50 things to do in the Twin Cities before you die
Rock the Garden
The Twin Cities has a knack for topping best-of lists, but when you live here, it's easy to lose track of all the amenities.
Our community has created a blossoming arts and music scene in flyover country, and congregates outside during the coldest weeks of the year to celebrate the ice and snow.
The following list compiles 50 of the best and most iconic activities that every local should check off their to-do list. From First Avenue to the Mall of America, this list proves there's always something to do in the Twin Cities.
50. Take the light rail to Mall of America. A top-notch shopping center and theme park at best, and a crowded tourist trap at worst, the Mall of America is only getting bigger. Just getting there is half the battle, so take the light rail and save yourself a parking headache.
49. Enjoy a summer happy hour at Vic's on St. Anthony Main. For wine lovers, Vic's beautiful patio on St. Anthony Main has a deal for you. On Monday through Friday, the summer progressive happy hour offers entire bottles of wine for $2, $3, or $4, depending on the hour.
48. Take a free outdoor yoga class. From the rooftop at Brit's to lakeside classes, yogis around the city can enjoy free outdoor instruction from some of the top studios around town during the summer months. Corepower's Summer of Yoga offers free outdoor yoga at several locations in the metro area, and Yoga Sol, a donation-based studio in Northeast, offers a number of community events throughout the year at a pay-what-you-can rate.
47. Cheer on the Gophers football team at TCF Bank Stadium. During football season TCF Bank Stadium fills with students and fans thankful for a reason to drink on a Saturday morning. Win or lose, grab your maroon and gold to cheer on the Gophers in their beautiful, open-air stadium.
46. Head to downtown St. Paul for St. Patrick's Day. Once a year, downtown St. Paul fills with 100,000 people dressed in green to celebrate one of the longest running and most decorated St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the country. The parade begins at noon and travels down Fifth Street before ending at Rice Park. Downtown St. Paul Irish pubs O'Gara's and the Liffey are usually filled to capacity by noon, so make sure to start your day early.
45. Warm up with some pho at Quang on Eat Street. Freezing? Pho should do the trick. Head to Quang and order a huge bowl of delicious pho. A favorite of local Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, Quang's fragrant broth and tender cuts of meat draw a crowd during lunch hour.
44. Celebrate fashion in Minnesota. While we are far away from New York Fashion Week, there are still a number of talented designers who reside in the Twin Cities. The University of Minnesota continues to host its Senior Fashion Show, and resale shops like b. resale frequently partner with local designers to put on smaller-scale fashion and trunk shows. Small boutiques like Parc Boutique and Mona Williams in Northeast also hold happy hour events where the fashion-minded can gather, drink wine, and enjoy discounts while they shop.
43. Test your luck with mystery beers at Liquor Lyle's. The wonderful thing about Lyle's is that regardless of the time of day, it always feels like midnight. The windowless dive bar in Uptown is notoriously cheap and serves $3 mystery beers at various times every day. You never really know what you're going to get, but does it really matter?
42. Browse the vintage stores of St. Paul and Minneapolis. At the intersection of Selby and Snelling in St. Paul you will find a pair of vintage shops that stock affordable as well as higher-end pieces. Lula Vintage is modern and approachable, with many pieces that can be easily translated into everyday life. If you can't find anything there, Up Six is just down the street. If you are looking for jewelry, Hunt & Gather in Minneapolis houses a treasure trove of costume and vintage pieces waiting to be worn.
41. Sample the homemade vodka at Moscow on the Hill. Moscow on the Hill seems like a bar where the Russian mob might hang out. Dark and cozy, it has more vodka on hand than one person could sample in a month. Try the house-infused vodka, which includes flavors like horseradish, tiramisu, garlic and dill, and ginger.
40. Spend a snowy Sunday in St. Paul. Take a Sunday drive down St. Paul's Summit Avenue to gawk at the historic homes. Roll past the mansions of Cathedral Hill, then stop by the Saint Paul Cathedral for a self-guided tour. If you are feeling extra historic, the Minnesota History Center and the Minnesota State Capitol await just a short walk away.
39. Go lawn bowling at Brit's Pub. The Nomad World Pub on the West Bank has a wonderful lawn bowling league, but for a game with a view, head to Brit's Pub and throw some heavy balls across a rooftop in downtown Minneapolis. The lawn is located right in the middle of a full rooftop patio and bar, and you can easily watch or participate while enjoying a pint. Brit's also sells British candy bars!
