Outings + Activities | Family fun | South Sound

Puyallup Mom Tells All: Washington State Fair Insiders Guide

Discounts, best freebies, not-to-miss events and more secrets

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

Here in Puyallup we know it’s really 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 17-days-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 this year!

1. Buy tickets in advance

The Washington State Fair runs Friday, Sept. 11–Sunday, Sept. 27 at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. Tip: The name has changed officially, but everyone around here still calls it “The Puyallup" or just, “The Fair.”

Adult admission at the gate is $12.50. Kids 5 and under are always free. Kids ages 6 and up are $9. All tickets are cheaper if you buy online in advance and there are lots of deals available.

2. Go the first day for free admission and parade fun

The Fair is free the morning it opens from 9 a.m.–noon. You’re asked to bring a canned-food donation as part of Komo’s First Day at the Fair Food Drive from 9 a.m.-11 a.m.

The very best way to enjoy this first day is 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.

You can follow the parade into the fairgrounds for your free entry. There is even a bargain breakfast in Pioneer Park beforehand (also check out the new spray park). If it works with your schedule, there is no better way to do the fair!

3. Take advantage of other deals

- Most big kids will get free tickets at their public school. If yours don’t, kids can get in free on Sept. 12 or 13 with a downloadable coupon from BECU.

- Members of the military and their families can go for free Monday Sept. 14 or Monday, Sept. 21.

- Admission deals for everyone else are available as part of various packages, most requiring advance purchase. The Value Pack, available at Fred Meyer until Sept. 11, is a good deal.

- You can check out all available deals at thefair.com/deals

4. Star Trek, Sweet Journey and more new attractions

The Fair offers literally tons to do. There are mini-rides for kids in Sillyville and plenty for thrill seekers on the big rides at the Midway. You’ll also find live entertainment, rodeos, vendors, halls full of hobbies and educational booths, agricultural displays, and much more.

New this year is Star Trek: The Exhibition, an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to sit in the Captain’s chair, check out original costumes and props, and otherwise get in touch with their inner Trekie. Admission to this is a separate $8/ ticket. Tickets bought online before September 10 are $6.50 and kids 5 and under are free with a paying adult.

Another new attraction this year is Sweet! A Tasty Journey: This is a free exhibit that takes a look at the history of candy. Think of it as an educational version of Willy Wonka’s factory — on a slightly smaller scale.

Midway mania. Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

5. Hidden freebies at the 2015 fair

In addition to these new features, there are dozens and dozens of returning fair attraction that won’t cost a dime. Jennifer Burbidge, a mom of two who works in the Fair’s marketing department, says most people don’t realize how much there is to do at the fair for free. If you want the full scoop, check out this list of 100 free things to do at the Fair.

- If you have young children, be sure to head to The Fair Farm where they can meet and pet all kinds of animal friends. Go during the first five days to check out the animals of the world exhibit.

- Our boys also love the free fishing in the Northwest Outdoors exhibit and the free milk samples at the dairy barn.

- Also look for free entertainment and cultural experiences on the various fair stages.

- 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 lbs. ride sheep! It's $12 to ride but free (and totally entertaining) for spectators.

Mutton-busting. Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

- Sillyville has free face painting. *The Sillyville restroom also has a nursing station. Changing tables are in men’s and women’s restrooms all over, and there are also plentiful handwashing stations.

- The Hobby Hall has lots of great exhibits and a free Lego play area.

- Timber Gulch is a new western/pioneer town inside the Green Gate. Look for lots of Old-West-style photo ops and interactive, kids’ activities, including panning for gold and a cowboy boot camp.

- Press a Penny. Last year, the Washington State Fair Foundation introduced a penny press with four different fair designs. It will cost $1 to press a penny, still one of the cheapest souvenirs you’ll find at the Fair! They’re located in the SillyVille Train Station area

6. Plan carefully for budget busters

- If the big rides are your family’s thing, go on a day when you can get the Xfinity Dizzy Pass, which is good for unlimited rides. The passes are $40, or $30 if you buy before Sept. 10. These can only be used on certain days, and they don’t come with admission, but if you have kids who love to ride, you will easily get your money’s worth.

- If no one in your family is an adrenaline junkie, it’s much easier to keep a fair trip frugal. We buy around $20 worth of ride tickets, usually enough to let each of our two boys do around three each. 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 a Fair-style meal at home (as we do), so you aren’t walking past the booths with empty stomachs. We do splurge for scones.

- Skip the games, which are expensive and practically impossible to win.

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

7. Consider public transportation to get there

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 to the Puyallup Station on Saturday, Sept. 19 or Saturday, Sept. 26 with a package (available at the Fair website) that includes your round trip fare and admission. There are also two Sound Transit bus routes available from the Seattle area.

- If you want to drive yourself, be prepared for traffic on the weekends and bring cash for parking. Some parents prefer to pay the premium to park in one of the close, official lots. Enterprising locals also sell parking in their lots and driveways for around $10. 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 the secrets I spilled will help you enjoy your fair outing this year.

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