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How to Experience Minneapolis Like a Local…

My name is Shanna and my city is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I have lived in my city Minneapolis/St. Paul for 31 years (I actually grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and now live on the outer edges of the sprawling metropolis).

My city is best described by these five words: foodie-heaven, artsy, unexpected, Minnesota-nice, and not-always-cold.

The most famous thing about my city is the fact that Mary Tyler Moore lived here, and many of the shots of the opening sequence were filmed in downtown Minneapolis (for old TV buffs reading this, there is a statue on Nicollet Mall of her in her iconic “hat throwing” pose). It is also the home town of Peanuts cartoon creator Charles Schulz.

The best way to explore my city is on foot or by using the well developed skyway system. Also, check out the light rail train to connecting downtown to the airport and Mall of America! It is a really easy way to see many sights throughout the city.

When my girlfriends come for a visit, I always take them to Moti-i first. They have great food and it is a unique Minneapolis restaurant because it it the first sake brewery outside of Japan. It is a fun place to try sake, especially if you have never had it before (hot sake is really nice to warm you up during the cold Minnesota winter!)

The best place to take a guy on a date is Prohibition on the 27th floor of the Foshay Tower in the swanky W Hotel (make him pay). It has an incredible 360 degree panoramic view of the city, unique cocktails and creative little plates to share, as well as lots of couches and little nooks to…well, you can fill in the rest 😉

When I want to sample the sweetness of spring a little early I always go to the Macy’s 8th Floor Auditorium Spring Flower Show (though locals still refer to it as “Dayton’s”). Spectacular flower displays to snap you out of your winter blah’s!

The most random thing about my city is that downtown Minneapolis has over seven miles of enclosed skyways for getting around (completely necessary for the outrageously cold temperatures that we endure in the winter, I assure you!)

Only the Basilica Block Party could happen in my city. An annual Twin Cities concert event that brings a huge selection of big name artists together next to hip and trendy Loring Park and the Basilica of St. Mary each July. It draws spectators from around the country for a unique event with a spectacular view of downtown Minneapolis as a backdrop. The event raises money for the restoration efforts for the basilica.

The best place to shop is the Mall of America (duh!). They have EVERYTHING. If you are looking for a more intimate, upscale shopping experience, check out the Galleria in Edina for a shopping experience for those with more refined tastes.

But James and Mary Laurie Book Sellers is the best store for books. A little known find filled with tall shelves stuffed to the brim with used books and hidden nooks to get lost in a favorite volume.

A good walking tour is along the Mississippi River through downtown Minneapolis along the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail (a self guided, 1.8 mile train with interpretive signs giving more detailed history about the area.) You’ll see the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls, the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum and a beautiful, postcard perfect view of the Minneapolis Skyline along the way.

Start at the Mill City Museum/Mill Ruins Park and check out the interactive displays suitable for children and adults detailing the intertwined history of the river, the flour industry and the city of Minneapolis. Head out from the museum towards the river and out across the Stone Arch Bridge for a beautiful view of St. Anthony Falls and the stunning Minneapolis skyline.

Once across the bridge, turn left on Main Street and head up the river to St. Anthony Main, an entertainment and restaurant complex on the riverfront. This is a great place to stop for lunch and some shopping 🙂

Once refreshed, continue on. Crossing back over the river on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge will afford you some more great photo opps and continuing on down Hennepin Avenue will bring you in a few blocks to one of the cities best bar end entertainment districts.

The best museum is the Walker Art Museum and is located just south west of Downtown Minneapolis near Loring Park and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Once you have gotten your fill of art, have a walk through the sculpture garden and head towards Loring Park. On the north end of Loring park, you will find an area of hip and trendy restaurants and bars as well as the stunning Basilica of St. Mary.

But for hands on crafts go to Kitchen in the Market to expand your skills in the craft of cooking. Located in the Midtown Global Market, Kitchen in the Market offers regular classes focused on local foods, world cuisine and wine.