38. Win a Friday meat raffle at the 1029 Bar. There are only a handful of places in the world where it's popular to raffle off meat while drinking, and Minnesota is one of them. Be sure to remember that meat raffles are charitable causes, therefore any "donations" are tax deductible.
37. Fly a kite at the Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival. At the end of each January, hundreds of colorful kites take to the skies above Lake Harriet. Minnesota Kite Society experts show off their tricky maneuvers, flying traditional kites as well as large-scale models shaped like bears, alligators, and fish. Besides kite flying, this free event offers ice fishing, snowshoeing, and a medallion hunt for the youngsters.
36. See a movie in Father Hennepin Park with a picnic from Surdyk's Cheese Shop. The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board hosts more than 200 free concerts and movies in the parks of Minneapolis during the summer months. While each venue is perfectly charming and romantic, it doesn't get more picturesque than an outdoor movie on St. Anthony Main. With the Stone Arch Bridge as your backdrop, take in a classic movie while enjoying a picnic from nearby Surdyk's Cheese Shop.
35. Take your friends on a Northeast brewery tour. We make some great beer in the Twin Cities, and thanks to the Surly Law, breweries can now serve pints on site. Head to Northeast for the brewery trio of 612 Brew, Indeed Brewing Company, and Dangerous Man Brewing Co. Start with a beer at 612's warehouse-style taproom before heading to Indeed's outdoor patio. Pick up dinner from Anchor Fish & Chips before heading to Dangerous Man, which doesn't serve food but is more than happy to allow guests to bring their own.
34. Bring your kids to Wild Rumpus bookstore. Wild Rumpus is a 20-year-old Linden Hills bookstore that keeps some special furry friends around to greet young readers. With roaming and caged pets including a ferret, chicken, and tarantula, as well as a few cats, the playful store is a huge hit among animal-loving children.
33. Spend an evening in Linden Hills and see a performance at the Lake Harriet Band Shell. The Lake Harriet Band Shell offers free live music basically every day of the week May through September, so there's no excuse to miss out on the fun. Pre-show, make sure to stop by neighborhood favorite Tilia for food and the possibility of a Josh Hartnett sighting.
32. Check out the Midtown Global Market. Great for gift shopping on a budget, and even better for eating, the Midtown Global Market is the treasure of Lake Street. It will take more than one visit to sample everything here, from authentic international food to the James Beard-nominated bakery Salty Tart.
31. Grab dinner at Sea Salt Eatery and walk to Minnehaha Falls. Don't let Sea Salt Eatery's concession-style setup fool you. This small eatery is only open during the warmer months, and is located in the middle of a nearly 200-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River. It's a perfect summer evening destination, where you can grab a fish taco and take a walk to the 53-foot waterfall.
30. See a show at the Gay 90's. If you can manage to make your way through the bachelorette parties, a show at the Gay 90's is just about the most fun a person can have in downtown Minneapolis. Each night a number of performers take to the stage, performing in drag as such icons as Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. Be sure to tip graciously.
29. Do an ice cream crawl. If you're eating Ben & Jerry's in the Twin Cities, you're doing it wrong. Our independent ice cream shops are filled with delicious, creative ice cream. Start in south Minneapolis at Crema Café, then head to Uptown's own Sebastian Joe's. Next make your way downtown to Izzy's brand new shop before crossing the river to Sweet Science in St. Paul. Schedule time for a sugar coma afterward.
28. See a play. Any play! Minneapolis is the third largest theater market in the nation, with venues ranging from big players like the Guthrie and the Ordway to smaller venues like the Southern, Brave New Workshop, and Mixed Blood. There are festivals and performances for any age and price range, making the theater scene diverse and entertaining enough to please even the most theater-averse.
27. Explain Scott Seekins to someone. The enigma that is Scott Seekins is such a fun thing to explain to out-of-towners, or any locals living under a rock. Who is Scott Seekins? Oh, just this man-about-town whose simple change from a black suit to a white suit marks the beginning of summer and brings joy to an entire city.
26. Tour the Northeast Arts District during Art a-Whirl. A perfect event for first-time buyers, long-time collectors, and everyone in between, Art-a-Whirl is a very Northeast way to spend an afternoon. The imposing brick buildings of the Arts District open their doors to thousands of visitors for an afternoon of artistic expression. With everything from food and drink to paintings, sculpture, and performance art, Art-a-Whirl is a welcome way to kick off spring in Minnesota.
25. Observe the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Head to Lake Nokomis in mid-January to witness the nation's largest pond hockey tournament. With 25 rinks smoothed out of the snowy ice, watching (or participating) in a large-scale outdoor hockey tournament is just about as Minnesota as it gets.
