The Washington State Fair is one of the top largest fairs in the entire country, and it’s the largest single attraction in the entire state of Washington. Yeah. It’s a big deal. People come from far and wide to experience a major dose of fair fun, and it’s worth it. I’ve been going to this fair every year for the past 20 years and it’s one of my favorite traditions. What could be better than heralding in the autumn with scones, rides, animals and shows? Of course, 20 years is a long time and a lot of thing have changed…I can’t eat scones anymore because of food allergies and I’m old now so rides make me nauseous…I’m not bitter (yes…yes, I am bitter).
But animals and shows and all the many other things to do are still fun!
In fact, there is so much to do that you might be a little overwhelmed if you’re bringing kids with you. Never fear! From food to rides to lesser known things to do, here is your trusty list of things to do at the Washington State Fair with younger kids.
See Some Animals
Kids love animals and the fair has lots and lots of animals to see! Stroll the barns with cows, sheep, goats and more if you just want to say hi, but there are a few animal attractions that will help kids relate more to the animals. The kid-friendliest set of animals is the Fair Farm, which is a petting zoo where kids can touch and hold bunnies, chickens, llamas, goats and other fuzzy friends. Next visit Piglet Palace where you’ll see a litter of piglets either born just before the Fair or during the Fair. You can’t hold them, but watching these tiny porcine babies is irresistibly cute.
Best Foods for Kids
First and foremost, you can’t come to a massive state fair and NOT enjoy some fair food (well, actually you can. Due to the aforementioned food allergies I have done it, but don’t be like me! Eat your way through the fair! Do it for me! Dooooo it!!)
And make no mistake. Fair food is perfect for kids. Sure, there are lots of things like barbecue and ribs and curry and piroshkies that the kids may or may not want to try, but even the pickiest of kids will enjoy Fair Scones, which have booths all around the fair. If you spot a scone line that’s really long, keep walking. There are probably at least a dozen places to buy Fair Scones on the fairgrounds and you can usually find one with a short line or no line at all. If you want to get crazy, there’s a place in the row of shops and eateries attached to the Grandstand where you can get ice cream delights piled on top of scones, like strawberry or peach shortcake.
Other sweet treats kids will love include Cow Chip Cookies, funnel cakes, elephant ears, Dole Whip (like pineapple soft serve), or stop by the Dairy Bar where they can both learn about where milk comes from as well as try out some dairy treats.
For meals, look to the many pizza and burger vendors all around the fair.
Let me just warn you now that you shouldn’t expect to bring a small toddler to the fair and ride all the rides. These rides have height requirements and the ride operators are strict about them. Even the Antique Carousel, which has one of the lowest height requirements at 32 inches, will not let you on with a toddler who is 31 inches. So be prepared with kids who are 32 inches and taller if you want to ride the rides. Make it 36 inches and at least 3-years-old if you really want to have some fun. And if you really want to go all out, bring along one of the grandparents as rides are free for seniors 62 and older!
For kid rides, the place you want to go is SillyVille, which is a smaller ride area separate from the main drag and located near the Green Gate.
The Farm at SillyVille
The Farm is a hands-on exhibit just for kids that’s a lot of fun for them, but also teaches them more about where food comes from. The exhibit is housed in a barn-shaped building and is more than a single stop – instead you and your kids move through the barn and interact with a variety of food stations. You’ll pass through a dairy barn where kids can “help” with the milking process, a grain silo where they can “harvest” the wheat and learn about different grains, a produce barn where kids will “pick” fruit and package it, a chicken coop where kids gather eggs from animatronic chickens, and a garden where kids learn about the plant life cycle. I went through it with a 15-month-old who was arguably a little too young for the experience, but she still thought it was neato. Kids two and up will love it and have no idea they’re learning along the way.
Special Exhibits and Attractions
Always, always check out the special exhibits and attractions at the Fair in any given year. There’s always something new and different going on and often the attractions are a lot of fun with kids. In 2019, there are several special happenings.
Look to the Lost World of Dragons if you’ve got a little dragon fan in tow. If your kids would enjoy stunts on horseback (watching, not doing), then don’t miss the Cirque Cavallo, and if your kids are at least 36 inches tall and 3-years-old, then you’ll probably have to listen to them begging to go into the World’s Biggest Bounce House. It’s 10,000 square feet of pure bouncy bliss. Just say yes. You can go in too! Other attractions include the Pioneer Farm (an Old West interactive learning experience); Timber Gulch (a mini Old Western town); and Tractor Tracks where littles can ride tiny pedal-operated tractors.
Shows for Kids
Most of the shows at the Fair are better for adults than kids unless your kids are exceptionally gifted at sitting still for a while. But rest assured that there is much live entertainment for younger ones, too!
Let’s Pretend – Cutest Show on Earth is completely free and especially fun if you have a young extrovert with you. Up to 18 kids from the audience go up on stage, dress up, and become the stars of the show. There are several shows each day.
The Coca-Cola stage at the center of the Fair is always a good place to check for family fun, as most shows are a half hour to an hour. Roberto the Magnificent is a long-time Fair performer. He’s a comedy juggler who is sure to be a hit with kids and grown-ups too.
Weekdays at 5:30 p.m. and weekends at noon, there’s a parade with plenty of costumed characters that winds its way through the fairgrounds.
Also, there are fireworks each night at 10 p.m., if you can keep everyone awake that late!
Near the Green Gate, you’ll find a small arena with a sheep pen next to it. Make no mistake. These sheep are athletes. This is the Mutton Busting arena. If you haven’t seen Mutton Busting before, it’s kind of like a mini rodeo. Kids between 4 and 7 and less than 60 pounds get to try their hand at riding a sheep and staying on for at least six seconds as the sheep races across the arena. From the number of kids who fall off, it’s a lot tougher than it looks. Any kids can try it out, but kids who hang on get to advance and there are prizes, trophies and buckles for the best riders. Mutton Busting is free to watch and $15 for riders.
I will be honest – I know nothing about this one, but Suzi (the other writer on Travel with Monsters) insists that the rabbit judging process is completely unique and worth seeing and a hit with kids. She tells me they bounce the rabbits to judge them. Who knew!
Learn Outdoors Skills
Kids old enough to hold a BB gun, fishing rod, or bow and arrow will love the Northwest Outdoors exhibit, with its catch and release pond and BB gun target shooting. Suzi’s boys loved learning to use a bow and arrow at the fair last year. Check out the booths about hiking, hunting and our public lands – many of them have fun activities and animal information that older kids will find interesting.
Get up Close with Produce
There are plenty of agriculture exhibits, but the best for families is always the award-winning pumpkins. The winner is always ginormous, and you can stand around and relive the story of Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin in the moonlight, if you go at night. Plus, it makes a cool photo op.
Say Hi to the Firefighters.
Kids love firefighters and fire engines. They just do. Check out the friendly firefighters and first responders at their booth near the entrance. They usually hand out stickers and are happy to take photos with your kids.
For more information about the Fair, you’ll find everything you’d ever need on the Washington State Fair’s website.