What to do in Minneapolis, Minnesota: A Local’s Guide
<<< What to do in Minneapolis Guide by Karla Lemmon >>>
Minnesota is often thought of as flyover country – a really cold place somewhere between Chicago and Denver. But next time rather than just flying over or simply changing planes, make Minnesota a destination and step out of the airport to discover what to do in Minneapolis. Not only is Minneapolis consistently ranked among the best places to raise a family, it’s the perfect place to visit as a family. Green space. Lakes. Award winning food. Museums. Public transportation. Add tax-free shopping to the list, and how can you resist?
Know Before You Go
- Check the forecast before packing, but don’t worry about the weather, as you’ll still enjoy your visit no matter the time of year! If you’re visiting in the spring or fall, you’ll have perfect temperatures, low humidity, and spectacular natural scenery. In the winter it can be as cold as -10F with even lower wind chills, while summer can heat up to 90F with high humidity.
- Minnesota does not tax clothing purchases, so consider bringing an extra suitcase if you’ll be visiting the Mall of America or one of the outlet malls.
- Speaking of the Mall of America, many families opt to make this their sole destination. While you can certainly stay, play, shop, and eat all under this one roof, Minneapolis has much more to offer!
- In summer, plan on swimsuits, shorts, and sandals but also bring layers for cooler mornings and evenings. Grab some sunscreen and bug spray, as the mosquito is the unofficial state bird.
- In winter, bring your down jacket, and pack layers especially if you don’t have warm winter coats. If you have one, toss in an ice scraper for your car if you’ll be driving – even if you’re renting.
- Comfortable shoes for walking and a stroller for getting around town.
MetroTransit has both light rail and bus systems. Light rail runs from the Mall of America, to the airport, to downtown Minneapolis, as well as from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. If you’re staying in either downtown or near the airport, you could rely solely on public transportation.
If you’re not staying near the light rail, consider renting a car, using taxis, or a car sharing service. If you decide to drive, be prepared for slowdowns in winter due to snow and ice, and in summer due to road construction.
Minneapolis has many hotel options to meet your needs, but a downtown favorite is The Depot, created on the site of the historic Milwaukee Road Depot and just three blocks from a light rail station. The Depot provides a year round destination to stay, play, and explore from a central location and includes two Marriott properties, the Renaissance and Residence Inn. The Renaissance provides historically charming rooms, including suites in the original Depot building for an upscale experience. If you’re staying a while, bringing a pet, or prefer a kitchen to make a few family meals, choose the Residence Inn for your visit. Whichever hotel you choose, you’ll have access in winter to The Depot Rink, an indoor ice skating rink built inside the original depot’s train shed.
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What to do in Minneapolis
By staying at The Depot, you’ll be in the middle of a newly revitalized area of Minneapolis with easy access to many attractions and activities.
- Mill City Museum – Built in the ruins of what was the world’s largest flour mill and two blocks from The Depot, the museum provides hours of fun for families. On the ground floor you can explore the ruins and learn how St. Anthony Falls powered the mill. Be sure to catch the Flour Tower, an eight story elevator ride that transports you back in time to the working mill, and demonstrates how each floor had its own special function. You’ll also be treated to fantastic views from the rooftop of the building.
- Stone Arch Bridge – Two blocks behind The Depot you can walk and bike across the Stone Arch Bridge. You’ll have great views of St. Anthony Falls, which powered the many flour and lumber mills along the mighty Mississippi River. The bridge is part of the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, a two-mile trail full of learning kiosks and activities. If your kids are old enough, you can even tour the area by Segway.
- The Skyway – While in Minneapolis, take to the skies. The skyway, that is. A skyway is an enclosed bridge that connects buildings, allowing you to walk anywhere downtown regardless of the weather. The 8, soon to be 9, miles of skyway cover 69 full city blocks and is the largest skyway system in the world. In almost any building, just go to the second floor to find the skyway. Take a walk and you’ll find new shops, restaurants, and bars around every turn. The skyway can be confusing but don’t worry – wall maps, overhead signage, and a handy app will all help you find your way. Or just stop someone and their “Minnesota Nice” personality will offer a little help.
