Take the kids to the Washington or Evergreen State Fair
There's much more than rides at the fair, but we'll grudgingly admit that the rides are fun.
Bob Noble / Washington State Fair
With the arrival of Labor Day Weekend comes summer’s last hurrah: the Washington State and Evergreen State fairs.
The Washington State Fair (aka the Puyallup Fair) is the largest single attraction held annually in the state, and ranks in the top 10 largest fairs in the country. It starts August 30 and runs through September 22. The Evergreen State Fair is the largest county fair in the Pacific Northwest and attracts visitors from all over the Northwest. It ended on September 2.
If you need more convincing about why you need to take the family this year, read on: We’ve got the scoop on when to go, how to get a good deal on tickets, and what to see. You’ll be surprised by the variety of attractions: There’s much more than roller coasters and elephant ears!
Washington State Fair (aka Puyallup Fair)
Fair basics: The Washington State Fair runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 22 (but not every single day — be sure to check!) at the Washington State Fair Events Center in Puyallup. Here's the website for general information.
Admission: Free for kids age 5 and under, $12 for kids 6-12 and seniors, $14 for adults. Parking is $10-15 at the fairgrounds, but you might (might!) find a better deal nearby.
Ride & Admission Bundle: Get a discount on two admission tickets and six rides when you purchase this package online. Tickets are good any day the fair is open, but you have to purchase this bundle by Aug. 29.
Dizzy Pass: The unlimited-ride deal is valid select weekdays starting Sept. 3.
Value Pack: Available at area Fred Meyer locations through Aug. 30 (and valid any day of the fair), the Pack includes two gate admission tickets, 6 Funtastic rides, 2 half-price weekday-parking coupons and 10 food bucks.
Free Kids Day: Kids get free Fair admission during Labor Day weekend, Aug. 30 - Sep. 2.
Discounts also are available for Pierce County residents, members of the military and more. And if you plan to go a lot, see if a season pass makes sense for your family!
Free things to do
You could drop several hundred bucks taking the family to the fair — but you don’t have to! There are so many things to see and do for free, you’d probably have to go back a few days in a row. Combine that with a free or discounted admission day, and it could be an economical outing. Here are some ideas beyond the scones and roller coasters.
Exhibit Halls: There is so much to see at the Fair beyond the farm animals (although we wouldn’t miss those either). Hobby Hall has Lego displays, toy collections and everything in between. The Home Arts exhibit has everything you’d expect to find at a big state fair—like colorful quilts and freshly made pies. Don’t miss the photo exhibition if you’ve got older kids. It’s been part of the Fair for 77 years and photographers from around the world enter their best pieces.
Fireworks: On Friday nights, stick around the Fair a little longer to see fireworks light up the skies over Puyallup.
Northwest Outdoors: This is a great option for entertaining the kids beyond carnival rides and games. Exhibits focus on all things outdoors and how to enjoy the environment in a responsible way. On weekends, kids can even fish, target shoot and snowshoe for free. Other daily activities include a sensory safari, animal-track stenciling, art activities and more.
Piglet Palace: This always-popular attraction features a litter of piglets that are born just before or during the Fair. Located between the livestock and dairy barns.
Timber Gulch: The old Western town is located just inside the Green Gate. Kids will love taking a trip back in time and checking out the old-fashioned post office, barber shop, general store, sheriff’s office, saloon, lumber mill, hotel and bank. Can you say "photo op"?
Tractor Tracks: This is a fair staple. Little ones can test their skills at driving a pedal tractor in an interactive tractor maze made just for them.
Tumbleweed Crossing: This award-winning comedy wild west gunfight stunt show is a hit for all ages and something not to be missed. Chances are, your little cowpokes will go nuts for the action and laughs.
Face painting: Kids 12 and under can get their faces painted for free from the Merry Makers in the SillyVille area of the Fair.
Giant Pumpkin Carving: Watch talented artists turn humongous pumpkins into works of art — the creations are truly amazing and will get everyone in the mood for fall. Located in the Fountain Plaza, Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
New at the fair this year:
Lost World of Dragons: This exhibit features stories and mythology of dragons. Discover the lore and history of nearly every region and culture, from Norway to ancient China. $8 admission.
Tropical Odyssey: This maze adventure highlights how butterflies are farmed. You'll learn about sustainable rainforest practices, play games, learn how to feed butterflies, and zip-line through the rainforest canopy.
