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It's time to start thinking about fresh, fried cheese curds, sky views of St. Paul and everything wonderful on a stick. The Kickoff to Summer at the Fair, the preview of the Great Minnesota Get-Together that's become a bit of its own annual tradition, is happening May 23-26, and tickets go on sale Friday, April 5, at 10 a.m.

This is our first chance of the season to walk the fairgrounds filled with people and get a taste of all the good things to come. The event, in its fourth year, will include last year's fan favorite doughnut vendor, new foods that will be making their debut as well as old favorites, the bites we need to complete any perfect day at the fair. But it's not all about the food — there also will be entertainment, family-friendly fun, shopping and live music.

Here's what you need to know.

When: Thu., May 23, 4-9 p.m.; Fri., May 24, 4-9 p.m.; Sat., May 25, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun., May 26, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Tickets: $13, but kids under 4 are free. They're available April 5 at 10 a.m. through or by calling 800-514-3849. Tickets are sold for particular days, so choose wisely. The event usually sells out in advance, but if there happens to be tickets available that weekend, they are $16 at the door, available by QR code only.

Parking: It's free, but limited. For map and directions, check

The food: We've got the full list here, but notable bites include northeast Minneapolis' beloved Chimborazo; those stuffed, crispy pastries from Sambusa Express and a second outpost for Giggle's. We're thrilled to see Peachy's Amish doughnuts return after last summer's long, long, lines, and the icons of the fair will be there, too. In no particular order, there are the can't-miss favorites from Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Que Viet's eggroll on a stick, Pronto Pups, Sweet Martha's and more.

Here's the full list: Al's Subs & Malt Shop, Andy's Grille, Auntie M's Gluten Free, Baba's, Ball Park Cafe, Big Fat Bacon, Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, Cafe Caribe, Cheese-on-a-Stick and Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, Chimborazo, Coasters, Dino's Gyros, Duke's Poutine, El Sol Mexican Foods, Fresh French Fries, Giggles' Campfire Grill (two locations), Hansen's Foot Long Hot Dogs & Corn Dogs, Minnesnowii Shave Ice, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Nelson's Foot Long Hot Dogs & Corn Dogs, Peachey's Baking Company, the Perfect Pickle, Produce Exchange, Pronto Pups (two locations), Que Viet, RC's BBQ, Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos, Rick's Pizza, Sambusa Express, Summer Lakes Beverage, Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar, Sweets & Treats, Tiny Tim Donuts, Tot Boss, Trickster Tacos (new this year) and West Indies Soul Food.

Mascots and the Giant Slide will both be ready for action at the Kickoff to Summer at the Fair.
Mascots and the Giant Slide will both be ready for action at the Kickoff to Summer at the Fair.

New stuff to do: Inflatable ax throwing by the Northern Star Council Boy Scouts; the Arcade with dozens of coin-operated arcade games; merchandise vendors such as Always Northern Permanent Jewelry and Roots, Shoots & Leaves mobile houseplant shop; and ASL interpretation during select Trivia Mafia and Stroll Through History guided tours on May 25.

Entertainment: There are three stages of entertainment, with everything from Line Dance Minnesota to Drums of Navarone, plus DJ music. Activities include mini golf, pickleball and (of course) the Giant Slide.

Shopping: There will be more than 20 vendors for your shopping pleasure; several are new this year.

The Big Show: This year's fair is Aug. 22-Sept. 2. Get all the details at