Spring is here! In Washington that means a glimpse of sun, rising temperatures and the return of the Washington State Fair.

The folks at the fair are well-versed in organizing events that take into account COVID safety, and are putting on a hybrid drive-thru/walk-through event, with separate spaces for carnival games and rides (running April 7-11 and April 14-18), and evenings for drive-in movies (April 9-10 and April 16-17).

For a sneak peek of this year’s drive-thru Washington State Fair, Seattle Times features producer Amy Wong and desk editor Trevor Lenzmeier went to Puyallup for a day of fun, food and … swimming dogs? Here’s how it went.

Entering in

Amy: I attended the Washington State Fair’s drive-thru last year and had a blast eating a ton of food and looking at some cute farm animals! So I was looking forward to what they had in store this spring.

Trevor: To me, the state fair means meeting my eighth-grade crush at the fairgrounds, eating a burger with doughnut buns and riding an attraction capable of killing me. If I could check one box I’d be happy.

Amy: We had to wait in line to get in, maybe about 20 minutes, which was long for 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Don’t these people have jobs?? Maybe they all also work for newspapers and swindled their editors into letting them spend a day at the fair.

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Trevor: I became a journalist for the perks, baby. As we entered, an attendant gave us a map with vendors and menus, which was helpful to navigate the fairgrounds. You could feel the workers’ “opening day” energy.

The main event

The DockDogs wowed the crowd with their jumping abilities.  (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
The DockDogs wowed the crowd with their jumping abilities. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

Amy: Trevor and I agreed that, of the three experiences we could choose from — bingo, DockDogs (in which dogs compete in pool jumping) or racing pigs — of course we had to see the DockDogs or racing pigs (no offense to you bingo fanatics out there). But choosing just one to watch was probably the toughest choice I had to make this week.

Trevor: For me it was easy. Jumping dogs beat racing pigs every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Amy: After pulling up to the DockDogs area, we found spots in some outdoor bleachers facing a runway and 28,000-gallon pool, and prepared to be wowed. I think Trevor kept our section of the (socially distanced) crowd alive and pumped for the DockDogs. He was cheering, barking, a real champ.

Trevor: Evidently I miss sports. I’ll watch a dog do pretty much anything, especially if anything is diving 15+ feet into a pool. The canine competition was contentious, but I think Onyx, Minnie and Reggie all left a bit in the tank — I would have liked to see them push 20 feet.

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Amy: They’re trying their best, OK?? I thought it was awesome, the crowd was excited and the dogs seemed so thrilled just to be there. Shoutout to the champ Reggie, who jumped a whopping 17 feet and 8 inches into the pool that afternoon.

Food

Amy: Disclaimer to readers: Sorry, but you are not going to find any healthy food here. Who goes to the state fair to eat a vegetable or whatever? Not me.

Trevor: First up: Route 66 Pizza. Based on a staffer’s recommendation, we ordered the sausage calzone ($9.95). It was delivered to our car dripping with garlicky butter in two minutes. Not car-friendly, but it beat my tepid expectations: Decent marinara, chewy crust, good fair food.

The shortcake from Fisher was a sweet treat, and different from its classic scones. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
The shortcake from Fisher was a sweet treat, and different from its classic scones. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

Amy: After, we had to visit the one and only Washington State Fair staple: Fisher Scones. I still adore the classic fair scone ($2) packed with sticky sweet raspberry jam, but opted to also get the strawberry shortcake ($5). I loved the giant chunks of scone-like shortcake soaked in strawberry syrup.

The cheeseburger from Hamburger Myers was packed with caramelized onions.  (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
The cheeseburger from Hamburger Myers was packed with caramelized onions. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
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Trevor: You’ve got a half-dozen burger options from the fair. At Hamburger Myers, we picked up a cheeseburger ($6.95) and onion rings ($5.25). If you love grilled onions, this is the place to go — they pile them high on their burgers.

Amy: Lastly, we ordered a turkey leg ($14.95) from Mama’s Meat Shack. This bad boy was a behemoth hunk of meat — I pulled it out of the bag and just said, “Whoa.” But it was also well-cooked, tender, juicy, slightly smoky — overall a nice conclusion to our whirlwind of a food journey.

Other entertainment

A drive-thru farm lets you get up close and personal with the animals. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
A drive-thru farm lets you get up close and personal with the animals. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

Trevor: I loved the farm animals. The drive-thru was a bit rushed, but we got close to the hairy fellers. Amy photographed some very handsome goats; we also saw llamas, a donkey, cows, peacocks and more.

The reptile exhibit at the Washington State Fair features giant tortoises.  (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
The reptile exhibit at the Washington State Fair features giant tortoises. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

Amy: As a lifelong lover of snakes, I was enthralled with the drive-thru reptile exhibit. We got up close with alligators, iguanas, tortoises and a huge yellow python that I wished I could take home.

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Trevor: There are also a few spots where you can step out to buy fair-branded merch, plus more food, clothing and other products from local vendors.

Amy: Along the drive we got to see lovely daffodil displays, and myriad entertainers, from “Stomp”-style percussionists to daffodil queens to a man that just yelled a bunch of facts about eggs to us.

Overall

Trevor: I thought attendants were helpful and it was a smooth, fun operation under tough circumstances. While it’s not the rootin’-tootin’ fair of yesteryear, it’s worth something to spend a fair day unburdened by the possibility of regurgitating my food on a zero-gravity ride, since rides were a separate thing.

On-site entertainment includes roaming people like this egg information man.  (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
On-site entertainment includes roaming people like this egg information man. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

Amy: I think this experience was more chaotic (waiting in car lines, confusion around where to go) than the last time I went, but there was also just so much more stuff to see. I thought the food was great and it was fun to see people out enjoying their days.

If you go

The drive-thru spring fair runs April 7-11 and April 14-18 from 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. at 110 Ninth Ave. S.W., Puyallup.

Plan ahead. Buy your tickets ahead of time at thefair.com, where you can choose the date and time you want to attend the fair. Tickets are $30 per car, or $50 per car if you don’t want to choose a specific entry time slot. You’ll also choose one of three experiences (bingo, DockDogs or racing pigs). For an extra cost, you can also take a ride on a monster truck and/or select some take-home fair memorabilia.

Reminder: The drive-thru is separate from the rides, carnival games and drive-in movies. More info: 253-845-1771 or thefair.com.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Tickets are not sold on-site.
  • Wear a mask when you get out of your car or are interacting with vendors.
  • Food vendors accept credit cards only.