Seven Places to Visit in Minneapolis
My family moved around a lot as I grew up. Through a long string of coincidences, I eventually ended up here, in Minnesota. Minneapolis has grown on me since moving here. Over the years, I’ve found quite a few wonderful places to show off to out of towners. If you’re looking for something to do while on a business trip to Minneapolis, moving out here or are just dropping by, check these great places out while you’re here.
Hell’s Kitchen - Nothing Hellish About the Food
One of my favorite restaurants is Hell’s Kitchen, right off of Nicolette Street in downtown Minneapolis. When you enter the deceptively ordinary glass doors of the towering building, you find yourself descending a set of steps topped by a chandelier dripping with meat cleavers.
Pause to pat the adorable black gargoyle halfway down. You’re greeted by a friendly host or hostess, and if there’s a wait, you’re free to wander the restaurant. The bathrooms have haloes etched into the windows so the guests can feel slightly angelic in the darkly decorated building, and the stuffed ravens brooding in the dried up tree in one of the sitting rooms are good company.
I take guests there whenever they come in from out of town, and I’ve never had a bad experience. The food is freshly made from local ingredients and they have recipe books available. Even their condiments are made by hand. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, they’ve always succeeded in delighting the palate. The only drawback is that they’re on the pricey side of the spectrum, but you get every penny’s worth in portion size, food quality and service.
The servers are dressed a bit casually, which would be in their pajamas, but they’ve always been friendly and efficient. This place is a must visit for anyone with a taste for good food and a unique atmosphere.
Brutal winters knock a star off.
The Ecopolitan - Raw Food at its Finest
While we’re on the topic of restaurants, another great option is the Ecopolitan. Located on Lyndale Avenue South, a quirky length of road dripping with funky shops and natural-living establishments, this eatery specializes in serving raw food. It’s all vegetarian, but they know how to blend the ingredients in just the right way to imitate things like ravioli, spaghetti and pizza.
Their concentration is primarily on sustainability. Everything left on the plate when the guests leave goes into compost for use on communal gardens. The food is all locally grown and extremely fresh.
The restaurant is in an older building, and it offers outdoor seating in the warmer months. Although the interior seating area is nice and toasty in the winter, it can get pretty stifling in the summer. If you would like a to-go container, you will need to pay a little extra for it, but they encourage bringing your own reusable box of choice for leftovers.
Unlike most other restaurants, they don’t serve iced water, either. This is because room temperature water is less of a shock to the system and tends to be easier for the body to handle.
Although they lose points for the seating area, the service is always great, and they always have something going on to earn money for some sort of charity. The last time I was there, they were selling book bags to help fund an educational organization. They also have a great selection of specialized cook books and books on other food related topics.
The food is unique and always very good. For more of a casual, laid back dining experience, Ecopolitan is a good place to drop by.
The Farmer’s Market - Products Grown and Processed Locally
For more local flavor, the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market is the way to go. Winner of 2012’s Best Farmer’s Market of the Twin Cities by Citypages, it’s open from the middle of April to the middle of November, every day from 6AM to 1PM.
More vendors show up towards the end of April and into May, and usually the weekends are the best days to go.
Although there are a lot of seasonal fruits, veggies, flowers and seedlings available at great prices, there are also hand-made accessories, jewelry, paper-craft and clothing as well. This past year, there was some spectacular hand-thrown pottery and unique wire-inspired lawn ornaments. I picked up some amazing Peppermint Rose loose leaf tea to go with the savory home made chocolate treats and honey sticks. Of course, there are quite a few cheeses available, as well as free range meat.
It’s a great market to wander around in for quite a while, and it’s very easy to spend more than you’d first intended. Don’t forget to hit up the coffee stall in the morning, and the corn on the cob is also amazing.
Mill City Museum - A Historic Site
Once your belly is full, there are quite a few places available to feed the mind. The Mill City Museum is located in the ruins of the old Gold Metal Flour Mill.
The mill had faced a number of disasters in its time. Once the largest of its kind, it was first destroyed by a flour dust explosion. Eighteen people died because of that explosion, and since milling was such a dangerous occupation, there were no doubt more sickened and killed in the years after it was rebuilt.
After the mill shut down, it caught fire in 1991 and was nearly destroyed. After it was cleaned up and the walls were reinforced, the Minnesota Historical Society built the museum just off of the ruins.
