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The Minnesota State Fair means tradition — and repetition — for many families. But there’s no one way to do it right. Three die-hard families proved as much for the Star Tribune by GPS-tracking their fair routes on opening day. From finding bathrooms (first), to watching the fireworks from the parking lot (last), the three groups shared some of the secrets behind their fair-day fun.

COLLINS GROUP THE GUEST ROUTE

When you’re introducing your New York sister and her three kids to the Minnesota State Fair, you’ve got to hit the highlights right quick.

At least, that was the plan for Elizabeth Collins, who routed her East Coast relatives through the Dairy Barn for a glimpse at the butter princess sculptures and on to the Miracle of Birth Center to find pigs being born.

“They were kind of grossed out, but fascinated,” she said.

Then it was on to the sheep, pig and horse barns before a live show at the West End and a Skyride to the Agriculture Building and must-eat treats.

“They had never had cheese curds!” Collins exclaimed.

After marching to the Ferris wheel for a ride, Collins figured the family would be done.

But they lasted two hours in the Creative Activities Building alone, examining the prizewinning dioramas and tasting salsa.

The Minnesota Wine stand beckoned after nearly 10 hours on the Fairgrounds, and Collins and her sister gleefully ordered icy watermelon froses.

Corey McCann, 10, and sister Sarah, 8, enjoyed seeing animals and eating treats at their first Minnesota State Fair.
Corey McCann, 10, and sister Sarah, 8, enjoyed seeing animals and eating treats at their first Minnesota State Fair.

Provided by family

Altogether, the family lasted nearly half a day, walked 10.5 miles and burned 1,461 calories, according to their mobile route tracker.

The only moment of alarm occurred early on, when they briefly lost track of one of the girls, who had lingered in the Dairy Barn to read about making butter and cheese.

The New York sister’s verdict about the Fair? “Very big,” she said. “Like huge.”

LARSON GROUP THE STROLLER ROUTE

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people at the Minnesota State Fair — those with strollers and those who grumble about the people with strollers.

The Larsons had strollers.

This year’s fair opener was all about getting to the highlights while tactically moving to places where they could feed and entertain the two small children in their group.

Steve Chamberlain won a stuffed dog at the Midway for his grandson, 9-month-old Teddy Larson, on his first fair visit.
Steve Chamberlain won a stuffed dog at the Midway for his grandson, 9-month-old Teddy Larson, on his first fair visit.

Provided by family

“It just took a little bit longer to get from point A to point B,” said Angela Larson, a wedding planner from Robbinsdale, who attended the fair with her husband, 9-month-old son, parents, and sister’s family, including 19-month-old Savannah.

The fair is in the family’s blood; they have sponsored a brick paver and a yellow bench that bears her parents’ likeness and their surname, “Chamberlain.” Larson enjoyed getting first-ever pictures of her infant son, Teddy, on that bench.

The group braved the crowds entering the Coliseum to try the new cotton candy/ice cream confection, and visited both the Kidway and the Midway for rides and prizes.

Larson said it was unusual to visit the fair but skip Machinery Hill and the animal barns.

“We we’re laughing about it — we didn’t do half of the fair!” Larson said. “We’ll be back at least two or three more times.”

Her son, Teddy, took multiple naps in his stroller while Savannah resisted fatigue until the ride home.

“She didn’t want to miss out on anything,” Larson said.

NELSON GROUP THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE

If you’re joining the Nelson-Wilson-Hanson gang for the fair opener, you need to do the things they always do, in the order they do them.

Nina Nelson’s sister and parents are charter members. Her 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, joined for the first time this year. Her husband hasn’t made the cut.

“He has a whole other route,” explained Nelson, a photographer from Burnsville.

Sisters Nina Nelson and Annika Hanson have attended the first day of the Fair each year with their parents for decades.
Sisters Nina Nelson and Annika Hanson have attended the first day of the Fair each year with their parents for decades.

Provided by family

Per tradition, their 11-hour “power” trip included coffee at the Farmer’s Union in the morning and a view of the fireworks from the parking lot at night.

In between, they visited the Fine Arts building early, to see friends’ entries, which put them strategically close to Giggles. The duck wantons and walleye cakes were a hit, and the dill pickle beer made the nearby lumberjack show more amusing. The adults tasted 12 of 27 new Fair beers.

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” Nelson said at 10 a.m.

Nelson missed out on two never-miss foods. She was full when she passed her usual foot-long hot dog stand, and her dad ate the entire Jamaican patty from West Indies Soul that they were supposed to share.

But she got her annual fortune from the Zelda’s machine.

“You are a strong believer in fate,” it read. “Fortunately, you are destined to be very happy.”

Perhaps Zelda foresaw that the family would complete the triple play later that day — the Glider, Skyride and Space Needle.

Or that Nelson would be back at the Fair this week.