The first Carnival was staged in 1886, after a few cranky East Coast newspaper writers described St. Paul as “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.” Well, even back then, nothing got Minnesotans more riled up than exaggerated insults fired off from some snooty no-goodnick on the coast. In an act of classic Minnesota-caliber retribution, the St. Paul Winter Carnival was born.
The Carnival now attracts over 250,000 visitors a year, with events such as the Grand Day Parade, Autonomous Snowplow Competition (robots!), Outdoor Beer Dabbler Festival, Dogsled Race, Kids’ Day, Snow Sculpting, Ice Sculpture Carving and all other manner of cold weather-embracing merriment. Running from late January to early February each year, events are mostly staged around Rice Park in downtown St. Paul and the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. Many activities are free or low-cost. Check the St. Paul Winter Carnival official site for annual information and dates.
After you’ve reached Wholesome Good Time capacity, here are a few other diversions in the area.
Downtown St. Paul has enjoyed a burst of great restaurants in recent years. If your evening plans include a memorable meal, you have several options. The swanky St. Paul Grill, inside the St. Paul Hotel, is the downtown stop for special occasion steaks, chops and seafood.
Ruam Mit Thai is a popular, affordable place for Thai food. Black Sheep Pizza’s St. Paul location has similarly adored thin, coal-fire pizzas as the Minneapolis original. Sakura Restaurant & Bar has sushi, sashimi, bento boxes, tempura, teriyaki, sukiyaki and, of course, yaki. All the yakis.
Having completed a $30 million expansion in summer of 2017, the Minnesota Children’s Museum still has that new museum smell. The update was intended to make the museum more attractive for older kids and even adults. Highlights of the expansion include The Scramble, a four-story adventure course with towers, netted catwalk and corkscrew slide; a newly enlarged face-painting station; and The Big White Room, which can be decorated over and over with colorful stickers. There are also air-powered ball launchers, a decommissioned St Paul fire truck, a laser maze and a “wacky” car wash where kids “might get wet.”
A little more West, eating options are either a very long walk or a short drive. Heading west is, Colossal Café is a quaint, friendly place offering hot breakfasts, sandwiches and pastries. Just a block away, Finnish Bistro Coffee & Café has self-serve breakfasts, soups, sandwiches, salads, flatbread pizzas, cakes, treats and a bunch of glutton-free options. Mim’s Café’s counter service offers Mediterranean and American sandwiches, small plates, platters, kebabs, falafel, burgers and more. To the south, on Como Ave, is Nelson Cheese & Deli, which has hot and cold specialty sandwiches, pasta, box lunches, and a few healthy options. Go north to find, Stout’s Pub & Grill has all manner of bar food, pizza, burgers, slider, wraps and a large selection of beer. A block away is New Fresh Wok, serving sushi and a marathon menu of Japanese and Chinese dishes. Mac’s Fish, Chips, Strips has baskets and platters of walleye, halibut, cod, shrimp, clams and chicken. Finally, the Insight Brewing taproom pours several year-round and seasonal brews, with regular events and free brewery tours.
The area around the Fair Grounds is a bit of an activities desert, because, well, the Fair Grounds are right there, with one huge exception. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has animals like giraffe, bison, tortoise, gorilla, ostrich, polar bear and penguins. There are also indoor and outdoor gardens, an amusement park and the usual city park family activities and facilities.
Nearby includes the Shanghai Market Chinese supermarket and, just outside the St. Paul Metro area, Roseville Center mall.