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Highlights of the Aquatennial's Best Days of Summer celebration

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Aside from the State Fair, one of Minnesota's biggest summer celebrations is the Minneapolis Aquatennial. Billed as The Best Days of Summer, this season marks 72 years of royalty, parades, fireworks, and most of all -- water activities.

With so many events to choose from, it's easy to overlook some that definitely should not be missed. The following are a few highlights of the festival, which starts today.

[jump] You can help kick off the festival tonight with the Aquatennial Block Party, which runs from 5 until 11 p.m. on the Nicollet Mall between Third and Fourth streets. Live music performances include headlining band Tonic, along with The Irresistibles featuring Mick Sterling and Tim Mahoney.

The Bakken Museum is getting in on the fun, too. In honor of the event it is hosting the 10 Best Days of Bakken, which will highlight a different theme almost everyday, including kid inventors, backyard discoveries, Frankenstein, wizards, and Ben Franklin.

Opening today, the Hennepin History Museum will display their annual Historic Aquatennial Exhibit, filled with festival memoriabilia from the past 72 years, including coronation items, an ambassador's uniform, scrapbooks, and more. This exhibit will run through Friday, July 22.

Saturday's Riverfront Quest Family Tour is a great activity geared toward kicks ages 6 to 11, but it actually sounds like fun for anyone looking to head outdoors for a downtown scavenger hunt. This takes place long the Mississippi riverfront; participants are to find hidden boxes with pictures and solve riddles to record in their Quest journals. Materials to make a journal is included in the cost of the tour. The tour begins at 1 p.m. at the Mill City Museum. The cost is $14 adults, $12 seniors and college students, $10 ages 6-17 and MHS members. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 612.341.7555.

The Star Tribune's Beach Bash takes place on Sunday, July 17 at Thomas Beach at Lake Calhoun, and features plenty of activities to keep beach-goers going all day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Minneapolis Fire Department will be there, happy to help visitors try on real fireman gear, check out an air boat, spray water with pump-cans, and see fire rings. The day will also feature the Aladdin Milk Carton Boat Races, beginning at 10 a.m. with the Commodore's Race. Watch participants design a bovine boat at 11 a.m. for the Skipper's Race Cow Theme. Other races include the Lieutenant's Race for ages 12 and under, and the Admiral's Race Race with a minimum of five crew members. For a complete schedule, visit the Aquatennial's event page.

Be sure to take some time and look at the sandcastles too. Sunday will also feature Xcel Energy's Sandcastle Competition.

Everyone looks forward to the Torchlight parade, but what about the pre-parade? From 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, Loring Park hosts the Aquatennial Pre-Parade with entertainment from Kidsdance, as well as carnival games, pony rides, inflatable bouncers, balloon animals, and face painting. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

Finally, the best fireworks of the year will soon be here. As one of the largest fireworks shows in the country, the Aquatennial fireworks tend to outshine the July Fourth display. Be sure not to miss them on July 23 along the Mississippi River and West River Parkway. Pre-fireworks live music will begin at 6 p.m. along West River Parkway, between Portland Avenue and the Third Avenue Bridge.