The Washington State Fair in Puyallup takes place Sept. 3–26, 2021. Credit: Patrick Hagerty
Update: Masks will now be required at all times, indoors and out, for all visitors to the Fair ages 5 and older.
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.
After an absence last summer due to the pandemic, the Fair is back for 2021, running Sept. 3–26!
Here are my family’s best tips for making the most of your day at the Fair!
1. Buy tickets in advance (and the Fair begins Labor Day weekend)
The 2021 Washington State Fair runs Sept. 3–26, 2021. Note that the Fair is closed on all Tuesdays within that date range, plus it's also closed one Wednesday (Sept. 8, 2021). And while the name officially changed a few years ago, everyone around here still calls it “The Puyallup" or just, “The Fair.”
Weekday adult admission at the gate is $14. Adult pricing applies to everyone ages 13–61. Kids ages 6–12 are $12 and kids ages 5 and younger are always free. Admission on Saturdays and Sundays is $16 for adults and $13 for kids.
All tickets are cheaper if you buy online, in advance. This year there is also a discount available when you purchase tickets in person at Puyallup's South Hill Mall. Tickets purchased online through Sept. 2, or in person at the mall through Sept. 26, cost $13 for adults and $11 for children ages 6–12. These discounted tickets can be used any day this year.
After Sept. 2, online purchasers will still save $1 off gate admission. The regular, weekday online price is $13 for adults and $11 for kids. The regular, weekend online price is $15 for adults and $12 for kids.
And there are lots of deals available — see No. 3 below for more highlights.
2. Go on Opening Day or Rodeo Parade Day for free admission and fun
The Fair is free the morning it opens (Friday, Sept. 3, 2021) from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. You’re asked to bring a canned food donation as part of KOMO’s Opening Day Food Drive.
You can also get in free on Friday, Sept. 10, 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, 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. Bring school supplies to donate for the school supply drive. If it works with your schedule, this is one of the best ways to see the Fair.
3. Take advantage of other deals
Free Kids Weekend takes place over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3–6, when all youth ages 18 and younger enter the fair for free, courtesy of BECU. No coupon is needed.
Kids age 5 and under are free every day of the Washington State Fair.
Military Appreciate Mondays offer free access to the Fair on Mondays to all active, reserve and retired military and National Guard and their dependents, plus disabled veterans. Military must show valid military I.D. at the gate for this deal.
Xfinity Dizzy Passes offer the best deal for lots of rides. If your kids (or you) are ride lovers, you’ll want to invest in an Xfinity Dizzy Pass. These special passes include unlimited ThrillVille and SillyVille rides, plus two free games and will quickly pay for themselves if your kids can’t get enough of whirling and twirling! You can purchase either a weekday or weekend option.
The Weekday Dizzy Pass costs $40 when purchased online through Sept. 2; it's $50 purchased online or onsite starting Sept. 3. The Weekend Dizzy Pass, valid for Sept. 11–12 only, costs $45 in advance or $55 once the Fair starts on Sept. 3.
Note that the Xfinity Dizzy Pass is valid for one-day use by one rider, and does not include gate admission or certain specialty rides.
If your kids will be satisfied doing just a few rides, there is also a ride-and-admission bundle, which comes with two gate admissions and six rides.
4. New fun
The big new attraction for kids this year is the Hall of Heroes. It’s a free, interactive exhibit that should provide lots of cute photo ops for your little superheroes. Displays include replicas of the 1960s Batmobile and other movie props and “Interactive Super Power stations and games.”
New fair foods include bubble tea and meatballs! You’ll find a new wheel in SillyVille, and while not technically new, the Budweiser Clydesdales are making an appearance at the Fair and in the parade for the first time since 2007. See them on Sept. 3–12 and 15–16. The Clydesdales will also perform in the Pierce County Arena during draft horse driving demonstrations, and, of course, you can see them in the Western Rodeo Parade and Cattle Drive on Sept. 10.
5. 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. Not to be missed and especially great for the preschool set!
6. 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 ThrillVille (formerly called 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.
- Animals of the World (Sept. 9–13): Exotic animals from around the world are on display in M Barn. This year's special guests include a kangaroo, yak, watusi cow, zebra and an albino hedgehog!
- The Fair Farm: Think Fair-meets-petting-zoo here. Kids can meet and pet animals like bunnies, goats and chicks.
- Piglet Palace: This year the palace has two litters of adorable piglets. It’s lots of fun to watch them scrambling and squealing around their Fair digs.
7. Freebies and budget busters
There are tons and tons of free — well, included with admission — things to see and do at the Fair, alongside some potential big expenditures, namely rides and food.
In addition to some of our favorite freebies mentioned above, here are a few more kid-friendly things to do that won’t cost a thing:
- Northwest Outdoors: Over 25 groups have booths here, many of which are interactive. Kids can identify animal pelts, go on a sensory safari, and try their luck at the Catch and Release Rainbow Trout pond with the Go Play Outside Alliance, weekends only.
- Tractor Tracks Kids’ Pedal Tractors: Kids get to cruise around a track on a pedal tractor (think tricycle style ride designed to look like a tractor). Super cute!
- Pioneer Farm Interactive activities here include old-fashioned chores such as carding wool and churning butter.
Rides are one of the more expensive things at the Fair. If you have thrill seekers in your family, your best bet is to invest in the Xfinity Dizzy Pass, as mentioned above. Do note that it is not valid all days and some rides are restricted.
If no one in your family is an adrenaline junkie, it’s much easier to keep a fair trip frugal. When our boys were small we would typically buy around $20 worth of ride tickets, which was usually enough to let each of our two boys do around three rides apiece.
We’ve also found it easier to leave the rides if you head off with a specific destination: “Let’s go pet the lambs now.”
Fair food is the other potential budget buster. If you don’t want to budget around an onion burger or a turkey leg, pack your own lunch 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. (Example, basketball hoops appear normal, but are actually much smaller than regulation.)
8. Consider transit to get to the Fair
See the Fair's transportation page for all transportation information. If you are comfortable leaving your car at the South Hill Mall, you can get a fair express bus that will take you right to the Fair’s Blue Gate, saving you hassle and money for parking.
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. Historically, some area churches and schools have also sold parking spots as a fundraiser.
Health and safety: know before you go
Masks are now required to be worn by all Fair guests ages 5 and older, in both indoor spaces and outdoor spaces. This includes walking the grounds, on the rides, in the grandstand, in the open-air barns and in restrooms. Read more details on masking and other safety guidelines on the Fair's safety page.