You know it’s supposed to be fun, but if you’ve been a parent for more than five minutes, you know that taking your kids to a big fair like the Puyallup can be a disaster. I know from personal experience that cotton candy fingers are excellent at grabbing handfuls of straw covered in “we’ll-just-pretend-it’s-mud,” and that no matter how awesome he is, chances are that Daddy isn’t going to win that 4-foot Dora the Explorer doll.
But you can reduce snafus and have a fantastic time, we promise. Here are our on-the-ground tested tips for Doing the Puyallup right, and without spending your life savings:
1. Plan your attack. Park by the Blue Gate (East entrance) and enter there because it’s on the opposite side of the carnival rides. (Here are directions and links to Fair maps.) It’s less chaotic and makes for a smoother transition onto the scene; it also helps to start there if you want to see some exhibits. Getting a kid jacked about butter churning is much easier before they’ve hopped the merry-go-round.
It’s also a good idea to hit the bathrooms right there — they’re spacious and have big trough-like sinks that encourage hand-washing that even an OCD-mom would be proud of.
2. Bring only the essentials. Even if you plan just a short visit, be prepared for lots of walking and varied weather. Make sure the kids have good, comfortable shoes that fit securely. This is not a flip-flop friendly place, even the most sissy rides can toss a shoe. If you need it, the Fair rents strollers for $9 and wagons for $13 and the kiosk by the rides sells supplies like water, sunscreen and, yep, motion sickness medication.
3. Avoid the fried butter. Fed kids are happy kids and there are a bazillion places to get num-nums at the Puyallup Fair. But overloading on sugar and fried food is a one way ticket to puke-ville. The Whistle Stop Pizza booth in SillyVille (the carnival area for the wee ones) has a great kids menu. The Whistle Stop has jello, mac-n-cheese, tater-tots and grilled cheese sandwiches. Not particularly healthy, but it’s no deep-fried Oreo at least. And I’m not kidding about the fried butter — they really sell it at the Fair. (Here's a food map of the Fair.)
- Be sure to check out the "Junk Chime" a fantastic piece of junk-art that the kids can play. In SillyVille, of course.
- Face painting by Merry Makers. Located right outside the entrance to SillyVille, kids 12 and under get treated to an airbrushed face painting from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.
- Let’s Pretend Pirate Adventure. It’s a small booth — a mini theatre in the round under a tent in the Carnival area — and is easy to miss. Best for toddlers to young school age, the dress-up show uses kids from the audience to induce giggles and goofiness. Shows run 30 minutes Monday-Friday at 2, 4, 6, and 8 p.m and weekends at noon, 2, 4, 6 and 7:30 p.m.
- “Go Play Outside.” The Washington State Department of Wildlife is hosting trout fishing from noon to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. on weekends. Kids 12 and under can catch and release in the “pond” (an above ground swimming pool.) Snowshoeing (on straw) and target shooting are also free.
- Planting Patch and Pioneer Farm. I walked by this exhibit a few times before realizing what it was. It’s a little underwhelming amidst all the excitement going on around it. The concept is cool though — there is a small log cabin fenced off by veggie gardens, with a number of pioneer-era tools like a butter churner, a washboard (that smelled inauthentically of bleach) and some log saws. Kids can get a hands-on history lesson. There are giant pumpkins in the garden, but they were covered up by tarps on our visit. Maybe they’re shy.
- The new Rainforest Adventure. This is a new exhibit this year. They call it a “multi-sensory” exhibit, but really, isn’t everything at the fair “multi-sensory”? If you are expecting something slick and Woodland Park-esque, you’ll be disappointed. But it is colorful and cute, with opportunities to see toucans, anacondas, snapping turtles and the like. If you ask nice they’ll even let you hold a scorpion. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dangerous as the fried butter.
Emily Metcalfe Smith lives and writes in Edmonds and, thanks to the newborn piglets at the Puyallup Fair is once again a vegetarian. For today, anyway.