Minneapolis is a big small town or a small big city, whichever way you prefer to think of it. It has all the amenities of a major metropolitan area without sacrificing any of the charm and friendliness of a much smaller town. Aside from the weather (I threaten to move away every time we get a snow storm) Minneapolis has everything you could possibly want–delicious food, diverse neighborhoods, a vibrant arts and music scene, beautiful urban lakes, bike trails, hiking and other outdoor activities galore, and of course the Mall of America. All of this comes in an incredibly affordable package, and we’ve also been blessed with a large international airport that operates several budget airlines out of its smaller, more convenient Terminal 2. Now that you have no excuses not to come visit, here’s what to see, do, and eat when you get here…
What to See and Do:
For those looking to spend some time outdoors Minneapolis has no shortage of park lands. The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway has over 100 miles of biking and walking paths, but if you’re not planning to take on an ultra marathon’s worth of activity you can easily do a small section around one of the city’s many lakes. Theodore Wirth Park also has excellent hiking and biking areas, along with a beautiful wildflower garden and bird sanctuary. Feeling less active, but still want to take in the views? Stretch out on the beach at Lake Calhoun or take a leisurely stroll around Minnehaha Falls or St Anthony Main and the Stone Arch Bridge.
Check out Minneapolis’s amazing arts and theater culture. From Broadway plays on tour downtown to First Thursdays open house events at Northrop King studios in Northeast there’s a little something for everyone. The Walker Art Museum near downtown hosts art exhibits almost as modern as its architecture, while the free Minneapolis Institute of Art covers a wide variety of periods and genres, including some famous works by the likes of Monet, Picasso, O’Keeffe, and part of a former local house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Also free right next door to the Walker is the famous Minneapolis Sculpture Garden which recently overhauled its grounds and installed dozens of new works, but maintains its iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain right in the middle.
If you’re hoping to spend some time at the Mall of America (or nearby IKEA) while in town, my only advice is: don’t go on a weekend. The place is usually absolutely packed. MOA is better enjoyed on a weekday morning or afternoon when you don’t have to fight the crowds to shop and eat, or wait in endless lines for the rides at Nickelodeon Universe.
Looking to do some shopping, but don’t want to brave the masses at the Mall of America, or just opting to go more local? Check out the Linden Hills neighborhood for a variety of cute boutiques, and don’t miss Patina–a local shop with 7 locations full of everything you never knew you needed.
What to Eat:
Glam Doll Donuts (Vegan options-Eat Street location only) – Sample delicious donuts in flavors ranging from Mac & Cheese to Orange Ginger Cinnamon to ones with locally brewed Surly beer-flavored icing. They’re so rich and so sweet you can practically feel your teeth rotting while you chew and make groans of pleasure… Or, if you’re really feeling that sweet tooth, get your Glam Doll donut cut in half with specialty ice cream in the middle at Milk Jam Creamery.
Brunch at the chef-owned Hell’s Kitchen (Gluten Free, Vegetarian, and Vegan options) is can’t miss between the live zydeco band and the mouth-watering lemon ricotta pancakes. Grab a copy of their cookbook at the hostess stand, because trust me, you’ll want to have more when you get home!
Foxy Falafel (Gluten Free, Vegetarian, and Vegan options) – Check out the restaurant right across the river in St Paul or try to track down the food truck while out and about. My favorite is the Stoplight Platter where you get to sample all 3 types of falafel–original chickpea, curry, and beet with 3 different sauces.
For the best authentic Mexican cuisine north of the Mason-Dixon line head to Nico’s Tacos and Tequila Bar (Vegetarian and Vegan options) in Uptown or Barrio (Gluten Friendly and Vegetarian options) on the recently renovated Nicollet Mall downtown. Both restaurants have massive tequila lists, including phenomenal margaritas, and a variety of taco options among other foods. My personal favorite is the Nopales (cactus) tacos at Nico’s, but you really can’t go wrong at either place.
