It's no secret that the Iowa State Fair is one of the best state fairs in America! The annual event lasts for 11 days every August and brings in over 1 million visitors! We had the pleasure of being 2 of those 1 million back in 2021 and thought it might be helpful to put together a little list of helpful tips for first time attendees!
*Check out our "A Day at the Iowa State Fair" vlog for a closer look at our time in the Hawkey State!
Now, let's get into the good stuff...
1. Buy your tickets in advance
Thrill Park passes, Family Fun packs, and admission tickets are all available at a discounted rate if you buy before the first day of the fair. At the time of writing this, advanced admission tickets are $9/adult and $5/child (ages 6-11) while at the gate tickets are $14/adult and $8/child (ages 6-11). So, yes, you can buy your tickets at the gate, but why not save a little money and buy them ahead of time… Plus, you’ll skip the ticket line! Check the Iowa State Fair website for current prices and dates.
2. Where to park
There are 3 parking lots onsite (North, Northeast, and University) that cost $10/vehicle. These lots are the most ideal options since they are close to the fairgrounds and the North and Northeast lots offer a free shuttle to and from the admission gates. Be sure to check the Ioway State Fair website for more details on parking. If you get to the fair and find that the official lots are full, don’t worry… There are more options! The fair offers three State Fair Park & Ride locations where you can park for free and pay to ride a DART (public transportation shuttle) to and from the admission gates. If you’ve purchased your fair tickets in advance, you will get a 50% discount on your roundtrip fair. And again, be sure to check the website for all the details. If all of that sounds too complicated, there’s always the option to park in one of the MANY unofficial parking areas! AKA, local businesses and residents taking advantage of the demand and charging a reasonable fee to park in their parking lot, yard, or driveway. Some of these can be a little sketchy, so just be aware and don’t leave valuables in your car.
3. What to bring… And not bring!
The Iowa State Fair is held in August, so be prepared for it to be HOT! For that reason, be sure to wear proper clothing and bring sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, etc). Also, there will likely be a LOT of walking involved, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes. We also recommend bringing a sealed bottle of water with you. That way, you don’t have to purchase it when you get inside the fair and you can refill the bottle at water fountains.
Now, the list of what NOT to bring is a little longer and also more official since this is exactly what the Iowa State Fair website says that they DO NOT allow past the security check-point. Bags and purses ARE allowed, but are subject to inspection at the gates and also when entering the Grandstand.
No weapons of any kind
No outside glass bottles, cans, drink containers (except sealed water bottles), coolers or food
No explosive and or flammable objects
No pets allowed, except for trained service animals
Any additional items deemed inappropriate, harmful or unsafe are subject to confiscation
Of course, we recommend checking directly with the Iowa State Fair if you have any questions regarding what’s allowed for entry.
4. Go in with a plan!
I know it probably sounds a little silly to say that you need a plan to visit a fair, right? I mean, you eat, you ride rides, you play games… What's so difficult about that? Well, at a fair as big as the Iowa State Fair, having a plan can make all the difference! The 400-acre fairgrounds has nearly 200 food stands, dozens of rides and exhibits and shows, and nightly Grandstand concerts. In other words… It can be overwhelming, so be sure to download the Iowa State Fairgrounds Map and download the Iowa State Fair App (iPhone or Android) to make planning and finding your way around a whole lot easier!
5. Have Fun!
I know, this one probably seems like such an obvious thing, but it can quickly be forgotten in the (literal) heat of the moment! When you’ve been walking all day in 90+ degree weather and you’re dehydrated because soda tastes so much better than water, remember… The fair is supposed to be FUN! If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong! So, stay hydrated, take breaks when you need to, and enjoy your time at one of the best state fairs in America!
We hope that these tips have helped you prepare and make the most of your time at the Iowa State Fair! Whether you’re going for the food, the rides, the shows, or all three, you are in for a treat! And I leave you with these 4 very important words… Get the Barksdale Cookies! You can thank me later.