City guide: Minneapolis, Minnesota

| September 30, 2012 | 30 Comments More

Skyscrapers downtown Minneapolis: the Foshay Tower (right) dates back to 1929

Things to do and see in the City of Lakes: sites, attractions, bars, and restaurants

Minneapolis is the largest city (population 387,000) in the Midwestern state of Minnesota and a twin city of the nearby Saint Paul, the state capital. The name comes from mini, the Dakota Sioux word for “water,” and polis, Greek for “city.” Minneapolis is nicknamed “City of Lakes” due to a large number of wetlands and lakes in the area (22 within the city limits alone).

Thanks to the abundance of lakes, the presence of the Mississippi River, and numerous well-preserved parks, Minneapolis is an attractive destination for outdoor recreation and one of the greenest cities in the USA. There are 200 miles of biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails. The Chain of Lakes district encompasses five city lakes, surrounded by parkland and connected by 12 miles of paths.

In addition to nature enthusiasts, Minneapolis can also satisfy those looking for quality dining, arts, and entertainment. The city is an up-and-coming foodie destination, attracting talented chefs. The Twin Cities combined have the largest number of theater seats per capita outside New York. Performances, festivals and sporting events can be enjoyed throughout the year.

Here are Jetting Around’s suggestions for exploring Minneapolis, both the downtown area and diverse neighborhoods.

BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS

Spoonbridge and Cherry

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

The 11-acre garden features over 40 works of art, including the famed Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture. The Walker Art Center across the street, considered one of the top contemporary art museums in the country, operates the park’s educational and artistic programs. Free tours are operated May-August.

The Garden is connected by a footbridge over the expressway to Loring Park, a large green space in the southwestern corner of downtown. Despite noise from the expressway, both parks have a peaceful vibe and offer excellent views of the city skyline.

Loring Park also features bike lanes and pedestrian paths, and there are several restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood.


Nicollet Mall & Hennepin Avenue

The two streets form the retail, dining, and cultural center of downtown. On Nicolett Avenue you will find upscale stores and many dining options (outdoor cafes line the street in warm months). Hennepin Avenue is a significant entertainment hub. It is often referred to as the Hennepin Theatre District due to a high concentration of performance venues, such as the historic Orpheum Theatre and State Theatre. The street was featured in the movie Purple Rain.

Guthrie Theater on 2nd Street

Guthrie Theater

Located on the riverfront in the Mill District, the striking navy blue, modern structure stands out against the surrounding old flour mills.

Since its opening in 2006, it has received numerous design awards and accolades. It features three stages, a restaurant, bars, and a cantilevered lobby (“Endless Bridge”) that opens into a riverview terrace. The interior is at times lit up in red and blue, creating a cozy and sophisticated ambiance.

The critically-acclaimed theater stages regional and international productions, as well as many Shakespeare plays. Its history dates back to 1963, when it operated in a different building and location.

Read more about the Guthrie Theater in Hangouts.

On Main Street

Stone Arch Bridge

This former railroad crossing on the Mississippi is the only one of its kind on the river. Built in 1893 using granite and limestone, it is 2,100 ft. long by 28 ft. wide and has 23 arches.

The bridge was opened to foot and bike traffic in 1994 and offers panoramic views of Saint Anthony Falls.

Main Street

The cobblestone, historic street on the east side of the Mississippi River has riverfront dining, entertainment, and picnic areas. It was the main street of the town of St. Anthony, before it merged with Minneapolis.


OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Midtown Global Market

The public market in the Phillips/Powderhorn area houses a mix of specialty grocers, ethnic restaurants, cafes, and vendors selling jewelry and handicrafts. It also hosts a farmer’s market and community events, such as cooking classes and music performances. Among the various food items are Salvadoran pupusas, Mexican pastries, Scandinavian candy, and Vietnamese sandwiches. Parking is free up to 3 hours (with validation).

Uptown and Lyn-Lake

Located southwest of downtown along West Lake Street, these two neighborhoods offer diverse dining and entertainment options.