Looking for a place to take the kids to make something creative? Check out Heartfelt Crafts located in South Minneapolis. They have regular scheduled crafts as well as “anytime” projects that you can drop in and make with the kids in 30-60 minutes anytime during store hours.

The best way to get outside is to go on one of the many trails around the city. The whole trail system is called the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Walk, run, bike or Rollerblade on some of the prettiest urban trails that I have ever seen.

For a fun and FREE activity head to Minnehaha Falls. This Minneapolis nature spot is a great photo opportunity and a wonderful place to go for a picnic lunch and a little hiking when you need to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown. Hike out past the Deer Pen Area towards the Wabun Picnic Area for a nice hike in a beautiful natural area in the heart of the city. Minnehaha Falls is conveniently accessible from downtown by the light rail train!

For a unique shopping experience in downtown Minneapolis, head for Nicollet Mall. This pedestrian only shopping thoroughfare features stellar shopping (can we say Neiman Marcus, Saks Off Fifth, the Target flagship store and Macys?) as well as restaurants and cafes to suit every taste, many of which have outdoor street side seating in the summer (check out Britts Pub, an authentic British pub with a second story backyard complete with lawn bowling tournaments! One of my favorite Nicollet Mall spots).

Food & Drink

The best breakfast is Hells Kitchen. And be sure to order the caramel pecan roll…and the Mahnomin Porridge…and the sausage bread. Oh, and do try the huevos rancheros. Heck, I am not sure if there is anything on the menu that you shouldn’t order, so just get one of everything!

For the best burger go to Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis and order the Jucy Lucy. The Jucy Lucy is a Minnesota institution. It is a burger that is stuffed and oozing with melted cheddar cheese. Matt’s is a real road food find; a hole in the wall greasy spoon brimming with local character.

The best place for coffee is the Angel Food Bakery. And be sure to order the caramel pecan roll (see “best breakfast” above…if you miss the pecan roll at Hell’s Kitchen, you can also get one here. They are owned by the same people).

The really neat thing about this coffee stop? The coffee counter is right next to the kitchen with an unobstructed view of the bakery miracles that are happening there.

Sitting right next to the pastry finishing table you get a front row view of pastry chefs, hard at work creating confections that are close to miraculous. Add in Peace Coffee (a fair trade coffee company based in Minneapolis) and amazing baked goods and you have the beginnings of a very nice morning!

For a sweet treat, I always go to Candyland in Downtown Minneapolis and get raspberry jelly sticks (the Carmel corn is pretty darned good ,too!). This old fashioned candy store has been a fixture in the local area since 1932 (the first store was nearby in downtown St. Paul.)

The best happy hour is at Solera and lasts from 5pm to 6pm everyday but Monday. This restaurant has absolutely amazing tapas which are discounted during happy hour, as well as $3 sangrias, $2 off of cocktails and 1/2 price domestic beer.

My favorite part? During the summer, their rooftop bar is open (every day but Monday). It has a panoramic view of Downtown Minneapolis and on certain evenings, they show movies up there! Come for happy hour, linger for dinner and stay for a movie and dessert. Sounds like a great night to me!

For a romantic dinner, go to the Nicollet Island Inn. This classic Minneapolis favorite is located right next to downtown. It features seasonal menus in an intimate, elegant setting that is sure to get the romantic sparks flying…

For 24 hour eats, check out Little Tijuana and order anything deep fried or with cheese because I have been eating the food at this restaurant since I was old enough to eat solid food and it is REALLY GOOD. I had to fudge a little on this question – Minneapolis suffers from a lack of true 24 hour restaurants…Little T’s is open until 2am.

Entertainment

The best place to go for ladies night is on Thursdays at GB Leighton’s Pickle Park (ladies drink free 9pm-midnight and great drink specials for the guys, too!), but if you want dancing go to The Gay 90’s is the place to be (not joking. The Gay 90’s is one of the most un-gay gay bars around, and it is THE place that women go for bachelorette parties or just for a good night out.)

