Credit: Patrick Hagerty
Here in Puyallup we know it’s nearly fall when the sky is lit with twinkling lights from carnival rides, the air is filled with the smell of onion burgers and the streets are packed with circling cars. Yes, locals do have to put up with some headaches during the three-week-long spectacle that is the Washington State Fair, but I don’t know anyone who would skip it.
Here are my family’s best tips for making the most of your fair trip!
1. Buy tickets in advance (and the Fair begins Labor Day weekend)
The 2019 Washington State Fair runs Friday, Aug. 30–Sunday, Sept. 22, at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. Note that the Fair is closed on all three Tuesdays within that date range, plus it's also closed one Wednesday: Sept. 4, 2019. And while the name officially changed a few years ago, everyone around here still calls it “The Puyallup" or just, “The Fair.”
Adult admission at the gate is $14. Adult pricing applies to everyone ages 13–61. Kids ages 6–12 are $11 and kids ages 5 and under are always free. All tickets are cheaper if you buy online, in advance. If you purchase online tickets by Thursday, Aug. 29, for example, tickets cost $10.50–$11. And there are lots of deals available — see No. 3 below for some highlights.
2. Go on Opening Day or Rodeo Parade Day for free admission and fun
The Fair is free the morning it opens (Friday, Aug. 30, 2019) from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. You’re asked to bring a canned food donation as part of Komo’s First Day at the Fair Food Drive.
You can also get in free on Friday, Sept. 6, from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., after the Western Rodeo Parade and Cattle Drive. Be sure to get there in time to watch the cattle drive, a free parade at 10 a.m. right through downtown Puyallup. You’ll get to see draft horses, royalty, real cowboys and cattle walking right down the street. Then head to the fairgrounds for free entry from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. You are asked to bring a donation of school supplies.
There is even a bargain breakfast in Pioneer Park beforehand. If it works with your schedule, there is no better way to do the Fair!
3. Take advantage of other deals
- BECU Free Kids’ Weekend: Free gate admission all day for kids ages 18 and under, Friday–Monday, Aug. 30–Sept. 2, no coupon required.
- Military Appreciation Mondays: Free gate admission all day for active, reserve and retired military personnel and dependents on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2, Monday, Sept. 9 and Monday, Sept. 16.
- Extreme Deal: Save on Extreme Scream rides on all Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (except remember, the Fair is closed Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019).
- Pick up a Fair Value Pack at Fred Meyer (by Friday, Aug. 30, or while supplies last!), which includes two gate admissions, rodeo discount, Fair bucks for food, ride discounts and more.
- Check the Fair's discounts an deals page for even more deals.
4. New: Lost World of Dragons exhibit
This new exhibit immerses visitors in the history and mythology of dragons and dragon stories from across the globe. Interactive displays and photo ops will thrill dragon fans of all ages. Note this exhibit requires paying an additional fee: $8 per person.
5. New: Tropical Odyssey: A Maze Adventure
This new Fair experience, called Tropical Odyssey — free with admission — engages visitors in sustainable rainforest practices, studying butterflies and saving caterpillars from predators. Try "zipsliding" through the rainforest canopy and more.
6. Back by popular demand: Jump in the world's biggest bounce house
You'll find 10,000 square feet of inflatable fun in a 36-foot tall bounce house, with characters, obstacle courses and more. It costs $7 per bounce and bouncers must be a minimum of 3 years old and 3 feet tall.
7. Always fun: The Farm at SillyVille
An exciting attraction for families is the Farm at SillyVille, which offers a “farmer for a day” experience in a 1.5-acre farm area that teaches kids farming concepts. Through a variety of hands-on stations, kids can learn about the milking process at the dairy barn, drive a combine to harvest wheat, gather eggs from animatronic chickens, see chicks hatch and learn about animal life cycles.
8. More attractions: rides to shows
The Fair offers tons to do. There are mini-rides for smaller kids in Sillyville and plenty for thrill-seekers on the big rides at the Midway. You’ll also find live entertainment, rodeo, vendors, halls full of hobbies and educational booths, agricultural displays and much more. Here are several more features of interest to kids.
Cirque Cavallo (Sept. 11–22): This show features equestrian stunts and daring horseback acrobatics. Tickets cost $8 in addition to Fair admission; ages 1 and under free.
Animals of the World (Sept. 5–11): Exotic animals from around the world are on display in M Barn: camels, zebra, watusi, dwarf goats, yaks and even a chameleon.
9. Freebies and budget busters
There are tons and tons of free things to see and do at the fair — alongside some potential big expenditures (namely rides and food).
- If you have young children, be sure to head to the Fair Farm where they can meet and pet all kinds of animal friends, including cuteness galore in the Piglet Palace.
- Your little cowboys and cowgirls may want to try their hand at mutton busting — a scaled-down version of bull riding, where kids ages 4–7 and under 60 pounds (try to) ride sheep! It's an extra fee to ride but free (and totally entertaining) for spectators.
- Our boys also love the free fishing (weekends only) in the Northwest Outdoors exhibit and the free milk samples at the dairy barn.
- If you want the full scoop, check out this handy list of 101 free things to do at the Fair.
- If the big rides are your family’s thing, buy an admission bundle in advance (by Aug. 29), or an Xfinity Dizzy Pass. Buy your pass in advance to save $10 on unlimited rides, and note this pass is available on 11 select weekdays but just one weekend, Sept. 7–8. Expect some longer lines on the weekend, but if you have kids who love to ride, you will easily get your money’s worth. Note that the Dizzy Pass excludes certain rides.
- If no one in your family is an adrenaline junkie, it’s much easier to keep a fair trip frugal. We typically buy around $20 worth of ride tickets, usually enough to let each of our two boys do around three rides apiece. We do these first, and we’ve found that it’s easy to leave if you head off with a specific destination: “Let’s go pet the lambs now.”
- Fair food is the other potential budget buster. Pack your own, or eat at home (as we do), so you aren’t walking past the booths with empty stomachs. We do splurge for scones.
- Definitely skip the games, which are expensive and practically impossible to win.
10. Consider transit to get to the Fair
See the Fair's transportation page for all transportation information. Our tips:
- If you want to avoid traffic and parking lines, public transportation is a good choice. Pierce Transit has bus service from Lakewood Towne Center, Tacoma Mall or the South Hill Mall. Riders from as far north as Everett can also take the Sounder Train with a package on Saturdays Sept. 14 or 21 that includes round-trip fare and gate admission. There is also daily Sound Transit bus service from the Seattle area — route 578.
- If you want to drive yourself, be prepared for traffic on the weekends and bring cash for parking. Some families prefer to pay the premium to park in one of the close, official lots. Enterprising locals also sell parking in their yards and driveways for around $10–$15. We suggest you try a school — the money is going to a good cause, and they’ll have PTA volunteers out and about all day.
Hopefully, a few of these tips and ideas will help your family enjoy your outing to the Fair this year!
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated most recently in 2019.