The Iowa State Fair holds a special place in my heart. I started dating my husband in the summer of 2000 in northern Illinois. He suggested that I come with him to the Iowa State Fair to meet his family. I had not been to a fair in my life, not the Illinois State Fair, not a county fair. I am an only child and the thought of meeting his immediate and extended family (he is the oldest of 5) all at the same time was terrifying. But, I really really liked him so I agreed to the trip. I saw things I had never seen before, like someone blow drying a chicken and anything you can think of to eat on a stick. We rode rides, saw concerts, and walked around exhibits. The Iowa State Fair will always be the special place that I met my wonder in-laws. Today we all still meet up at the Iowa State Fair. The family keeps growing with more grandchildren who are being exposed to all the great education and fun that the Iowa State Fair has to offer.
Here are the Top 10 Reasons why Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair (for families)
When I said you can get anything you can think of on a stick to eat, I meant it. Chocolate dipped fried cheesecake, corn dog, sausage wrapped in pancake and more. Their website boasts 75 foods on a stick this year. But what you might not know is that many of the options are healthy. I love their salads on a stick. They also have pb&j on a stick that our kids love. The pb&j on a stick is also one of the cheapest food options. There is also a lot of great food that isn’t on a stick. My absolute favorite food at the Iowa State Fair is the cheese curds. I have no idea what they put in the batter, but they are the best fried cheese curds I have ever eaten.
At the Midway they have rides and games for all ages. We love to ride the ferris wheel as a family in the evening to see the fairgrounds lite up. They have small rides for toddlers and large rides for the more adventurous.
There are animals around every turn at the Iowa State Fair. You can stroll through the buildings dedicated to specific animals: cows, pigs, horses. We really enjoy the Animal Learning Center. This building is where all the baby animals are born at the fair. You can see ducks, chickens, pigs, cows, and goats.
The Photo Ops
Fun cut outs, signs and pieces of art await you at every turn for an endless supply of fun photo opportunities.
One summer we went to the Iowa State Fair when my daughter was a couple months old. I was a little bit stressed about finding quiet and private places to nurse. I discovered that the Fair has designated nursing rooms in two buildings. The rooms are complete with rocking chairs, changing tables and helpful volunteers at the entrance. Check out the fairgrounds map to find the locations.
Every year the Iowa State Fair brings in big name acts for evening concerts, at an additional cost. But did you know that the Fair also has free music and family friendly performance throughout the day? Many of the family friendly shows offer multiple show times a day. Last year the kids loved the pirate play.
The Activities-Especially Little Hands on the Farm
The Iowa State Fair has countless hands on activities for kids at no extra cost, such as learning how cows are milked on a farm or how bees produce honey. Our kids’ favorite activity is Little Hands on the Farm. Kids get an apron and basket and work their way through various stations pretending to be farmers. They pretend to plant seeds, harvest produce, feed pigs, drive tractors and more. At the end, they “sell” their goods to a farmers market and receive a fake dollar for all their hard work. The dollar is then used to buy a snack at the little store on the farm.
No, I’m not talking about Presidential candidates (even though 3 were there the same day as us last year). IPTV (PBS) is a big deal in our house. Their booth at the Fair never disappoints. Be sure to check the daily activity guide to see when a famous PBS celebrity will be at the booth. Dan Wardell from the IPTV Kids Club also makes appearances at the booth. Bonus: The PBS booth is inside the Varied Industries Building complete with AC.
I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love tractors. You can see just about any type of tractor imaginable at the Iowa State Fair. You can also sit in John Deere tractors that cost more than my house.
For a small fee you can walk though a small model train museum. We have spent countless hours walking through this building and watching the trains drive through model towns and across the countryside. There are also lists of things to find as you walk through the exhibit.
A few random tips and tricks:
If you want to see the butter cow and other butter sculptures, just wait until after dinner. We went one night about 15 minutes before the building closed and there was no line. The butter cow is neat and all, but I’m not willing to wait in a long line to see it.
Go to Little Hands on the Farm in the morning or late in the afternoon. Otherwise the line will be long.
There is a large playground at the fairgrounds. This is a great spot to let everyone unwind.
The 4-H building has more than just 4-H projects on exhibit. You can also watch Lego robotic competitions and there is an area where anyone (even adults) can play with Legos.
If you are an Iowa or Iowa State fan, but sure to check out their booths in the Varied Industries Building.
Kim is the founder of Kids and Carry-Ons. She works as a director at a nonprofit organization. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children. Kim and her husband have always loved to travel and share their advice with anyone who will listen. Having kids didn’t stop their love of travel, it just meant they had to adapt. Follow along on their adventures.