They have 6 different bars each featuring a different atmosphere and music, so you are bound to find something that everybody can agree on (they also have great happy hour specials and entertaining drag shows many nights!) Besides, where else will you have the opportunity to ride a gigantic, bucking penis!

For live music check out First Avenue. This intimate concert venue is one of my favorite places to see live music (and as a local history bonus, Prince filmed the music video for Purple Rain there in 1984!)

Our fun festival is the St. Paul Winter Carnival and happens at the end of January. The Carnival celebrates the abominable cold that makes out state a frozen wasteland in the wintertime and it is the oldest and largest winter celebration in the country. Hot chocolate and cider, ice sculptures, King Boreas and Vulcanis Rex? Only in Minnesota…a true Minnesota tradition!

The best movie theater is the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown because it features first run independent films and foreign films as well as unique decor highlighting the great natural features that Minnesota is famous for. Seating areas are built with the steepest incline that they were allowed to use, giving each seat an unobstructed view.

Its sister theater, the Uptown Theater is located right nearby lacks some of its decorative charm, but still features the same independent and foreign film choices AND has a full lounge with a full range of adult beverages.

For a live show, go to the Guthrie Theater. As Minneapolis’ premier facility for live theater, you will not be disappointed. If you are flexible, rush line tickets go on sale 15-30 minutes before the show and you can get in to see a first run play for $15-$35! Call the theater to see when they recommend coming to line up, as rush line tickets are quite popular.

If my city were a song, it’d be Minneapolis by Lucinda Williams because it perfectly captures the feeling of living through a Minnesota winter.

Don’t do a Twins Game because you will be missing out on the local culture and budget friendly experience of going to a St. Paul Saints Game instead.

Girls of All Ages

The best place to take girls under 10 is the American Girl Store at the Mall of America because American Girl Dolls are the hot thing right now for little girls.

However, teens girls love to go for a teen spa day at Sanctuary Salon Spa in Minneapolis.

Ladies 21 and up should go to Crave in Minneapolis for dinner, wine and cocktails and then wander down Hennepin Avenue for great nightlife and clubs because you deserve a night out with the girls!

And women really love a cruise up the Mississippi river on a paddle boat because of the beautiful scenery, and the opportunity to catch up with friends over dinner and drinks.

For a fun girls getaway, go to Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior (about 4 hours north of Minneapolis, great for a long weekend) and enjoy the best that Minnesota has to offer, no matter what season it is. Bluefin Bay is in an ideal location for hiking, cross country skiing and other recreational activities. They have campfires on the lake (complete with s’mores), a spa to melt away all of your tension and outdoor hot tub that is open year round for getting away from it all and gossiping with your BFF’s (for anyone who has never tried it, being in a hot tub in the winter is YUMMY!)

People

The best place to meet a guy is at the Fulton Tap Room. Guy central…beer, guy oriented decor…what more can you want?

The Best place to meet a woman is at Hipshaker night at the Kitty Cat Club (on the second Thursday of each month). This event brings out the ladies for an evening of flirty fun dancing. The crowd is a little more refined than your average meat market bar scene, making this a great place to find some fun loving ladies.

Lot’s of people from my city say “pop” instead of soda and eat a lot of hotdish. We are also fond of complaining for four months our of the year about how cold it is and the other four about how hot it is, yet we refuse to move (during the other four nice weather months in the year, aka spring and fall, we have to find something else to complain about).

You can spot a local by Sorel boots in the winter, or Mukluks made my Minnesota native Will Steger (for those unfamiliar, Will Steger has crossed Antarctica more times than I can count and is a tireless promoter of climate change awareness).

The famous person Louie Anderson (comedian) was born in my city. He stayed for a couple of weeks at a hotel that I was working at and he was a SUPER nice guy!

