Growing up watching romantic comedies, I dreamed of going on a state fair date full of Hallmark moments. During my summer in Indianapolis, I was ready to have my moment at the fair. With over a million square feet of event space, the Indiana State Fair has something for everyone, but it was overwhelming to try to plan a perfect date by myself.
So instead, I turned to the experts: people who have worked at the fair for years. They’ve witnessed thousands of dates and seen the good, the bad and the ugly. On their recommendations, I scoped out the must sees and tips, and then I went on a date to try it myself. Between winning a chubby stuffed gerbil at the midway (his name is Gilbert) and watching the sunset on the Ferris wheel, I got my cute fair date, and I’m ready to help you have yours too.
Regardless of what kind of date you want to have, keep in mind that the exhibit halls close a couple hours before the fair does. Make sure to do everything you want to do indoors and save the other activities for later in the evening.
Here are 14 date ideas for the Indiana State Fair sorted into four itineraries based on how well you know your date.
From parking to concerts:Everything you need to know about the Indiana State Fair 2021
The optimal first date gives you the opportunity to get to know someone without the pressure of always needing to have something to say. These spots at the fair give you enough to do so it won’t be awkward, but are also quiet enough to have a conversation.
Play a round of putt-putt golf
Come in from the northside and enjoy a free round of putt-putt at the Corteva Agriscience FFA Pavilion. The 18 holes are mostly indoors and will give you plenty of time to shoot your shot, all the while finding out how competitive your date is.
Hours: 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Feed the animals in the FFA pavilion
They say that animals and children are the best judges of character. You’ll probably find both as you say hi to the goats and take a photo of your date feeding a small cow next door. Choose between carrot slices or bits of grain.
Hours: 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Cost: $2 per cup or 3 for $5
Enjoy a classic ice cream soda
Hook’s Historical Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum serves old-fashioned ice cream sodas and phosphates. It’s been a permanent fixture at the fair for 50 years. Bring your date inside to enjoy an old fashioned ice cream soda from a recreated Victorian Soda Fountain or a $5 sundae with unlimited toppings. Then, walk around and check out the old medicines in the museum.
This year, you can bring your coffee date game to a whole new level with the new coffee ice cream float which they’ve entered in the “Taste of the Fair” competition.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
More information: https://hooksmuseum.org/
Sometimes dates are not strictly about romantic get-to-know-you conversations, they’re about creating memories and shared experiences to look back on later. These ideas are more activity focused and leave less room for conversation. They can be done on a group date or with a group of friends.
Split as many fair foods as you can
Fair foods often come in large servings, and it’s impossible to try them all. The area just outside Celebration Park is one of the most concentrated areas of “Taste of the Fair” foods. Near the DNR Building, you can split and try these new foods which are more conducive to sharing.
Catch a concert at the Free Stage
Each night at the fair, there’s a free concert with a different band or artist on the Free Stage in Celebration Park. This year’s line up includes the Beach Boys, Noah Cyrus, Casting Crowns and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Indiana State Fair 2021:Here are the acts playing the Free Stage
You’ve been on a few dates, and they’ve gone well. Here are date ideas which will make for a cute day at the fair with someone you’re comfortable with.
Taking a photo at the Glass Barn
The Glass Barn is an interactive educational center about farming which is probably not what immediately comes to mind when you think about a date. But in the back, there’s a new photo booth where you and your date can snap a souvenir photo. This is your only shot to get a photo with the midway arch and the new Ferris wheel at the same time.
On a wall near the back, there’s a poster with QR code you can scan for a free milkshake at the Dairy Bar (after a brief survey on your thoughts about agriculture). Keep this, you’ll need it for later.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
State Fair ‘pub crawl’
Corey Urick, whose family has operated Urick Concessions at the fair for over 20 years, recommends visiting all the venues that serve alcohol at the fair since each has “a different vibe.”
Backyard Brats & Brews is a new space this year, located in front of the Ferris wheel. Swing by for beers, brats and snacks. Listen to live music and play some yard games in the shade. Head over to the Indiana State Fair Wine Garden for a wine tasting, and don’t miss the TapRoom for Indiana beer, wine and spirits! Try Sun King Brewery’s new Funnel Cake Pastry Ale, an entry in this year’s “Taste of the Fair.”
