Minnesota runs deep in my veins. My mother’s family immigrated to the northern, iron ore country in the first decades of the last century. Those of the remaining clan who didn’t move to California settled in the Twin Cities area. When my 90 year old aunt suddenly asked me to help her make one last trip back from Southern California, I jumped at the chance to finally be visiting Minneapolis.
Impulse pays off when visiting Minneapolis
Four short days later we were flying non-stop into Minneapolis and my cousin, Tom, whisked us away from the airport to his farm in the countryside. Between startling swaths of green and grand, stone buildings, fair trade coffee roasters and pizza joints, lofty mansions and worn Victorians, ghost signs and state-of-the-art museums, visiting Minneapolis left my head and heart spinning.
There’s nothing better than discovering a place in the company of locals. While I had a chance to hang out with long-lost cousins, I also buddied up with long-time friend, Laura Zahn, who has been living in Minnesota for decades. Laura was my patient guide, squiring me through St. Paul and Minneapolis as I repeatedly asked her to stop, back up or wait as I take a picture. I only wish we’d had more time to play during a short trip full of revelations.
Discovering Minneapolis (and a bit of St. Paul)
1. Minneapolis is green!
It shouldn’t be a surprise but the ‘Land of Ten Thousand Lakes’ is verdant to the extreme in the milder months. I hail from a region of California that is parched with spotty green, so the effortlessly verdent, open fields I witnessed as we sped away from the airport were a shock.
2. The Twin Cities overflow with remnants of a proud history.
The trains were the backbone of early industry in the Midwest. St. Paul has one of the grandest train stations imaginable, but when I stopped by late on a Sunday afternoon it was nearly empty. The few people I saw were strolling to a Twins game at the stadium downtown. We also passed the Fitzgerald Theater, which will sound familiar to fans of the long-running radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.
In the 1920’s a tower was built that put the city on the map. An Art Deco beauty, Foshay Tower remains but is dwarfed by the newer skyscrapers around it. I was drawn to the Observation Tower on the 30th floor. The entrance is through the luxurious W Boutique Hotel and past their lounge where they serve Prohibition era cocktails. That was a glamorous temptation but nothing compared to slipping past the ornate elevator doors and up into the penthouse museum for a 360-degree view of the city beyond.
During the Prohibition Era, there was lots of money to be made, ‘off the books’ and the Mississippi River made transporting contraband tempting and easy. Twin City mobsters, Ma Barker, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger took advantage of what they could and were responsible for some of the most notorious crimes in the 1930’s. Today in St. Paul’s Wabasha Street Caves, once the site of the Cafe Royale Speakeasy, there are several tours about the gangster days.
4. The Urban Lake Scene
The city is fairly flat so it’s easy to get around by trolley or bike on a sunny day in Minneapolis. At the Harriet Lake Boat House kayaks or small boats are available for rent. While following the lakeside trail, we enjoyed watching a Tango group warming up for a performance in the bandshell. The Lake Café makes a great spot to brunch with friends or nosh over a good book.
5. Culture and then some
One of the finest regional theaters in the United States, the Guthrie, calls Minneapolis home. The controversial and lovely building reaches towards the river on one side. Like a black box stage, the building is darkly colored, the better to reflect it’s rotating showcase and there are many other small theaters and historic movie houses scattered throughout the area. The Walker Art Center is a contemporary art mecca.
6. Mill City Museum wins my heart
It’s going to be hard to unseat the Mill City Museum as my favorite historical museum in the country. Built from the ruins of the old flour mill it’s a spectacular homage to the men and women who ground flour, who sold flour and established the ‘largest mill in the world.’ The building itself is a wonder as you enter either on street level or from the riverfront below. The ruins left after two fires and abandoned for years have been incorporated into a vigorous new design.
Don’t miss the elevator ride. While sitting on benches inside an enormous grain elevator, you witness a multi-media historical review while riding between the six floors. Interviews with mill workers, found footage, recreations of the fire and the mill social life are part of the show. The program is capped with an invitation to ride a newer glass elevator to the top floor deck where you can take in the sweep of the Stone Arch Bridge. It’s stunning. (See more about the Stone Art Bridge from my earlier post.)
