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Visiting Minneapolis and St. Paul - Must Do's

Updated on February 18, 2012

If you are traveling to Minnesota anytime soon, the following is a list of fun, cultural and inexpensive ways to enjoy our quality of life. Some of the activities are more seasonal in nature and are mentioned as such. We have something to do for everyone in the family or if you are traveling alone. Minneapolis and St. Paul are referred to as the Twin Cities because when they were founded Minneapolis was generally on the west side of the Mississippi River and St. Paul was primarily on the east side. Since the mid 1850s when founded, both cities have grown and each have parts on both sides of the river. The list is in no particular order.

When I tell people I am from Minneapolis, I often get asked about our superstar Prince. Have I met him, have I seen him? You may not get to see him specifically, but you can view history firsthand. You can visit First Avenue nightclub in downtown Minneapolis. Many of the scenes from the film Purple Rain were filmed there and they paint the names of all the performers on the outside of the building in a series of stars. The walls were redone just a couple of years ago, so the old star read Prince and the Revolution as they were known at that time. The new star for him has been moved to the other side of the building and just reads Prince. Other stars that are listed are Tina Turner, R.E.M., Goo Goo Dolls and Jordin Sparks. The nightclub has two levels, several bars, and if there is a concert it is a rather personal venue as no spot would be more than 90 feet from the stage. Serves liquor til 1:45 a.m. Check website for closing time and cover charge information (subject to change). Great fun, interesting culture and inexpensive but strong drinks, not to mention great shows! I have listed the 20th anniversary DVD for Purple Rain at the bottom of this page as there are some great extras on it that were not available for many years (the 20 minute live video for I Would Die 4 U/Baby I'm A Star ).

For great food and drinks and a taste of Minnesota culture visit Big 10 restaurants (one on the east bank of the University of Minnesota and one in Hopkins, Minnesota, there is also a Big 10 in Owatonna, MN but that is nearly an hour south of St. Paul). It is a very informal restaurant, no frills, kind of a sportsbar, and inexpensive. The menu includes fries and wings for appetizers, and burgers, chicken, salads and great sub sandwiches. They have 2 for 1 drink specials on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights after 9 pm. This is insider information, you are not likely to find this restaurant in any official travel guide. It is a smaller venue, Minnesota owned and has great food. The sub sandwiches have a garlic butter which puts them in a class all to themselves. A half sub starts around $4.85, so with a cocktail or beer and tip, you could have a great meal for under $13.

One of my favorite places in the world to visit is The Minneapolis Institute of Arts located just on the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis. Admission is always free but you can make a donation. They usually have a special exhibit that does require admission but most of the museum is always free. On three floors, they display work from all historic periods from all over the globe. You can view sculptures, paintings, jade, tapestries, weapons, drawings, model structures from antiquity to the present. The Target Corporation recently funded and opened a new modern and post-modern wing of art. For several years I would go to this museum on my birthday, alone, and stare for hours at my favorite paintings. A beautiful white brick building itself, the museum is connected to the world renown Children's Theatre, has a cafe and a coat check and a great gift shop. Star Wars was on display here in 2001 and currently they have a special exhibit from the Rennaissance period; Titian and the Venetian Paintings (this is the exhibit that requires admission). Great fun while experiencing history and learning. Closed Monday's.

The other must visit museum is the Science Museum of Minnesota and Omnitheatre, located in downtown St. Paul, right on the Mississippi river front and across the street from the XCEL Energy Center. The museum is easy to get to, has a large parking ramp and is located near many restaurants and stores. The museum also has its own cafe and a great gift shop. Spanning several floors and different scientific exhibits, this museum is just plain fun! The current exhibit is King Tut and it has sold out around the world, so be sure to order tickets online or call ahead for availability. The Science Museum also boasts the world's largest movie screen in any format; the Omnitheatre. Special cameras are used to film any material shown here, the screen is several stories high and arcs around about a third of the room. When the films start, it is a sensory change unlike anything else. Bigger and better than IMAX theatres, many people have stated over the years that they become disoriented at times or feel like they are actually moving! The films usually last around 45 minutes. You can go through the museum or go through the museum and Omnitheatre, the Omni is always extra. Admission for both was around $18 at press time. They do offer lower admission for children and seniors, and sometimes you can obtain discounts through local means, for example they once did a promotion where if you took the bus to the museum you got a discount on admission. A unique an memorable experience, a must for the whole family!

We have a large and thriving theatre community in the Twin Cities and Minneapolis is home to the world famous Guthrie Theatre. The new building opened in 2006 and is much larger than the old building on the far side of downtown built in the 1960s. The new Guthrie now has 3 theatres instead of 1, has several restaurants, a gift shop of course and classroom and training facilities and the observation "bridge" which overlooks the Mississippi River. Easy parking across the street or on the street at meters, easy access via public transportation and several other restaurants nearby. This is the only stop on the list that is not in the inexpensive category, but I felt if you like theatre, then the Guthrie is also a must and it is an important cultural stop and part of our artistic history. Visit their website through the link at the bottom of the page for further information about ticket prices, dates, restaurants and so on.

