It's Minnesota State Fair time! Here's what you need to know

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The Minnesota State Fair opens bright and early at 6 a.m. Thursday.

You and about 1.8 million of your closest friends and neighbors are expected to visit the fairgrounds in Falcon Heights during the fair's 12-day run - enjoying lots of food, entertainment, games, rides and attractions.

Here's a guide to help you navigate.

Getting there

There are lots of transportation options you can use to get to the fair.

If you drive, you can park at any of several lots on the fairgrounds, but they usually fill up quickly. Parking in those lots costs $13. Many property owners nearby offer parking as well, for a fee.

Metro Transit has regular light-rail and bus service that can get you there from most areas of the Twin Cities metro area.

Express buses will run to and from the fairgrounds from 21 suburban locations (cost is $5 round trip).

Free shuttle buses will be available from another 30 or so locations that are close to the fairgrounds.

Bikers are welcome, too; several "corrals" provide free parking for bicycles (although they don't have secure storage for bike helmets). WCCO's "Guy on a Bike" has some recommendations for people who want to bike to the fair.

More transportation info here.

Getting in

Regular prices for tickets are as follows:

  • Adults (13-64): $13
  • Seniors (65+): $11
  • Kids (5-12): $11
  • Children (Under 5): Free

Several days have discounted admission for specific groups of people such as seniors, military veterans and children. More info here.

Getting around

The fairgrounds are huge, and with so many attractions and stages and food vendors, it can be hard to find your way around. Here are a couple of helpful tools.

Downloadable/printable map

State Fair smartphone app and mobile website

Alphabetical visitors guide

Things to do

There's so much to choose from. Here are some guides to get you started.

The daily events schedule has a complete rundown of everything going on at the fair on each day, including all the entertainment, free activities, exhibits and animal shows. You can print one off from the site. Find the daily schedules here.

Grandstand entertainment features some top country music stars including Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson, as well as Patti LaBelle, Lynyrd Skynyrd and A Prairie Home Companion, among others. These shows charge separate admission. A complete rundown is here, along with ticket information.

Free entertainment is offered at many other locations around the fair, including the Leinie's Lodge stage, the Bandshell, the Schell's Stage and many others. A complete rundown is here.

Bringing the whole family? These two bloggers have some tips on how to make the most of the fair with little ones in tow.

Family Fun: Has a list of50 things to do at the fair

MinneMama blogSuggestions for family friendly activities.

The fair is offering ID bracelets at all guest service booths, so parents can "label" their kids in case they get lost.

What's new this year?

Here are a couple of things that will be different this year. New food and beverages are discussed a little further down.

Free sunscreen will be available at all information booths for fairgoers to use.

A selfie-stick policy is in place; they're not banned, but people are asked to use them judiciously.

No poultry will be on display this year due to concerns about avian flu.

Food and beverages

There's so much to enjoy! Here are a few highlights.

New foods this year include things like maple-bacon funnel cakes, mac and cheese cupcakes, international tacos, stuffed Italian meatloaf on a stick and salted caramel puff malts. (Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is one of several food critics to list his favorite State Fair foods)

Brew pubs can now sell at the fair, thanks to a new law.

Growler Magazine has a guide to craft beer on tap at the fair

All-you-can-drink milk, one of those State Fair staples, will cost $2 this year, instead of $1.

Princess Kay is crowned

Following a decades-old tradition, State Fair royalty was crowned the night before the fair's opening day.

Kyla Mauk, a 19-year-old South Dakota State University student from Wright County, was crowned the 62nd Princess Kay of the Milky Way at Wednesday night's coronation at the State Fair Bandshell, Midwest Dairy reports.

And on the opening day of the fair, she'll don a coat and take a seat inside an oversized refrigerator in the Dairy Building to have her likeness carved into a block of butter.

Every other day throughout the fair, each Princess Kay finalist will take a seat inside the cooler to have their likeness sculpted. See the schedule here.

People-watching

Just for fun, you might want to think about playing State Fair bingo while you're there. Here are a couple of different versions.

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