While the Mill City Museum has play spaces for little ones, adults won’t be disappointed with the historical displays, the bakery and cooking collections. Another feature you won’t want to is the small theater dedicated to a nineteen-minute movie about the growth of Minneapolis.
7. Foodie fun
There’s a bustling craft brew scene to be sure but innovative restaurants and cool cafes abound. A few I’d recommend:
- Lucious Lucia’s for brunch,
- Grand Old Creamery,
- Brasa Premium Rotisserie, a dinner spot fashioned out of an old gas station
- Any of the Spyglass Coffee spots with free WiFi and local roasts.
8. International Hub
As refugees have found solace and made new homes across the United States, Minneapolis has taken in thousands. On Sunday I watched graceful women swathed in full burkas cross the street and sweep into the gigantic, Sunday morning Minneapolis Farmers Market downtown. I followed them to discover Cheese Curds and the joys of freshly grilled corn, fresh lemonade and all kinds of crafts in too few minutes spent strolling through the marketplace.
Too soon done
At the end of the long weekend, I returned to the countryside and hung out with the cousins. A half dozen Canadian Geese shared the field with the horses that my cousin Tom boards. He revved up a couple of his hot rods and my Aunt rode in the rumble seat. I tried my hand at wrangling the chickens back into their pen at dusk and watched my Aunt glow as she told stories, laughed and pointed out details in family pictures. It was a priceless visit.
Minneapolis and St. Paul have so much to offer the adventurous traveler. The area deserves more than a few short days to really take advantage of all that is there. Visiting Minneapolis with friends and family will stay in my heart forever.
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I am always impressed with your writing and your adventure going with your Aunt to Minneapolis was especially delightful to read. I could relate so well with the many places you enjoyed in the twin cities and the countryside with your cousin Tom. I too, like your Aunt, loved riding in the rumple seat in a friends car.
Many years ago my daddy, who was a carpenter, worked on the Orpheum Theatre that opened in 1921. I think it was quite the building at that time. I seem to remember it was on Hennepin Ave in Minneapolis. Have read that it is now owned by Hennepin Theatre Trust but don’t know for sure.
My Aunt, mom’s sister, was a secretary at General Mills all of her working years so we heard a lot about the mills. Many times the employees were given the “new” products; different types of cereals and cake and muffin mixes so they could try them and also give them to their families to get more public opinion for their research. A fun a happy thing we got to enjoyed too.
So Happy you enjoyed my “City” !
Dear Pearl, I so appreciate your thoughts about Minneapolis. Had no idea that our histories overlapped there. Love that story about the Mill employees being sent home with new products to test and help name. That wasn’t in the brochure! I want to return and see much more in the Twin Cities area.
I’d never really thought much about visiting Minneapolis before but this has intrigued me. Maybe I should put this on my list of places to visit in the US especially if there’s a craft brew scene 😉
Claire, you wouldn’t be disappointed. Big craft brew scene there. I need to go back for a longer visit!
A wonderfull place Mineapolis,gorgeus fotos. Greeting from Belgium.
Hello Belgium! Thanks for the comments and I’m glad you enjoyed.
We have passed through Minneapolis many times on trains and planes, but never really considered it as a destination. Thanks for putting it on our radar.
You’re most welcome. Lots to see and do.
My grandmother was born in Minnesota, but I’ve never been. Not yet, anyway. I wasn’t very excited about visiting Minneapolis, but now I can see that it’s worth spending some time there.
Farms are fun. Was that the first time you met your cousin?
It was the first time I met Tom. We’ve been living on opposite sides of the country and he doesn’t travel much except to car clubs! My mom came from a huge family so there’s still many cousins to meet.
I have never been to Minneapolis, but it looks like I’ll be going next summer. To be honest, I was afraid I’d be bored, so your post is quite timely for me.
