Last Tuesday my guy and I made a second visit to the Iowa State Fair. We always try to have a fair date, so we can spend time doing things that we want to do, and move at grown-up pace, without the kids. We actually go to the fair 4 or 5 times every year, because we love it so much. A lot of people really don't understand why we like to spend so much time there. Even more people don't understand how we can afford to go so many times. If you know where to look, you really don't have to spend too much money to have a good time. Here are some of the ways we save money.
1. Buy Advance Tickets.
This is very important. It costs $10 per adult per visit if you pay at the gate. We plan out the days we are going to go ahead of time, and buy advance tickets at a cost of $7 per adult per visit. You can also get in for $5 a visit if you go after 5 PM or all day the last day of the fair. We can save $30-40 this way. Little kids under 6 are always free, so stroller kids are a bonus. Then you have someplace to set your drink.
2. Know Where to Park.
Parking in the State Fair lot is now $7! This is highway robbery. If you check out the local area, and make friends with a homeowner, you can get a better spot and save money. We know a guy that lets us park for $5, and we know our car is safe all day and in the shade. If you want to park farther away and take a shuttle in, you can save even more cash.
3. Know Where to Get Your Food and Drink
We keep our plastic fair cups and bring them back year after year. We go to Leiman's Pizzeria to get them refilled. They only charge 1.50 for a refill, which is a huge bargain as far as the fair goes. A new cup filled with soda costs 4.00. Or, if you know where the water fountains are at the fair, you can refill your cup with free water. Sometimes holding on the cups is a pain, especially without a stroller, but you save a lot of money this way.
We also keep a lookout for cheap eats at the fair. There are some things I will splurge on, such as lamb gyros ($7 for regular and $9 for large) but they are fantastic. There is even price variation between stands that sell the same items in different places. We know where to find the cheapest corn dog, burgers, or pork chops in the whole place. One of my favorite things is a lamb burger. It is only $4 and delicious. Plus you know you are getting locally raised meat. You can even get free samples in the agriculture building if you go at the right time. This day, I got a free hard-boiled egg, a free slice of Hawaiian pizza, and a free cup of organic toasted soy nuts. Who needs dinner after all that?
5. Know What to See
There are a lot of things that you have to pay to do at the fair. But we hardly ever do those things. Why would you need to, when there are so many free things? All the animal buildings are free, we spend a lot of time looking at the sheep, cows, pigs, horses, and various petting zoo creatures. There are also baby versions of almost all these, some of which you can pet.
Another cool thing to check out is the produce judging in the agriculture building.
Of course, I have an ultra-enthusiastic interest in looking at produce, but you can see tables and tables of beautiful edible fruit, vegetables, and herbs. They have contests for the best specimens, the biggest, and even the ugliest.
This lovely creature won the award for ugliest vegetable at the fair. Can you guess what it is? I feel like I should take a notepad and take notes when I am there, like a shopping list for the next planting season. This year I was especially interested in the heirloom varieties, since I have delved into that area.
The DNR has cool exhibits, as well as the art building. The varied industries building, in addition to being air conditioned, has vendors giving away lots of freebies to entice you inside. If you want to buy things, you can get really good deals during fair time. If not, you can take the freebies and enjoy the ac.
6. Check the Daily Schedule
There is a lot of free entertainment to be found if you know where to look. The fair has a grandstand with pay tickets (usually big names or races), but there are several free stages with lesser known or older acts. We saw two concerts, Blackstone Cherry (hard rock) and Jason Brown (country) in one day for free. There are also wandering acts that stroll the streets of the fairgrounds if you are lucky to be in the right place at the right time. For example, the goose-herding guy.
He has all these geese totally trained to stay together and walk where he wants them to go. They are also wearing cute little scarves and backpacks and toys.
7. Know When and Where to Splurge
Some things are just worth the money. For example, the giant slide for the kids.
Or the skyglider. That is definitely worth the cash.
The point is that you have to spend some time and look around, which is easy to do, when you spend 4 to 5 days there each year. We have two more trips planned this weekend, after which I will probably be all faired out. If that is possible.