At the Selfie Spot in front of the Grandstand, Courtney and Richard Norris stop, smile, and snap a photo.
There’s nobody in front of them getting in their way. There are no strollers or groups of friends trying to shove their way around the duo. Instead they can just stand there and take their time taking a photo.
“It’s awesome,” Courtney says when the two are done. “It’s quieter, no crowds, no lines at the food places.”
It’s just after 6 a.m. Wednesday at the Minnesota State Fair. The sky isn’t dark anymore, but it isn’t light out yet either. The streets are still nearly empty. And the lights are on only at a few food stands where workers are doing prep.
Courtney and Richard got in at 6 a.m. and planned to hit up the Blue Moon Cafe – one of the only places with gluten-free waffles.
“We’ve come here for two years now for food, and just sort of to get the atmosphere really,” Richard says. “It’s nice seeing it empty at the moment – just trying to get some good photos.”
Who’s at the gate at 6 a.m.
The fairgrounds and ticket booths open at 6 a.m. every day of the State Fair – the first people itching to get in Wednesday at the Pedestrian Bridge needed to get to their show horse. They hurried through as soon as they could buy the ticket.
The first car to get a spot in the parking lot meanwhile included Steve Herrig. The 62-year-old from Slayton said they’re here because they show sheep, and during the Fair generally get in asap.
“It’s not a vacation up here,” Herrig said.
Or they want to avoid the crowds
Then there are the people who just want the State Fair without all the State Fair annoyances.
One of them is Jim Steffenhagen, who is strolling along Nelson Street just after 6 a.m.
“I just enjoy being up here before it gets real crowded. I’m a morning person, and I just love the fair,” he said.
He’s been doing the crack-of-dawn State Fair thing for more than 60 years now – it started with his grandparents as a 6-year-old.
“I usually start out with, believe it or not for breakfast, with a foot-long,” he says, laughing. (He was not the only person to say this, by the way, and it might be partly because the foot-long hot dog stand is open super early.)
Then there’s Tarah and Steve, who opted for the first time to show up at 6 a.m. because Tarah is pregnant. They’re trying to beat the heat (it’s in the low 60s at this point, with the sun still rising) and the crowds.
“It’s peaceful, it’s kind of fun,” Tarah says, though both acknowledge not a lot is open yet.
“It’s a different view of the Fair. … It’s kind of nice just to walk around a little,” Tarah says.
Then there’s breakfast
While you may not think of breakfast as a State Fair food, there are a good number of options for coffee, and either a pastry or some eggs/bacon/hash browns.
One of those is the Robbinsdale OES Dining Hall – one of two church breakfast options left at the State Fair.
Sitting at the entrance around 7 a.m. is Fred Pagenkopf, who’s been doing this for 31 years now.
He says the mornings are the most fun, and the lack of crowds (for the first hours at least) is a plus.
At about 7:15 a.m., there are a couple dozen people in the hall (which serves blueberry, wild rice, or chocolate chip pancakes, as well as the standard breakfast fare). Pagenkopf says by 8 a.m. there will be a line out the door.
The downside – less stuff is open
The downside to going super early is the lack of options. Most everything is still being set up at 6 and 7 a.m. – and things like the Agriculture/Horticulture building or Dairy Building aren’t open until 9 a.m.
But for Jim Steffenhagen, it’s still hard to beat.
“It’s quiet, I mean look,” he said, gesturing toward the empty street. “This afternoon, you’ll be … ”
No need to finish the sentence. We all know.