Outings + Activities

Puyallup Mom Tells All: Washington State Fair Insiders Guide

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

Editor's note: Don't miss our Washington State Fair giveaway!

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 Sept. 5–Sept. 21 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 six 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 with a suggested canned food donation as part of Komo’s First Day at the Fair Food Drive.

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.

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

You can follow the parade into the fairgrounds for your free entry. There is even a $2 breakfast in Pioneer Park beforehand. If it works with your schedule, there is no better way to do the fair!

2. 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. 6 or the 7 with a downloadable coupon from BECU.

- Members of the military and their families can go for free Monday Sept. 8 or Monday, Sept. 15.

- Admission deals for everyone else are available as part of various packages, most requiring advance purchase. The Value Pack, available at Fred Meyer until September 5, is a good deal. There is also a buy-one-get-one adult admission offer on Sunday, Sept. 7 for members of Ikea family (you can join for free).

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

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

3. Focus on free fun

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 The Vision Dome, an immersive film experience that promises a world tour via images projected on domed screens. Tickets to that are separate from your admission and cost $5 or $6, in advance, online. Kids under 36 inches are free.

But 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.

Here are some other free highlights:

Mutton-busting. Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

- If you have young children, be sure to head to the Fair farm where they can meet and pet all kinds of animal friends.

- 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, including Kisongo Trek, a virtual trip to Tanzania.

- 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 $10 to ride and free (and totally entertaining) for spectators.

- Sillyville has free pedal tractors and face painting.

Photo credit: Patrick Hagerty

4. Plan carefully for budget busters

- If the big rides are your family’s thing, go on a day when you can get the Comcast Dizzy Pass, which is good for unlimited rides. The passes are $27.50–$40 (cheaper on weekdays and with advance purchase before Sept. 4).

- 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.

5. 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 Community College 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. 13 or Saturday, Sept. 20 with a package (available at the Fair website) that includes your round trip fare and admission. There are also two Sounder bus routes available from the Seattle area.

- Insider tip: The Kiwanis Shuttle picks up at the Best Western and Holiday Inn parking lots off South Hill Park Drive in Puyallup. They pick up every 15 minutes for a suggested donation of $12 for a family. They will deliver you right to the main entrance, and you can leave your car for free.

- 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. Try a school — the money is going to a good cause, and they’ll have 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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