Wonderful, Corinne, that’s why I wanted to share this. I so look forward to returning.
Oh my gosh the farm looks beautiful and that ice cream looks amazing too!
The farm was incredible. I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with several feet of snow for long months each winter in the countryside.
I called Minneapolis home for three years, when I was employed by the University of Minnesota. I miss the Twin Cities, her people, and even a part of her winters. Thanks for writing about one of my hometowns!
I too have several ‘home towns’ and yes, isn’t it lovely to hearing about them again?! Thanks for writing.
I’ve enjoyed several trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and family living there are always keen to show us something new and special about the Twin Cities. Now, you’ve given me a few more ideas for our next trip!
Great to hear, Anita.
We visited the twin cities a few years back and visited the biggest mall in America and the huge industrial plants we passed. I would have wanted the chance of seeing the other side, what you had a chance to see and to visit the Mill City Museum and be inside huge grain elevators, a familiar scene as we went around the country!
Dear Carol, I was tempted to visit the Mall of America and actually stayed overnight next door, but time was short and my list was long. Next trip! It seems like a lot of fun.
I visited Minneapolis (too briefly) several years ago and loved the Botanical Gardens and also went to a wonderful local cookbook store and took a class on French cooking. I was really impressed by the city and hope to get back again. And as someone with a 95 year old aunt who loves to visit relatives I could relate to your adventure!
How sweet to hear you have an older Aunt too. I’m feeling mortal because once mine is gone I become the Matriarch of the family! Sounds like your experience was lovely with the Botanical Gardens and a cooking class too. So many sides to explore in a great city.
I’ve visited Minneapolis and St. Paul several times and always enjoyed it. You are right about the green space. I particularly like the area around Lake Minnetonka. And history, food, culture. Your post reminds me it has been several years since I last visited and it may be time for another trip there. It is about an 8 hour drive from my home Winnipeg.
Dear Donna, I bet Winnipeg is pretty green too in the warmer months. I’d love to see it and much more of Canada. Hope you get into Minneapolis one day to explore.
I’ve never been to Minneapolis. During my East Coast upbringing, the only thing I “knew” about it was what I heard on Prairie Home Companion! That mill history museum looks like it’s worth a trip all on its own. Beautiful photos, by the way!
Thank you, Rachel. So glad you liked the pictures. Prairie Home Companion continues in St. Paul and keeps morphing, like the area. The Mill City Museum is definitely worth a visit.
I love going to The Cities and taking the kayaks out and exploring from the water’s perspective! Looks like you had a great trip and saw most of what Minneapolis had to offer – awesome!
Got me jealous, Kristi, would’ve been a perfect thing to do while I was there. I love kayaking and given the heat, what a great way to cool down.
I knew very little about Minneapolis and St. Paul. I love that it is multicultural because that is what I am used to, and assume most places are, but they aren’t if that makes sense. It looks a very appealing place to be.
The post barely scratches the surface of all that’s going on in Minneapolis. It’s ever evolving.
I’ve been to Minneapolis many, many times and I’ve never gone to any of these places. I feel like I missed out! I think next time I go I will have to get out and do a lot more.
Yes! There’s so much more to explore than I’ve mentioned. I hope you do visit.
Very comprehensive post about Minneapolis. I’d love to visit it someday. I have a fascination with gangsters, believe it or not. I think I’d enjoy the elevator ride too. Great pictures, Elaine!
Thanks, Anda, nice to hear you might consider visiting Minneapolis one day. The gangster lore is definitely worth looking into. You’d love the elevator. They wouldn’t allow pictures or I’d have them too.
Coming from the midwest myself, I think it’s like so many other things; we often take what is close to us for granted. I’ll be honest that Minneapolis was never on my list, but this is a great glimpse that has me thinking twice!
There’s so much across the Midwest that I want to explore. Your area is due for discovery and yes, it’s easy to take our hometowns for granted. I do too often in San Diego too.
your write up justifies the title. Greatly done.
Thank you, Himanshu. I appreciate your kindness.
