Harsh Minnesota winters call for some quality indoor entertainment, and the Twin Cities provide just that with a bustling music and theater scene, one of the largest malls in the world, and world-renowned galleries and museums. As the snow clears, locals venture out of hibernation to savor those beautiful summer days by taking a walk around Lake Calhoun, catching live music at a summer festival and grabbing a Minnesota State Fair corn dog.
The Twin Cities music scene is sizzling, and many music festivals are held here during the summertime. The most famous musical son of the area is singer/songwriter Prince, who gained fame with Purple Rain in the 1980s. Perhaps the best music venue for a close-up show is First Avenue, a former bus station. The Fine Line Music Café, Northrup Auditorium, Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and the State Theater all book solid national acts in rock, country, blues, jazz and classical music. Major arena shows tend to make their way to the Target Center or the Metrodome in Minneapolis. For a little hip shaking, The Quest is the biggest and probably best dance club in town. Other hot dance spots include South Beach for a splash of class, Lyon's Pub for rock favorites, and Margarita Bella for some sassy Latin tunes. Jazz and blues fans hit the Artist's Quarter, The Times or the Dakota. Head to, O'Gara's or the Turf Club to check out up-and-coming local rock acts.
Numerous national and local theater companies play to Twin Cities audiences year-round. The hub of the action is in the theater district on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis; Broadway's second home is the Minne-Apple, as Minneapolis has sometimes been known. The Historic State Theater hosts Broadway productions and other national acts. Orchestra Hall is home to the Minnesota Orchestra. The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown St. Paul is home to the Minnesota Opera. Children can enjoy an old favorite or an original production at The Children's Theater. The Historic Orpheum and many others will fill out your dance card.
Museums & Galleries
Art is everywhere in the Twin Cities from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to contemporary art at The Walker Art Center, to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, with its highly regarded Asian collection. Don't miss the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, a stainless steel and brick masterpiece in itself. The Minnesota Museum of American Art in downtown St. Paul is a must-see for art connoisseurs. Private galleries permeate the cultural climate, and there are at least three art crawls in the area each summer (a festival showcasing local artists, usually involving walks from gallery to gallery in one area). The Science Museum of Minnesota and The Minnesota Children's Museum offer educational and fun interactive experiences. There are also many outdoor opportunities for historical and educational outings, including the Minnesota History Center, Murphy's Landing, and Fort Snelling. Be sure to spot the many Snoopy figures lingering around St. Paul in honor of St. Paul native Charles Schultz, who wrote and drew the Peanuts comic strip for 50 years. Each Snoopy was decorated by a local artist and sponsored by a local business.
For sporty individuals, the Twin Cities offers every opportunity to catch a pro game or to get into the action themselves. The Twin Cities Marathon, know as the "Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in the Country," has an impressive turnout every year. In addition to the miles of lakeshore paths around Minneapolis and St. Paul, many old railroad beds have been turned into beautiful pathways for biking, running and skating.
The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, located in downtown Minneapolis, is home to the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins. The Target Center, also in downtown Minneapolis, hosts the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves and the WNBA Minnesota Lynx. Downtown St. Paul welcomed the NHL expansion team the Minnesota Wild to the Xcel Energy Center in 2000. If golf is your game, you should have no problem booking a tee time at one of the hundreds of golf courses throughout the Twin Cities and its surrounding suburbs. Shoot for a birdie at a tough 18-hole course, a breezy nine-hole par 3, or at the nearest putt-putt spot. For a real challenge, try out the Edinburgh USA Golf Course, a past host of the U.S. Open.
Zoos & Amusement Parks
The area boasts two zoos: the Minnesota Zoo, with its monorail and natural habitats, and Como Zoo, one of the few remaining free zoos in the country. If that's too sedate, try Valleyfair Amusement Park, where you can fill your day with elevator drops, flips, twists and splashes. When the chill starts to set in, stop by Park at Mall of America, the country's largest indoor amusement park.
There are many beautiful lakes in both cities. St. Paul offers Como, Phalen and Keller. Minneapolis boasts Calhoun, Harriet, Cedar, Lake of the Isles, and Nokomis. When the founding fathers were laying out city plans, they had the good sense to designate plenty of land around the lakes for the public to enjoy. Many of the lakes offer equipment rental, from the paddle-boats on Como Lake to the canoes at Lake Calhoun and Lake Phalen. They also offer fishing and boating. Lake Minnetonka is one of the area's largest, and offers several opportunities for lake cruises and watercraft rentals.
Snow and below freezing temperatures don't stop ambitious locals from having fun. Many golf courses are turned into cross-country ski trails, and even snow shoeing is offered at several nature preserves. The parks are full of children sledding, playing hockey and ice skating on the rinks erected each winter. If it's skiing you love, head to Buck Hill Ski Area or Hyland Hills Ski Area. There are numerous locations throughout the metro area where you can go snow tubing as well.
