We’ve lived in the Midwest, and we know that major cities like Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis get all the attention. But the thing we discovered on our recent visit to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area is that it’s the underrated, sleeper Midwest hit that’s waiting to be discovered. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are referred to as the Twin Cities, but locals know they’re less like Mary Kate and Ashley and more like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. The cities offer distinctly different vibes — Minneapolis is the ultra-hip, cosmopolitan twin, while Saint Paul is the charmingly historic, elegant twin. But don’t let the sibling rivalry fool you. As the saying goes: “The best thing about Minneapolis is Saint Paul, and the best thing about Saint Paul is Minneapolis.” In short, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Where to stay
If you’re planning a visit to the Twin Cities, the city of Roseville is perfectly positioned between the two to be the ideal jumping off point for your adventures. Roseville is a mere 10 minutes from both downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. It boasts 30 parks of its own and a bustling shopping scene. With one of the lowest lodging tax rates in the metro area and free parking at all hotels, it’s the smartest choice for accommodations.
We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Roseville, where our room was bigger than most New York City apartments. We grabbed avocado toast and our favorite Starbucks drink at the Courtyard Bistro, then hopped on the highway to explore for the day.
[Courtyard by Marriott Roseville]
What to See
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at Walker Art Center
We’re big proponents of art in public spaces, and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a stellar representation of it. The garden reopened in 2017 with some changes: more green space, additional sculptures and improved sustainability. What didn’t change: it’s still free to everyone, 365 days a year. Stroll around the park and enjoy works from artists around the world, or just lay out a blanket and enjoy the view.
[Minneapolis Scultpture Garden]
Stars, Snakes and The Woolly Mammoth at the Bell Museum
The Bell Museum may be Minnesota’s official Natural History Museum, but its offerings are world-class. Its digital planetarium features a “seamless” dome, the very first of its kind. And its natural history dioramas–which depict every corner of the state–are some of the best in the country. There’s also a Touch & See Lab, where hands-on learning means you can pet real-life snakes (if you dare)!
[The Bell Museum]
Fun fact: The fur on the Woolly Mammoth is sourced by the same company that sourced the fur for the Chewbacca costume!
The Mushroom Grow Chamber at Keg & Case Market
Forest to Fork is the first retail venture for Mike Kempenich, also known as the Gentleman Forager. At his space in Keg & Case Market, you’ll see a 14-foot-high glass wall with state-of-the-art LED lighting, humidity controls, and a ton of mushrooms growing through the glass. You can’t enter the space, but you can buy the mushrooms (and more). Keg & Case brings together a number of cool vendors: Clutch Brewing occupies the top floor, while buzzy vendors like Sweet Science Ice Cream and Spinning Wylde Cotton Candy can be found at ground level.
[Keg & Case Market]
Pro Tip: If you choose to imbibe at Clutch Brewery, please note that the beer cannot leave the upper level. Plan accordingly!
Some other fun things to see:
Mall of America. It’s impossible not to think of the Mall of America when you think of the Twin Cities: it’s the largest mall in the country and the 12th largest in the world. But shopping isn’t the only thing to do here, there’s the Nickelodeon Universe, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium and lots of other interesting displays, events and activities throughout the year.
[Mall of America]
Local street art. The stunning mural of Minnesota son Bob Dylan by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra is just one of the many street art treasures in downtown Minneapolis. Keep your eyes open and you’ll discover some amazing talent.
What to Do
Take a river cruise with Padelford Riverboats
It’s a little known fact that Saint Paul isn’t just the capital of Minnesota, it’s also the capital of the Mississippi River, with more riverfront miles than any other city. Padelford Riverboats operates a fleet that includes two authentic steamboats (which now run hydraulically) and a party barge powered by a separate towboat. A riverboat tour offers views of Saint Paul while an audio tour highlights its landmarks. We were fortunate to visit while fall foliage was at its peak, and the views were absolutely stunning!
Eat, drink and putt at Can Can Wonderland
Can Can Wonderland is named in homage to the space it occupies, which used to be the home of the American Can Company. But the former warehouse has been completely revamped and now brings gourmet food and drinks, mini-golf, arcade games and live entertainment together. The space features work from local artists throughout, but it doesn’t stop there: Can Can Wonderland is also an arts-based public benefit corporation. It’s the fun spot you’d take your cool cousin to when she’s visiting from out of town.
