Ever since my West Coast friend (he knows who he is) referred to Minnesota as a flyover state, I took a deeper look at what makes Minnesota my favorite place to be. I’ll be honest that when I became an adult, all I could think of was getting out of Minnesota. I started traveling a lot, studied in England and Vermont and then traveled more. However, in the end, my heart yearned for Minnesota. Although some of that is rooted in the comfort of familiarity, it is primarily because each destination reflected back to me how wonderful my home state really is.
Minnesota, the land of 11,842 lakes. You may have heard of Lake Superior or Lake Minnetonka (if you love Purple Rain and Prince). The land where water skiing and Paul Bunyan were born. The state where you can find rocky cliffs and waterfalls in the northeast, coniferous forests blanketing the northwest, vast prairies in the southwest where Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie called home, and then you have the rolling hills of deciduous trees and bluff country along the river border over to Wisconsin. Lakes are dotted all across the state and their waters pump through our veins.
If our beauty isn’t enough to get you to visit, then let’s talk about the fun you can have while here. With all of our lakes, we are a prime fishing destination both in the summer and in the winter. If you love to canoe and camp, then the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) will be your dreamy escape to nature. There are over 310 miles of rugged hiking trails on the Superior Hiking Trail. Minneapolis is the only U.S. city to rank among the best bike friendly cities in the world and we’re only getting better. We are the home of the Jucy Lucy, food on a stick, Silver Butter Knife Steak, James Beard awarded restaurants and a plethora of tasty food trucks surrounding local brew pubs.
Our art scene is spectacular with many world-class art museums, sculpture gardens with the infamous Spoon and Cherry installation. We have more theater seats per capita in the country, second only to New York, including the world-renowned Guthrie Theater. Not only is the theater scene large, so is the music scene. A must see is the iconic First Avenue, which will surely please you with their nightly line ups. If you missed seeing Cirque du Soleil in Vegas, then check out Circus Juventas over in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. You’ll thank me!
Shopping is of course an international draw for travelers. Show up with an empty suitcase, head over to the Mall of America and shop till you drop. Thankfully they made that convenient…drop your bags right into a comfortable room at the newly opened JW Marriott, which is connected to the mall on the north end.
Have I convinced you yet? If so, below are some extended weekend itineraries (not for winter) that I suggest, based on your style of travel.
North Shore for Outdoors Travel
Where to stay: Larsmont Cottages. The decor is modern north shore luxury, but makes you feel like you just unplugged from the world. It overlooks Lake Superior so you can hear the waves from your room.
Tip: Book a 1 bedroom lakeside cottage because it is very spacious and comes with a full kitchen. The next room category down is only a bedroom with bathroom, so you lose the relaxing spaces and convenience of the 1 bedroom cottage.
What to do:
- Drive up Scenic Hwy 61. It hugs Lake Superior’s shore line and has many great shops, restaurants, and art stops along the way.
- Hike around Gooseberry Falls State Park. The waterfalls are especially powerful in April and May.
- Go mountain biking from Gooseberry Falls up to Silver Bay on the Gichi Gami trail.
- Hike along the Superior Hiking Trail.
- Head out on a guided kayak tour around Lake Superior. Learn about the ship wreck of Madeira, paddle through sea caves and photograph Split Rock Lighthouse.
- While stargazing, you might spot the Northern Lights.
Where to eat and drink:
- New Scenic Cafe on Scenic Highway 61. The seasonal menu is sourced from the garden in front of the restaurant, overlooking Lake Superior. Food is outstanding. I always have great luck ordering the duck.
- Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse. You need to buy some smoked trout and cheese, then head over to a lakeside spot and munch on these local treats.
- Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen. I never leave without a bag of their toffee. It is out of this world. You can find truffles, sponge candy, and lots of other sweet treats.
- Castle Danger Brewery is a great local brewery in Two Harbors.
- Betty’s Pies is iconic to family trips to the North Shore. I don’t have a favorite pie here, as they are all so delicious.
Twin Cities for the City Dweller
Where to Stay:
Minneapolis: For a hip and modern hotel in a historic building, stay at W Minneapolis – The Foshay. If you want modern luxury, then head over to the newly renovated Hotel Ivy – A Luxury Collection Hotel.
St. Paul: The St. Paul Hotel is a historic landmark right in middle of the action.
What to do:
- Rent a bike and grab a map of the Grand Rounds Scenic Bike Trails.
- Check out the Mill City Museum to learn more about what made Minneapolis so explosive!
- Grab tickets to a world class show at the Guthrie Theater.
- Rent a canoe or kayak at Lake Calhoun in the Uptown neighborhood. Since this is on the Grand Rounds Trails, you can ride your bike around the lake too.
- Walk Nicollet Avenue down Nicollet Mall to enjoy high end shopping, great restaurants, and interesting sights.
- Attend a game at the Twins outdoor stadium. The views and energy in the stadium are enough to draw you to a game.
- Take a river cruise on the Mississippi aboard the Minneapolis Queen paddle boat. It provides breathtaking views of the downtown skyline and is a great way to see more of the city.
- Go hiking at Minnehaha Falls Regional Park, surrounded by beautiful gardens, with extensive trails leading to the historic Fort Snelling State Park. Grab a bite to eat at Sea Salt and listen to live music. If you have time, play a round of frisbee golf.
- Schedule a tour of the Cathedral of St. Paul. It is an architectural marvel that will take your breath away.
Where to eat and drink:
- Kramarczuk’s: try their Szegeden Goulash or Varenyky, or anything really. It’s all delicious.
- Pracna: the oldest restaurant in Minneapolis on the oldest street in Minneapolis. This location provides great views of the river and the downtown skyline of Minneapolis. Plus they have a great beer selection and some very tasty cocktails.
- Spoon and Stable is owned and led by James Beard awarded chef, Gavin Kaysen. You will find a seasonal menu based on Midwestern ingredients. Bison tartar and Steelhead Trout are a must!
- Psycho Suzie’s Motor Lounge and Betty Danger’s Country Club in Nordeast are owned by the same person and you can tell because both restaurants are like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
- Matt’s Bar: This is THE place to get a Jucy Luicy. Other locals will argue that 5-8 Club, The Nook, or Blue Door Pub are really where to get the best Juicy Lucy, but if you want the classic that made this style of burger famous in the first place, then head to Matt’s Bar.
- Bachelor Farmer: Minnesota meets Nordic roots. They have a great menu Monday through Saturday, but my favorite day to go is on Sundays when they have Sunday Supper. The chefs decide what will be served for supper each Sunday. It’s comfort food that makes you feel like you went home to your mom’s for dinner. Note: due to its location in a protected historic building, there is no signage for the restaurant. Trust your navigation on this one!
- W.A. Frost: Fine dining in the quaint St. Paul neighborhood, Cathedral Hill. They have the best patio spot in the Twin Cities, hands down! I adore any place that has an extensive world-class wine menu paired with a vast cheese selection.
So, this is my invitation to you (and my West Coast friend) to discover for yourself why Minnesota is no longer a flyover state.
To book your trip to Minnesota, contact Tracy Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on social media @truenorthtraveldesign.