- Minnehaha Park – With its own light rail stop, take a ride to Minnehaha Regional Park to see Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall. You’ll enjoy exploring the trails along the river as well as the view, which is especially fantastic in winter. The park offers biking trails and playgrounds, and you can pedal around the park in a four-person specialty cycle from Wheel Fun Rentals.
- Minneapolis Chain of Lakes – While it’s not on the light rail, it’s easy and worth it to venture to the southern end of the “City of Lakes.” The Chain of Lakes includes Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake, with 13 miles of paved walking and biking paths, playgrounds, beaches, and picnic areas. Take a stroll around Lake Harriet, stop at the rose garden, and see a free concert or movie at the bandshell. Rent a bike to tour the whole chain, or rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board to see beautiful views of the city skyline from the water. You can even travel back in time with a trolley ride between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.
- Linden Hills – Nestled between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun is Linden Hills, a charming Minneapolis neighborhood full of fun shops and restaurants. Your kids can have a magical visit to Wild Rumpus, where you’ll find books, cozy reading nooks, chickens, cats, and ferrets once you enter the kid-sized purple door. Everyone will happily visit Creative Kidstuff, and parents will find a uniquely Minnesota shopping experience at Bibelot and Honeyshine.
Where to begin? Minneapolis is home to a very long list of fantastic restaurants, bars, and taprooms. You’re sure to find something for everyone. It’s to be expected from a town that has an area dedicated to eating. Dubbed Eat Street, it’s a neighborhood of over 50 unique, authentic, and ethnic food experiences that can’t be missed.
- Food Trucks – Most of the Minneapolis food trucks park on Marquette between 5th and 8th Streets, a few blocks from The Depot by street or skyway. You’ll find everything from tacos to lobster rolls to turkey legs to cupcakes.
- Downtown – For breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyone will enjoy the Hen House Eatery with all-day breakfast and the best kids pre-meal entertainment pack ever! While they also serve breakfast, parents will be happy at lunch and dinner with The News Room, not only for its bar and wide variety of delicious meals, but for great kids meals that come with fries plus veggies that kids will actually eat and a cookie for dessert.
- Minnehaha Park – While you could bring a picnic, you’ll probably prefer to try some super fresh seafood at Sea Salt Eatery, located right by the Falls – just be prepared to stand in line!
- Chain of Lakes – Great lake views, amazing people watching, and awesome food await you at Bread and Pickle on Lake Harriet and Tin Fishon the shores of Lake Calhoun. If the lines are too long or you need to cool off, head up the street from Calhoun to Lake & Irving where everyone will find something delicious to eat and drink.
- Linden Hills – Tilia is an amazing, award-winning little restaurant a few doors down from Wild Rumpus and Honeyshine. A bit further south you’ll find the Chatterboxfull of great food and classic games, including Atari, Nintendo, and board games, too. Don’t forget to stop by Sebastian Joe’s for some of the best ice cream you’ll ever eat.
- Farmers Market – If you’d prefer to make your own meals or pick up a fresh snack, the Minneapolis Farmers Market is open on summer Thursdays just four blocks from The Depot, and every day at their main location just northwest of downtown.
- You can’t leave without having a Jucy Lucy…or maybe a Juicy Lucy. Either way, both were born in Minneapolis. The Jucy Lucy hails from Matt’s, while the Juicy Lucy is from the 5-8 Club. The two regularly duke it out as to which came first and which is better, even making it to the Travel Channel‘s Man v. Food. Regardless of your favorite, the concept is similar: a burger stuffed full of molten cheese. What’s not to love?
Karla Lemmon calls Minneapolis home and is the founder of Little Peanut on the Go, a mobile app for parents to use any time they or their kids are away from home. Parents can create emergency information and care instructions to share with caregivers, build packing lists and to-do lists, and connect with their kids while they’re away. Any time you need a sitter or a suitcase, use Little Peanut on the Go to keep you organized and connected while you’re on the go! The app is available on iTunes. You can follow Karla on Twitter or Facebook.