24. Put your MPR and Walker memberships to use and buy some tickets to Rock the Garden. Basically anything can happen at Rock the Garden. A thunderstorm could hit, forcing thousands of people to watch a show inside of a parking ramp. A band could fill an entire set with one 47-minute song. Hell, it could even be a perfect Minnesota afternoon. No matter what, make sure to get to the Current's summer music festival at least once and appreciate all that our local public radio station offers its music-loving fans.
23. Enjoy an Eastern-European evening in Northeast. Order a sausage at Kramarczuk's 60-year-old deli before heading to Nye's Polonaise Room for kraut, a cocktail, and some live piano. If you're there Friday or Saturday, you might catch the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, a local favorite that's been entertaining at Nye's since the '70s.
22. Take a Nice Ride tour. Pick up a lime-green bike and get your exercise for the day. Bop about town, dropping off and picking up new bikes at various stations throughout the city. After the initial checkout fee of $6, you pay for Nice Ride by the half hour. All you need to do to avoid wracking up a tab is return your bike to a station within 30 minutes, and check out another one. Nice Ride's website offers a number of tour ideas, and with options like the "Bridges of Minneapolis" tour and the "Prince for a Day" tour, you're sure to get the most out of your day of biking in the Twin Cities.
21. Go to a Minnesota Twins game in every weather condition. Sure, it's been a few years since the Twins have done anything worth noting, but that doesn't take away from the fact that we have one of the most beautiful stadiums in the country squeezed right into the middle of Minneapolis. Since baseball season lasts forever, try to get to the ballpark a few times and soak up all that Minnesota's unpredictable weather patterns have to offer.
20. Attend the Minnesota Fringe Festival. With hundreds of performances over 11 days, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is a great way to celebrate the lively arts community in the Twin Cities. The un-juried lineup makes for a lovely mish-mash of performance art. With venues spanning from Uptown to the West Bank and downtown, the festival is the perfect way to get your indie art fix for the year.
19. Eat an Al's Breakfast pancake. The University of Minnesota area seems to be getting new developments faster than students, but the Dinkytown favorite has remained intact. The cramped diner serves the best pancakes in town, and has a charm that cannot be matched, with walls covered in old trinkets and money from around the world. There are only 14 seats, and guests usually have to move once or twice during their meal to accommodate new groups. While there is usually a line that stretches out the door, an Al's Breakfast pancake is well worth the wait.
18. Take in the May Day parade at Powderhorn Park. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre's annual May Day Parade has been celebrating the end of winter for the past 39 years. Hand-built puppets and masks come together with music and performance art for a dazzling parade that draws nearly 50,000 people each spring.
17. Participate in the TC Marathon. Okay, you don't have to actually run a marathon, but definitely stake out a spot to watch. Beginning in downtown Minneapolis and finishing near the state Capitol in St. Paul, the course winds around the Chain of Lakes and along the Mississippi River. At the very least you will be inspired by the 12,000-plus participants of all ages who are able to cross the finish line after 26.2 grueling miles.
16. Take in a night of karaoke at Otter's Saloon and Vegas Lounge. They may be cramped, but these Northeast gems have karaoke every night of the week and a slew of regulars who know their way around a power ballad. From classics like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to Spice Girls hits from the '90s, the set list usually inspires the entire bar to sing along. Just stay away from the mystery shots if you want to remember the night.
15. Compare Juicy Lucys at Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club. Both claim to be the creator of Minnesota's famous cheese-filled hamburger, and so the debate between Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club rages on. If you live anywhere in the metro area, you've probably had one or the other. But have you had them both in one day? Surely that is the only way to settle this question once and for all.
14. Check out some lesser-known museums. You probably know about the Walker, the Weisman, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but there's also a trove of smaller museums to visit throughout the Twin Cities. The American Swedish Institute gives guests a glimpse into a 1900s Minneapolis mansion, and the intimate Museum of Russian Art showcases decades' worth of artifacts. If you're looking for something with more local roots, the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota has quite the collection of taxidermy.
13. Attend the Pride parade. Minnesotans are proud of our thriving GLBT community and come out in droves to celebrate equality and love in Minnesota. With more than 300,000 people attending each year's colorful festival, there's always a range of fascinating characters. From rainbow-painted dogs to dancing drag queens, the Pride Parade is a sight to behold for young and old alike.
