Who knew? Minneapolis is a great town to explore.
In 2011, during a Midwest baseball tour I did my absolute best to avoid seeing Minneapolis while going to a Minnesota Twins baseball game. Actually, it wasn't that I didn't want to see Minneapolis, I just didn't think of it as a tourist destination. I stayed out near Mall of America and rode the Metro train downtown and only walked over one block to see First Avenue, the club where Prince filmed Purple Rain and thought the city had potential, but didn't go any further.
When I planned my bucket list trip to North Dakota (my 50th state), I decided to fly into Minneapolis and bookend my road trip with a couple of days in the Twin Cities. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.
What follows is a guide to some of the main spots I went to. Much of it is centrally located and can easily be reached on foot or by pretty simple and inexpensive public transportation. I hope this inspires you to explore the Twin Cities for yourself.
Minneapolis: A Charming Modern City Full of Things to Explore
Having grown up in the Midwest, I think of many of these cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis by their past reputations as blue collar factory towns rather than tourist destinations. But these cities have so much more to offer. After hopping off the Blue Line light rail train at the U.S. Bank Stadium stop, I got a great first glance at the city awaiting me.
Where To Stay
While there are plenty of hotels downtown, I found the Bloomington area near Mall of America a convenient and less expensive option. Many hotels there feature shuttles to the MSP Airport (where you can pick up the light rail) or even the Mall of America (also a light rail stop).
I stayed at the Crowne Plaza the first night and it right at a Blue Line stop and only 1 train stop from the Airport. I stayed at the Comfort Inn Airport the last night and they shuttled to both the mall and airport.
The Metro Transit System has two train lines. Both end up in downtown Minneapolis at Target Field and share 4 stops before they split. However, the Green line runs out to downtown St. Paul and the Blue line runs out to the Airport and Mall of America. The ride takes about 30 minutes and trains run frequently during weekdays and weekends, with less trains running in the evenings, but still enough that you won't be waiting a half hour.
Look for the blue "Tickets" sign and buy your tickets at kiosks with cash or a credit/debit card. These kiosks are at every stop. Get the All-Day-Pass for $4 and just keep it available in your pocket - there is nothing to scan on the light rail. I was told the police come through from time to time to make sure you have a ticket, but otherwise it is on the honor system. I could have done the whole two days without a ticket because no one ever checked. However, I've heard the fines are around $200 if you are caught empty handed, so better safe than sorry.
Bob Dylan Mural
Location: 1 S. 5th Street, Minneapolis, MN
I found the Nicollet Mall stop (Blue and Green Lines) off the light rail train to be the best starting point for a journey around downtown Minneapolis. You'll be right in the center of it all! The first thing you'll see is an amazing kaleidoscope mural of Minnesota's own Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan. Created in 2015 by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, it pays homage to the career of the singer who spent his formative years in the state.
Mary Tyler Moore Statue
Location: 700 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN
There is a place called Nicollet Mall, but it is also the street name. Head a couple blocks down it from the Dylan mural and you'll find another pop culture icon Mary Tyler Moore. Younger people may not remember her, but her show broke new ground by its portrayal of a revolutionary new idea, "single independent working women." Wow, how far we've come!
If you've seen the show, you'll recognize this iconic pose as the freeze-frame from the opening credits. It's hard not to look at this and hear "you're gonna make it if you try" in your mind. The show was set at a fictional television station WJM based in Minneapolis.
Kieran's Irish Pub
Location: 85 N 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN
On the Saturday I arrived in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Twins baseball team was playing a doubleheader against my Detroit Tigers (I had tickets for Sunday). The place was buzzing with activity. Being an Irish pub, the first thing I had to order was a Guinness. It was the best I had on my trip. Add to that an amazing menu of comfort food. I had the Steak and Mushroom Pie (see above) that day. I liked the food so much, when I came back through Minneapolis the last day, I had to eat here again. The second time I had the Pub Pot Roast...mmmmmm. I highly recommend it.
