#fairhack of the day: Which way to the fair?

Jason, Alex and Lezlee Franke at the state fair bike corral, August 2012. “My husband and I have been going to the State Fair since 1998. In 2002 we took our newborn son; he was just six weeks old!” she says. “We started biking to the fair a few years ago as a way to avoid the long parking lines at the fair. We get some exercise, enjoy a nice ride through beautiful neighborhoods, and it’s free!” (Photo courtesy of Lezlee Franke)

You’ve bought your ticket, you’ve packed your sunscreen, you’ve got your water bottle, you’ve mapped out your food plan.

The only thing left is getting to the fair.

But how?

Our #fairhack guides share their wisdom.

By bus.

Metro Transit runs an express bus service — with a bus showing up once about every 15 minutes or half-hour, depending on the spot — during the run of the fair. Use Metro Transit’s park-and-ride finder if you’d like to park somewhere in the Twin Cities and hop the express bus to the midway (just choose State Fair Express Service in the drop down menu).

You might want to look into buying a discount bus ticket ahead of time, too, if you’re not a regular rider. It’s a $5 round-trip fare on the express service. You might end up saving a few dollars. Buy it ahead of time, print it online or have it sent to your mobile.

Metro Transit also runs four regular routes (in addition to the special express service just for the fair) that might be useful to you. To find out which route is best, just use the service’s trip-planning tool, and be sure to choose “State Fair” as your destination, under the Popular Locations tab.

By bike.

This was by far the transportation method of choice among our #fairhack experts.

“Go by bike, and park in the lot near Snelling and Como Avenues,” says Oby Ballinger of St. Paul. He likes it because it gets you “close to the action without getting snarled in traffic. Wear your helmet on the road, of course!”

The state fair provides three free bike corrals, open from 6 a.m. to midnight each day of the fair.

By car and bike.

Lezlee Franke and her family live in Sartelle, Minn. That’s about 80 miles — an hour-and-a-half drive by car — from the state fairgrounds. But the Frankes found a way to hack the fair anyway: They brought their bikes along for the drive.

Here’s what you do, says Lezlee: “Ride your bike and park in one of the free bike corrals. We live in Sartell but haul our bikes and park on the street. If it’s several blocks away, it’s OK! No problem on a bike! Every year, we cruise past the lines of cars at a standstill waiting to get in to the fairground parking.”

If you think that’s brilliant and want to try it out, the fair has three bike corrals where you can park your bikes for free at any point during the fair: at Gate 6 (Como/Snelling), Gate 2 (Hoyt/Snelling) and Gate 15 (Commonwealth/West Dan Patch). The bike corrals are open from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Park & ride.

Another state fair staple.

Says #fairhack-er Alan Calavano, from Rochester: “Take the free Park and Ride bus from any of a number of locations.  The U of M is particularly convenient.  Do NOT try to park on or near the Fairgrounds.”

What he’s talking about: Every day, from 8 a.m. until midnight, coach buses loop from the fair to various parking spots (churches, schools, office buildings, etc.) around the general area surrounding the fairgrounds. They show up generally every 20 minutes at each stop.

Parking is free, and the buses are free.

Some locations are very specific about dates and times when the buses aren’t running, though, so double-check before you decide on one.

Here’s another park-and-ride #fairhack, from Clark Gregor of St. Louis Park: “Park at ‘The Bank’ on the U of M Campus for free and take their free shuttle (down that secret road between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses) to the fair.”  Here’s a map of places you can park at the U’s Minneapolis campus.

Drive there, park in a fair lot.

Plenty of people do it — that’s why the traffic lines can be so long! It’s $12 per vehicle and it’s first-come-first-served. (Here’s a little bit more about parking lot locations and what they’re accessible to.)

Even if you do end up parking close by, #fairhack-er Julie Blaha says, it’s really easy to forget where you’ve parked — especially at the end of a long day of walking the midway with food on a stick.

So take a picture of where you’re parked, she says — and you won’t be stuck wandering the fair parking lot, hauling a half-empty Sweet Martha’s bucket and bags full of fair swag, wondering where the heck you’ve left your vehicle.

So what’s your #fairhack? Do you have your own pro tip for doing the state fair right that you’d like to share? Tell us here, or share it in a tweet, tagged #fairhack (and, if you can fit it, #mnstatefair).  We’ll be sharing them all week online, on the air and all around social media.