A Two-in-One Vacation

Take a trip to the Twin Cities for summer fun

By Glenda Winders  //  Photography submitted

When the snow is flying and temperatures are subzero the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, might not appeal to you as a vacation destination. But in the summertime, these northern-tier cities take on a whole different personality. The same high-quality restaurants and museums are there for the taking, but now, you can also enjoy the lakes and all there is to do outdoors.
The cities are situated on the Mississippi River, and were settled in the 19th century by northern European immigrants. Called simply “the Cities” by locals, they are connected by way of Metro Transit buses and light rail, so it’s easy to enjoy both cities in the space of one visit. Each city has its own distinct personality, but both are equally exciting to explore.

“Minneapolis has so much to offer year-round, but the summer is a special time,” said Melvin Tennant, CEO of Meet Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association. “That’s when the Mississippi riverfront teems with people attending festivals like the Stone Arch Bridge Festival of the Arts, and Target Field, one of the best ballparks in the country that not only offers exciting Minnesota Twins baseball, but the new TC Summer Fest concerts. Throughout the city, our neighborhoods and cultural districts offer unique events like Open Streets, outdoor music on Surly’s Festival Field and the uptown Loring Park and Powderhorn art fairs. Busy patios and sidewalk cafes are some of the hottest seats in town.”
Things to do
Follow Tennant’s advice and start with a Twins’ baseball game. The next day, take the family outdoors for some athletic fun of your own. Perhaps, bike or paddle around Bde Maka Ska Lake or the entire Chain of Lakes, or maybe hike down to the creek at Minnehaha Falls. Wheel Fun Rentals can equip you with paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, bicycles and whatever else you need. You can also rent a Segueway and take in the city that way. Then in the evenings, a hop-on, hop-off trolley can take you to almost any place you want to go in the city.
Is golf your game? Several public courses will welcome you to play. And if it happens to rain, don’t let that get you down. Make a detour to Arts & Rec Uptown, where you can play mini-golf in a kind of funhouse atmosphere because each hole was designed by an artist and placed in a different room where surprises await. There is also entertainment that changes every night and a restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat and pair it with an adult beverage if you like.
At this time of year the Walker Art Center turns its rooftop into 10-hole Skyline Mini Golf, this year’s holes were designed by Ojibwe, Chippewa and Hmong artists. While you’re playing, you’ll enjoy dramatic views of the downtown area.
When you’re finished up top, go downstairs to take in the world-class collection of contemporary art
in the museum. Outside is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, with pieces by such well-known artists as Claes Oldenburg, Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein. Best of all, this part of your experience is free.
Also free is the Minneapolis Institute of Art, with some 90,000 items in its collection by artists whose names are sure to be familiar. Be sure to check out the traveling exhibits and the period rooms on the third floor. The Museum of Russian Art is the only one of its kind in North America.
Minneapolis offers lots more to learn, too. This was once the flour-milling capital of the world, and museums and tours now bring that history to life. Enjoy Mill City Museum, which was built into the ruins of the Pillsbury A-Mill, once the largest mill in the world and now, a national historic landmark. The Bakken Museum explores options for making the world a better place through innovation.
Minneapolis is a theater-lover’s town during the winter months, so while you’re here, be sure to stop at the renowned Guthrie Theater to see its architecture and views of the waterfront. Shoppers need to save time for the Midtown Global Market, where stalls offer merchandise and food from all over the globe.
Where to eat
And speaking of eating, you’ve come to the right place. In addition to old favorites, several new spots are worth trying out. Eat Street Crossing is where a group of six artists and chefs have come together to create meals that range from sushi to pizza, ramen to burgers, and all while you’re enjoying live entertainment. Khaluna calls itself the bridge between Minneapolis and Southeast Asia with Laotian dishes, and you can take cooking lessons while you’re here, too.
The Market at Malcolm Yards serves Asian food in what was formerly the Harris Machinery Building. The
brand-new Maison Margaux serves up French food and has a wine cellar where it is almost impossible to make up your mind. They are a woman-owned business with a commitment to treat their employees well, teach younger generations about good food and take part in projects to feed people who are in need.
Maganda has a sprawling patio, and just launched a brunch menu. Some favorites are Young Joni and Sooki & Mimi, both Korean dishes created by Chef Ann Kim, recipient of the James Beard Award; Butcher & the Boar for smoked meats and a beer garden; Bellecour Bakery for lunch and fresh pastries; and the list goes on. Tennant suggests a great place to relax in the evening is on the rooftop at Crave, then go downstairs and enjoy American food and sushi.
Where to stay
Chain hotels abound, but if you’re looking for something different,