If my city were an animal it would be a Polar Bear OR celebrity it would be Prince.

Image by Atica Crooms

Get Pampered

If you want to get pampered go to the Sabai Body Temple in Uptown for the Temple Goddess Ritual body treatment. A nurturing treatment featuring a chai and rose petal brown sugar scrub, a full body rose and honey yogurt mask followed by a rose geranium deep tissue massage.

The best mani/pedi salon is the Aveda School in Minneapolis. With the prices fot treatments at the Aveda student clinic, you can afford to have a whole spa day for what you would pay for one treatment at a normal spa 🙂

For a cut and color go to one of the best stylists in the Twin Cities Metro area, Stephanie at the St. Louis Park Lifespa (10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis). She is the only person that I can recommend for hair, and I get nothing but compliments on every hair cut she gives me. Go see her.

Whenever I need a massage, I go to the Aveda School in Minneapolis (again, can’t beat the prices).

Weather

The best season to visit my city is Spring because the drab, dirty from snow from winter is gone and the locals will be ecstatic and super cheerful about finally being able to walk around without 5-10 layers of clothing. Seriously, spring in Minnesota is a beautiful thing!

When it’s hot out, I always go to the beach at Lake Calhoun because duh, its where everybody goes to hang out!

But on a rainy (or snowy) day grab your Roller Blades and head for the Roller Dome! The outer concourses of the Metrodome Stadium are turned into gigantic, half mile long tracks for roller bladers on various non event days throughout the year. Experts use the upstairs tracks, novices downstairs (and skate rentals are available), making this an ideal place for anyone to escape and get some exercise on an icky day.

Off the Tourist Trail

The best park is Como Park and is a great for taking the kids or having a relaxing picnic. Como park is HUGE and it has a zoo, a glass conservatory filled with tropical plants, a Japanese garden, a golf course (including mini golf), an amusement park AND a water park complete with slides and lazy river. I cheated a little bit on this one; Como Park is technically in nearby St. Paul, but it was too good not to list!

For a good walk/hike, go to East River Parkway because it is a beautiful trail along the Mississippi river through Minneapolis that runs past the University of Minnesota Campus and has beautiful views of downtown (Winner of City Pages “Best Place to Run” award in 2009).

If you want peace and quite, check out Cedar Lake. The northern most lake in Minneapolis’ famous chain of glacier created lakes, this one is less busy and urbanized than its more well known cousins. The atmosphere is quiet, as there are no roads directly surrounding the lake. Enjoy finding a secluded picnic spot or hiking on one of the unpaved walking trails that surround the lake if you are ready for a break from the big city. Another suggestion nearby for peace and quiet is the nearby Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, located in nearby Theodore Wirth Park.

To escape the crowds, I go to Northrup Mall on the University of Minnesota campus. Bordered on three sides by old buildings with iconic columns and a pleasant grassy space in the middle that is often the location for concerts and other events in the summer months, this is a great, off the beaten path place to escape the downtown crowds.

Just a few blocks north of Northrup Mall is Dinkytown, a little enclave of hip, trendy shops and budget friendly restaurants that is popular with the college crowd (for dining, try the Loring Pasta Bar for a great food in a unique atmosphere or Vescio’s for authentic, home cooked italian food since 1956.)

Locals always skip the Mall of America and do the Mill City Farmers Market instead. Replace a dose of commercialism for a healthy dose of arts, culture and local food!

Photos

The most iconic structure in my city is The Foshay Tower. Built by Wilbur Foshay in 1927 and modeled after the Washington Monument, it was the tallest building in the area for four decades, surpassed by the 57 story IDS tower in 1972 (it has a great observation deck for views of Downtown!).

The best photo opportunities are from the top floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, from the east side of the Mississippi River across from the Stone Arch Bridge and St. Anthony Falls, and nearby a photo of the iconic “Spoon and Cherry” statue in the Sculpture Garden . You can get the best vantage point along anywhere along Interstate 94 north of Minneapolis, looking south at the downtown skyline.

