When I was 18 I couldn’t wait to get out of the Twin Cities. I wanted to move to a bigger city with more “culture” and never look back.
So I moved to Chicago for college, and only came home for holidays and sometimes in the summer. After college I moved to Europe, and my visits back home became less frequent, maybe once a year at most.
It’s taken me about 7 years to realize that it wasn’t Minneapolis or St. Paul that I wanted to escape; it was the white, Lutheran, suburban bubble that is my hometown I needed to break free of.
The Twin Cities had culture all along. I just didn’t appreciate it.
This past summer I decided it was time to go back home, and what I found is that the Twin Cities is not the same place that I left it. It’s evolved into a diverse, cultural and foodie mecca, and within 3 months of visiting I barely scratched the surface of it.
This Minneapolis travel guide is only part 1 of 2 to my guide to the Twin Cities (read part 2 of this series here!) Here is a complete compilation of the experiences that made me fall in love with my hometown all over again.
Downtown Minneapolis Attractions
1. Look over the city from the top of the Foshay Tower
The Foshay Tower is probably the most recognizable building across the Minneapolis skyline. However, many people don’t know of this secret Minneapolis attraction on the very top of the tower. The observation deck provides a 360-degree view of the Minneapolis area. There is also a small museum that explains the history of Wilbur F. Foshay, a millionaire who built the tower in 1927 but was later sent to prison for fraud.
Entry tickets cost $10 each, and you can buy them from the receptionist of the W hotel inside the building, anytime after noon. I would also recommend stopping and having a drink at Prohibition after your visit.
2. Grab a bite at the downtown food trucks
This area is filled with locals on their lunch break looking for a quick bite to eat. Alas, 7th street has transformed into a food-truck haven with anything from poke bowls, burritos, pho and vegan sandwiches.
Pictured above is my favorite food truck find from Bibuta: a sushi burrito. I know this has kind of become an Instagram sensation over the past few years, but seriously, this burrito is the real deal. It’s also completely gluten free!
3. Discover the urban art scene
I love nothing more than seeing downtown Minneapolis turn into a vibrant canvas. The Bob Dylan mural above (yes, he is from Minnesota) gave way to other murals scattered throughout the area that truly bring life to the downtown area.
4. See a rooftop drag show at Union rooftop
Minneapolis- St. Paul is among the most LGBT-friendly cities in the countries. You of course can visit the legendary Gay 90’s Bar or see a drag show at the city’s most popular rooftop. The drag shows at Union range from Beyoncé to Disney Princess, most often over mimosas and brunch.
The shows usually sell out ahead of time, so you can check the schedule here. Otherwise, you can skip the drag show and visit Union rooftop for a drink.
5. See a show at the legendary First Ave
(Photo via Wikimedia Creative Commons)
First Ave will forever be my favorite music venue in the whole world. While this smaller venue is still true to its grunge roots, big names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Idol, Modest Mouse, Outcast, and more. Oh yeah, and this was also Prince’s hangout.
Some of my favorite shows here were Foster the People, Alt-J, Rilo Kiley, and Girl Talk.
6. Sip fair-trade coffee at Fairgrounds
Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea is quickly becoming one of the most popular coffee shops downtown. It’s equally known for its selection of fair trade coffee, as well as its rustic décor (yes, those are wooden swings!)
I recommend trying the Power Flower Milk Tea and the breakfast tacos.
7. Eat your heart out at Pizza Luce
Pizza Luce is not unique to the downtown area or even Minneapolis for that matter. The edgy pizza chain has locations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, and even all the way up in Duluth, Minnesota. They have just about every type of pizza you can imagine here, including gluten free and vegan!
The Pizza Luce in Downtown Minneapolis is conveniently located in the center of all the attractions above.
Attractions in Dinkytown and St. Anthony Main
8. Learn to Salsa at Loring Bar
The Loring Bar is probably one of the last places keeping the soul of Dinkytown alive. The funky bars and cafes surrounding the University of Minnesota campus have been gentrified by high-rise apartment buildings, but I digress.
Loring Pasta Bar is a 3-leveled restaurant and brunch hotspot that converts into a salsa club on Fridays and Saturdays. The rustic warehouse interior is draped with foliage for a slightly tropical feel in the dead of the winter.
9. Try a mac n’ cheese slice of pizza
I don’t think I’ve ever been to this place sober, but I’m sure Mesa pizza is still good when the sun is still out. This legendary pizza joint is filled with unique combinations, like Mac and cheese pizza and buffalo chicken.
They also have a location in downtown Minneapolis.
10. Walk (or bike) across the Stone Arch Bridge
Did you even come to the Twin Cities if you didn’t visit the Stone Arch Bridge? This legendary Minneapolis attraction is what connects the East and West bank across the Mississippi River and provides one of the best views of the Minneapolis skyline.