[Can Can Wonderland]
Discover local artisans at Rose & Loon
Rose & Loon has a secret weapon: a maker whisperer. Jerrod Scott travels all over the Midwest to unearth true homegrown artisans, and then he gives them a voice at Rose & Loon. You can find anything from essential oils to pom pom beanies here. But each item has a person, and more importantly, a story attached to it. Artisans and goods rotate regularly, so you get to discover something new each time you pop by. We fell in love with the reclaimed wood art by Bailey Builds, but we wouldn’t say no to taking the entire store home with us.
[Rose & Loon]
Some other fun things to do:
Take in a Minnesota Wild game. Many cities love their sports, but the love for hockey goes to a whole new level here. There are themed nights that make it fun for the whole family too.
Explore the flourishing craft beer scene. Bent Brewstillery (a hybrid brewery and distillery!) offers tours that will take your tastebuds around the world, and Summit Brewing Co. has a Ratskeller (a much cooler version of a taproom!) you’ll want to spend hours in.
[Bent Brewstillery] [Summit Brewing Co.]
See the longest stretch of Victorian houses in the country. Summit Avenue is part of two National Historic Districts and the gorgeous structures here are guaranteed to give you major house envy.
Where to Eat
The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen
The Copper Hen is located on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, which is affectionately referred to as “Eat Street”. And oh boy, it certainly lives up to its name! The Copper Hen mixes market-to-table fare with a cool, artsy, farmhouse vibe. But more importantly, the food is a fun remix of classics you’ll happily devour. We enjoyed the Farmer’s Brunch, which mixes the sweet and savory masterfully (save the bread pudding french toast for last, trust us on this) as well as the Woke Up Crabby Toast, which combines a crab cake with avocado toast (need we say more?). And don’t sleep on the cupcakes!
[Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen]
Forepaugh’s is a local legend, partly because it offers award-winning food and service, but also because it’s, um, haunted. Yes, you read that right. There’s a lot of local lore behind its former owners and the maid who hung herself here, but make no mistake: multiple teams of paranormal experts have proven there’s more than one “permanent resident”. You would think eating at a haunted Victorian mansion would only attract people who celebrate Halloween year-round, but you’ll find local businessman and families dining here regularly. The history is celebrated, and the delicious food even more so. The Beef Wellington is a signature dish you should definitely try.
Grand Catch Seafood
Grand Catch Seafood brings together two popular restaurateurs from the Twin Cities: Sameh and Saed Wadi of World Street Kitchen and Milkjam Creamery, and Thien Ly of Cajun Deli. The highlight of the menu is the Seafood Boil, where you pick your seafood, pick your topping (obvious choice: Awesome Sauce!), and pick your heat level. If someone in your party isn’t a fan of seafood, unfriend them immediately. Just kidding, there’s a killer chicken sandwich here too! Otherwise, put on your bib and gloves and follow the instructions on the wall: Get Crackin’.
Hi-Lo Diner opened in 2016, but its bones date back to 1957. The original diner was manufactured in New Jersey by the Fodero Dining Car Company and lived a full life as Venus Diner just outside of Pittsburgh for almost 60 years. It received a full facelift and is just starting its second act as the Hi-Lo Diner in Minneapolis. Very few original diners remain, and stepping into Hi-Lo Diner is like stepping into a piece of American history. It’s breakfast all day here, and you can find your diner staples like omelets and pancakes. But Hi-Tops are what they’re famous for, which are essentially donuts on steroids. The Gary Cooper features fried pastry dough topped with buttermilk fried chicken doused in gravy and maple-bourbon syrup. We were skeptical, but the server said, “It somehow all works together.” She was right.
Some other fun places to eat:
La Casita Mexican Grill & Cantina. La Casita isn’t a restaurant, it’s an experience. From the salsa bar to $5 margaritas the size of your head, this place needs to be seen to be believed!
[La Casita Mexican Grill & Cantina]
Chianti Grill. Italian cuisine is comfort food at its best, and the breads and pastas at Chianti Grill will feel like a warm hug. Warning: the dessert portions here will feed a normal human being for three days. (Just one day for us.)
So if you haven’t been to the Twin Cities, or it’s been a while since you last paid Minneapolis-Saint Paul a visit, it’s time to put it back on your list of vacation destinations. Is it way more interesting and is there way more to do than you thought? As the locals say: you betcha!
If you’re considering a trip to Roseville and the Twin Cities, the Roseville Visitor Association is a wonderful resource. Thank you to the Roseville Visitor Association for partnering on this post.
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