Be sure to get your picture taken with one of the Peanuts character statues located around the city in tribute to Twin Cities native and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz (if you miss seeing any of the others, you can get your picture taken with an aviator Snoopy in the MSP airport on your way out!)

Info

The best book about my city is “The Food Lovers Guide to the Twin Cities”

To get info on events and activities, read City Pages and Vita.mn (free, weekly publications available throughout the city).

The best radio station for cutting edge, local music is 89.3, the Current (listener supported, public radio).

My city should be featured on your “Local City Guides” because Minneapolis is not just about cold and snow. Minneapolis is full of beautiful scenery and we are the culture and food capitol of the Midwest! There are activities for a wide range of interested including nature lovers, foodies, adventure seeker, etc.

About Me

Shanna

The furthest place I’ve traveled was to Chiang Mai, Thailand. 13 hours from Minneapolis to Tokyo, 6 more hours from Tokyo to Bangkok and another hour long flight to Chiang Mai makes for one tired, jetlagged girl (it was completely worth it, Thailand was AWESOME!)

My favorite trip was to the South of France because of the warmth and sunshine, beautiful fields of lavender and sunflowers, lovely lilting French voices, abundant and wonderful French wine and amazing baguettes and pastries (really, what is there not to love about the south of France?).

My least favorite trip was to…hmmmm, being a travel addict, I can’t think of any place that I really didn’t like because I think that there is something good about just about every place on earth (eternal optimist, am I).

Antarctica is my dream trip because the scenery looks so different from any place that I have ever been, and because of the changing climate, I fear that the opportunity to go there may be slipping away. It is a very expensive place to travel that not many people get the chance to go to.

I always pack a corkscrew and polycarbonate wine glass, collapsible shopping bag, and a tide stain pen no matter where I travel (no drinking wine out of a paper cup for me!)

My favorite book is anything written by Rick Steves (he IS a God of Travel, right?) , my favorite movie is The Italian Job (the ORIGINAL, old version) and my favorite song is Bitch my Meridith Brooks. But my favorite album for a road trip is The Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces”.

If I had to give one piece of advice for women travelers it would be always be cautious no matter who you are traveling with or how big of a group you are in, but don’t be afraid. Caution and fear are two different things.

The most inspirational woman in my life is my Grandmother because she gave everything she had to her kids and grand kids, constantly sacrificing for their well being. I learned lessons from her about when to give and also about when it is better to pull back to take care of yourself.

My Twitter handle is @thereandbackmn and websites are There and Back Again Travel Blog and a Midwest Travel Companion.

Featured image by Atica Crooms.

Comments

  1. Thank you Shanna for writing this in-depth city guide! I love the details and will definitely use this on my next trip out there. Cheers to anything deep fried and with cheese on it!

  2. Cathy Sweeney says:

    Great list of things to do in Minneapolis. My daughter-in-law lives there and we’ve had lots of fun rollerblading around the downtown lakes, taking a segway tour, taking boat rides on Lake Minnetonka, and dancing at Gay 90’s until closing time. It’s a much underrated city, I think.

    • Shanna Schultz says:

      Really glad to hear that you had a good time! I have never done the segway tour thingie…maybe I will have to give it a go in my own city sometime…I might learn something new!

  3. I like what you said about your Grandma, seeing as I grew up next to you for the first half of my life. I understand, she would be so proud of you.

    • Shanna Schultz says:

      Thanks! Thanks for coming over to check out what I have been up to. Can’t wait to visit you in Colorado Springs sometime!

  4. Wow – such a complete guide! Makes me very curious about visiting Minneapolis!

  5. Jacqueline says:

    I live near Minneapolis! It’s fun to see a bunch of great pros to living in MN (that I take for granted for sure) but still a bunch of things I haven’t tried or visited. Thanks!

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