When it comes to the Iowa State Fair, I totally drank the Kool-Aid. It is such a fun experience, so many great foods, top notch people watching, and tons of interesting exhibits! I have the opportunity to go three times this year, the first being last Saturday with Adam. We spent all afternoon there, from noon until 8pm! We ate all the things, saw all the things, and walked all the places! I am so looking forward to the next two visits (work related on Thursday and with my friend on Saturday) but I wanted to post my recommendations from visit #1 including everything we ate, our favorite spots, and fair-related tips! Here are my thoughts from both last year’s visit and this year’s!
- Eggs (Agriculture Building) – This gets the first spot because there are FREE eggs on a stick in the Agriculture Building. They are super fresh and there are spices to roll your egg around. DO NOT MISS!
- Turkey Leg (south of Ruan Plaza) – Adam’s favorite protein of the day, despite the difficulty in eating! We got one from the official Iowa Turkey Tent (where they also have Thanksgiving balls… If only it had been happy turkey!) and I pretty much lost him to the leg for about 20 minutes while he methodically ate every piece of meat off the bone. If you love turkey legs, this is your spot!
- Bacon-Wrapped Ribs – Adam had two of these, first stop! And loved them. He recommends adding the BBQ sauce, otherwise they can be a little dry but definitely yummy.
- Garlic Cheese Curds (Grand Concourse) – Sometimes you just want something greasy (to soak up some of the beer!) so we opted for the garlic cheese curds this year, with marinara sauce. So good. The garlic was not overwhelming, it was delicious!
- Veggie Corn Dog (Grand concourse) – A repeat customer from last year and Saturday’s visit was just as yummy as the first! Veggie Table is a fun food vendor that sells fried veggies, cheese curds, and veggie corn dogs! There are not too many “protein” vegetarian options aside from the free egg and this is my favorite!
- Dairy Barn (Rock Island Ave. by Cattle Barn)– First visit was this year and it was AMAZING! The wait was long and slow but no regrets. I had a double scoop in a bowl with chocolate and cookie dough. Adam had strawberry on a cone and chocolate milk. The milk is straight from the cows in the attached barn, the most fresh you’re ever going to get! Definitely recommend!
- The Corn Stand (Ruan Plaza) – I was a repeat customer from last year and sadly it did not impress me this year. The corn was either turning or had been overcooked but it was gummy and difficult to eat. Buttttt, my memory from last year was that it was amazing and my mom loved the corn cup with meat. So if you are interested in corn, maybe consider the bowls instead of the corn on a stick!
- Barksfield Cookies (Grand Concourse & Varied Industries Building) – Best. Ever. They didn’t happen for me on Saturday but I am looking forward to Saturday when I will FOR SURE be getting a bucket of mini cookies. This is a well-known staple of the fair and you really MUST try them (even if you only get a cup!).
- Mini Donuts (Triangle by the Agriculture Building) – Another mini food that is amazing! Adam and I didn’t get to the fair until lunch time this year but last year I had the donuts TWICE and I will for sure be getting them on Thursday, potentially Thursday and Saturday. Living on the edge!
- Bud Tent (Grand Concourse) – There are many different places to buy alcohol at the fair, which is another big plus of spending a whole day eating and drinking your way through all the highlights, but the Bud tent is A) not actually a tent and B) the prime beer spot of the fair! With live music, seating, dancing, and multiple bars with various beers on tap, everyone will find something at the Bud Tent. Word to the wise, the tickets you buy at the Bud Tent can only be used at the Bud Tent… not at any other Budweiser pop-ups around the fair. So keep track of if you plan to return to the tent and if multiple tickets is worthwhile!
- Wine Tasting (Grandfather’s Barn) – Located in Grandfather’s Barn at the top of the hill, you can try 6 Iowan wines for $5 and can buy a bottle of your favorite! It is an under-visited spot so you can often find a seat and it is totally worth it for a change of pace away from the crowds. I haven’t tried the grape stomp yet but they do that here too!
- Craft Beer Tent (behind Cultural Center) – There are a few of these around the fair but my favorite is across from the wine tasting building, also at the top of the hill! It is worth the hike! Seats are usually available, wine and beer can be purchased in various ounces, and the view over the fair to downtown Des Moines is unrivaled.
- Top of the Hill – As mentioned above, this is a great spot to get away from the crowds, have some wine and/or craft beer, and take some pictures of the views. There is also a pizza vendor up here that I have heard is amazing!
- Avenue of Breeds (Swine Barn) – Found this year and LOVED it! Best spot to see all the farm animals: cattle, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, elk, alpacas, etc. So cool!
- 4-H Exhibits Building – I enjoyed pursuing these projects this year and was amazed by the variety and sophistication of the presentations. Mix of everything, from international research projects, to food-related topics, to DIY renovations. Also, the building has AC. Great spot to recharge with fewer people and cool air.
- Agriculture Building – I had no idea how many different competition categories there were for adults until I walked through this building. Everything from vegetable competitions, to flower arrangement, to table settings and door wreaths. It was both amazing and comical! Adam and I walked up and down every aisle checking things out and admiring the winners! If you don’t check out this building, you did not have a full fair experience!
- Butter Cow (Agriculture Building) – There is a whole movie (BUTTER is on Netflix… you should check it out! Jennifer Garner, Alicia Silverstone, and Hugh Jackman are in it!) on this concept of butter carving and the butter cow. It is a big deal in Iowa and people line up down the length of the building to walk past and see the cow. They also have a different theme each year in addition to the cow. Last year was Star Trek, this year it is Laura Ingalls Wilder. Even if you don’t stay in line, you should go and catch a glimpse of the cow!
- Take an Uber – Parking is a pain and can be expensive, much smarter to let an Uber get you there and home safely!
- Water – Bring it! They don’t check bags (at least mine wasn’t checked!) and while water might be heavy, it is expensive to buy at the park and you’ll definitely need it with all the yummy foods, hot days, and adult beverages.
- Vehicles – The only issue I have with the fair is the number of motorized vehicles driving all over the property. I understand that it is a big space
- Don’t Overthink it – The Iowa State Fair map is both overwhelming and minimally helpful. Short of having a few “musts”, I recommend just wandering around, taking it all in, seeing things as they happen, eating as you pass vendors, not spending all of your time trying to find things that may or may not be in the location you think you are headed. Adam and I had a few places we wanted to go but we enjoyed ourselves the most when we just wandered!
In case my words and pictures didn’t make it clear, I am a big fan of the fair! The energy, the people, the smells! While I have only been to one other state fair, sorry Florida, Iowa’s is not to be missed!
Now tell me:
- What is your favorite fair food?
- What’s the best part about going to a fair?
- Which state fairs have you been to?