If you visit Minneapolis in anytime between April-November, I recommend renting biking along this bridge and the surrounding trails. Minneapolis is actually one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., so you really should try to go for a ride at least once!
11. See a movie and take a stroll along St. Anthony Main
Just across the 35W bridge is the quaint St. Anthony Main area. Unlike downtown Minneapolis, this riverside street is covered in cobblestones and spotted with little cafes and bars. And of course, you can’t forget the St. Anthony Main movie theatre.
I recommend going for a drink and some live music at Aster Café, and then seeing a film at boutique cinema on St. Anthony Main.
12. Visit the Guthrie theatre and the “yellow room”
We’re not just known for cold weather, biking, and our Minnesota-nice attitude; the Twin Cities are also known for its theatre and arts. There are several theaters throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the Guthrie happens to be my favorite. I recommend seeing what shows are in town when visiting.
Otherwise, you can visit the “yellow room” atop the theatre that overlooks the river and surrounding Gold Medal Park area. Entrance is also completely free! Just ask the front desk how you get up, as you have to take two separate elevators.
Attractions in Northeast Minneapolis
13. Go for a boozy Ferris wheel ride
NE Minneapolis is definitely the hip part of the city these days. Probably the most popular attraction in Northeast is the Ferris wheel inside Betty Dangers Country Club, an eclectic bar that makes God-awful floral wallpaper somehow look chic.
Not only do they have a Ferris wheel where you can drink while overlooking the city, they also have mini golf. It’s a great place to take the kids during the day, or a fun night out with friends in the evening.
14. Eat at the hippest restaurant, Hai Hai
NE is filled with great restaurants and a few too many breweries, but perhaps my favorite worthy of mentioning is Hai Hai. It may be a new addition to the neighborhood, but the Balinese-Vietnamese fusion restaurant is already nationally known.
Hai Hai was featured in Eater’s top 18 New Restaurants, as well as Esquire’s Top 20 Restaurants of the Year. Needless to say, the food and the atmosphere is worth the hype.
I highly recommend coming for brunch and trying the Fried Potato Hash and the “Good-morning Vietnam”. For dinner, try the Balinese Cauliflower and the turmeric and dill fish.
Uptown Minneapolis attractions
15. Explore Walker Art Museum and gardens
A visit to Walker Art Museum is also a must to get a complete taste of the art scene. The Walker is an internationally recognized contemporary art museum that “presents art in all forms”, according to its website. The art is meant to explore cultural identity or critique social constructs.
If you visit in the summer, you can also play mini golf atop the Museum, free with your art museum ticket-price entrance.
The Walker Gardens are equally as impressive with probably the most recognizable public landmark in town: the spoon and cherry. There are several other art installations, like mirrors, unique swings, and rose gardens. Entrance is free unless there is an event going on, and it is open year-round.
16. Have a drink at Volstead Emporium
Walk down the alley, knock on the unmarked metal door, and step back in time to the prohibition era. Volstead Emporium is an upscale secret bar with killer cocktails. The basement club is decorated with vintage floral wallpaper and antique mirrors that double as doors for servers with dedicate drinks.
There is also a stage where there are live performances. It seriously looks like a Jazz club out of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel!
Attractions in Mid-Town Minneapolis
17. Try Venezuelan cuisine at Hola Arepa
I’m not sure what took me so long to visit, but Hola Arepa is easily one of my favorite restaurants in all of the Twin Cities. Tucked away in the Lyndale area of town, this Venezuelan restaurant offers a selection of arepas, yucca fries, tacos, and spicy mescal cocktails.
The vibrant, Latin décor makes it feel like something straight out of Caracas.
18. Eat around the world at the Mid-Town Global Market
Without a doubt, the Mid-town global market is the best place to get a taste of the diversity of the Twin Cities. The culinary and cultural market hosts dozens of international food vendors, such as Moroccan, Mexican, Ethiopian, and Italian. There’s also several small shops and often live music events.
The market allows you to get a slice of all of the communities that make up the diverse mosaic that is the Twin Cities.
19. Explore Minnehaha Falls
You may think that you have to get out of town to get lost in Minnesota’s vast natural wonders. However, you may be surprised to find that one of the most popular waterfalls in Minnesota is actually located within the city.
The Minnehaha Falls are located within the Minnehaha City Park, along the banks of the Mississippi river in Southern Minneapolis. In the summer the falls offer a fresh breeze from the hot Minnesota summers, while in the winter the falls freeze over and look like something out of Narnia.
I would recommend biking around this area and having a picnic here in the summer.
19. Step back into the 1950s at Hi-Lo Diner
This 1950s-style diner is Minneapolis’ version of Pop’s from Riverdale. The Hi-Lo Diner is a modern take on typical greasy diner food, like donut sandwiches, avocado benedict, and creative cocktails.
It’s near the airport, so it’s an ideal stop on your way in or out of town.