Hill (near the horseshoe pitch) to the Midway area. Most people want to ride it in the other direction to avoid walking uphill, but the lines are much longer. You also get a fantastic view of Des Moines when riding the glider downhill.
Taking a change of clothes for children is well worth the hassle of carrying a few extra things in your backpack. If your kids get muddy or slip and fall in one of the animal barns, you'll be glad to have spare clothes. Don't ever dress kids in clothes or shoes you don't want to get wet, because there are water features to play in along the Grand Concourse and near the Pella Plaza next to the Ag Building.
Des Moines Register soapbox schedule
Candidates and elected officials will have a chance to speak for about 20 minutes in front of the Des Moines Register Service Center on the Grand Concourse, just east of the Administration Building. The Grand Avenue entrance is closest to the soapbox.
Thursday, August 7
10:15 am: State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald (Democrat)
10:40 am: Representative Bruce Braley, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
1:15 pm: Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, GOP nominee in IA-02. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
2 pm: Sherrie Taha, Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture
3 pm: Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (Democrat)
4:20 pm: Rick Stewart, independent candidate for U.S. Senate
4:40 pm: Sam Clovis, GOP nominee for state treasurer
Friday, August 8
10:30 am: GOP Representative Steve King, seeking re-election in IA-04. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
11 am: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (Republican)
11:30 am: State Senator Joni Ernst, GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
12:30 pm: State Senator Jack Hatch, Democratic nominee for governor. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
1 pm: Paul Pate, GOP nominee for secretary of state
2 pm: Brad Anderson, Democratic nominee for secretary of state
3 pm: Jonathan Narcisse, independent candidate for governor
Saturday, August 9
1 pm: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a possible Republican presidential candidate. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
Monday, August 11
1:30 pm: Governor Terry Branstad, seeking re-election as a Republican. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
2 pm: Adam Gregg, GOP nominee for attorney general
Tuesday, August 12
10:10 am: Rod Blum, Republican nominee in IA-01. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
10:30 am: Jim Mowrer, Democratic nominee in IA-04. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
11 am: Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack, seeking re-election in IA-02. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
11:30 am: Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible Republican presidential candidate. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
4:30 pm: State Auditor Mary Mosiman (Republican)
Wednesday, August 13
10:30 am: David Young, GOP nominee in IA-03. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
1 pm: State Representative Pat Murphy, Democratic nominee in IA-01. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
Thursday, August 14
4 pm: Staci Appel, Democratic nominee in IA-03. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
Friday, August 15
10:30 am: Jon Neiderbach, Democratic nominee for state auditor
Saturday, August 16
4:15 pm: Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. To be live-streamed at the Des Moines Register website.
My fair favorites
My fair favorites are few because I'm in recovery from too many years of working the fair in the then NOT airconditioned Varied Industries Building and dealing with all the crazy people who want the state attorney general to represent them.
My recovery program consists of going to the fair for about 6 hours with my husband who absolutely loves the fair.
My favorite food is the turkey tenderloin with barbecue sauce added, and the ice cream. Last year a friend was visiting from Hawaii and she got me to try the fried macaroni and cheese and .... it was good!
As far as displays, I like checking out the needlework and quilting on the second floor of the Varied Industries building, and walking through all the animal barns where I watch the families exhibiting as much as the animals. I see their enthusiasm for the fair and it feeds my own.
My sister from NY is coming to this year's fair and her husband is a fan of craft beer, so we'll be checking out the craft beer tent as well.
I expect a full recovery in another few years!
Favorite Fair Things - can't think of one
I wouldn't go to the ISF under a court order. Here's why:
As a creative, I've tried three times to sell my creative services to the ISF. Laurie is absolutely rigid about who she works with. Too bad, I have a few ideas, which now I'm trying to sell to other states.
Buy local? I guess the ISF never heard that. I don't do business w/ people who refuse to do business with me.
I did work 5 days at the fair for a friend in 2013 - times are hard and I do what I have to do, out of my talent "wheelhouse." I arrived in time to work, left immediately and spent absolutely zero dollars there.
Otherwise it's been 12, 14 years or more since I went to the ISF. It's a disgusting display of obese people over-paying for crappy food and wandering around aimlessly.
The fairgrounds -- when the fair's not in session -- is a tranquil place and a biking destination for me at least once a month year-round. Other than that -- pffft. No use for it.