First Avenue and 7th St Entry
Location: 701 N 1st Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
If you've seen the movie Purple Rain or you're a fan of Prince, this place will look familiar. It was featured prominently inside and out in the film. But it was so much more than just a movie location, this once bus terminal was the launching point for the Minneapolis Sound (The Time, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Sheila E, etc). Bands would come up by playing at 7th St Entry and soon move on to the main stage at First Avenue.
Still an active venue, you just might find one of your favorite artists performing there. To get an idea of the talent that played here, check out all of the stars around the building. It's like a vertical walk of fame. Don't try to walk up it though!
Target Field (Home of the Minnesota Twins)
Location: 1 Twins Way, Minneapolis, MN
Just a couple of blocks from First Avenue, you'll find the home of the Minnesota Twins. I can say without hesitation, Target Field is one of the best ballparks in Major League Baseball, and I should know. I've been to 21 of the 30 parks.
These were my seats on a Sunday afternoon. I love sitting behind home plate in the upper deck of any ballpark, and Target Field didn't disappoint. The stadium also has on of the best selections of food in the league. And I appreciate that even when you're in line for food, you can see the field in most spots. A very well designed ballpark with plenty of nostalgia outside and great atmosphere inside. I will say though, the $27 Boomstick sausage was a bit excessive in size and price. Taking on designated hitter Nelson Cruz' nickname this 24" sausage might just break the bank and your limits on cholesterol intake!
Minneapolis City Hall
Location: 350 S 5th Street, Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis is an interesting mix of new and old architecture. You'll see plenty of the modern skyscraper feel, but one of the buildings that stands out to me is City Hall. Like Cincinnati's City Hall or the Conrad Caldwell House in Louisville, this building is a wonderful example of the Richardsonian Romanesque architecture that dots the Midwestern landscape.
Location: 300 S 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN
Just a couple blocks from City Hall and you'll be in the midst of modern Minneapolis. Everything I've shown so far is within just 6 or 7 square blocks. I was impressed at the diversity and depth just within a small walking distance. The Minnesota Vikings NFL stadium is also just a few blocks away. It is actually at that point that the Blue and Green light rain lines of the Metro transportation system head their separate ways.
Hen House Eatery
Location: 114 S 8th Street, Minneapolis, MN
What is my favorite meal of the day? Breakfast, of course! And I was highly impressed with the quality of the coffee and the staff who never let my cup look the least bit low. The omelette was quite impressive as well. Fueled up, it was time to walk a little outside of the center of town.
Basilica of Saint Mary
Location: 88 17th Street N, Minneapolis, MN
Standing majestically and easily viewable from Target Field, the Basilica of Saint Mary might be a bit of a hike for some, but I decided to make the trek on food. As you pass the Orpheum Theater where more scenes from Purple Rain were filmed, it feels like you're stepping out of the tourist area, but then you're into a college area almost immediately. If you didn't want to walk it, you could Lyft or Uber, or take the #6 Bus from downtown. The church is a straight shot down Hennepin Avenue. And if you walk under the freeway, you'll find...
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Location: 725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis, MN
I suggest walking to this park because it costs $4 to use the lot. And while that may not be a ton of cash, if you're just coming to the Sculpture Garden, that might be overkill.
And yes, Minneapolis has a "Love" sculpture. For some reason I always associated it with Philadelphia. Probably that "City of Brotherly Love" thing. The original was actually in Indianapolis.
Speaking of love, I love sculptures. And there are some amazingly creative ones here to study and explore.
I will say, it did get a little annoying hearing the security system constantly telling people to not jump on the sculptures. Some people just can't respect the art work while trying to take that selfie!
Even the blue rooster can't hide from the Basilica!
Of all the sculptures, the Spoonbridge and Cherry is probably the most well-known and is definitely the centerpiece of the garden. Photographers circle this thing like vultures looking for the perfect reflection and background subject. And of course, you hear plenty of "stay off the sculpture!"
Grain Belt Beer Sign, First Bridge Park, and the Mississippi River
Location: 1 W River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN
Still on Hennepin Avenue, but all the way across downtown and down to the river you'll find First Bridge Park. This is a great place to head to as the early evening approaches. You'll see the Grain Belt Beer Sign as it catches the last bits of sun before the city skyline robs it of it's light. The Mississippi, whose headwaters are in Minnesota, is already impressively wide and powerful at this point. Just a stroll down the river walk and you'll see...