Shopping enthusiasts from around the world make a trip to the Twin Cities for one reason only - the Mall of America. Beware of sensory overload in the four-level structure filled with hundreds of specialty shops, brand-name boutiques, and massive department stores. Downtown Minneapolis boasts the IDS Crystal Court, Gaviidae Commons, Marshall Field's,, Neiman Marcus and more big name shopping meccas. The Southdale in Edina is also great shopping spot, and if you like used and vintage clothes, wander around Uptown's many stores. If heading into St. Paul, take a stroll down Grand Avenue for block after block of unique shopping opportunities.
Whether you want to be close to the airport, downtown, or near a relative's house, you are sure to be able to find a suitable place to stay. The Twin Cities is packed with over 300 hotels, motels and inns to accommodate every taste and budget range. Most hotels are situated in well-traveled areas, ringed around the interstate loop that circles both cities, in the downtown areas, or near the airport. You shouldn't have much trouble finding a nice place to stay nearby if you are in town visiting friends or family.
Downtown Minneapolis West & East
If it's downtown that attracts you, the choices are many and you are not likely to have trouble finding a room. The spots near the event venues are likely to be booked first. Many hotels near the Minneapolis Convention Center on the south end of downtown link directly to the event center. Through this portal, visitors can gain skyway access to the rest of downtown. Many of the hotels on that end of downtown also offer elegant dining in first rate restaurants, such as Manny's Steakhouse in the Hyatt Regency, so you do not have to roam far, especially during the cold winter months! The Grand Hotel Minneapolis is a AAA four diamond hotel and offers a luxurious stay. Another top hotel is the Graves 601 Hotel with great services. Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis has a great location. For reasonable rates in the area look no further than Best Western Normandy Inn.
The University of Minnesota encompasses a vast area, straddling the city limits and the Mississippi River. The Minneapolis campus is the largest section, covering parts of both sides of the river, known as the West Bank and Main. In this part of town, and especially along University Avenue, you will find many accommodations, most of them easy on the wallet. The Days Inn University offers 131 rooms.
Bloomington, Edina, Richfield & St. Louis Park: Airport/Mall of America
You will find no dearth of rooms in the area along 494, known as the Bloomington Strip. From I-35E to Highway 55 on the West end, these hotels cater to travelers, business people, and tourists. The Minneapolis/St.Paul International Airport and the Mall of America are nearly across the highway from one another, and most hotels in the area offer shuttle services to either one. On occasion, if you purchase an airline ticket with an early morning departure, you will have the option to stay at one of these nearby hotels, spend the evening at the Mall and take a complimentary shuttle to the airport in the morning. Several of the hotels along the Strip are residence types, such as Amerisuites Minneapolis/Mall of America. For an upscale option near the airport or Mall of America, try the Hilton Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, where each room is wired for Internet access. Hotel Sofitel, a little further down the strip, is the place for international travelers—the staff speaks 20 different languages.
Downtown St. Paul
Downtown St. Paul offers a lot of attractions as well as a lot of accomediations. The oldest hotel in St. Paul is the Saint Paul Hotel and still offers a great stay. Embassy Suites, a local favorite, that offers a restaurant and complimentary drinks in the atrium each evening. Many other hotels dot this area around the capital and various government buildings. These include the Best Western Kelly Inn.
The landscape of the Twin Cities, with its many lakes and high river bluffs, is dramatic and stunning. As the glaciers that once covered the area here pulled back at the end of the last Ice Age, they dredged out the land and left huge geological landmarks. In certain places the evidence is still visible, with the most obvious example being more than 25 lakes in the seven-county metro area.
The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, had quite different beginnings. Minneapolis and St. Paul sit astride two rivers, the Mississippi, which begins in northern Minnesota, and the Minnesota River, which flows south of the metro area. The downtowns are located just 13 miles (21 kilometers) apart, each situated on the banks of the Mississippi.
The first modern people to live here were the Dakota, and their story is still an integral part of the region. The area was a special place for these Native Americans, and their ceremonies are still enacted for special occasions. The waters of Lake Minnetonka, St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Creek, Minnehaha Falls, and the bluffs over the Mississippi are just some of the spots that they hold sacred. Visitors can still view burial mounds overlooking the river at Mounds Park in St. Paul.
Perhaps the first white man to discover the enchantment of the area was Father Louis Hennepin, a French missionary. In 1680, he came upon St. Anthony Falls, the only falls on the entire length of the Mississippi River. The county of Hennepin (which includes Minneapolis), Hennepin Avenue, which is a major downtown artery, and many other local spots are namesakes of this early explorer.
