The Washington State Fair in Puyallup takes place Sept. 1–24, 2023. 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.
And it’s nearly here: The 2023 Washington State Fair runs Sept. 1–24.
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 2023 Washington State Fair runs Sept. 1–24, 2023. Note that the Fair is closed on all three Tuesdays within that date range, plus it’s also closed one Wednesday (Sept. 6, 2023). And while the name officially changed many years ago, everyone around here still calls it “the Puyallup” or just “the Fair.”
Weekday adult admission at the gate is $15. Adult pricing applies to everyone ages 13–61. Kids ages 6–12 are $13 and kids ages 5 and younger are always free. Weekend admission is a bit more: $18 for adults and $15 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 Aug. 25 cost $14 for adults and $12 for children ages 6–12. These discounted tickets can be used any day of the Fair.
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. 1, 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. 8, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., after the Western Rodeo Parade and Cattle Drive. Be sure to arrive 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. 1–4, when all youths ages 18 and younger enter for free, courtesy of BECU. No coupon is needed.
Kids age 5 and younger enter free every day of the Washington State Fair.
Military Appreciation Mondays offer free Fair entry on Mondays to all active, reserve, and retired military and National Guard and their dependents, plus disabled veterans. A valid military I.D. must be shown at the gate for this deal.
If your kids (or you) are ride lovers, you’ll want to invest in an Xfinity Dizzy Pass to get the best deal for lots of rides. 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 $45 when purchased online through Aug. 25; it’s $55 purchased online or on-site starting Aug. 26. The Weekend Dizzy Pass, valid for Monday, Sept. 4 or Sept. 9–10 only, costs $60 in advance or $65 starting Aug. 26.
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. Special guest!
This year’s Fair features a very fun special guest. Fans of the meow-tastic show “Gabby's Dollhouse” will want to time their Fair attendance to coincide with the Gabby on the Go! tour, stopping in at the fairgrounds Friday–Sunday, Sept. 22–24! Pick up your paws-port and collect stamps at hands-on activity stations. Plus, snap a photo with Gabby herself! The Gabby on the Go! experience is included with admission to the Fair (but available only three days!).
5. Check out fun new attractions.
The big new attraction for kids and families this year is the Survival: The Exhibition. Investigate, collaborate, problem-solve, play, build, collect and climb your way to becoming the ultimate survival expert. Culminating in the Adventure Zone Ropes Course and Zip Line, this attraction is sure to be exciting! A ticket is required for this attraction (in addition to Fair admission) and costs $3 for everyone ages three and older. A family pack of four tickets is available for $30.
6. 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!
7. 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 action, 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. 7–11): Exotic animals from around the world are on display in Barn H. This year’s special guests include camels, zebra, watusi, dwarf goats, yaks and even a chameleon.
- Fair Farm: Think fair-meets-petting-zoo here. Kids can meet and pet animals, including bunnies, goats and chicks.
- Piglet Palace: This year, the palace will have a litter of piglets born a few days before the Fair, and hopefully another litter born during the Fair. It’s lots of fun to watch them scrambling and squealing around their 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: More than 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.
- 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!
- Hobby Hall: Visit Hobby Hall for a look at the intriguing world of crafts and collections, from Lego displays to toy collections to coins and everything in between. Quirky is a great description for all the fascinating personal collections on display in the Hobby Hall.
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 on all days and that some rides are restricted.
If no one in your family is an adrenaline junkie, it’s much easier to keep a fair trip fairly 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 oval-shaped and much smaller than regulation size.)
8. Consider using public transit to get to the Fair.
Consult the Fair’s transportation page for all transportation information, including special lots for Uber and Lyft.
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 official lots. Enterprising locals also sell parking in their yards and driveways for around $10–$20. Historically, some area churches and schools have also sold parking spots as a fundraiser.