Mill River Park
Location: 100 W River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN
You might find parking handy here. I walked so I didn't pay attention to what it would cost. Usually downtown parking can be pricey, but I heard this was somewhat reasonable. However, the U.S. Bank Stadium Blue and Green Metro Train stops are just 5 blocks from here, so that all day $4 fare is sounding better and better. From here you'll find...
The Gold Flour Mill and Park
The Mill City Museum and a small waterfall create some great photo opportunities. With an eye on the history of Minneapolis as a flour producing town you'll see several flour mills, including Pillsbury across the river, and some great old architecture. You'll also find the I-35W Bridge Memorial that honors those the 13 that died and 145 injured in that tragic bridge collapse in 2007.
Stone Arch Bridge
This beautiful stone bridge, built in 1881 as a railroad bridge is now the best way to see Saint Anthony Falls. You get an amazing view of Minneapolis, the Mississippi River, and the park on the other side of the river as well. You might also see wedding photos or prom pictures being taken as you cross to the other side.
Saint Anthony Falls
Once a natural water fall, Saint Anthony Falls is now a man-made spillway. The rush of water was so powerful (as you can tell by looking at it now) that it's instability and partial collapse caused the creating of the spillway.
Okay, time to meet the Twin Cities other half - St. Paul. Just hope on the Green Line and it's about a 30 minute ride.
St. Paul - Blair Arcade
Location: 400 Selby Avenue, St Paul, MN
First, let me say about St. Paul, I always thought it was right across the river from Minneapolis, but it does take a bit of a lengthy Green Line ride to get there. You'll pass the home of the Minnesota Gopher's along the way and there is plenty of suburban shopping. I decided to do some architecture hunting, so I jumped off the Green Line and Western Avenue and walked a few blocks south to the Cathedral Hill area.
Here I found the Blair Arcade, a wonderful piece of Victorian era architecture. Built in 1887, it now serves as an office building but also houses shops, including a coffee house.
And it's not just beautiful outside. The interior is well worth investigating. As I dropped to the basement floor, it looks like the building continues on and is still in development, but what is wonderful.
Cathedral of Saint Paul
Location: 239 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN
A few blocks East, you'll find the Cathedral that gives the area it's name. Built in 1915, the inspiration for this building is St. Peter's in Rome. It was a Sunday morning, so I didn't get a chance to tour it, but the photos I've seen show magnificent detail with grandious statues, stonework, and stained glass windows.
Location: 101 W 12th Street, St. Paul, MN
As you walk toward the State Capitol Building, you'll find the green in front of the building filled with all sorts of memorials, from a World War II and Korean memorial to a Hmong Veteran's Memorial, statues of Charles Lindbergh and Hubert Humphrey, and naval gun from the USS Ward. But the one that caught my eye was of a firefighter making a brave rescue. The sign outside this says Dedicated to Minnesota's Fallen and bares hundreds of names.
Minnesota State Capitol Building
Also built in the early 1900's, this building may feel like most other capitol buildings from a distance, but its beautiful alternating marble facade and gold highlights were a feast for the eyes. It was a wonderful way to finish up my stroll around the Twin Cities. Not enough time to really dig into downtown St. Paul. I'll have to do that on a return trip.
Mall of America
Location: 60 E Broadway, Bloomington, MN
And back up the Green Line then down the Blue Line and the Mall of America. Now the 4th largest mall in North America (Albrook Mall in Panama is the largest, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta is the second largest, King of Prussia near Philadelphia, PA is third largest), this shopping area is still impressive, featuring 520 shops and the Nickelodeon Universe play area. You'll need a couple of hours just to walk around it. I had some ice cream before heading back to my hotel.
By the way, some people cheat and use the ample parking at Mall of America when heading downtown on the light rail. You don't have to do this. Instead go to the Park and Ride area just off the 28th Avenue stop on the Blue Line. It's free and actually easier to get in and out of than the mall.
Time to Visit the Twin Cities
I hope you find this guide both helpful something to inspire you to visit a great American city (or couple of cities). Feel free to leave comments below!