Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes and also where the mighty Mississippi River begins, Minnesota is a playground of outdoor recreation and leisure pursuits during summer. Before heading up north, spend a few days in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which anchor the state’s creative and cultural scenes. Prince’s legacy looms large – the iconic artist was a lifelong Minnesotan – and there are local treasures worth discovering. Whether it’s a pint of craft beer, delicious eats at the Minnesota State Fair, or a gooey, cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger, everything you order here is indeed served with a smile and a side of that famous ‘Minnesota nice’.
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Best Things to Do in Minnesota
What is it? Get lost at one of the largest malls in the world, in Bloomington.
Why go? Indulge in some ’90s mall nostalgia at the Mall of America. Local treasures among the 500+ stores include vintage retailer Ragstock and Minnesot-ah!, which specializes in Minnesota merch (think casserole cookbooks, loon-emblazoned tea towels). There’s an aquarium and amusement park too – the Log Chute ride features cameos by Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
What is it? Tour Prince’s home and recording studio. Gender-stretching, boundary-breaking and ever so talented, Prince was also a lifelong Minnesotan.
Why go? With every inch of success, the artist dug his (no doubt stylish) heels in further, even building the home and recording studio of his dreams here. While Paisley Park might look a bit bland from the outside – its exterior resembles a nondescript office building – the interiors are anything but. (For more of Prince’s hometown connection, check out this self-guided itinerary.)
What is it? Walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Why go? To see the origins of the mighty Mississippi River, as a mere stream that you can practically hop across is reason enough to make the trek to Itasca State Park. Located approximately four hours north of the Twin Cities by car, it’s not quite a day trip, so book a campsite or an overnight stay at the Douglas Lodge for a more leisurely visit to Minnesota’s first state park (est. 1891), also the second oldest in the US.
What is it? Minnesota’s most famous sculpture, ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry’ stands among more than 40 works on display at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center.
Why go? The giant spoon with a literal cherry on top – framed by grass, trees and blue skies, with the city skyline in the distance – has become one of the most recognizable images of the Twin Cities. Recent additions include ‘Hahn/Cock’, a giant blue rooster that presides over the gardens nearby.
What is it? In the 12 days leading up to Labor Day every year, the Minnesota State Fair celebrates all things Minnesotan.
Why go? Highlights include the newborn calves, lambs, goats and piglets at the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, handicrafts and baked goods at the Creative Activities Building and butter sculpting at the Dairy Building. A fireworks show closes the fair each evening.
What is it? Route 61, between the port town of Duluth and the Canadian border, along the North Shore of Lake Superior, is one of Minnesota’s most iconic stretches of highway.
Why go? This route next to the largest of the Great Lakes, is home to such scenic treasures as Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Gooseberry Falls State Park. Two Harbors is a popular stopping point thanks to institutions such as Betty’s Pies and relative newcomers like Castle Danger Brewery.
What is it? The Juicy Lucy is a glorious burger innovation where the molten cheese is sealed inside the patty. Matt’s Bar in south Minneapolis claims to have invented it.
Why go? Not much has changed since this local watering hole first started serving its original Juicy Lucys in the 1950s. While there are other contenders around the Twin Cities, the enduring appeal of Matt’s Bar is no-frills authenticity: same grill top, same atmosphere, same delicious burgers.
What is it? Home to such popular lakes as Pequot Lakes, Gull Lake and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, the Brainerd Lakes area of Crow Wing County is a perennial favorite for its amenities (boat rentals, shops and restaurants, visitor info centers) and easy access to outdoor recreations galore.
Why go? In the summer, there are few activities more quintessentially Minnesotan than heading up north for a long weekend at a lake cabin or lodge in one of the popular lake regions within a few hours’ drive of the Twin Cities.
What is it? A once-forgotten neighborhood on the wrong side of the Mississippi River has been transformed into one of the coolest places to be in the Twin Cities.
Why go? The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District features an eclectic mix of artists’ studios, galleries and performance spaces as well as eateries, cocktail dens and taprooms aplenty. Al’s Place, a new speakeasy joint upstairs from Stanley’s Bar Room, is one of the neighborhood’s most noteworthy additions.
What is it? Surly’s helped launch the craft beer renaissance in the Twin Cities.
Why go? The Twin Cities have some strong local contenders, but a visit to the Surly Brewing Co is a must for hopheads. Try the Coffee Bender brown ale with coffee or the Rosé, a wine-inspired lager, in the Beer Hall or in the garden, then grab some pizza upstairs.