The Backyard Brats & Brews: 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Indiana State Fair Wine Garden: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with daily wine tastings from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
TapRoom: 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The midway arch is one of the most iconic photo spots at the fair. Snap a photo and then sit side by side on Swing Tower or win your date a stuffed animal. Speaking from experience, the water guns game booth ($6) is likely your best shot if you want to win a prize. There’s a winner every round, and they’ll run the game as long as there are at least two people playing.
For the best deals, go on either Thursday for $3 rides or on wristband days (Wednesdays, Fridays, or the last day of the fair). Wristbands are $35 and valid on an unlimited number of rides.
Wednesday: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Thursday: 12 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Weekends: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday, August 22: 11 a.m. –10 p.m.
Cost: regular midway tickets are $1.50 each. Cost of games vary.
Split a milkshake at the Dairy Bar
Remember that free milkshake from before? Here’s your chance to use it. The Dairy Bar is on Main Street outside the midway arch. Sit at the picnic tables with two straws and one delicious creamy chocolate salted caramel milkshake like you’re in a diner in the ’50s.
Ride the Hoosier Cruiser Super Wheel
End your night at this new 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel. Kiss at the top, people-watch, or just chat as you go. The cabins seat 4-6, making it the perfect location for a double date.
One of the cabins is VIP. It has tinted windows, leather seats and a glass bottom so you can look down. For the best view, go later in the evening but before dark. The midway lights will be on, and the Ferris wheel is a great place to watch the sunset. For the duration of the fair, sunset is between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Cost: $10 per person, $15 VIP
Maybe you’ve been dating for five years, maybe you’ve been married for 15. Either way, the fair still has new and classic places for you to visit with your significant other. These ideas are for those who are in it for the long haul. Enjoy each other’s company or try something new together!
Find downward dog on select mornings and evenings through animal yoga. These 45 minute classes are open to yogis of all levels. Even if your headstands aren’t quite up to par, you can still take selfies with adorable pigs or goats. People are strongly encouraged to bring their own mats and register/arrive early to guarantee their spots.
Cost: $35 per person (this includes the cost of admission to the fair)
To register and for more information: https://www.indianastatefair.com/p/state-fair/entertainment/animal-yoga
Try messy fair foods
Celebrate the little joys of being in a relationship—like being comfortable enough eat messy foods in front of your date—by trying (or sharing) these fun fair foods.
According to Alfie McGinty, owner and operator of Gobble, Gobble! Food Truck, many couples split a jumbo smoked turkey leg from her truck because “it’s economical and filling.”
At the German Corner, a newcomer to the fair this year, they’re serving a Bavarian Cream Puff. This pastry shell filled with vanilla cream and topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar or chocolate sauce, and a cherry is made from an old German recipe. On Main Street, there’s a truck serving fried cookie dough so gooey it falls off the toothpick.
Get a caricature
Both inside and near the midway, caricature artists sit ready to capture you and your sweetheart. Word to the wise, only do this if you’re having a good day and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take it from Rob Hume, a caricature artist at the fair for about 10 years.
According to Hume, commissioning a caricature can be like inviting a third party to commentate on how your date is going. Small idiosyncrasies or differences will get blown up and exaggerated.
“If you’re in a good relationship,” he says. “That stuff’s just gonna add texture.” But on a first date, it can blow up in your face.
Hume’s personal threshold for getting a caricature is date three, but I’d hold off until you know you’re in it for the long haul. Artists like Hume will try to capture your interaction and vibes as a couple. It’ll be a keepsake to look back on for years to come.
Take a stroll down the Pathway to Water Quality
After eating all the delicious fried fair food, you might want to take a walk. According to Bob Walsh, who has owned and operated a Baskin Robbins concessions truck at the fair for over two decades, the Pathway to Water Quality is the perfect spot. He goes with his wife during the fair. The paved path, flowing water, and shady trees make it a great respite on hot days.
There’s also a drinking well with paper cups and benches along the path to pause, sit and chat.
If you’re looking for a longer walk, you can start here and walk over to nearby Pioneer Village which is quiet after it closes at 9 p.m.