In addition to fascinating exhibits about how hydro-power worked, how to build your own dam on the river, a mini-bakery and how things were historically done, there are some truly wonderful tours available. There are seasonal tours as well as regular tours, as outlined on their web page.
When my family and I went last, we went on the Historical Walking Tour. Our guide was dressed up as the architect who had built the mill after the first explosion had brought the building down, and he walked us through the history of how he came to own the land along the banks of the river. In the warmer months, the group walks to the Stone Arch Bridge to get a look at the lock and dam system still in operation today, and the remnants of the mechanisms behind how power was generated before modern electricity.
The elevator tour we went on next took place in the old flour elevator. Once you got past the slight creepiness of massive metal doors clanging shut, enjoy the mechanized scenes which go along with the scripted story. At the end of the ride, you’re able to step off the elevator, and make your way to the observation deck on the top floor. There, take in the view of the beautiful Mississippi river and the lay out of bridges and buildings that make up the city of Minneapolis.
Mall of America - More Than Just Shopping
We can’t mention the Twin Cities area without bringing up the Mall of America. I had worked there for a little over five years before moving on to a different job. The mall is the biggest mall in the United States, and located to a southern suburb of the Twin Cities, Bloomington.
It’s built like a doughnut, with three floors of shopping and a fourth containing a movie complex with 14 theaters which have 3D capability and the new D-Box seating.
In the center of the mall is an amusement park called Nickelodeon Universe, complete with rides, mascots and concession stands. When the Ninja Turtles ride opened last year, the mall set a new record of the most fans dressed up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being located in one place. As recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records, 836 people had attended the opening. Sadly, I couldn’t make it, due to a prior engagement, but quite a few of my buddies went. I’m sure the pizza places were swamped.
The Minnesota Sea Life Aquarium is located just under the first floor. The 300 foot walk through tunnel allows you to see sea life from their level. There’s a little pool available for kids and adults alike to touch starfish and learn about ocean life from a hands on point of view.
For shopping and entertainment, the mall is worth a visit at least once. Every time you go back, there are usually new stores to check out and different things to do. When you pause to take a breather, it’s also a great place to people-watch, because folks from all over the world come to visit.
Minnehaha Falls - Sacred, Beautiful and Historic
One of my favorite places to visit is Minnehaha Falls.
These historic falls have changed from what looked like a thin veil of bubbling water in the 1800s to a rushing cascade. The landscape is made of delicate limestone and sandstone, which makes it very prone to erosion. A few years ago, it was possible to climb onto a shelf behind the falls, but that has since crumbled away.
However, you can still hike the trail along the last stretch of Hiawatha Creek until it feeds into the Mississippi River. The trails fork off into a picnic area and an ancient staircase to an old incinerator from its days as a limestone mine. The Army Core of Engineers had come through a few years ago to secure the rocks making up the valley to prevent any accidental land-slides.
Above the falls, the park extends to offer beautiful areas for small weddings, and sprawling lawns for picnics, gatherings and fairs. You can also rent bikes on which to explore the bike paths weaving through the area.
The falls have been used as a healing resort in years past because of the wonderfully cool waters. Before the settlers arrived, they were, and still are, sacred to the Native Americans. Chief Little Crow is commemorated by a beautiful sculpture of a mask set in one of the most sacred parts of the park.
Another statue commemorates the legendary figures of Minnehaha and Hiawatha, the two people who the park was named for. The romanticized story by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has it that Hiawatha had fallen in love with the beautiful Minnehaha and married her. The beautiful statue depicts him carrying his lovely bride safely over the creek.
Although the poem is completely fictitious, there was a great peace keeper by the name of Hiawatha who had unified the Iroquois in the eastern through strengthening the bond between the Five Great Iroquois Nations. The error in identity happened due to a misunderstanding of the Ojibwa dialect, as Hiawatha’s name sounded a great deal like one of the Ojibwa gods. The statue still stands as a testament to a lovely story and prompts a deep appreciation for the landscape which had inspired it.
Minneapolis is a great place to visit – full of great restaurants, fun shopping areas, historic places and beautiful outdoor scenery. The summers, springs and falls are absolutely beautiful. If you can get over the blistering cold of the winter months, the winters can be a lot of fun, too.
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