A couple of weekends ago, I attended my first ever Maker Faire in the Bay Area. Although I had previously exhibited a VR game called An Ant’s Life at the Pittsburgh Maker Faire, this was the first time I was going as an attendee, and I was excited to really engage in the event.
Despite having looked at the program beforehand, I was unprepared for the scale of the Faire and overwhelmed by the sheer number of things going on when I arrived at the San Mateo County Event Center on Saturday morning.
I had to learn how to navigate the Faire that day, and I wish I’d known some things ahead of time so I could have prepared better. As a result, I’ve put together some of my top tips for making the most of attending, so you can hit the ground running.
While these are general tips, they are based on my experiences at the Bay Area event this year, and policies may be different at other locations or in the future.
Before you go
1. Read the program online and set a rough schedule
- You don’t need to plan your whole day, since flexibility is important in events like these. But, you do want to figure out if there are any talks, workshops or performances only happening at certain times that you want to attend.
- I recommend creating calendar events on your phone or Google Calendar with notifications/alarms 15 minutes before your chosen talks start so you have time to wrap up what you’re doing and mosey on over to their locations. You can include the locations in the calendar events to make your life even easier.
2. Download the Maker Faire map on to your phone
- There are paper guides and maps at the entrances, but having a digital map on my phone made accessing the map much more convenient. It was an easy way to pinpoint a location or find out if there was an area I hadn’t covered.
Things to bring
- Having a backpack was so useful, because it allowed me to go hands-free even after making crafts, picking up free swag and shopping.
2. Water, snacks and lunch
- For me, I wanted to spend as much time as possible looking at the exhibits, and many of the food trucks and stalls had long lines. There’s basically only county fair style food at county fair prices, so a packed lunch, especially because you can eat it while attending a talk, is a big win.
- Some stores don’t take credit cards, so it’s best to be prepared.
4. Business cards
- Enthusiastic makers are everywhere at Maker Faire. When you meet someone you might want to collaborate with or who runs a cool company that’s hiring, it’s easiest to hand over contact information on a business card.
5. Portable power bank
- I wanted to use my phone a lot, all day, to take photos and videos, take notes, look at the Maker Faire map, follow makers on Twitter… Being able to charge my phone on the go would have been a huge relief, especially when I was trying to save my last bit of battery to look up Caltrain times when I was ready to head home.
At the Faire
1. Arrive early to nab a workshop spot
- The first stop you should make is the workshops area, because you need to sign up for any workshop you want to attend that day. I didn’t know this! Some of these workshops have an additional fee, which is not disclosed in the Maker Faire program. When I got to the signup booth an hour after opening, all but two of the workshops for the day were already full. I highly recommend arriving early enough to get your name on the list.
2. Line up for hands-on exhibits
- Lines are shorter for the big hands-on activities in the morning, so they should be your next stop. It’s also good to go early for the widest selection of colours or materials. That said, if there’s something you really want to do, I suggest joining the queue, as the wait is often shorter than it looks.
3. Take advantage of the unique shopping experience
- Makers usually run their own shops, and many of them are open to requests for bespoke pieces. Don’t be afraid to ask for something to be personalized, or for modifications to a product to fit your needs.
4. Look for opportunities beyond Maker Faire
- Maker Faire only happens once a year, but makers make things all year round. Many booths are run by local societies and organizations, so when something catches your eye, ask about classes, summer programs for kids, or other ways to get involved.
Highlights from my Maker Faire experience
1. Google’s Learn to Solder
- This was a fun opportunity to try something different plus get a souvenir from Maker Faire that I made.
2. Dark Gallery
- I thought having an entire dark area was a wonderful idea. There’s something really special about looking at things that glow and light up.
3. Haunted House
- There’s a whole group of people who make industrial quality Halloween props all year round. I’m a Halloween fiend. Enough said.
4. SF Bazaar
- I really enjoyed shopping for cool, one-of-a-kind, handmade items and getting to talk to makers about their businesses.
5. All the outdoor exhibits
- From tiny homes to large robots to an eagle art piece made of coins, my favourite thing to do was walk around outside and look at the large scale exhibits.
Overall, I had an excellent time at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019. I’m already looking forward to the next one, and I’ll use what I learned this year to enjoy it even more.