Our Favorite Minneapolis Hot Spots to Beat the Winter Blues
Let’s face it—as much as we love a good Minnesota snowstorm, cross-country skiing across powder-dusted frozen lakes, and bundling up by an outdoor fire with a locally brewed pint, sometimes winter in Minneapolis is, well, challenging. When the winter blahs start creeping up (especially once the sparkle of the holidays has come and gone) locals know to hunker down in one of these tropical, lush, sunny restaurants, plant shops, and places to play and explore. Sure, a destination beach vacation in February is nice, too, but these hot spots will warm you up and give your spirits a boost without leaving the city.
Named one of Eater's 2022 'Best New Restaurants' in America, this Laotian-style destination offers elevated tropical style on the plates, in cocktail classes, and throughout the interior of the restaurant. Abundant greenery, beachy textures, oversized domed lighting that radiates a lush, warming glow throughout the restaurant, and vibrant, colorful plates accented by edible flowers and herbs—every detail of this Southwest Minneapolis gem was selected by chef-owner Ann Ahmed to transport you from Minneapolis to the coastal spa resorts Southeast Asia.
Escape the snow-lined streets of Downtown Minneapolis and get swept into a Northern Italian hideaway inside the lobby of the Emery Hotel, flanked by towering marble columns and outfitted with lavish plantscapes that bely the sub-zero temperatures outside. Warm up with wood fired pizzas and focaccia, sink into a plate of seafood cavatelli, sip a cocktail made with chile-infused blanco tequila and grapefruit, and enjoy fresh mozzarella pulled tableside on Thursdays.
Picture a sunlight-filled airplane hanger-esque former factory space in Northeast Minneapolis. Now imagine all 18,000 square feet of it filled floor to ceiling with shelves of plants and colorful murals. Then plop yourself inside on a cozy vintage couch or beachy wicker chair and summon a tropical cocktail or mocktail made with housemade spirits, mixers, elixirs, and syrups in your hand. That’s the vibe of Earl Giles, and yes, it’s as cool and transporting as it sounds. Squint your eyes after a drink or two and you can almost imagine the sunset-hued mural with cactuses and aliens is a real desert just outside the window.
Another colossal space outfitted with comfy seating, fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling plants that manages to be expansive and cozy at the same time, Backstory Coffee’s new North Loop Minneapolis location is the kind of coffee shop we all wish we had in college. On a sunny day, light pours through the massive warehouse windows, illuminating semi-private nooks for studying or friendly conversation, and on a snowy afternoon, it’s not hard to picture the magical setting as the lounge of some wizarding school in a far-off locale.
A visit to this Northeast Minneapolis' James Beard nominated Southeast Asian destination is perfectly summed up by this review from frequent diner Amelia Elizabeth: “When I remind my husband he dragged me from a perfectly reasonable climate to Minnesota, he always takes me to Hai Hai so we can pretend, even for an hour or two, to be somewhere tropical. It usually works… though that might be the cocktails too.” Fill your table with Vietnamese- and Southeast Asian-inspired street food like water fern cakes, Balinese cauliflower salad, lao curry noodle soup, and tropical cocktails, picture the teal walls as ocean waves in the distance, and forget all about the frigid forecast. (Love the vibe? Be sure to check out Hai Hai chef Christina Nguyen’s other restaurant Hola Arepa for more Southern Hemisphere delights, including the titular Venezuelan-style stuffed arepas.)
This reimagined Eat Street dive bar with Christmas lights on the ceiling and hand-painted murals with funky, mid-century soul has a rich Minneapolis history. Formerly a locally beloved end-of-the-night burrito joint, Little Tijuana (AKA Lil T’s) has been respectfully resurrected by Dan Manosack, Travis Serbus, Bennett Johnson, and Benjamin Rients and now features globally inspired bar food, modern cocktails, and a gold old fashioned pina colada slushy machine.
If your idea of a getaway involves fresh juices and healthy, glow-up community wellness vibes, Minnesota’s first and only Black-owned cold press juice bar is calling your name. Grab a bottle of Sunshine (filled with Sunshine carrot, grapefruit, apple, pineapple, turmeric, and lemon) or a Goal Digger smoothie bowl (with mango, papaya, pineapple, and strawberry) to totally brighten up your day regardless of the weather outside. With an expansion underway—soon to offer healthy breakfast and brunch—Catiesha Pierson’s fresh-hued juice bar is only set to get more vibrant in 2023.
Step inside this taqueria’s Northeast Minneapolis flagship or (brand-new) Eat Street location and enjoy a Mexican getaway on a tortilla, surrounded by colorful art, succulents, strings of lights, and the pleasant hum of happy people eating tacos and drinking margs and sangria. Pro tip: stop in for a weekday lunch special, load up on barbacoa and chicken tinga tacos, and imagine you’re anywhere but here.
Sometimes you need to surrender to win, and Rosalia Pizza in Linden Hills is giving in to winter in the coolest way possible: a seasonal ice bar on the patio. On an outdoor bar made out of solid ice encasing colorful citrus and flora of the season, Rosalia serves up Aperitivos Thursdays through Sundays until the weather melts the bar like Frosty the Snowman. But you don’t have to stay in the cold: grab your cocktail and head inside for Sicilian woodfired pizzas, warming Mediterranean fare, and lush plants curated by Minneapolis-based Tonic Plantscape Design (who also installed the living wall at Rosalia’s sister restaurant Colita).
This innovative restaurant takes traditional French cuisine and flips it on its head with Pacific Northwest ingredients. Think seared scallops with apple and chartreuse butter, poached lobster with artichokes and sauce Americaine, sweetbreads fricassée and a varied selection of crudo. Located on the fifth floor of the Rand Tower Hotel, Blondette is housed in a gorgeous glass-covered atrium complete with an outdoor patio and one of Minneapolis’ only retractable roofs, making it perfect for mixing and mingling under the stars all year long.
Whether you’re a seasoned plant parent or simply want to pretend that you are, this North Minneapolis cactus and exotic plant shop offers 5000 square feet of escapist houseplant browsing. Many of the shop’s plants, pottery, and home goods hail from the Southwest and Mexico, offering the space a desert atmosphere that’s a welcome departure from the snow and ice.
Another local plant shop specializing in desert natives, small-but-mighty Fractal Cactus offers the opportunity to browse air plants, succulents, cacti, and local art under the warming glow of neon grow lamps. Located on Minnehaha Avenue and surrounded by vintage shops and great restaurants, Fractal is a great way to anchor a day in the neighborhood.
For even more plant inspiration (without the risk of spending way too much money on new cacti babies) head to St. Paul’s legendary Como Park and be whisked away to a colorful, lush garden paradise. Explore the 2-acre, Victorian-style glass Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, which serves as a show house for tropical and semi-tropical plants and a winter escape for plants throughout the park’s outdoor gardens. It’s also a winter escape for human Minnesotans and local visitors alike, where visitors can enjoy humid warmth year round, surrounded by palms, ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and even a Japanese garden featuring the largest public Bonsai collection in the upper Midwest.
Minnesota’s first therapeutic salt cave offers private or group halotherapy sessions—or even a yoga class—in a room lined with himalayan salt blocks on the walls and floors. Time in the salt cave is said to help folks with asthma, allergies, respiratory problems, and stress, but we can also safely say it’s a satisfying way to step outside of the winter weather into an otherworldly place where warmth and soft light are the norm.