Returning Fair favorites:
Outpost 47: This is the place to dine, relax and enjoy free music and entertainment. Find a variety of new food vendors here this year.
Pioneer Experience: Geared toward families with school-age children, the Pioneer Experience will give kids a taste of what life in the old west was like. Features include slingshot target practice, a butter churn, washboard laundry, a chicken coop, Pinellopie the milking cow, Ted the roping steer, and more.
The Farm at SillyVille: This “farmer for a day” experience exhibit tells Washington’s food and farming story helps connect kids and families to the State’s agriculture industry. Once you enter the farmland, you move through a sequence of interactive experiences with hands-on activities like a dairy barn with levers and knobs to learn about the milking process, a grain silo where you drive a combine to harvest wheat, a chicken coop where you gather eggs from animatronic chickens, and a produce barn where you pick fruit from the orchard and pack it for shipping to market.
Cirque Cavallo Equestrian Stunt Show: Horse lovers will love this one-of-a-kind show featuring stunts and horseback acrobatics alongside choreography and singing. $8.
One last tip: Everyone loves fair food like hot dogs, elephant ears, scones and ice cream, but what about something a bit more exotic? If you’ve got adventurous eaters on your hands, or just want to challenge family members to an out-there taste test, visit the International Village and try dishes like Cajun kangaroo sausage, chili roasted grasshoppers, BBQ crickets, Manchurian scorpions, alligator burgers, and python sausage.
We didn’t even get into the rodeos, big name concerts and 4-H competitions you can find at both the Evergreen and Washington State Fairs. Suffice it to say, there won’t be a shortage of things to keep you and your family entertained.
The Evergreen State Fair (ended September 2)
Fair basics: Aug. 22-Sept. 2 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, about 35 miles north of Seattle. Here's the website for general information.
Admission: Seniors and kids under 5 get in free; kids between 6 and 15 years old are $10; and those 16 and older are $14. Ride tickets are separate, with unlimited ride wristbands going for $35 each.
Special admission days
Canned Food Drive, Aug. 22: Bring three non-perishable food items per person before 3 p.m. and get free admission.
Senior Citizens Day, Aug. 26: Ages 62 and older get free admission today -- bring grandma and grandpa!
2 for 1 Tuesday, Aug. 27: Come in twos with your bestie, uncle, aunt, cousin, mom or dad, and buy one admission to get another admission of equal value for free until 2 p.m.
Family Day, Aug. 28: Take the whole family to the fair. Tickets are 4 for $30.
Kids Day, Aug. 29: Kids 12 and younger get free admission all day long.
What to see and do
If you can drag your kids away from the rides — and you should! — there are tons of other fun and interesting activities.
Contests: From pie eating and water balloon tossing to belching, bubble gum blowing and a diaper derby, there are plenty of entertaining contests to check out or even participate in. Contests are aimed at all ages and skill levels and most are free to enter, so why not try something new or show off your talent?
Entertainment: The Courtyard Stage has a steady schedule of dancing, singing, comedy, music and more, for your viewing pleasure. Kids will love the Reptile Man and the Wild Wacky West Show; a full schedule is online. check out the site for a schedule. New this year: Beer and wine will be allowed in the grandstand section. There is also an alcohol-free family section. All grandstand seats are festival seating and are $20-30, including fair admission.
Duck races: New last year and back by popular demand, see four duck races daily at 11 am, 1 pm, 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm.
Fairfest 3-on-3 Basketball: Put your skills on display at the annual basketball tournament on August 24-25. Open to third-graders through adults.
Petting Zoo: Feed a deer, pet a wallaby, and more at the Great American Petting Zoo, open between 10:30 am and 8:30 pm daily.
Special displays: Plenty of cool things to see, from antique tractors to chainsaw carvers, totem poles, flowers and more. Something to impress even the littlest member of the family.
Morning of Dreams: On Wednesday, August 28, from 9-11 a.m., the Fair will offer a calmer setting for those with special needs or disabilities. The fair will open one hour early, with some barns and exhibits available, and some carnival rides will operate without sounds and lights to create a more peaceful environment. Tickets are limited and can be purchased on the Fair’s website. Caregivers also can receive a discount on admission.
Editor's note: This article was published in 2018 and updated for 2019.