Top 9 Tips for Navigating the Oregon State Fair

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The Oregon State Fair came in at number eight on the Huffington Post’s top ten list of best state fairs this year thanks to our rich agricultural climate and western charm. Here’s our list of insider tips to navigate this incredible fair with your kiddos that’s just an hour south of Portland.

Pigs who are photographed on one of farms

Photo credit: Oregon State Fair

1. Buy your tickets in advance
If you purchase your tickets in advance (usually you have until the day before the fair opens), you’ll get in for nearly half the cost. We love that it’s free for children age five and under. This way you can spend the extra money on elephant ears.

2. Go when the gates open
The best time of day to take the kiddos to the fair is when the gates open at 10 a.m. First of all, you’ll beat the heat, which is an important factor in Salem this time of year. The crowd will also be a bit thinner first thing in the morning since the concertgoers won’t arrive until later in the day. Lastly, the animals also are on their best behavior and most rested in the morning.

3. Don’t park in the free lot
Free parking is great, but that means it’s also really crowded and you can drive around for ages looking for an open spot. Bypass the official fair lots and splurge on parking across the street, which has historically been about $3.

oregon state fair swing rides

Photo credit: Oregon State Fair

4. Explore Familyville
Familyville is a special area of the fair with activities and entertainment just for kids. There’s juggling, dance groups, racing pigs, magicians, a kid-powered tractor pull and a free-range petting zoo, to name a few.  Kids’ Day at the fair is August 23rd and, in addition to kids 11 and under getting into the fair free, and the regular Familyville activities, the Radio Disney crew and Portland Trailblazers Dancers will be making appearances too.

5. Take a test ride or two before buying a wristband
If this is your first carnival visit with your kids, try one or two kiddie rides before shelling out the bucks for the “unlimited rides” wristband. We’ve all seen that screaming kid on the rides and the frustrated parent insisting they enjoy it because they just spent money on a wristband.

6. Come hungry
You can get everything from a three-foot-long corn dog to delicious organic ice cream to fresh squeezed lemonade, all in the same area. Definitely get the deep-fried chocolate-dipped bacon. Sounds weird, but you won’t regret it.  Also, we suggest packing your own drinks for the little ones since soda seems to be the drink of choice here. If you want to bring your own lunch or dinner, go for it because there are plenty of spots to spread out a picnic blanket, eat and do some people watching, including the Picnic Grove near Familyville.


 Photo credit: Ben Stephenson via Flickr Creative Commons

7. See free concerts
As if the kiddie rides, petting zoo and fair food weren’t enough, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Ziggy Marley, The Beach Boys and several other huge acts will perform on the main stage in the evenings for free with fair admission. Check the fair’s website for a full schedule.

8. Find the restroom
Whether you need to change a diaper or your kids are drinking their weight in lemonade,  at some point, you’re going to need to find a restroom – quickly.  There are at least two inside each building. There’s one near Familyville, right next to the Grove Stage. The closest ones to the Carnival and Kiddieland are a bit of a hike, in the Jackman Long Building near the Box Office on the south side of the fairgrounds, or near Dogtown, just north of the Food Court. Better yet, download and print out one of the online maps here and take it with you.

9. Become a Facebook Fan
The Oregon State Fair folks use Facebook as the primary mode of communication. It’s the absolute best place to get up-to-date info on schedules, along with fair insider tips. Plus, if you have any questions, they are quick to answer – just post a comment.

August 22-September 1
Oregon State Fairgrounds
2330 17th St. NE
Salem, Or

Do you have a favorite attraction or must-see exhibit at the fair that your kids love? Let us know in the Comments below!

— Suzie Ridgway