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Wisconsin State Fair guide: food, music and other info

Wisconsin State Fair / Facebook

The Wisconsin State Fair is back to build on 172 years celebrating “agriculture and other industries paramount to Wisconsin’s rich history and promising future.” And there’s no better way to celebrate than 11 days of entertainment, food and drink that occasionally border on the bizarre, and animals. So many animals.

Much has changed since the inaugural event back in 1851 (maybe not the “animals” part), so we gathered some helpful information to get you started on navigating this year’s Wisconsin State Fair.

When is the Wisconsin State Fair?

This year’s installment of the annual event runs from Thursday, Aug. 3, through Sunday, Aug. 13. The fun starts at 10 a.m. every day, and ends at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and midnight Thursday through Saturday.

Where can I park?

For starters, keep in mind that you can only turn right into the parking lots off South 84th Street, West Greenfield Avenue, West Kearney Street and South 76th Street. Parking is $8 for motorcycles, $15 for regular-sized vehicles and $30 for vehicles over 20 feet in length (you can buy parking in advance here). There are three gates available for entry:

  • Gate 1 at West Greenfield Avenue and South 79th Street opens daily at 6 a.m.
  • Gate 7 on Kearney Street between South 84th and 76th streets opens at 9 a.m.
  • Gate 9 at West Pierce and South 76th streets opens at 9 a.m.

There’s also street parking in the neighborhoods around State Fair Park, although make sure to read the parking signs carefully so you don’t run afoul of restricted times. You can also avoid the parking problem altogether by taking one of the shuttles offered by local bars/restaurants or using a rideshare service, all of which drop off and pick up right outside the main gate.

How much are tickets?

If you’re between the ages of 12 and 60, it’s $17 if you buy online and $18 at the gate. Seniors (60+), military/veterans and kids (6-11) can all get in for $13, while children ages 5 and under are free. There are also several daily specials that will bring that cost down:

  • Aug. 3 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) — Donate two cans of healthy fruits or veggies, and you’ll receive a voucher for $5 admission (valid that day only).
  • Aug. 4 (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) — Get two adult tickets for $18 when you present an out-of-state ID.
  • Aug. 6 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) — All veterans, military personnel and their families receive free admission. Just present a military ID at any ticket window.
  • Aug. 9 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) — Present a receipt of $40 or more from any Wisconsin Meijer store and save $5 on admission.
  • Aug. 10 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) — Educators who present a school-issued ID or name badge at any ticket window get in free.

What about food and drink?

When people talk about food and drink at the State Fair, usually they want to hear about the more … let’s say innovative options first. A few weeks ago, we found out which items will participate in the Sporkies and — for the first time ever — Drinkies competitions. You can check out our ranking of the finalists for the full list, but rest assured there’s the usual mix of conventional (Wisconsin quesadilla) and crazy (dill pickle donut).

If people aren’t as interested in the inventive options, that means they’re asking about cream puffs, which will of course be available again this year. Will they be in demand in the Radio Milwaukee offices? Based on a discussion earlier this week about their general merits and (mostly) demerits, probably not. But most folks seem to love the heck out of them.

This year, you can get one for $5, three for $14 and six for $25. They’re available at the Original Cream Puff Pavilion located near the expo center, the Cream Puff Express Window on the north end of the puff pavilion, or one of the Cream Puff To-Go stands on Grandstand Avenue.

Outside of curious concoctions and puff pastries, the State Fair has plenty of local vendors on hand — from Slim McGinn’s to Major Goolsby’s and Saz’s to Leff’s. In addition, the fair has designated Aug. 8 as “Crazy Grazin’ Day,” when various foods will be available at a discount. There’s also a souvenir cup you can grab for $8, with refills just $4 after that.

Wisconsin State Fair / Facebook

What else is there to do?

Let’s start with our wheelhouse of music, which you can find everywhere throughout the fairgrounds. The Main Stage has its usual mix of everything from country to comedy and Christian to kid-friendly on this year’s schedule:

Beyond the big stage, there’s the Bank Five Nine Amphitheater with classic rock like Great White and local mainstays like Pat McCurdy, as well as 19 vendor music stages scattered throughout the grounds.

If you prefer the dulcet tones of ducks and dairy cattle, animals are also a massive presence, particularly in Ag Village located on the North side of State Fair Park. You’ve got barns dedicated to cattle, horses, sheep, goats and swine, plus a palace for poultry and rabbits. You can check out horse pulls Aug. 6, Saz’s Racing Pigs seven times a day every day, and dogs doing demos at the K-9 Sports Arena.

As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, there are plenty of rides and other activities at the SpinCity area just inside the main gate, as well as various attractions headlined by the very accurately named Giant Slide that is both large and low-friction. You’ll also find the WonderFair Wheel (won’t need to look too hard for that one, either), Ejection Seat and Salto Power Jump Trampolines for your thrill-seeking pleasure.

Beyond that, there’s plenty of shopping; a variety of art experiences; exhibits featuring horticulture, textiles and other crafts; tractors big and small; and more we’d mention if we had the space. For a truly exhaustive source of information, check out the Wisconsin State Fair Daily Schedule, which is chock full of helpful details.