After the Louisiana Purchase, what would become the Twin Cities area fell under the jurisdiction of the United States Army. In 1819 the Army decided to build Fort Snelling at the intersection of the Mississippi and the Minnesota. The new garrison was intended to protect the area, which was fast filling up with settlers, and its location on the banks of the rivers would also facilitate trade with French trappers and local Native Americans.
In 1820, soldiers at Fort Snelling constructed a sawmill and flour mill at the site of St. Anthony Falls. By the 1840s, there were two distinct villages in the area of the falls, St. Anthony on the East bank of the river, and the village of Minneapolis on the West bank. Minneapolis created a city charter in 1867 and five years later the two villages were combined to form one city, connected by a suspension bridge. That first early flour mill would eventually lead to a huge industry in the area, with Pillsbury, General Mills, and Cargill all starting in Minneapolis. The supply of grain necessary for this industry was plentiful because the area had attracted many immigrant farmers, mostly Germans and Scandinavians who settled here because it reminded them of their rugged homeland.
St. Paul was almost chartered as Pig's Eye, after an early settler who prospered in the area. Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant was a retired trapper from Manitoba who came down to live near Fort Snelling, the only vestige of civilization on the northern frontier. The Indian Agent at the Fort didn't want this man and his bunch of squatters in the shadow of the Fort, so the group moved first to an area known as Fountain Cave, and then to the north side of the river, which is now the area of downtown St. Paul. Pig's Eye was a moonshiner and a colorful figure who supplied whiskey to the Native Americans and the soldiers at the Fort. As such, he was pretty popular, and the area around his little squatters' camp became known as Pig's Eye. He was the first businessman in the area, however dubious his business was. Pig's Eye lived in the area from 1832 to 1843, when he left to go back to Sault St. Marie.
Father Lucien Galtier is credited with saving the city from the fate of being named Pig's Eye. He was a missionary who promoted the name St. Paul, after his favorite patron saint. In 1841, the name was officially changed to St. Paul. Minnesota was named a territory in 1849, and St. Paul was designated the capitol. It was incorporated as a city in 1854, when the official city seal was created.
The Twin Cities were separated by just a few miles of river, but St. Paul was the furthest point north on the Mississippi that big river cargo boats could navigate. This is one reason that the two cities stayed distinct. Today, there are three locks that enable travel up the river to Minneapolis, but the trip is still time-consuming for such a short distance.
The Famous Sioux uprising of 1862 (the Dakota were known by the French as Sioux, which was not a very complimentary name) sealed the fate of the Dakota. When the U.S. Army failed to provide foodstuff to the Native Americans, as they were bound to do by the treaty which granted the land to the Army, the Dakota went on a vindictive spree. The Chief, Little Crow, was unable to stop his hungry warriors from taking what they wanted from the settlers, killing many of the settlers in the process. Colonel Henry T. Sibley, commander of the Fort and later the first governor of Minnesota, rounded up 2000 Dakota and put them on trial. They were sentenced to death. Most of the sentences were commuted by President Lincoln, but in December of 1862, 38 Dakota were hanged at a public gallows in Hastings, Minnesota. This violent and divisive event scattered the Dakota, destroying their community and cohesiveness. Today there are only about 2000 left in the tribe, which owns Mystic Lake Casino. The remaining members enjoy prosperity and security from their gaming industry.
The area enjoyed peace and growing prosperity for the white settlers in the years to follow. They plowed up the prairie and tamed the grasses that had grown up to six feet tall. The towns of Minneapolis and St. Paul continued to thrive, and in their growth, came ever closer to one another. The vision of James J. Hill, who built the Great Northern railroad from the Twin Cities to Winnipeg in Canada, as well as the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis and his great mansion in St. Paul, helped move the area ahead of the times.
During the 1920s a new era played out in St. Paul. The Roaring Twenties was the era of gangsters, and many of them fled from Chicago northward to the Twin Cities area to escape the law. The lawmakers in St. Paul decided the criminals could stay, but only if they did not break any further laws. Clemency evidently lost its allure after some time, because the gangsters became active in the area and corruption of public officials followed. The old federal courthouse, now called The Landmark Center, was home to several of the gangsters for short periods of time.
Hubert H. Humphrey, for whom the Metrodome is named, rose to political prominence as he fought the corruption that had started with the gangsters. He was first Minneapolis City Attorney, then mayor of Minneapolis, then a Senator, and finally became Vice President under President Johnson. Another Minnesotan, Walter Mondale, rose to the second-highest office in the land under President Jimmy Carter. Of course, the most famous politicians in Minnesota today is the former governor Jesse Ventura and the current state senator Al Franken.