I absolutely love going to fairs, but we haven’t gone the past two summers because our son used to have such a hard time in the car and it wasn’t worth it for the hour and fifteen to hour and a half or longer in the car to get there. Even 20 or 30 minutes was a struggle and so we tended to stick to trips close to home as much as possible. 

This year, he’s finally doing well on longer car rides so we planned to go. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive down but didn’t think there was another good option because it would take hours and 3 bus transfers to get there.

A couple weeks before we were going to go, I just happened to see an add for the Sounder light rail train (which is usually a weekday commuter train only). 

Chance encounter at the farmers market advertising the train option

It turns out that the fair actually charters the line on a few select Saturdays and we could take it directly to the fair and home again! 

The station is 1 mile from my parents’ house and we were going with my mom and grandma, so it worked out perfectly.

Waiting for the train to arrive

I was so excited to find out that option existed and we took the train down last Saturday. There were only two trains each direction, so we had to plan ahead to make sure that worked for us but it really wasn’t a big deal. We took the 10AM train down and planned to take the 5:50PM return trip home.

The train ride was an hour and 25 minutes each way, which was really no longer than it would have taken to drive, and we were all able to relax and walk around during the trip. Our son LOVES trains, so the trip down was just about as exciting as the fair itself. We spent the time looking out the window as we passed other trains, the lake, construction sites, and other interesting scenery. Unlike a car or bus, we were also able to get up and walk around a little, which makes a huge difference for a toddler.

Once we got off, there were shuttle buses lined up to whisk us right to the fair and we even got to go in a separate entrance, which meant we didn’t have to wait in a crazy line while they checked bags. The train option just kept getting better and better compared to driving.

By the time we got into the fairgrounds and walked around for a few minutes, it was time for lunch and then nap for the little guy. Half of the reason for the fair is the food, so we got some awful, delicious, greasy, overpriced food (but we did bring our own bottles of water – I put my foot down at paying for water at $4/bottle).

As our son slept, we walked around the fairgrounds and just looked at all of the different rides and booths. Again and again, I would turn to my husband shocked at the sheer price of so much of what was offered. $9 for a pint of craft beer when you can get a growler fill for the same price is hard to wrap my head around. Regardless, the beer garden was filled with people drinking away $10 bills.

Test driving the tractor we will never own

I’m not big on amusement park rides because I just don’t think they’re worth $5 or $10 for such a short ride, and I absolutely WILL NOT ride a Ferris wheel, but the fair had a really cool looking human slingshot ride so I dragged my husband over to take a look. 

As it turns out, the ride costs $35/person (and an additional $20 if you want a video) for something that last a full minute. They were turning 2 people through at 2:10 per round, so that one ride was grossing a minimum of $2,100/hour! I refused to pay the $35 to ride myself, but I can imagine that is a pretty lucrative income for whoever owns it for the month of the fair.

View of the human slingshot from up in the gondola

It’s incredible to me the sheer amount of money that can be spent on one day at the fair when it can be such a fun day regardless, especially when so much of it is for 2 minute rides or giant stuffed toys that will just end up next week in storage at best and in the landfill at worst. 

We spent $18/person on the train ride and fair ticket combo pack (our son was free because he is under 5 years old), and by leaving the car at home we saved $59.70 on gas and wear and tear based on the AAA calculations I did for my vehicle plus an additional $8-$20 on parking. Other than that, we did splurge on a gondola ride over the fair ($21 for the three of us) and about $40 on fair food over the 6 hours we were there. 

While ~$100 is somewhat a lot for a day out, it did include a train ride and two meals, so I feel that was a reasonable amount for a full staycation type day.

Can’t forget the most important part – ice cream!

Other than the gondola ride and the food, the rest of the day was spent doing all of the free activities that fair provides. We did a lot of walking around and looking at all the different crafts and displays and all of the farm animals, and our son was able to “go fishing” in a stocked pool. The fishing was a free kid’s activity and it’s the one thing he keeps talking about days later. We probably could have skipped the gondola ride and had just as much fun 😉 

Catching his FIRST FISH!

There was also a fire engine with a firefighter handing out free fireman tattoos. The fair has SO MUCH free fun it’s crazy to me to think how people spend hundreds of dollars on the super expensive not free options. We had a wonderful day and I don’t feel like we missed out on anything by keeping the price reasonable, other than missing out on an extra large credit card statement next month!

Hanging out with Grammy on the way home

At 5PM we headed back to the train (again, via quick and easy shuttle bus) and rode home. After a full day walking around and exploring, it was really nice to sit and let someone else take us home and not worry about getting out of a packed parking lot and then sitting in traffic. Instead, we got to relax and enjoy the ride and the view. We all agreed that from here on out, the train is the way to go to the fair.



12 thoughts on “Take The Train: A Fun Frugal Day At The Puyallup Fair

  1. The fair really is a money vacuum. Those craft beers… hurts my pocket book bad. But I go in full knowings I am at their mercy. Fortunately I live close to one, so I’ll go with friends after work 1 time to minimize my costs. I just love looking at all the booths like the home products I could dream about (especially the dreamy jacuzzis). It’s fun checking out the animals too. And… my child doesn’t really care for the fair so its more money kept in my pocketbook (hopefully and not more money for me to spend to make up for her absence. LOL)

    Glad you had a great time and were able to take the train. More fun socializing then sitting in traffic. What was your favorite fair food? I saw some crazy things in this year’s news about what’s being offered at our local fair. Cotton Candy Ice Cream Sandwich. Crazy. I do want to try the jackfruit nachos.

    1. Yeah, we’ll see how we do once our son is old enough to ask to go on rides and play games.

      My favorite fair food is probably a corn dog, the the soft serve ice cream we got this year was awesome. I did see a sign for deep fried butter…

  2. Looks like you and your family enjoyed it! I’m not much of a fair person but if I had children I think it would definitely make a fun day for all!

  3. we always hit our local fair – they have ones in the spring and in the fall. Always spend too much money, and eat too much but its fun (and close by LOL)

  4. It is amazing how much going to the fair costs! We have a local fair that has happened forever, but finally had to shut down because they couldn’t make enough money to make it worth it. This is crazy considering how much money each person shells out, but the reality I guess since fairs only come once a year. I love that you got to ride the train & I bet your son loved it.

  5. Hey there! This post brings back lots of memories for me, because strangely enough we used to live in Puyallup! We lived extremely close to the fair grounds and would pass them every day. Believe it or not we actually never went! We lived there for 2 years and the closest we made it was the ticket booth outside the entrance. We went with coupons for entry and didn’t realize they weren’t valid for the day we went, therefore they wouldn’t accept them. We already decided we didn’t want to go on a “normal day” because fairs are often very expensive, so it was coupon or nothing. After we got denied entry, we decided just to go home. We still miss the area though and Washington in general. Beautiful up there – but we weren’t fans of “the clouds” that come in October and leave in June – I’m sure you know what I mean. 😉

    1. Hey, they didn’t show up until November this year! Though we’ve also already had a snowfall, which is ridiculous.

      Honestly, the Puyallup fair isn’t my favorite one by far, so I don’t think you missed out on a “must see” fair. The Evergreen State in Monroe is way better (and smaller) but it ended too early in the year and we weren’t able to go. That and there’s no train to get there 😉

  6. It’s funny I read this post today, the fair is in town over this weekend in my local town and I actually paid it a visit today. It comes to town annually for 3 days same time of year. However since I’ve been out of the country since 2010 this was the first time I’ve got to experience it since I started traveling and it bought back so many memories of my childhood. 😀 – However I do agree with you with the prices of rides for just a couple minutes of a thrill.

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