5 Best Bets for People-Watching at the Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair has something for everyone: carnival rides, industrial displays, flea-market finds, livestock competitions and of course, lots of fried food. But the most popular activity is sitting back with a corn dog in one hand and an icy beverage in the other and surveying the crow. Attendance at the fair, which is Aug. 11-21 this year, often tops 1 million, providing plenty of people-watching opportunities. There's even a Facebook page devoted to this very thing. Find all the details on tickets, parking and more at the fair's website.

Grand concourse on East Side Night
The main thoroughfare fair is always the number-one place to take in the scene, especially in the evenings before and after concerts at the grandstand. But the first Friday night of the fair, unofficially known as East Side Night, really brings out the crowds. Residents of the neighborhoods around the fairgrounds, East High School alumni and others with ties to the area converge on the grand concourse for a massive, informal reunion.

Livestock Pavilion
This is where the top animal competitors and their owners shine. Presentation is always key to catch the judge's eye and these fairgoers come prepared. Take a seat in the bleachers around the oval arena for a view of the latest in Western wear styles and even some themed outfits for special competitions.

Pioneer Hall
This restored historic barn is a landmark on the northeast edge of the fairgrounds, known for its slate of old-time musical performances, crazy contests, antiques market and more. Expect to find folks from the vintage-chic crowd at this location, viewing the historical exhibits and hunting for bargains on old housewares. Competitions such as cow-chip throwing and husband-calling bring out colorful characters from all walks of life.

The Midway
As expected, you can be sure to see some interesting people roaming this area of the grounds, especially after the sun goes down. If you're looking to ride the rides along with people-watching, check the fair's website for info on ticket bundles and discounts.

Stages with throwback bands
There'll be "Nothin' but a good time" as the free concerts planned for this year's fair. While there are several locations hosting musical acts, the Bud Light Stage appears to take the crown for veteran rock acts. Bret Michaels, Ratt, Stryper, Vixen and 80s' tribute band Hairball all have gigs scheduled. These concerts draw huge, rowdy crowds, so get there early if you hope to get a seat.

Melanie Lageschulte is a freelance writer and editor. She is an Iowa native and has lived in Des Moines for 15 years.