12. Go ice-skating outdoors. If you cannot stand up on ice skates, you probably weren't born here. When the temperature dips below freezing, a number of local parks flood their baseball fields for wintertime fun. From popular rinks like those created in Powderhorn Park and on Lake of the Isles, to smaller rinks like the one at Van Cleve Park near the University of Minnesota, there's more than enough ice to go around.
11. Hunt for St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion. A tradition since 1952, the St. Paul Winter Carnival's Medallion Hunt challenges participants to solve daily clues found in the Pioneer Press. In order to win up to $10,000 in prize money, one skilled hunter simply needs to register their Winter Carnival button and follow the clues to find a small medallion hidden somewhere in Ramsey County. Easy, right?
10. Spend a Saturday at the CC Club. The CC Club is one of the most iconic drinking institutions in the Twin Cities. The dark, dingy bar has been serving cheap, strong drinks for as long as most Minnesotans can remember. Its convenient south Minneapolis location attracts quite a collection of characters, from Uptown's hipster crowd to regulars that have been closing down the bar for decades.
9. See art on the ice at the Art Shanty Projects. A fun tradition that moved locations this year, the Art Shanty Projects offer a four-weekend exhibition of artwork on a Minnesota lake. You can think of the shanties as super tricked-out fish houses that are staffed by their artists on the weekends. Projects this year include a shanty completely covered in mirrors reflecting the surrounding lake and a giant polar bear bicycle.
8. Day drink at a block party. There used to be relatively few days during the summer when you could legally stand around and drink in the street, but things sure have changed over the past few years. Last summer it seemed as though every restaurant in the city was trying to get into the block party game. From the Pizza Lucé block party that has featured local talents like POS and Motion City Soundtrack, to Kräftskiva, the Bachelor Farmer bash where guests wear pointy hats and drink Aquavit, there are plenty of occasions for local drinkers who are more than happy to spend a day in the sun.
7. Paddle the Chain of Lakes. Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet in Uptown offer canoe, paddleboat, kayak, and paddleboard rentals for your summer enjoyment. That's not to mention the miles of connected walking and biking trails surrounding Uptown's Chain of Lakes. Work up an appetite and stop by the Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun or Bread & Pickle on Lake Harriet.
6. Travel Minneapolis by ski or snowshoe. For some Minnesotans, snow and ice are simply vehicles for winter recreation. With more than 40 parks offering access to 20 miles of cross country ski and snowshoe trails throughout Minneapolis, enthusiasts can enjoy the great outdoors anywhere in the metro area. For the very best in winter sporting, head to February's City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival.
5. See Prince at Paisley Park. It's not often that Prince invites outsiders to his Chanhassen complex, but when Paisley Park opens for business it tends to draw a crowd. Even after all these years, Prince continues to reward his hometown fans with pancake-themed dance parties that draw national attention. Prince isn't much for set times, so expect to spend the entire night and much of the next morning waiting for his Purpleness to appear. When he shows, Prince often tries out newer material along with classics like "Purple Rain." Dress 2 impress.
4. Get lost in the skyway system. While the maze of climate-controlled tunnels can (hypothetically) get you from one side of downtown to the other, the twists and turns can be trying at times. Luckily, most seasoned veterans are more than happy to point lost travelers in the right direction. If you work downtown, the busy tunnels are filled with delicious places to eat lunch and grab coffee without ever having to venture into the cold. Businesses have found all kinds of creative ways to take advantage of the tunnels, including the downhill bike races in St. Paul's skyways and the U.S. Bank Skyway Open golf tournament.
3. Eat something on a stick at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. From fried macaroni and cheese to salad, if you can eat it, you can get it on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. Minnesota's largest annual event brings together hundreds of thousands of people during the hottest month of the year so we can all complain about the heat together. Expect to see heart attacks waiting to happen, like the original "Big Fat Bacon" (a quarter-pound slab of bacon on a stick), as well as creative new creations like last year's popular deep-fried olives.
2. Bike the entire greenway. Connecting Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes to the western suburbs, the Minneapolis Greenway is a beautiful trail created to help the Twin Cities celebrate its obsession with biking. Open year round, the Greenway runs through the heart of the metro and is used by hundreds of runners, walkers, and cyclists each day. It's only 5.5 miles. You can do it!
1. Watch a local act headline First Avenue. First Avenue may get some major talent through its doors, but watching a local band headline the star-covered venue for the first time is always a special treat. Minnesota's bustling music scene provides plenty of opportunity, and there's nothing like watching someone fulfill a lifelong dream. Earlier this year, local singer-songwriter Caroline Smith, playing to a packed house, opened her very first headlining show with a very appropriate "Holy Fuck!"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.