DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa State Fair opens its doors Thursday for an 11-day run with classic attractions that are expected to draw a million visitors.
There's food, music and competitions, livestock, rides and the beloved butter cow.
Some visitors say they're drawn to the fair by its unique food, much of which involves fried delicacies on a stick.
Others are there for the friendly competition. More than 7,500 competitions at the fair judge everything from the best cornstalk to the top decorative quilt. There are also nearly 50 special event contests that judge titles like best arm wrestler and best hog caller.
Here are some things to know to help you save money and enjoy the event.
FIND DISCOUNTED TICKETS
If you didn't grab advance tickets before the start of the fair, that's OK. There are other ways to save on that $11 adult ticket and $5 child ticket. If you visit the fair between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, adult tickets are $6 and child tickets are $3. There are other discounts for older fairgoers and people who bring in canned food. Keep track of the schedule for those designated days, among others. And don't forget: Children under 5 always enter the fair for free.
BYPASS THE PARKING HASSLE
There is some parking available at the fairgrounds for $10, and nearby homeowners tend to offer up their properties at a discounted price. But you'll get a better deal if you rely on Des Moines' bus service, also known as DART. It's free to park at three designated DART locations away from the fairgrounds, and round-trip fares are $2 for adults and $1 for seniors, children 6 to 10 and people with disabilities. Younger children ride free. Advance fair tickets get you a discount on the bus fare, too.
DON'T FORGET THE FOOD
You're finally inside, so it's time for food. There will be nearly 200 food stands and nearly 70 delicacies available on a stick. While you try to figure out how to expand your stomach to try them all, there's at least good news for your wallet. Some new foods on the menu this year are valued-priced, meaning they'll cost $3. Such items include the Brownie Blitz and the Caprese Salad On-a-Stick (if you want to feel less guilty).
THE COMPETITION IS ON
If you're looking to bypass the food, maybe it's time for some friendly competition. There are more than 7,500 competitions at the fair that judge everything from the best cookie decoration to the top doll house. But they involve early registration, so maybe you should try entering one of the nearly 50 special event contests that judge skills like the best hay bale toss and the best grown beard.
BUTTER COW OR BUST
There are certain attractions at the fair that are a must-see. Yes, we're talking about the butter cow, located at the fairground's agriculture building. There are variations of it at other fairs, but the Iowa State Fair butter cow and its many incarnations have been on display for more than a century. At any given time, there's an impressive line to get a glimpse of the cow and its companion sculpture. This year's piece will be a sculpture celebrating the 25th anniversary of the "Field of Dreams" movie. If you sculpt it, they will come.