Inside Midtown Global Market

The hip Uptown near lake Calhoun has bookstores, coffee shops, modern restaurants, abundant bars, high-end shopping, and two theaters (Lagoon and the historic Uptown). The funky Lyn-Lake, to the east of Uptown, is a place for ethnic cuisine, late-night bowling (Bryant Lake Bowl), and innovative art performances.

University area

Minneapolis is home to the University of Minnesota, located east of downtown, on both banks of the Mississippi River. The area is home to book and music stores, restaurants, theaters, and nightlife venues.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Twin Cities tour

A fast and efficient way to see many attractions in both Minneapolis and St. Paul is by bus. Metro Connections operates an informative 3-hour Twin Cities Highlights Tour and has several convenient pick up/drop off locations (downtown hotels, Mall of America). Some of the points of interest are the Guthrie Theater, Chain of Lakes, historic Mount Curve neighborhood, State Capitol Building, and Minnehaha Falls. Fees: $35 adults, $32 seniors, $28 students, $25 children 6-12.

Bike share

An easy way to explore Minneapolis is via Nice Ride Minnesota, the Twin Cities’ bike share program. It was introduced in 2010 and currently has over 1,300 bicycles and 145 self-serve stations. In order to rent a bike, you need to purchase a subscription ($6 for 24 hrs) and then pay any additional trip fees ($1.50 up to 1 hour, $4.50 up to 1.5 hours; the first 30 minutes are free). Credit cards are accepted.

Baseball at Target Field

Baseball at Target Field

Minneapolis and St. Paul share a baseball team, the Minnesota Twins. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, Target Field downtown Minneapolis is worth a visit.

The modern ballpark (built in 2010) has views of the downtown skyline, local craft beer at many concession stands, and a roof deck with a fire pit.

Private and public tours are available.

FOOD & DRINK

It is easy to eat well in Minneapolis at every price point. There are a number of award-winning restaurants and ones that use locally-sourced ingredients.

Restaurants & Bars

Lemon-ricotta hotcakes at Hell’s Kitchen

> Hell’s Kitchen downtown is an affordable and delicious option for breakfast, weekend brunch, and late-night fare. In spite of its location is the basement of a corporate building, the restaurant feels cozy with exposed-brick walls and red decor.

Reservations are recommended, but if you see a long line at the door, don’t let it discourage you – the service is fast and efficient. If you go to Hell’s Kitchen for brunch, try their homemade chunky peanut butter, lemon-ricotta hotcakes, or bread pudding. ($$)

> Spoonriver, located next door to the Guthrie Theater in the Mill District, specializes in modern American cuisine made with local, organic ingredients. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and has a full bar. Spoonriver’s owner, chef Brenda Langton, has long been a promoter of fresh food and cooking and in 2006 founded the Mill City Farmers Market. ($$)

Dining room at Haute Dish

> Haute Dish in the North Loop area is a comfortable and spacious bar and restaurant serving upscale Midwestern cuisine.

The front room features a large bar on one side and tables on the other; there are more tables and several booths in the back area. Wood furniture, red table lamps, exposed brick walls, and photographs showing Minneapolis life contribute to the restaurant’s inviting feel. Weekend brunch and late-night dining available. ($$$)


> Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis is known as one of two bars in the area to have invented Jucy Lucy, a cheeseburger with cheese placed inside the patty, rather than on top. The no-frills place dates back to the 1950s and is cash only. ($)

Coffee 

> Dunn Bros Coffee is a coffeehouse franchise that began in 1987 in St. Paul. It opened its second store fours years later on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Today, the company has presence in several states, mostly Midwestern, but remains committed to being “a point of community connection, not just another chain retail establishment.” Dunn’s coffee is roasted in-store in small batches. ($)

DAY TRIP

‘Peanuts’ sculptures in St. Paul’s Rice Park

Saint Paul, located about 13 miles southeast of Minneapolis, is worth a visit for its historic river town charm, restored riverfront, and walkable downtown.

The city’s main square, Rice Park, and nearby Landmark Plaza feature bronze statues of characters from the long-running American comic strip Peanuts. They were made as a tribute to the series’ creator and St. Paul native, Charles M. Schulz.