check out the Hewing Hotel, where you can stay in chic, industrial surroundings and soak in a pool on the roof, enjoy a cocktail in the Library Lounge or dine in elegance at the Tullibee restaurant. Hotel Alma is a seven-room boutique with beautifully appointed rooms over the restaurant where another James Beard award-winning chef, Alex Roberts prepares a prix fixe dinner. The Elliot Park Hotel offers the Scandinavian concept of “hygge” — feeling cozy and comfortable in your accommodations. There you can dine on rustic, Tuscan food at the Tavola Italian Kitchen and Bar.
St. Paul
Things to do
Summertime is festival season in St. Paul, too. With so many ethnicities and lifestyles there, no matter what your interest, you’ll find at least one festival you’ll want to attend. Cultural festivities include Songkran Festival (Thai), Deutsche Tage (German), Hmong International Freedom Festival, Little Africa Fest, Irish Fair, Japanese Obon Festival and Fiesta Latina.
For family fun, there’s the Flint Hills Family Festival, Water Fest, Train Days, STP Pride Festival, Twin Cities Pride Family-Fun Day, Grand Old Days, Back to the ‘50s Weekend and even a Cat Video Festival. Grillfest offers up burgers, barbecue, beer and bloody marys and there is the Summer Beer Fest and Food Truck Festival for you to enjoy, as well. Music lovers, look for Lowertown Sounds, Twin Cities Jazz Festival and Midtown Blues and Funk Fest. The Wakpa Public Art Triennial celebrates the interconnectedness of all peoples. The summer winds up with the spectacular Minnesota State Fair.
And that’s just the beginning of what there is to do while you’re here. Baseball is also on deck with the minor league St. Paul Saints playing at CHS Field. The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory invites you to explore, observe and discover the occupants that range from giraffes and gorillas to polar bears, penguins, big cats and much more. Their gardens are eye-popping, too. And don’t forget all of the water fun to be had.
“With more shoreline on the Mississippi River than any other city, a park system that consistently ranks among the best in the country and welcoming spirit, St. Paul is a dynamic, beautiful, historic city with so much to explore this summer and all year long,” said Cindy Dupont, interim president & CEO of the Saint Paul RiverCentre. “We invite people to visit and enjoy everything this capital city has to offer.”
When you’re ready to go inside some marvelous museums await you. Don’t miss the Minnesota Children’s Museum, if the kids are along. Here, they’ll be challenged with open-ended activities that encourage problem-solving and exploration. The Science Museum of Minnesota offers collections related to biology, anthropology and paleontology, and the Bell Museum contains dioramas that showcase specimens of animals from around the world.
The Minnesota Museum of American Art offers pieces by American artists from the 19th century to the present, and the Minnesota History Center is considered one of the finest public buildings in Minnesota. Here visitors can experience midwestern life beginning with the homes and artifacts of Native Americans. A simulated plane crash has them participating in World War II with “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation” and “Weather Permitting” lets them ride out a tornado. Kids can climb and slide through a grain elevator.
The theater you’ll want to visit on this side of the river is the Fitzgerald Theatre, once the home of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” On historic Cathedral Hill the Cathedral of St. Paul is definitely worth a visit, too.
Like Arts & Rec in Minneapolis, Can Can Wonderland provides miniature golf, entertainment and a restaurant for food and drinks. Xcel Energy Center has a full lineup of summer concerts.
Where to eat
If you do find yourself at Xcel, check out The Apostle supper club directly across the street, and Tacos, Tacos, Tacos is within walking distance.
Grand Street is the restaurant row of St. Paul, and here you’ll find Big E’s, named for rapper Biggie Smalls and featuring gourmet sandwiches named for other musicians. Ethnic cuisines in this area include Coconut Thai and Em Que Viet for Vietnamese.
In other parts of the city, Nanny’s Jamaican Kitchen features such specialties as jerk chicken and plantains. Himalayan Restaurant serves dishes from Nepal, India and Tibet. Moscow on the Hill is the place for Russian food, and they can stir up any cocktail you want — all made from vodka.
Where to stay
Like in Minneapolis, St. Paul has most of the chain hotels you already know, and it also has some historic gems tucked away in its neighborhoods. Celeste of St. Paul, for example, is housed in a former music conservatory and convent. Your room may have been that of a Mother Superior or perhaps even a chapel, and some views look out over the capitol building. The Davidson is the former home of a St. Paul railroad magnate on exclusive Summit Drive, a row of Victorian mansions. Another Victorian home that has been reborn as a bed and breakfast is the New Victorian Mansion. You might come for the carved woodwork and fireplaces, but you’ll want to stay for the fresh, hot breakfasts served each morning. Still, another restored home, is the Historic District Bed and Breakfast, where the F. Scott Fitzgerald room is just 100 yards from where the author was born. A three-story Craftsman home has been converted into the Como Lake Bed and Breakfast. The lakeside getaway is outfitted with antiques, and a typical morning meal might consist of huevos rancheros, wild-rice pancakes or caprese eggs.
When it’s time to go home, Dupont invites you to start planning your next visit.
“Come back again and again,” she said. “There is always something new
to connect with and be a part of in St. Paul.”