World Oyster in Minneapolis compiles several trips I’ve taken to the upper Midwest city. Minneapolis is a mix of gritty and modern, leafy and stark, urban and suburban.
Most iconic thing to do: Visit the Mall of America
Distinctive feature: The Skyway
Best restaurants for foodies: Alma and The Bachelor Farmer
Most surprising: The thriving arts scene
Most disappointing: Constant road construction
Although less obvious a Midwestern destination than Chicago, it rivals that much larger city in many ways. Whether you are a supporter of the arts, nature lover, or sports fanatic, you’ll likely find a lot to do.
Neighborhoods and Layout
Most people visiting Minneapolis will stay in the downtown area amid high rises connected by the glass-walled Skyway so that you can walk from one to the other without going outside. Its twin city, St. Paul, lies to the east (and slightly south.) The Mississippi Rivers meanders through both cities. Unfortunately, constant road construction often makes it difficult to drive or even walk in some areas.
Areas of interest include Nicollet Mall, a street where you can find restaurants and stores. The Theater District is one or two blocks over, on Hennepin Ave. The Warehouse District, a.k.a. the North Loop, has shops, theaters, and restaurants in older, converted factory buildings. Look for the famous Bob Dylan Mural painted by Eduardo Kobra. Dinkytown, on the eastern side of the Mississippi, is the home of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
During my most recent visit, I stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Other downtown options include the Grand Hotel Minneapolis (Hyatt), the Radission Blu, the Hilton, and the Crowne Plaza.
The Mall of America
When someone says, “Minneapolis,” most people think of either Mary Tyler Moore or The Mall of America. For better or worse, the mall has become an iconic stop for all who visit the city. It’s located near the airport, making it a great first stop if you arrive too early to check into your hotel.
Unbeknownst to most outside Minnesota, the mall is located not in Minneapolis proper but rather in Bloomington. Its fame derives from its central amusement park, with its roller coasters, kiddie rides, and other attractions, in addition to its wide range of stores. Worth visiting beyond the stores and amusement park: Flyover America for its immersive, thrilling tour of the U.S. from the air and CMX Market Cinema Experience for its assigned recliner seats, gourmet popcorn lab, pizza station, and full bar. Kids will beg to visit the Lego store and the enormous Lego display outside of it.
If you’re hungry, don’t worry! FireLake Grill House, inside the Radission Blu, offers sit-down service and menu items from flatbreads to salads to Alaskan Wild Salmon to bacon-wrapped quail legs. They have their own apiary on top of the mall where they harvest their honey. Burger Burger not only offers burgers and fries but also Impossible Burgers in five different styles for vegans; the spiked shakes and full bar surprise at this “fast casual” restaurant. If you have kids in tow, try the Rainforest Café. For snacks, you can find edible cookie dough, French macarons, chocolates, and espresso/cappucino. You’ll find the likely mall suspects as well as chains such as Bubba Gump. This blog doesn’t have enough room to list all the food possibilities.
World Oyster in Minneapolis must feature the arts in the city since they are some of the best in the Midwest. The city’s active arts community thrives throughout the year.
Productions at the Guthrie Theater, one of the premier regional theaters in the United States, include everything from musicals to experimental plays. A tour of the building includes the Amber Box and the cantilevered Endless Bridge. Even if you don’t see a play, you’ll get spectacular views of the Mississippi River.
The world-class Walker Arts Center houses contemporary art with changing exhibits. The museum embraces multimedia pieces such as film of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and work by composer John Cage. You’ll find well-known contemporary artists such as Rauschenburg, Frankenthaler, Hopper, Warhol, and Calder among lesser-known but nonetheless compelling artists.
Nearby, don’t miss the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and its famous Spoonbridge and Cherry by Oldenburg and van Bruggen.
If more traditional or cultural art is your style, visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The collection ranges from Asian art to the decorative arts to European art to photography and more.
The live music scene is equally vibrant. Whether you like rock, jazz, or classical, you can find it in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra, located on Nicollet Mall, performs from mid-September through the first week of August, with more popular music played in the warmer months. Huge pop and rock stars appear in concert at the Target Center.
If you are a Prince fan, you shouldn’t miss a tour of Paisley Park where the Artist Formally Known As . . . lived and recorded/produced his hits.
World Oyster in Minneapolis would be remiss to discuss the city without including its sports. The Minnesota Twins (MLB) play in Target Field. The Timberwolves (NBA) and the Lynx (WNBA) play in Target Center. The Minnesota Wild (NHL) play across the river in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. And the Vikings (NFL) kick off at the U.S. Bank Stadium. Most of these venues are located in downtown, close to a variety of hotels. With the exception of the Vikings’, most sports tickets are easier to acquire than they are in larger cities.
Mill City Museum
You’ll see the competing flour company signs on opposite sides of the Mississippi: Pillsbury on the east bank and Gold Medal on the west. Although these buildings are no longer in use for the actual milling of flour, they harken to Minneapolis’ past. The Gold Medal Building houses the Mill City Museum, a fascinating look at the city’s industrial history, including the Washburn A Mill Flour Explosion. The rooftop observation deck offers a fantastic view of the river and the falls. Works by local artists adorn the walls throughout.
Nature and the Outdoors
The residents of Minnepolis and Minnesota more generally love the outdoors. The Land of 10,000 Lakes provides numerous opportunities for cycling, boating, walking, and, in the winter, skating. Parks within the borders of the Twin Cities include Minnehaha Park, Powderhorn Park, Lake Harriet, and Loring Park.
The Majorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul’s Como Park is well worth the visit for plant and flower lovers. It houses indoor and as well as outdoor gardens. The adjacent Como Park Zoo entertains children and adults alike. The park itself is great for picnics, cycling, or just walking around. Parking can be a challenge on busy days — we had to park along the road and walk a distance to the botanical gardens.
Outside of the City: Lake Towns
Excelsior, a quaint town located on Lake Minnetonka, is only a 25 minute drive from downtown Minneapolis. The town has many cute stores and restaurants. Be forewarned, though: These businesses can be closed on holidays.
From Excelsior, you can book a steamboat cruise on Lake Minnetonka to Wayzata. If you end up in Wayzata, make sure to eat at 6Smith, a fabulous casual restaurant. In addition to their regular menus, they have menus for vegans and kids. They have a full bar and an excellent wine list.
Places to Eat in Minneapolis
Probably the best restaurant I’ve tried is Alma, located near the University of MN, but the Warehouse District’s The Bachelor Farmer runs close behind. Both feature seasonal ingredients and innovative dishes. Service is uniformly excellent, and dress is business casual. For a fun bar experience before or after dinner at The Bachelor Farmer, try the speakeasy style Marvel Bar. Walk around the back of the brick building and down the stairs. The bar has no signage, but once you step through the door, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
I also love Barrio, a Latin American tapas restaurant and bar. Due to its small size, you will want to make reservations for dinner. The Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant serves traditional food in a white tablecloth inn setting. If you like quirky cuisine, try Hell’s Kitchen. We love our breakfasts at the Henhouse Eatery, although they serve all days and have a full bar. The bakery is awesome — try their gooey cinnamon buns served with a gratuitous dollop of butter. Make reservations or else plan to wait up to an hour for a table. If you are in the Northeast neighborhood in search of breakfast/brunch, try Hazel’s Northeast.
Minneapolis offers tremendous range, especially when it comes to the arts and sports. World Oyster in Minneapolis attempts to give readers highlights of the city, but it’s by no means comprehensive. I’d be happy to hear other suggestions of what to see.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann