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Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair
Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

This guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair answers all your burning questions, from costs and food to entertainment and extras.

A true summer tradition for many is the Iowa State Fair. This dynamic, colossal 11-day event is a celebration of the best of the state’s agriculture, entertainment, and accomplishments. Whether you spend just a day there and take it all in, or visit the entire fair (and take advantage of the fair’s campgrounds), there is so much fun to do, food to eat, and experience.

Here are some interesting facts you may or may not know:

The first Iowa State Fair was held in Fairfield in 1854. It was held in cities across the state until it was permanently moved to Des Moines in 1879. So we mean it when we say the Iowa State Fair has been a tradition for families across the state for generations.

The Iowa State Fair was the inspiration for the original novel State Fair by Iowan Phil Stong, which was then made into a movie (three times) and a Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. A visit to the State Fair can still be a truly Iowa experience today.

Several presidents (or presidential hopefuls) have visited the Iowa State Fair, particularly since the Iowa Caucuses were the first in the nation. They include Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower in 1954; Gerald Ford in 1975; Jimmy Carter in 1976 (as a candidate); George W. Bush in 2002; Barack Obama in 2007 (as a candidate) and in 2012 as president; Donald Trump in 2015 (as a candidate); Joe Biden in 2019 (as a candidate); and Ronald Reagan, who broadcast from the fair in the 1930s as sports director for WHO Radio before becoming president.

Whether you’re a seasoned fairgoer or haven’t been in years (or ever!), read on to find out all the details on how to make the most of your trip to the 2024 Iowa State Fair..

When is the Iowa State Fair?

The Iowa State Fair will be held this year from August 8th to 18th. This year’s theme is “Fair Fever” and you’re sure to experience it at the largest single event in the state of Iowa.

In recent years, the fair has attracted just over a million people from across Iowa, the country, and the world. Whether you want to come for just one day, several days, or camp (yes, that’s entirely possible and a real tradition for many families), your visit promises plenty of excitement. The fairgrounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to midnight (not closing until 9 p.m. on the last day), so you’ll have plenty of time to experience it all.

Where is the Iowa State Fair?

Each year, the Iowa State Fair is held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in southeast Des Moines. This has been the official home of the Iowa State Fair since 1886, so the fairgrounds are just over 130 years old.

It covers 445 hectares of land, so bring your best walking shoes and count your steps throughout the day, because you might just set a record.

Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair.

How much does it cost?

General admission tickets to the fair can be purchased in advance through August 7 to save some money. Adult admission (ages 12 and up) is $11 in advance, saving you $5. Children ages 6-11 are $7 in advance, saving you $3. Children under 6 are admitted free. These pre-purchased tickets are valid for one admission to the Iowa State Fair any day from August 8-18, 2024. Tickets can also be purchased daily at the entrance once the fair begins.

You can also snag a State Fair Value Pack ticket, which includes a Ye Old Mill ticket, a Snakes Alive or Train Exhibit ticket, a Rock Wall or Krazy Maze ticket, two Giant Slide tickets, a Sky Glider ticket, four food/drink tickets for $1, and a ticket for a cup of Barksdale’s State Fair Cookies for $20.

There are separate ticket fees for numerous special events throughout the show, including the Demolition Derby, Fair After Dark events, Barnyard Yoga and much more.

Other pre-sale ticket options include popular fairground rides like the Barksdale State Fair Cookie Cup (only $5 and totally worth it!). You can also purchase tickets for the various rides at the fairground, including giant slide tickets and day ride wristbands. Tickets for the various grandstand shows are also sold separately..

All tickets are available through the Iowa State Fair website.

What food will be available?

Of course, food is one of the hallmarks of the Iowa State Fair. The official list of this year’s new foods won’t be available until July 16 (on Facebook Live at 1 p.m.), but you can be sure there will be irresistible and decadent treats. The winner of last year’s new food contest was the Deep Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese. Yummy!

Each year there are at least 60 different foods on the skewer. The food vendors often get very creative with their offerings. You can find everything from pickles, corn dogs, corn on the cob and cotton candy to turkey legs, spicy mortadella, fried candy bars, chocolate-covered cheesecake, pineapple and hard-boiled eggs.