Don’t laugh but I know Minneapolis since I was a kid from the Beverly Hills series (Branda and Brandon were from there). Apart from that I had no idea how Minneapolis was. Through your story I can see that it;s a very nice city with abundant vegetation and many things to do and eat! Thanks for sharing!
You got me giggling. I think there’s so many places that we grow up ‘knowing’ from TV, especially as international audiences. Since the Beverly Hills series Minneapolis has gotten pretty hip 😉
Great suggestions and photos! Minneapolis has never been on my must see list, but I can see why so many people rave about it. Especially the green spaces and historical elements!
Lots of cool history and buildings new and old. Minneapolis has dozens of great neighborhoods and St. Paul is worth a visit on its own. Thanks for the kudos.
So, have you visited any lakes in this Land of Ten Thousand Lakes? 🙂
Funny. Yes, we walked along the shore of Lake Harriet where the boathouse was. I’ve spent summers swimming in some of the northern lakes as a kid but not on this trip.
Who doesn’t love an ice cream? I can’t think Laura was serious 😉 Minneapolis does look quite interesting and loving all the prohibition era references, fascinating
Thanks, Mar. Laura and I were joking around with the ice cream – she loves that place and was very patient with all the pictures I was taking.
What a picturesque town! Looks like it’s time to add Minneapolis to my list!
I hope you can visit, just not in the deep of winter.
I love reading posts like this, esp. since I haven’t been to the States and mostly have been exposed to the bigger cities only, through movies and own readings. Is the first photo above of the Mill City Museum too, btw? Quite like that photo actually. 🙂 Love your cousin’s car & his personalised plate number!
Glad you liked the post and I hope you can visit the U.S. one day soon. I hesitate to say the first photo is of the Mill City Museum because I can’t confirm it. Given the sculptures, I think it is though. Yes, I should’ve done a full post about Cousin Tom and all his cool hot rods!
I lived in Minneapolis for more than 30 years, so it’s a pleasure to see the Twin Cities (as you did get over the river to St. Paul – local joke) through your eyes. This is a great post of the highlights that make the area so special. I’m glad you got out of the cities, too, to your cousin’s farm. We’ve got kids who are farmers in New Prague, just southwest of the metro area, and that world is wonderful, too.
How sweet that you lived in Minneapolis and I’m honored that you approve of my newbee’s perspective. Nice to have farmers in the family, isn’t it?!
I’ve never been to Minneapolis before, and I had no idea it was so fabulous! Mill City Museum wins my heart as well, at least based on your pictures it does 😉 I’m rarely stateside, but it sounds like I need to make a trip soon!
I hope you get the chance to explore the U.S. So much to see. I still have a long bucket list of places to visit and this is home!
I have read a bit about this city and I think it is an underrated place. Like you have shown in here, there are a lot to see and do. I have to discover more of that part of the country.
Thanks, Ruth, it’s truly an under-rated city. The Midwest is calling me back to see more and stay longer, hopefully next spring.
What a fantastic history and tour of the twin cities, loved the visit and I’m sure I would enjoy touring the mill – so glad they repurposed into a landmark museum.
Thank you, Noel. I really appreciate your kind comments. Sounds like you enjoy re-purposed places too. I’m seeing more of it across America especially in once deserted downtown areas that are being revitalized.
Well, there’s definitely a lot more to that area than I was aware of. I have a good friend who lives in Minneapolis, but I’ve only been to see her once and it was like 10 years ago. Maybe time to go back. Just not in the winter!
Laura, you have to return, especially with a buddy who lives there! And yes, not in winter.
We have yet to visit Minnesota. I love to see all the open green space and visit the Cafe Royale Speakeasy.
The green was lovely and surprising as it surrounds the Twin Cities in the warmer months. I’m with you on going to the Speakeasy too.
Minneapolis is such a fun city – I visited there last summer for the first time and really enjoyed it. We went to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden which was fantastic. Looks like you had a great trip too.
I would’ve loved to see the Sculpture Garden. Next trip!