It's no wonder Prince called the City of Lakes home. Winters may be the pits, but warm attitudes, diverse restaurants, natural splendor, and a blossoming art community will help you forget the frostbite. Shopping at the Mall of America? We’re judging you.
There's a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Minneapolis: it gave us Prince, Target, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Today, this flyover city has caught the attention of many, and for good reason: the art scene is blossoming, the restaurants are first-rate, and the people are so attitude-free they even have a name for it, Minnesota Nice. The winters are as bad as you think, but will this progressive and vibrant city surprise you in every possible way? You betcha!
(Photo Courtesy: iStock/Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography)
The Minneapolis-St.Paul area is known for extremes: hot and humid summers and brutal, snowy winters. Conditions are difficult to predict during the spring (March-May) because winter lasts so long. One day temperatures might reach the mid-60s, the next it can blizzard; this phenomenon is known as the freeze-thaw cycle. Generally, the Twin Cities experience below freezing temperatures in early March and mild temperatures in late May. Hotels are reasonable during this time, except during college graduation season in May. The Twin Cities come to life between June and August when tourism peaks and temperatures reach the high 80s. Bring a light jacket for cooler evenings (low-60s), especially if you're spending time out on the lakes. Heat waves are not uncommon come mid-summer, with temperatures spiking upwards of 100 degrees some days. Thunderstorms help cut the humidity, but they can be severe enough to cause hail, flash foods, and even the occasional tornado (you're in the Midwest after all!). Despite this, hotel rates are at their highest during these months, so book far in advance.
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Autumn is short-lived but a good time to visit. By mid-September, college students are back in town and temperatures are decreasing, along with the humidity. Fall foliage reaches a peak in October, and makes for a picturesque backdrop along the Mississippi River, or at parks and lakes. A comfortable 70 degrees in early September gives way to the low-40s through mid-20s by November. Then winter settles in and stays for good (December-February). Midwest winters are no joke: Arctic winds make it bitterly cold (temperatures can dip well below zero) and the Twin Cities sees an average snowfall of over 50 inches a year (January being the snowiest). Blizzards eventually give way to crystal-clear days with plenty of sunshine, but temperatures hardly go above the 20s. Needless to say, proper winter boots and attire are imperative.
Minneapolis prides itself on having a very compact downtown, assuring locals and visitors can get around easily by foot. However, public transportation is available for those looking to cover more ground. The Twin Cities metro system offers over 120 bus routes, including three rapid bus routes, and two light rail options that operate every 15 minutes. The light rail runs 24-hours. Bus schedules vary but can run from as early as 3:45am to 11pm.
Bus and metro fares are $2 during non-rush hours ($2.50 for express buses) and $2.50 during rush hour ($3.25 for express buses). Rush hour is Monday through Friday, 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6:30pm. Seniors, children aged 6 to 12, Medicare card holders, and persons with disabilities ride at a reduced fare. Downtown Zone fare costs $.50 per ride but does not include transfers. All other fares include a 2.5 hour transfer, with additional fare required when transferring between the bus and the Northstar commuter rail. Mobile ticketing is available for single rides and cost the same as a regular ticket except express buses ($3.25 for all riders). Day passes are also available through mobile ticketing. One-day weekday passes cost $5, and $4 for weekends; seniors, children aged 6 to 12, and Medicare card holders pay $5 for a weekday pass and $2 for a weekend day pass. Weekend day passes are valid from Friday 6:30pm to Monday 2am. Persons with disabilities are charged $1.75 for a day pass, which is valid 7 days a week. Northstar fares vary depending on distance.
Reloadable Go-To cards are available for purchase online and at retailers like Cub Food stores. To use your card, simply tap the card on the reader aboard buses or before entering the rail station. If paying for multiple riders, simply tell the bus driver how many people you're paying for and tap the card on the reader. At train stations, follow the directions on the screens to input the number of travelers, then tap the card. Buses accept dollar bills, coins, and tokens, but do not make change. If paying with cash, ask drivers for a transfer when needed. Fare boxes are not available inside trains, nor is cash accepted. Park and ride is available for commuters looking to save on gas and parking fees. Riders drive to a designated pick-up area and grab the bus downtown or to other popular areas in the city. There are no additional charges to park.
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There is no need to rent a car, as major ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are popular here. As always, Uber/Lyft provide a fixed price depending on distance and demand. Both bike- and scooter-sharing companies are readily available and offer an easy way to get around. Nice Ride bikes are available for up to 30 minutes at $2 for a single ride, $6 for a day pass (unlimited 30 minute-rides), and $75 for annual membership (unlimited 60-minute rides). Scooters by Lime, Lyft, and JUMP prices vary.
If you're traveling through downtown by foot, look up. The Skyway System is a climate-controlled pedestrian footbridge network that connects buildings and major attractions in the downtown area. These come handy during extreme winter months and humid summer days. Between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the system links 69 city blocks (about 9 miles) and are opened 24/7. Just look for buildings marked with "Skyway Connection" or download the Skyway System map to find entrances.
US dollars is the official currency. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions or picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment.