Blue Door Pub (Vegetarian and Vegan options) – Though the Juicy Lucy is a Minnesota classic, Blue Door puts their own spin on it and calls it the Blucy. Try one of their signature burgers with toppings ranging from pulled pork and pineapple-mango salsa to bacon with red currant jelly, or build your own. Don’t forget the tator tots and a pint of one of the many local beers on tap.
As America’s only entirely plant-based butcher shop, The Herbivorous Butcher (entirely vegan) in Northeast Minneapolis has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives among other major entertainment and news sources! Grab some of their small-batch “meats” and “cheeses” to cook up on your own or sample them on a sub from their daily menu.
Magers and Quinn is absolutely massive for an indie bookstore and can be found right in the heart of Uptown. Swing by and grab a book to enjoy with your ice cream or beer on the patio at the Tin Fish before checking out the 32nd St beach on Lake Calhoun.
Common Good Books in St Paul is smaller, but no less well equipped, with a great nonfiction section. While you’re in the neighborhood pop by the other cute shops about a mile down on Grand Ave.
Can’t Miss Events:
The Minneapolis Fringe Festival takes place early August every year at locations all around the Twin Cities and features hundreds of performances by local theater groups and independent actors. Tickets are super cheap, just make sure you also grab a Fringe button to get you into the show, and prepare to see anything and everything that could possibly hit the stage!
Twin Cities Pride in Loring Park (aka the Gay-borhood) takes the city by storm each June on the last full weekend of the month. Grab a spot on Hennepin Ave early to beat the crowds for the parade on Sunday and don’t miss a drag show at the main stage all weekend.
For the best music in town grab tickets to the Basilica Block Party each July which hosts dozens of incredible internationally-renowned and local bands over a two day festival raising funds for upkeep of the Basilica downtown. Alternatively, hit up Go Fest or Go Show for cheaper seats but similarly excellent bands.
The Uptown Art Fair held in, you guessed it, Uptown each August takes over a 4×6 block section of the city and fills it with art stalls, food trucks, and more. You could easily spend the better part of a full day at this festival, so wear sturdy shoes!
Northern Spark lights up the night every June! This overnight arts festival transforms the entire city into a playground of installations and performance pieces. Minneapolis has consistently been rated one of, if not THE most bikeable city in America and this never more true than during Northern Spark. Grab some caffeine, rent a bike at any of the convenient Nice Ride stations around town, and prepare to be amazed!
Get Out of the City:
Some of Minneapolis’s greatest appeal is in its close proximity to the world class Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Wilderness, as well as Duluth, MN and the North Shore.
Duluth and North Shore – Spend some time at Canal Park walking around the shops and out to the lighthouse near the lift bridge. If you’re lucky you’ll get to watch a cargo ship slide under it and into the port. Grab lunch at Grandma’s Saloon (the Onion Rings are outta this world), followed by a walk up the boardwalk alongLake Superior, stopping for a treat at the PortLand Malt Shoppe. While driving up to the North Shore along the lake, those interested in history, architecture, or murder mysteries can take a tour of the gorgeous Glensheen mansion. Spend some time at the Split Rock Lighthouse and hike around Gooseberry Falls, where if it’s warm enough you can spend some time swimming and climbing all over the different levels. Once you’ve burned off your malt, stop for a slice at Betty’s Pies, or get another milkshake made with blended pie and ice cream, on your way back to Duluth. If you’ve got time left, head up to Enger Tower for amazing views of the city and lake.
Boundary Waters – Swing by Ely, MN to pick up a permit for the BWCA and spend some time wandering the shops before heading up to your lake of choice (there are over a thousand to choose from!) and setting sail in your canoe.
The Boundary Waters can be done as a day trip from Ely but are better enjoyed as part of a longer camping/canoeing trip. If you plan it right you can even canoe up to and portage through Canada (passport not required).