And it probably won’t surprise you that pork chops are a big hit at the fair. Between 5,000 and 6,000 pork chops are consumed during the 11 days of the fair. Hot beef sundaes (yes, beef, mashed potatoes and gravy in one cup!) and cheese curds are also highly recommended.

In total, there are over 500 food vendors and exhibitors selling food, merchandise, and expensive items (like hot tubs and farm equipment!) every day during the fair, so plan to spend plenty of time and money at the fairgrounds to make the most of your visit. There are food vendors with seating, refillable souvenir cups, an all-time favorite Iowa craft beer tent, and even some healthy and gluten-free options.

And while we’re on the subject of food, take the time to check out the food contests. The Iowa State Fair has the largest food section of the State Fair, with over 700 classes and hundreds of individual entries. You might even want to submit your favorite recipe for the whole family.

Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair.

What kind of entertainment is there?

Entertainment has been a major draw of the fair for decades. Famous artists such as Sonny and Cher, Johnny Cash and Chicago have headlined the Grandstand stage. Tickets are available nightly and vary by show. This year you can see:

August 8: Lauren Daigle

August 9: Foreigner with special guest Melissa Etheridge

10 August: Jelly Roll

11 August: Greta Van Fleet

12 August: Brett Young

13 August: Thomas Rhett

14 August: Motley Crue

August 15: Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias

August 16: The Avett Brothers

August 17: Ne-Yo

18 August: Kidz Bop

Your day pass also includes plenty of free entertainment to enjoy on several other stages throughout the fairgrounds throughout the day and night. Musical groups (well-known Iowa groups like the Pork Tornadoes and The Nadas), comedians, magic shows and more fill the entertainment lineup at this year’s fair. You might see the Iowa State Band perform on the fairgrounds. Or you can watch artists do some chainsaw carving.

You can plan ahead by checking out the entertainment program, but also expect to be surprised during your visit.

Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair.

What else can we expect?

You may have wondered if we would forget the butter cow. How could we?!

The Butter Cow has been a major attraction at the Iowa State Fair since it was first carved in 1911. The cow weighs about 600 pounds and takes about 16 hours to carve. Interestingly, each year after the cow is finished on display, the butter is frozen and stored for use in subsequent years (which can be for up to 10 years!). Today, the cow is usually accompanied by other themed sculptures; last year’s featured legendary Iowa sportsmen Jack Trice, Kurt Warner and Caitlin Clark. All of the fair’s butter sculptures are displayed in a 40-degree refrigerator in the Agriculture Building.

Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair.

While you’re at the fair, take some time to look at the various 4-H projects. Only the top-rated projects from each local county fair are brought to the state level, so you’ll see only the best of the best. And it can be fun to see which projects have been trending over the years. The art building is always full of stunning work, including fine art and photography.

And don’t miss seeing the animals. The agricultural experiences at the Iowa State Fair are second to none. You’re sure to be amazed and learn something new as you stroll through the pens for pigs, sheep, cows and horses.

And maybe you’ll enter a competition (possibilities include cow pat tossing, bag tournaments, checkers, a spelling bee, husband calling and more) or the Bill Riley Talent Search. Fair organizers like to say it’s THEIR fair, so you might as well join in. The Talent Search gives young Iowans a chance to showcase their talents. Qualifying events are held throughout the state leading up to the fair, culminating in six juniors (ages 2 to 12) and one senior (ages 13 to 21) being named winners at the Iowa State Fair.

It goes without saying that there is so much going on at the Iowa State Fair each year that you are sure to find something you enjoy. To learn more about the fair and plan your visit this summer, visit https://www.iowastatefair.org/.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Your Guide to the 2024 Iowa State FairYour Guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

  • Katie George

    Katie George

    Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer, editor, and nonprofit professional living and working in her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She has written for a variety of publications, including WashingtonPost.com, BHG.com, and US News & World Report. Her first book, 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before You Die, was released in October 2022. Learn more at katiemillsgiorgio.com or follow her on Instagram at @ktmgiorgio.

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