The Minnesotan accent is a distinct one, prominently featured in the 1996 Coen Brothers' film, and the TV show, "Fargo." The accent is known for its long a's and monophthong o's, nasal tone, odd sentence structure, and singsong intonations that, whether you like it or not, defines the heritage and friendliness of the Minnesotans. Attributed to the Swedes, Germans, and Norwegians who settled in the area in the 1800s, the accent is prevalent in other parts of the Midwest, including North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Bear in mind not every Minnesotan speaks like this, but below are a few phrases to familiarize yourself with:
Aside from its Swedish, Norwegian, and German roots, Minneapolis has a large Somalian, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Ethiopian population. A recent study showed the growth rate for people of color in Minnesota between 2010 and 2017 has outpaced national numbers — 30 percent of blacks in the state compared to 7 percent in the entire country. There is no one single cause for this uptick but numerous organizations servicing ethnic groups like the Hmong people have helped immigrants find a community and settle in this part of the Midwest.
Minneapolis has one of the most exciting food scenes in America, yet nobody seems to be talking about it. Whether or not it's the best kept secret in the Midwest, you'll be pleasantly surprised just how well locals eat around here. That being said, we must give credit where credit is due: to the classics. Although there is a major local debate about its origins — two bars claim to be the inventor — the Jucy Lucy is a cheeseburger with cheese inside the meat. The melted cheese in turn helps keep the meat juicy (hence the name). Try this Minneapolis staple for yourself at one of the possible inventors, Matt's Bar & Grill. The hotdish is another comfort food that's become an unofficial dish of Minnesota. The first recipe for one appeared in a 1930 cookbook and today, most still come with tater tots on top.
Minnesota's flour empire has come and gone and in its stead is the wild rice. The rice is not a grain but the seed of a long-grain marsh grass typically found in cold rivers and lakes, and has been a center of the Ojibway Indian diet for centuries. The Ojibway of the region, along with other harvesters, contribute to over 70 percent of all the wild rice produced in the world — no wonder it's the state grain. Lastly, when the locals mention bars, they don't mean the place you drink at. Bars (or squares) are the desserts, usually served at birthdays and holidays that come in different flavors including lemon, carrot, chocolate, and peanut butter.
Fine dining can be found at exciting New American restaurants like Spoon and Stable, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Gavin Kaysen. The restaurant is housed in a former horse stable, providing a dramatic stage for an elevated weekend brunch, Scandinavian-inspired plates, and separate gluten-free and vegetarian menus to accommodate all visitors (some of whom wait months to get inside). Places like Hi-Lo Diner, serve good old American staples like the burger inside a trendy 1950s diner (the burger's also pretty good at Parlour). A slew of Asian-inspired and Asian fusion restaurants are popular as well: Young Joni makes a smashing pizza and Korean short ribs with the James Beard nominee chef Ann Kim; and Hai Hai, a Balinese restaurant serves shareable street food options inside a tropical oasis.
The Midwest's harsh winter conditions make it impossible for vineyards to flourish in the region, but breweries and distilleries thrive. Craft beer flows freely around these parts — taprooms all over the city promise local brews (sometimes with unexpected flavors), small plate venues, and great vibes. Don't overlook HeadFlyer Brewing, Modist Brewing Co., Surly Brewing Co., or Able Seedhouse + Brewery. For a stiff drink, Tattersall Distilling delivers. The distillery and cocktail bar is tucked in an inconspicuous industrial enclave and serves some incredibly exciting base spirits in their drinks, including a juniper-muted gin and corn-based vodka. The distillery is also the first in the state to offer a collection of bitters, liqueurs, and aperitifs.
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(Photo Courtesy: Golden Rule)
Let's cut to the chase: the behemoth Mall of America offers nothing you haven't seen before (unless you've never seen an indoor roller coaster and waterpark next to an Abercrombie & Fitch). Start at the North Loop instead. The neighborhood may look industrial at first glance but a roster of indie fashions and eclectic homeware stores are at your disposal. Splurge on affordable jewelry and approachable designs at Statement Boutique; comb through modern silhouettes and contemporary lines from the likes of Rick Owen and Étoile Isabel Marant at the family-owned shop Grethen House; or try Martin Patrick 3 for more upscale men's apparel.
Don't let the downtown area overshadow the collection of locally-owned shops sprinkled throughout the rest of the city. For a hodgepodge of collectibles and kitschy trinkets, Hunter & Gather in Linden Hills delivers; Tangletown's Milie offers a neatly curated selection of womenswear, home goods, and perfumes; Isles Studios LLC in Uptown promises not only one-of-a-kind gifts but also an urban oasis of plants and flowers, taxidermy, and gardening antiques.
