The Iowa State Fair starts Thursday: Here's what to know about tickets, food, Grandstand events and more
Mark your calendars for Aug. 12-22 — the Iowa State Fair will be back.
The 2020 state fair was canceled due to COVID-19, but this year the staff behind the fair decided conditions were safe enough to return to the grand concourse in Des Moines.
Back means back to big crowds, big eats and big boars and big shows.
Here's what you need to know about the 2021 State Fair:
When does the Iowa State Fair start?
This year, the 11-day Iowa State Fair kicks off Thursday, Aug. 12, and lasts through Sunday, Aug. 22. Each day, the fairgrounds are open from 8 a.m. to midnight and buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Rides are open in three zones at varying hours: Thrill Town is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Thrill Ville and Thrill Zone are open 10 a.m. to midnight.
Iowa State Fair 2021:
- Updated COVID guidance: No mask rules, no capacity limits
- From concerts to new venues, here's what to expect at the 2021 Iowa State Fair (so far!)
- Butter cow sculpture returns in 2021 alongside an Iowa State Fair mainstay that is celebrating 50 years
How much are Iowa State Fair tickets for 2021 and how can I get them?
Tickets are available for purchase at the gate when you arrive at the State Fair. Tickets for adults, people 12 and older, cost $14 per day and $8 for children age 6 to 11. Children 5 or younger can enter for free.
Tickets purchased in advance are cheaper: Adult tickets are $9 and children's tickets are $5. Pick up tickets online at www.iowastatefair.org/visit/buy-tickets or in-person at participating Iowa Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee Drug, Fareway, Price Chopper and Cash Saver locations beginning July 6.
2021 event tickets:
- Iowa State Fair tractor pulls, monster trucks, demolition derby tickets are on sale. Here's how to get them
- Grandstand ticket update: Which 2021 Iowa State Fair concerts have sold the most seats?
Where to park at the Iowa State Fair
Getting to the fair is half the battle. Luckily, there are plenty of options available.
If you're looking for parking on-site, there are parking lots available for motorcycle and vehicle parking in the North, Northeast and University lots for $10, according to the Fair website; bicycles can also park inside from Gate 11 for free. If these lots fill up, never fret: there are other options available.
People willing to park further away from the fairgrounds can take discounted rides on Des Moines Area Regional Transit buses. Buses will drop off passengers at the DART Transit Hub at Gate 10. Masks are currently still required on DART vehicles.
Parking is free at all DART locations from 8:30 a.m. to midnight during the fair — and you can get half-price round trip bus tickets if you show your fair tickets. Prices are $2 for people between age 11 and 64, $1 for children between age 6 to 10, people older than 65, Medicare cardholders and people with disabilities. Children 5 and younger ride free.
If you plan to use rideshare apps or taxis for your Fair transport, pick up and drop off will be located at the Fairgrounds' Gate 8.
Iowa State Fair attendance
How many people usually come to the Iowa State Fair each year? The short answer: more than a million.
The fair first topped 1 million visitors in 2002, with 1,008,174, according to the fair's website.
In 2019, 1,170,375 people attended the Iowa State Fair, breaking the all-time attendance record set the previous year by 40,115 people.
From the State Fair Grandstand to tractor pulls, things to do in 2021
As always, there's plenty to do at the fair.
At the Grandstand, fans can see famous performers from Christian rock band Casting Crowns (8 p.m. Aug.12) to country hitmakers Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch (8 p.m. Aug.16) and more.
Grandstand ticket update: Which 2021 Iowa State Fair concerts have sold the most seats?
Grandstand shows cost an extra fee in addition to fair entrance tickets to attend. But around the fairgrounds, there are many other free shows: Iowa favorites the Nadas, Tag Team, and rhythm-and-blues trio Tony! Toni! Toné! are all performing during the 11-day event.
There's also a new venue opening this year: Elwell Family Park, in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. Its first event will be midway through the fair on Aug. 17 and 18 for a tractor pull. The venue will also host a monster truck show and demolition derby: find the lineup here.
Iowa State Fair concerts:
- Iowa State Fair Grandstand:Acts, showtimes and ticket prices for the fair's biggest stage in 2021
- Iowa State Fair free stage lineup: Featuring the Nadas, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Color Me Badd, and more
What about Iowa State Fair food and drink?
Most of the State Fair favorites are back this year: you can get your bucket full of cookies, fresh lemonade and pork on a stick just like usual. There's also a new vendor opening on the grounds where Diamond Jacks used to be: Brooks Reynolds, the co-founder of Des Moines' Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, better known as BaconFest, is taking over the space with a new concession and bar. The bar will have a few soft openings in July and full open capacity beginning on Thursday, Aug.12.
Among the traditional State Fair foods, 63 new foods will make their fairground debut this year. From Tennessee Twinkies to a Peanut Butter Squealer, there will be plenty of options, and a new top 3 foods you'll be able to vote on.
The Iowa Craft Beer Tent is also upgrading. The new tent, a permanent fixture on the fairgrounds, will be three times the size of the old one, and construction will begin in the next few weeks, said Steve Linn, managing partner of the Iowa Craft Beer Tent.
Iowa State Fair foods, drinks:
- After a year with no Iowa State Fair, food vendors introduce 63 creative new dishes for 2021. What are they?
- Here are the top 10 new foods at the 2021 Iowa State Fair
- New foods of 2021 Iowa State Fair announced. Here are the ones from previous years.
- BaconFest co-founder to replace Iowa State Fair's Diamond Jacks with new 'pork-centric' concession and bar
- Join the party: Iowa Craft Beer Tent is building a bigger, better tent for 2021 Iowa State Fair
When is next year's Iowa State Fair?
Dates for the 2022 fair are Aug. 11-21. And for those long-term planners, dates for 2023 are Aug. 10-20.
Robin Opsahl covers trending news for the Register. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8051.