Exploring the Iowa State Fair with Kids

The Iowa State Fair is one of the largest in the nation, and it's just a few hours from Sioux City! Last year I went with my family, including our kids who were 9, 5, and 18 months old at the time, and we had so much fun! My husband and I had gone together as a young married couple with no kids, but this was our first time experiencing it as parents. If you've considered going to the Iowa State Fair with kids, here's what you need to know:

Where is the Iowa State Fair?

The Iowa State Fair is held every year at the State Fairgrounds at 3000 East Grand Ave in Des Moines, Iowa. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Sioux City.

When is the Iowa State Fair?

The Iowa State Fair is usually the second and third week of August, but it can vary a bit from year to year. The 2019 Iowa State Fair will be from August 8th through 18th.

How much are tickets to the Iowa State Fair?

The cost of tickets for the 2019 fair is $12 for adults and $6 for kids at the gates, or $8 for adults and $4 for kids in advance. The easiest options are probably to either buy online and print your tickets at home, or buy them from one of our local Hy-Vee stores! There are also options for ride tickets, like the Family Fun Pack with a ride wristband, some food vouchers, and more, so check the website to see if there's a deal that fits with your fair plans.

Where to Park at the Iowa State Fair with Kids:

There are lots of parking spots at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, but they tend to fill up fast. If you can, it is probably better to park elsewhere and take a bus. Every year during the Iowa State Fair the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (known as DART) offers several locations where fair goers can park and then ride a shuttle that goes directly to the fairgrounds. in 2018 those locations were SE Polk High School, a downtown parking ramp, and the Iowa State Capitol. My recommendation if you have time is to park at the capitol and tour it! Capitol tours are free and open to the public, the capitol is definitely worth seeing. We did not have any trouble getting our stroller on the shuttle when we went to the 2018 Iowa State Fair with our kids, and it also worked very well to have one of our kids in a baby carrier.

Plenty of parking and gorgeous views at the Iowa State Capitol

inside view of the Iowa State Capitol Dome

What to Wear to the Iowa State Fair with Kids:

my kids love polos when traveling to keep carseats & seatbelts from rubbing necks!

August in central Iowa is usually pretty hot. Check the weather forecast of course, but I would recommend dressing your kids and yourselves in clothes you can be cool and comfortable in all day walking around, like shorts and t-shirts, baby rompers, casual summer dresses (with shorts under if you're planning on doing rides and slides!), sneakers or comfortable sandals, hats, and plenty of sunscreen. You may also want to bring swimwear or fast drying clothing if you want to check out the splashpad area. And one of my favorite kid travel strategies is to dress them in polo shirts when travelling to prevent carseats and seatbelts from rubbing on necks!

What to bring to the Iowa State Fair with Kids:

  • Sunscreen and hats
  • Sippy cups if your kids need them
  • Cash for the fair shuttle bus, funnel cake and other fair food, rides, etc.
  • Swimsuits for your kids if they want to play in the splashpad area
  • A camera so you can remember the fun!
  • Stroller or baby carrier if you like to use them--I used a linen blend woven wrap and was very comfortable last year.
  • Diaper changing supplies
sundresses and a linen blend wrap made a great combo!

What to do at the Iowa State Fair with Kids

  • Check the daily schedule of fun events to find out when things like live performances, animal learning events, crafts, and more are going to happen.
  • Meet some animals! Our kids loved seeing all the farm animals at the fair, including pigs, sheep, cows, chicken, and llamas!
  • Visit the kids zone for hands-on learning and fun, mostly agriculture themed
  • Get wet in the splashpad area, near the center of the fairgrounds
  • Ride some rides like the ferris wheel, giant slides, and more
  • Eat fair food--the Iowa State Fair has hundreds of food vendors selling everything from classics like pulled pork and funnel cake to brand new foods like 2018's best new food winners, apple egg rolls and smoked chicken legs. Check the fair website for info on all the food vendors, including healthy foods and foods under $4! 
  • Admire the exhibits from 4H competitors, open class events, local and regional non-profit organizations and vendors. 
  • Listen to live music--there are free stages with live music throughout the fair, plus grandstand acts each night. Pentatonix, performing in the Grandstand on Saturday, August 17th, is especially likely to be a hit with tweens and teens (and their parents!), but tickets do sell out for Grandstand acts sometimes, so I recommend buying tickets as soon as you're sure you're going. 
  • Compete in some contests and events! One that's super easy to enter for families out of town is the coloring contest, which is free to enter. Just go here to print off the coloring sheet(s) for the division your kids want to enter, have them color it, then mail it in. The deadline is July 29, 2019. All entries are displayed at the fair, and it's so fun for kids to see their art on display at the Iowa State Fair. Last year, one of my kids even won a blue ribbon in his division and was so thrilled! The Iowa State Fair will even mail your ribbons to you after the fair is over so you can keep them forever. 
9 year-old was so happy to see his art displayed! 

gigantic blue ribbon my 6-year-old won!

For more information:

To find out more about the Iowa State Fair, visit the Iowa State Fair website or connect with the Iowa State Fair on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.

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