Despite the strange name, Whittier's Electric Fetus has been providing audiophiles with the latest tunes since 1968 — and it's also one of the last places Prince was seen before his death. But if you're looking to venture even further, nearby Excelsior has seen an uptick of quaint shops: Golden Rule sells apothecary items, personalized wares, and a collection of women's clothing. And next door is Gray Home & Lifestyle, a mother-daughter run shop that works with local artisans to design collections for the store.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/James & Mary Laurie, Booksellers)
In 2015, Minneapolis was named the most literate city in America, beating Washington DC after a four-year long run. So it's no surprise that the city has a fair share of incredible bookstores. You'll lose yourself in the stacks (literally) at James & Mary Laurie Bookseller in the North Loop. The shop boasts more than 120,000 books, jazz records, and a collection of antiquarian maps and posters. If you're not in the market for a new read, flip through a rare first edition in one of the crannies before heading out. The more modern space at Milkweed Books in Downtown East contains bestsellers and recently published works by contemporary writers. Readings, weekly events, and a literary personal shopping service make this a hub in the community. The neighborhood is also home to the literary center, Open Book; the center provides writing classes and working spaces for writers and an events and gift shop. For all things F. Scott Fitzgerald, visit neighboring St. Paul, the birthplace and long time-residence of the writer and his wife Zelda.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock/JoeChristensen)
When University of Minnesota students aren't cheering for the Golden Gophers, they're taking advantage of the mix of secondhand clothing shops, used bookstores, cafes, and bars that dot the neighborhood of University/Dinkytown. For live music try Varsity Theater. Cure that post-finals partying hangover by moseying over to Al's Breakfast in bordering Marcy-Holmes. The uber-casual joint serves inexpensive omelets, scrambles, and most importantly, pancakes to die for. It only seats 14, so expect to stand in line outside until a spot opens up. When your liver allows, dive into a slew of seasonal beers at HeadFlyer Brewing or at the taproom Surly Brewing Co. in Prospect Park.
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Although Minneapolis claims to be the home of the Kid, Prince's hometown was actually Chanhassen, 30 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Since the musician's death in 2016, Paisley Park has opened the residence and recording studio for public tours. Back in the city, there are plenty of Prince-related sights of interest not to be missed by diehard fans, including the famous Music Wall (Downtown West) featured in one of Prince's earlier photoshoots. Yes, the "Purple Rain" house is still there.
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Much of the history of Minneapolis was built around the city's dominance of the milling industry and you relieve it all again. Carb lovers get a crash course on all things doughy at the Mill City Museum in Downtown East. This industrial playground welcomes people of all ages to dive deep in the history of flour milling, explore the ruins of the factory after a deadly explosion, and get a great birds-eye view of the Mississippi River and the Stone Arch Bridge. Head southwest to Lowry Hill to visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Center, the largest urban sculpture garden in the country. Across the street is the Walker Art Center, a contemporary art museum (and the country's fifth most visited) showcasing painting, photography, films, and performances. An Impressionist gallery and Asian art collection can be found at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Whittier; or come celebrate midsummer by digging into smorgasbords and schnapps at the American Swedish Institute in Phillips. If you're in University/Dinkytown, stop by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum , where you'll discover works by artists like O’Keeffe and Lichtenstein. The Frank Gehry building alone is worth a visit.
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With 22 lakes to choose from in the Minneapolis area, there is no shortage of outdoor activities to satiate your need for fresh air. Just outside the the city is Lake Minnetonka — arguably the most popular of the lakes and certainly the largest at 14,000 acres. According to Prince, the waters of this lake are purifying, but if you're too chicken to take a dip, there are picnic areas, trails, fishing spots, and playing fields. Loring Park, adjacent to Downtown West, is the largest park in the city center. Walking and biking paths, a wading pool, gardens, and tennis and basketball courts make for a great way to enjoy the warmer months, while an ice rink opens during the winter. The green spaces of Nicolett Island and St. Anthony/Marcy-Holmes offer prime waterfront views of the Mississippi River, but if you're looking for cascading waterfalls, head to Minnehaha Regional Park near Nokomis.
The historic districts of Marcy-Holmes and St. Anthony are perfect for visitors seeking a certain Midwestern charm. Elegant and exciting dining options in these quaint neighborhoods include Alma, Bardo, and Jefe. Walk it off at the multiple paths bordering the Mississippi River, with spectacular views of the city to boot. If you opt to stay in Downtown, do it in style. hte boutique Kimpton Grand Hotel offers luxurious rooms only steps from Target Field and the Guthrie Theater, and access to the Minneapolis Life Time Athletic Club and Life Spa. Hotel Ivy, a Luxury Collection Hotel is another great option, and is particularly appealing come winter as it connects to the city's Skyway System.
Families looking to visit Minneapolis with their children should keep in mind that many kid-oriented points of interest are located outside the city center. Both the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minnesota Children's Museum are located in St. Paul, and the Minnesota Zoo is in Apple Valley, half an hour south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Renting a car for the day is a good idea if you're trying to visit these locations. That being said, the Children’s Theatre Company in Whittier is easily accessible and will enchant the little ones with their stage productions. The Minneapolis Sculpture Center (Lowry Hill) is another fun option when the weather permits. Look for the giant spoon and cherry sculpture!
Fans of the artist (and really, who wasn’t one?) have plenty of Prince-related sites to choose from within the city and its surroundings.
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Where locals cling to coffee cups and navigate the cobblestone streets in flip-flops with socks (yeah, it’s a thing).