September 12th, 2010

scott pilgrim

Puyallup Fair on a Budget: Free Family-Friendly Activities

I have a love/hate relationship with the Puyallup Fair. I love the family tradition of taking the boys every year, but I hate the constant bombardment of crap to buy (like I'm really going to impulse buy a hot tub or tractor?). This year, I decided to take note of all the stuff we did that didn't cost a penny (other than the price of admission). As usual, the best things at the fair are free. Here's a walking tour though the fair, with 10 free things to do:

  1. Just to the left of the main (Blue) gate is the fair history museum, where you can see a convertible from the 1960's, and some old farming equipment, along with memorabilia going back almost 75 years.

  2. Keep heading clockwise around the perimeter and you'll get to an actual, working fire station. They go out on missions using bikes and golf carts to weave through the crowds. But just like any fire station, they love letting kids try on the fire suits and climb in the trucks.

  3. Continue past the fire station and you'll find a blacksmith hammering away at a beautiful metal creation. They're always happy to explain the process and it's great to feel the 1800F degree heat of the fire, on a cold September day.

  4. Pass the beer garden (unless you like $7 Miller Lights) and keep to the left. You'll come to a row of 4 barns, each housing various types of animals. I'm partial to the poultry barn, but it's inspiring to see the passion that the young 4H members have for their horses.

  5. You'll be near the Green gate now. Head towards it to find the video games tent. I played a bit of Guitar Hero but got too embarrassed when I was schooled by a 12 year old. Outside the tent is an adorable pedal-powered tractor pull, where any 4-10 year old can sign up to compete.

  6. Head towards Sillyville, the carnival area, but resist their temptation! Rides start at 4 tickets a pop, so a family of four is looking at about $12 for a 30 second spin. Instead, walk towards old windmill and you'll see the Fair Farm petting zoo. If you time it right you'll be able to get into the petting area without much waiting. Once inside, you can pet baby goats and chickens to your heart's desire.

  7. I had you walking to the windmill because it's at the heart of the Pioneer village. There, you can peek inside an authentic log cabin, churn some butter, wash clothes with a washboard, and shave with a (pretend) straight-razor, among other rustic activities. This is my favorite part of the whole fair!

  8. Behind the Pioneer village is a school bus that's actually a bookmobile. Each child gets to pick a free book! Donations are accepted.

  9. You're now towards the center of the fairgrounds, which is a great place to catch a show. The bookmobile is adjacent to a stage that had some clowns riding penny-farthing bikes. We also caught a few minutes of a cattle show/competition, and a K9 police demonstration (the dog can open car doors, so watch out!)

  10. Head back to the Blue gate side of the fairgrounds, between the Blue and Gold gates. There's a police museum that features a yearly crashed car on the front lawn. It's a sad and visceral reminder of the dangers of drunk driving. This year there was an additional crashed car, a young victim of texting while driving. A somber sign of the times. To the left of the museum is a two-story building that houses arts and crafts, if you're into that stuff.

If you followed this guide and didn't accidentally buy a light-up frisbee or a glass filled with colored sand (not to mention a gazebo or a "Raiders Fan Parking Only" sign), congratulations! You deserve a reward, so treat yourself to an elephant ear or scone. You deserve it! There's lots of food between where you are now and the Blue gate.

In the interest of full disclosure: in addition to the stuff above, we also paid for some rides and bought dinner. So I didn't buy myself a treat.

Update: the official fair website has an exhaustive list of free activities