Thrifty Thurston Visits the Thurston County Fair on a Dime



By Kate Scriven

lucky eagleThere is something about a county fair that appeals to the “urban-farm girl” persona I’m cultivating on my little plot of land near Boston Harbor.  Attending a fair feels different than a carnival or festival.  It’s somehow closer to our roots, celebrating hard work, commitment, and the crafts and skills of days gone by.  And, it’s cheap.  Something that really appeals to this thrifty mama, always looking to engage my two girls in meaningful fun on a budget.

thurston county fair
Thrifty Thurston recommends “One Buck Wednesday” for cheap rides or pre-purchasing a discounted ride Arm Band at the Thurston County Fair office by July 29.

Cheap, you say?  Really?  Yes, really.

Our family has been attending the Thurston County Fair the first weekend in August for years, and our enjoyment grew as we introduced our girls to the joys of the Fair.  But, with the addition of kiddos comes a growing price tag for a day of fun.  So, we got crafty, learned the system and created a formula for a perfect day at the Thurston County Fair on a dime.

It’s all about the timing when looking to save at the Fair.  The weekend may be your only options with work and activity schedules, but if you can swing it, attend the fair on opening day, Wednesday July 30 for “One Buck Wednesday.”  All entry tickets are $1 with a donated can of food.  And, with children under five free, you may be entering the fair for just a couple dollars.

We always arrive promptly at 9:45 a.m. since the Thurston County Fair opens at 10 a.m.  Parking is available in many locations, but early arrival ensures a spot in the Lacey Presbyterian Church on Carpenter Road.  Parking here is donation-based and directly across from Fair gates.  The friendly volunteers have even offered bottled water to my red-cheeked children as we staggered back to the car, weary from the fun.

thurston county fair
Talk with local kids about their animals during the Thurston County Fair.

Once inside, spend your first hour touring the animals.  Carnival rides don’t open until 11:00 a.m. so this is a terrific way to see the Fair before the begging for more ride tickets begins.  My children love seeing the huge steers up-close, examining the hilariously feathered exotic chickens, and petting wooly sheep being groomed by hard-working 4-H and FFA kids in the barns.   And, it’s all free.

The animal barns also present the opportunity for your family to talk with the dedicated youth of Thurston County.  Raising an animal and preparing for fair showing is not easy and the example of dedication and commitment is a lasting memory, and lesson, we take from our fair day.

When hunger strikes, and it will, be ready with a few snacks from home to tide them over, saving a trip to the food vendors for lunch and saving cash as well.  Come armed with plenty of water bottles as warm weather and little shade are hallmarks of fair week.

For lunch, be on the look-out for $1 hot dogs, corn dogs, corn on the cob, curly fries and sodas found at the Lions Club and other booths on “One Buck Wednesday.”  If you visit another day, pre-plan with your kids the one “splurge” treat they really want (snow cone or elephant ear? ) and pick a less expensive lunch item paired with your water from home.

thurston county fair
One Buck Wednesday keeps the price tag down on the Thurston County Fair.

The Thurston County Fair includes amazing demonstrations, competitions, and exhibitions to engage your kids – and they’re all free.  Seek out the dog obedience shows and obstacle courses with the dog lover in the family.  Check the schedule for dressage and jumping competitions for horse-crazed daughters. Locate the Kid’s Tractor Pull and cheer with your tractor-loving toddler.  These fun events are what sets the Fair apart from other festivals and are not to be missed. Full schedules can be found here.

We always save the rides for last and if you are following the “Scriven Plan” you’ll be able to ride for only $1 a ride on “One Buck Wednesday.”

Not attending on Wednesday?  No problem.  A little pre-planning ensures your family can ride to their hearts content without breaking the bank.  Available through July 29 at the Thurston County Fair Office, discounted, pre-purchased Carnival Ride Arm Bands are available for $19 each, a savings of $5 each off regular price.  Arm bands give you unlimited rides on one day.  Be quick though – pre-sale discounts end on Tuesday.

Visit the Fair on Friday, August 1 for “Buddy Day” and Arm Bands are buy-one-get-one-free.  That’s $24 for two bands, a significant savings for families that love to ride.  August 1 is also Military Appreciation Day with $2 admission and deals throughout the Fair with Military ID.

thurston county fair
Close out a day at the Thurston County Fair with a big ice cream bar.

And while it’s not very thrifty, we always end the fair with a BIG ice-cream bar.  They are obscenely large and incredibly good.  Sit in the shade, listen to a free concert, and simply be together.  The sticky, chocolaty smiles on my girl’s faces are the best bargain of the day.  Free and perfect.


Thurston County Fair

July 30 through August 3

Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Rides open until 11:00 p.m.

Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.


Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County.  The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community.  If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at  For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.


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