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Ultimate Guide to the Iowa State Fair

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

As recently discovered on a totally official and highly sophisticated Instagram poll of my followers… you either love the Fair or you hate the Fair. Personally, I just can’t understand how anyone could hate the Iowa State Fair, but apparently 34% of my Instagram followers have no desire to spend time sweating, people watching, eating fried food, and drinking cold beer.

If you can’t tell, I’m one that LOVES the Iowa State Fair. There are of course the classic things to do there like visit the Butter Cow, Ye Old Mill, admire the variety of animals and catch a concert. If you have kids there’s a ton of free and fun activities, Des Moines Moms has an excellent itinerary that shows you all of that. But if I only had one day to get away to the fair, my perfect day would be:

  • Grab something to eat! It may be obvious but fair food can be overwhelming to figure out what to try! For me the day has to start with a Campbells corn dog and shakeup lemonade. Not just any lemonade will do, it has to be a shakeup. These are made fresh to order and are simply squeezed lemons, granulated sugar and water all shaken up. YUM! My husband would say the hot beef sundae found at Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters is must have & pecan pie for dessert from The Bacon Box (with the coolest logo designed by the one and only XO-LP). Other members of the Sara Hopkins Real Estate Team have some good recommendations too:

Katey: Pickle Dawg but it has to be paired with a 27 degree Busch Light

Molly: Nitro Ice Cream by the Grandstand

Kari: The classic corndog

Amy: Honey Lemonade in the agriculture building

  • Visit the miniature dollhouse room on the third floor of the cultural building. These works of art are so captivating! It is on my bucket list to submit a dollhouse of my own one day.

  • Get a kick out of Mutton Busting. Kids hang on for dear life riding sheep. Only at the Fair!

  • See some BRAND NEW baby animals being born at the Animal Learning Center. The sweetness.

  • Browse the photography exhibit in the Cultural Center

  • Catch a ride on the Giant Slide. It will make you laugh like you’re a kid again

  • Watch the live wood carving at the Wood Carvers Auction, you can catch them four times a day between the First Church and Pioneer Hall

  • Try your hand, or your feet rather, at grape stomping at Grandfathers Farm with the Iowa Wine Experience.

  • Hop on the Sky Glider, no better way to see the fair than from this aerial view

  • As the day winds down, catch the sunset view from Top of the Vine. In my opinion it’s the best skyline view.

  • End your evening by dancing the night away at one of the free concerts, live music at JRs, or mingle with friends at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent. While you’re at the Craft Beer Tent be sure to snap a pic next to one of several murals on the block building across from it. The murals were done by local artist Jimmy Navarro and the project was coordinated by Liz Lidgett Gallery. Read more about it here.

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