A must do list for the Twin Cities would not be complete without mentioning the Mall of America. Opened in August of 1992, and the second largest shopping mall in North America, the Megamall as it came to be known attracts over 40 million visitors each year and according to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the number 1 tourist destination on Earth, attracting more visitors than Disneyworld and the Grand Canyon combined. The majority of the mall is encompassed on three levels and boasts over 500 stores and has 4 "anchor" stores: Nordstrom, Sears, Bloomingdale's and Macy's. The nation's largest indoor amusement park is also housed here, Nickelodeon Universe. Previously Knott's Camp Snoopy until Charles Schulz died in 2000 and the Mall lost branding rights in 2006, it is comprised of 7 acres and many rides, an arcade, restaurants and gift shops. Also featured is the Sea Life Aquarium which opened March 11, 2011 and was previously known as Underwaterworld. The aquarium features sharks, jellyfish and a new seahorse section. The attractions at Mall of America are not inexpensive either, but they are memorable and fun. Adult tickets for the aquarium run over $18 and an all day wristband for the kids at Nickelodeon Universe starts at $30. The Megamall also has a state of the art Movie Theatre (and one of the theatres is VIP, they serve alcohol) dozens of restaurants, (Bubba Gump Shrimp to Tony Roma's), Best Buy and Barnes and Noble. Because of the mall's overall size, many merchants have more than one location. Victoria's Secret, American Eagle, and the Limited each have 2 stores and Sunglass Hut has 4 stores including one in Macy's just to name a few. As of May 26, 2011; Ovo by Cirque Du Soleil has opened in a tent in the parking lot across the street and to the north of the mall. Though the thrill wore off a long time ago for most Minnesota resident's, the Mall of America is still an unique and memorable place to visit, plus it's a whole lot of fun!

The final entry on this list is the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Grand Rounds. Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes (in actuality, there are just under 12,000 lakes with a size of at least 10 acres) and the city of Minneapolis has the chain of lakes. Beginning just southwest of downtown, Lake of the Isles has over 2 miles of walking and biking trails, to it's west is Cedar lake, nearly 3 miles all the way around, next to the south is Lake Calhoun and south of that is Lake Harriet, each with 3.1 miles of trails. To the east of lake Harriet is Lake Nokomis also with about 3 miles of trails around it. Each lake is surrounded by beautiful homes, trails and park areas. Lake Calhoun, the most popular of all the lakes also has volleyball courts and a concession stand open in the summer. Lake Harriet also has a concession stand and park area. The Grand Rounds is over 50 miles of bike and walking trails that circle the outer perimeter of the Twin Cities and also connect to the Chain of Lakes, the Minnehaha Falls and trail area, and the Luce Line Trail to the west which is a paved and non-paved in places trail that begins in the suburb of Plymouth on the west side of the Twin Cities and runs 45 miles straight west to Hutchinson, Minnesota. Two years ago the cities introduced public bicycle rentals around these areas and in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul (the downtowns are approximately 8 miles apart). Visit the link below to see great maps and further information. Although you can walk the trails year round, biking would be a challenge in the winter. Our outdoor recreation season is primarily April to October. Swimming is allowed in all the lakes, as well as boating and sailing. You can rent boats, canoes and other fun stuff at Lake Calhoun. If you love nature or love to exercise outdoors this will be one of the best experiences of your life!

We are a nice, calm and welcoming people here in Minnesota. For further information on visiting or moving here please visit the Chamber of Commerce link or website. Our winters are long and harsh, so your visit will most likely be more enjoyable during the summer months unless you enjoy outdoor winter activities. The products below can offer you further great ways to enjoy our lifestyle. Welcome and have fun!

Once you visit, be sure to leave a description about your experience in the comments.


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    • healthp profile image


      7 years ago

      You are a great writer james

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, This sounds great, if I ever get over to the States I will be putting it on my list, thanks for the info, I love learning about America, cheers nell

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      Say James, after reading this hub I might just have to put Minnesota on my list of places to visit, I always wanted to see the Mall Of America. By the way, welcome to HubPages, you're off to a good start, keep 'em coming. Very good hub, voted up/useful/awesome.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      My older brother lives in MN in Rochester. Great hub-voted it up. Welcome to hubpages.

    • CJamesIII profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Thanks glassvisage. I had fun writing this one. There's lots more to do than this, but it is a good start. If you are curious about other activities; there's a water park and a couple of zoos and so on, let me know what your interests are and I can point you the right way.

    • glassvisage profile image


      8 years ago from Northern California

      This is a great guide! I think it was MSN that just had an article about the best downtowns, and Minneapolis was #1 on the list. I've been meaning to visit, and this Hub is helpful in narrowing down places to go. Thanks.

    • CJamesIII profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Thank you Silver Lotus. I plan to do a series since, as you said, there is a great deal to see and do. It was kind of a challenge to pick for the first list, but it was fun!


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