People walk along Grandstand Avenue Thursday at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Each state thinks its fair is the best. Any Wisconsinite will say it.
Texas' state fair is technically the biggest. Iowans try to lay claim to the title because there’s a musical written about their fair. While I've lived in Milwaukee for nearly a decade, I was born and raised in Minnesota attending its state fair. Minnesotans are humble, except when it comes to the Minnesota State Fair. I've talked it up for years, but my opinions were always discredited because I had never actually gone to the Wisconsin State Fair.
After many summers of skipping the fair here, I made my inaugural visit to State Fair Park to determine which one I enjoyed more. So here I am are to compare the “Great Minnesota Get Together” with the Wisconsin State Fair.
Some attractions just come with state fair territory. Like the 152-foot Ferris wheel. It’s set up at the Wisconsin State Fair now and is traveling to Minnesota next for its fair at the end of the month. Everyone loves the fair convenience of food on a stick. Sweet corn is a must. Same with deep-fried everything. Barns full of animals are just expected.
The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are 130 acres larger than Wisconsin's State Fair Park. That makes room for more rides and more food and beverage vendors. It's full of pride for the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I mean, they carve busts of the Minnesota Dairy Princess Program winner — Princess Kay of the Milky Way — into butter.
But is bigger really better? We compare five of each fair’s attractions.
Pig racing vs. live births>Buy Photo
Wisconsin State Fair favorites include racing pigs. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“Suey!” the crowd cheers at Saz’s Pig Races at the Wisconsin State Fair. Seven times a day, different breeds of pig race around a hay-lined track. The pigs are trained to race using oatmeal cookies, and that’s pretty darn cute. It's competitive, it's fun and you get to yell silly words.
There's Animal Planet in real life happening at the Minnesota State Fair. Around 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets are born during the state fair’s 12 days. At the free exhibit, you can watch the animals give birth to litters of babies. If there’s no animal laboring to bring new life into the world, then previously recorded births are shown on video screens in the exhibit.
Now, the miracle of life, that's surely a state fair specialty.
Flavored milk vs. all-you-can-drink milk>Buy Photo
People wait for 50-cent milk Thursday at the Milwaukee Bucks Milk House at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Chocolate milk is always a yes. The Wisconsin State Fair goes way beyond that with strawberry, root beer, chocolate peanut butter and green mint. A full flight of the five flavors at 50 cents apiece costs $2.50. But root beer milk, really? Pass.
The Minnesota State Fair keeps it simple. It has regular milk and chocolate. A cup with unlimited refills costs $2. The price increased from $1 a few years ago. If you're walking around with a bucket of chocolate chip cookies, this is the move.
This one really comes down to how much you love milk. Winners all around.
Exploratory Park vs. the Butterfly House>Buy Photo
Jamie Lambert, a DNR stormwater specialist, carries a case out near some children's interactive sensory stations at the the Exploratory Park area Wednesday, before the Wisconsin State Fair opened. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Fairs are overwhelming. There's a lot of smells. More noises. And even more people. Every fair needs a good spot to get away.
Exploratory Park houses the Department of Natural Resources exhibit at the fair. Walking through the gardens, it's quiet and serene. You can actually hear the water trickling in the Japanese Garden.
The Minnesota State Fair has something similar with its DNR. That park one-ups Wisconsin with a 65-foot-tall fire tower that you can climb for panoramic views of the fairgrounds. But that's not even what we're comparing here.
The Minnesota State Fair has a Butterfly House where the winged insects fly all around you. One drawback is that it costs extra — $3.50. But you'll get a butterfly to land on you, and that picture is worth it.
Beer vs. beer>
The Micro at the Wisconsin State Fair celebrates 20 years of beer this year. Be advised: Beer prices are up 50 cents. (Photo: File photo)
You get thirsty walking around in the sun.
The Wisconsin State Fair was serving up local brews way before it was cool. The Micro craft beer bar on the grounds has been there for 20 years — long before everyone knew what an IPA was and how refreshing it is to drink. The bar has 64 Wisconsin beers on tap at the fair this year.
And that's just one bar — there are plenty of other places to get a beer.
Minnesotans are a little more reserved when it comes to beer consumption. But they're working on it. The 2019 fair has 80 beers, ciders, seltzers and other beverages available only at the fair.
Cream puffs vs. Sweet Martha's cookies>Buy Photo
Jaylyn Estinable, 6, of West Allis eats a cream puff Thursday at the Wisconsin State Fair. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
A trip to either state fair isn’t complete without stopping at the Cream Puff Pavilion or one of Sweet Martha’s booths.
Wisconsinites wait all year for the cream puffs. The sliced pastries are filled with whipped cream and topped with powdered sugar. The cold cream is refreshing. You can get them to go, too. But I'm not sure how long you want to be carrying dairy around on a hot summer day.
Chocolate chip cookies are sold by the bucket at the Minnesota State Fair. Sweet Martha can produce up to 3 million cookies a day during the 12-day fair. Wisconsin fairgoers ate 400,000 cream puffs last year.
As far as a once-a-year specialty, the cream puff wins out. While Sweet Martha’s warm and gooey cookies are good and it’s fun to carry around a bucket of cookies to nosh on while walking through the grounds, you can eat a chocolate chip cookie any day.
The cream puff pulls ahead here purely for novelty. You’re not going to make a batch of cream puffs some afternoon just because.
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