The 48 Hours Project: Dive bars, free shows, and the Twin Cities on a budget

Folks from the Twin Cities got a pretty good laugh last weekend when a Reuters travel reporter wrote a bizarrely bland and unadventurous itinerary for those looking to spend 48 hours in the Twin Cities. But rather than laughing -- okay, we laughed a little -- it got us to thinking about what sort of suggestions we would come up with. The following is the first in an ongoing series exploring the great things about Minneapolis and St. Paul, with each installment offering a different approach to enjoying our fair cities.

For our first 48-hour weekend, we've come up with some ideas for folks on a tight budget. Come take a look.

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5 p.m.: Arrive in the Twin Cities. Although there are plenty of taxi services available at the airport, riding one into Minneapolis or St. Paul can set you back $30-$50. Instead, start your weekend on the Light Rail or bus, which are easy to figure out (try the trip planner option at Metro Transit's website before you get here), which will only set you back $1.75-$3.

7 p.m.: If you're on a tight budget, it's best to stay with friends. Couch and floor surfing builds character, after all, and will save you $100+ a night in hotel expenses.

8 p.m.: Dinner in downtown Minneapolis on a budget can be tricky. Finding a food truck is your best best, or stop in to Baja Sol if you're in the mood for some really fresh Mexican eats. A quick hop over to northeast Minneapolis may be an even better choice for cheap eats. Holy Land Deli is tasty, as is Kramarczuk's.

9:30 p.m.: Can't afford to see the big show at First Avenue? The next best option is literally around the corner. The lineup at 7th St. Entry is often pretty awesome, and under $15.

12:30 a.m.: Now's the time to sit on a friend's porch, lawn, or roof and have that last beer and/or cigarette of the night.


10 a.m.: Feeling a little hungover? Slam some Tylenol Liquid Gels and head over to Lake Harriet for some zen recovery time. Grab some coffee from Bread & Pickle, and walk through the Japanese Garden. Make a paper crane using the instructions, or just sit and rest. If you're feeling really ambitious, the park offers free yoga every day in the summertime at 6:30 a.m. near the bandshell. 

11 a.m.: Time for a hangover breakfast at the Uptown Diner, where you will be served giant plates of classic diner food for less than $10. (This is also a wise choice for late-night diners who are craving a malt at 1 a.m.)

1 p.m.: It's cliche, but it's fun: The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is free, entertaining, and hosts one of the Twin Cities' most iconic sculptures. Bring a camera and capture memories wholesome enough to show mom. If it's the first Saturday of the month, head inside the Walker Art Center for Free First Saturdays. They'll be lots of kids and kid-friendly activities, but you'll also be able to peruse the galleries for free.  

3 p.m.: Souvenir time: While the businesses in and around Calhoun Square can be a pricey, there are still some more affordable shops to enjoy in the area, such as the Tibet Store and Fifth Element. If you're the type who enjoys wandering through a bookstore, Magers & Quinn won't disappoint. Over on Lyndale, there's plenty of thrift shopping to be discovered as well, including Tatters and Buffalo Exchange. Lake Street is also worth exploring, where you'll find an unusual mix of sneaker stores, galleries, stripper clothing shops, and 100-year-old horse-supply stores.Music heads will have fun killing some time shopping at Treehouse Records and the Electric Fetus.

4 p.m.: The Nomad World Pub is a great place to start your Saturday night on a budget, as $5 will get you a PBR and a shot, or order up a Chicago Fire: An Old Style tall boy and a shot of Fireball whiskey. Sit outside and watch folks play bocce ball or do some people watching from a window booth.

6 p.m.: Time for dinner. If you ended up at Nomad for the afternoon, then you're already on the West Bank, and there are plenty of options nearby. Acadia Cafe offers an incredible variety of beers on tap, and serves up a great variety of sandwiches and fries. They also often have free music in the evening, including jazz, blues, and folk bands. Meanwhile, Triple Rock Social Club offers a variety of solid pub food, such as burgers, mac 'n' cheese, and wings. (Triple Rock is also a good choice for breakfast, which they serve daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Both places offer a good variety of vegan and vegetarian options as well.

9 p.m.: There's always tons of free music in the Twin Cities. Memory Lanes is probably the trippiest experience, as they set up their stage each night directly on the lanes. Want to bowl while watching burlesque? Your dreams have now come true. Is bowling not your thing? The 331 Club and the Hexagon are great options for venues that schedule bands by the handful for free weekend shows. Or, if it's summertime, check the City Pages for a free street festival nearby.

11 p.m.: Everyone should dance at least a little bit on Saturday night. Hot Pants is a solid bet. The monthly Forever Young, in the basement of Uptown's VFW (yes, you read that right), offers '90s jams, cheep beer and cocktails, and friendly patrons for small entrance fee until the wee hours of the morning. Club Underground or Club Zero are good options if you are hanging in northeast Minneapolis.

12:30 a.m.: Got the late-night munchies? Order up a pie from Galactic Pizza. It will be delivered by a dude dressed as a super hero via eco-friendly car. The Thailander -- which somehow manages to mix pad thai flavors with pizza notes -- is highly recommended (and not as odd as it sounds). Pizza Luce is another excellent late-night choice, with multiple locations throughout the Twin Cities offering pizza by the slice for about $6.

Coffee from Nina's
Coffee from Nina's
Bre McGee


10 a.m.:  Time to have some fun in St. Paul for the afternoon. Grab a coffee from Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, then head over to the Lowertown farmers' market where you'll find massage tables, live music, and homemade goods like soap, jam, and spice mixes to take on your trip home. Nina's Cafe is also a lovely spot for some morning Joe and internet surfing.

11 a.m.: For breakfast, pop on over to Cesar Chavez Street for tasty treats at El Burrito Mercado. Here, you'll fine cafeteria-style Mexican dining with meals under $8. If you're hanging in Minneapolis today, Mercado Central or Midtown Global Market are also awesome choices.

1 p.m.:  Another thing that is cliche, but ultimately a lot a good time (and free): The St. Paul river walk. Not only is it fun to take in the sites of the beautiful Mississippi River, but the houses nearby serve as great architecture porn.

3 p.m.: Looking for something to read on the plane? Common Good Books, Garrison Keillor's bookstore, is a good place to stop for some reading material.

5 p.m.: Time for dinner at Amsterdam Bar & Hall. Order up a Dutch-style sandwich from the kitchen for $3.75-$5.25. The shrimp po' boy, beer braised smoked pork, and marinated octopus are great options. (They also have a breakfast hash bar with a $5 Bloody Mary option that makes for a good hangover breakfast as well.)

7 p.m.: Head on back to Minneapolis for Bryant-Lake Bowl's for Neighborhood Night, where from 6 p.m. to midnight bowling costs $2 a round, and you'll find deals on local beer, wine, and appetizers. Or, if you're looking for some music to round out the night, the nearby Cause Spirits & Soundbar offers shows on Sunday night that are either free or $5.

Do you have any favorite, affordable things to do that you recommend for out-of-town guests? Let us know in the comments!

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