Other places of interest include the Minnesota State Capitol, modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Summit Avenue, filled with historic houses, including the Governor’s Mansion. The Minnesota Historical Society operates 90-minute weekend walking tours of the neighborhood ($10 adults, $8 seniors/students, $7 children).

TRAVEL TIPS

  • Downtown Minneapolis has 8 miles of skyways, an above-ground system of pedestrian walkways connecting  buildings, shops, and restaurants. These climate-controlled footbridges are especially useful in winter months. Since they are owned by individual buildings, opening and closing times may vary by skyway.
  • Many parks in Minneapolis have separate lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. Watch for signs, as locals generally obey the rule.

LINKS

 

 

Country charm at Normandy Inn

I would like to thank the Convention & Visitors Association for their assistance and the following businesses for hosting me: Metro Connections, Guthrie Theater, and Best Western Plus The Normandy Inn & Suites downtown.

All opinions in the guide are entirely mine and recommendations are based on my own experiences in Minneapolis. 

Sources consulted: Minneapolis.org | University of Minnesota | Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board

All photography by Jetting Around
 

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Category: City Guides, DESTINATIONS

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer and city explorer. Besides Jetting Around, her writing credits include CNN, Yahoo, Expedia, MasterCard, among others. She also runs JA Media, a boutique agency specializing in content writing and event production. Happily multicultural, Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for 13 years, and is currently based in her soul city Paris.

Comments (30)

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  1. I have to be honest, the Midwest has never been big on my to-do list of travel, BUT the more I read about it, the more I think I’d absolutely fall in love. Minneapolis sounds amazing, especially the global market. Guess, I’ll have to make it out there a bit sooner than I originally thought. :)

    • The food at the global market was SO good – the pupusas for example, or lemon poppy seed truffles. I bet you’d like it there! Midwest may still be considered “flyover states,” but the more explore it, the more I appreciate it. :)

  2. You had me at 200 miles of cross-country ski trails. Hard to believe there are 22 lakes and wetlands inside the city limits plus the Mississippi River. Great guide and tips for visitors coming to the Twin cities.

    • I could not believe those numbers when I first saw them! Their tagline is “City by Nature,” and it’s a great reflection of the blend of big-city amenities with green spaces everywhere.

  3. avatar Miret says:

    I’ve never been to Minneapolis! Perhaps I should add it to my places-to-visit list… ;-)

  4. avatar Leah Travels says:

    I don’t make it to the Midwest very often. Who am I trying to kid? Rarely if ever, but the Twin Cities look like they have a bounty of things to see and do. This would be a place I’d like to explore (in the spring, summer, or fall, of course). :-)

  5. It’s been years since I visited either of the twin cities, and it seems many new attractions are there in the last 10 years. great write up / guide and new series.

    I’ll be sure to hit a few spots listed here if and when my adventures take me back this way.

    stay adventurous, Craig

  6. What a great idea – a city guide. I’ve never been to Minneapolis but will definitely keep this guide handy for when I do. That spoonbridge and cherry looks cool and I like places like the Global Market that involves the community. :)

  7. I’m thinking a visit to Hells Kitchen would do:)

  8. avatar Francesca says:

    Awesome job, Pola! This city guide is comprehensive and detailed. Definitely something to keep handy for when I do make my first trip to the Twin Cities!

  9. What a comprehensive writeup! It is a veritable city guide! I am now curious about visiting it – tweetup!! I would like to also read the winter version: with pix of the same spots in late January :)

  10. i meaaan between the global market and uptown and the day trips? i really had noo idea minneapolis had so much to offer.

  11. I have a confession. I’ve been to Minnesota twice and I don’t think I’ve ever done any of the things that you listed. I need a slap on the wrist. Actually, I’m pretty sure I only went to the Mall of America. Yup, slap my wrist again. All of these suggestions sound perfect, especially the Midtown Global Market!

  12. This is super useful – I went there once and didn’t really know what to do. And could’t find information that I would trust. Mr O goes annually and I may “have” to go with him next time. Will you guide me? ;)

  13. avatar Kipp says:

    Glad you got your article finished. I will have to remember to come back here to read this before I make a trip out there.

    Deseo que tengamos las aceras del cielo aqui in Chicago.

    Punto para mi…

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