Travel Past 50: Things to Do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

By Kristin Henning 

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Bookstores

The Twin Cities have always been know as a major literary market, and it stays lively here for readers and writers thanks to The Loft Literary Center and the Playwrights’ Center. Minneapolis is home to award-winning publishers Graywolf Press and Coffee House Press, among others. So it’s no surprise that indie bookstores are still active and admired–and are key to exploring some of the Cities’ best neighborhoods.

In my old Kenwood neighborhood, just a couple blocks from Lake of the Isles, is famed Minnesota author Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books at 2115 W 21st St, Minneapolis. It’s cozy and fascinating and doubles as a nice gift shop specializing in Native American artists, gardening, and sustainable Indigenous harvesting. While you’re here, pick up a signed edition of Louise’s newest book, Future Home of the Living God. Or go for one of my favorites, The Roundhouse.

For used books, you might want to check out Magers and Quinn in Uptown, 3038 Hennepin Ave, or, for true-blue indie spirit, go to Eat My Words  bookstore in trendy Northeast Minneapolis, 214 13th Avenue NE.

In Saint Paul, check out Midway Books, 1579 University Ave W, St Paul. It’s right on the Green Line train at Snelling and University in St. Paul and houses a great selection of literature, philosophy, photography, and art books, good for hours of browsing and sure-fire finds to take home.

If you’ve a more literary bent, don’t miss Common Good Books, at 38 South Snelling Ave, which is owned by noted raconteur Garrison Keillor.

For children’s books, also in Saint Paul, is the great Red Balloon Bookshop. Perfect for the child in you. Wild Rumpus in the lovely Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis attracts all ages.

Theater

The Twin Cities are known for their abundant theater, often cited as having the second most theater seats per capita in the country, after New York. That’s not exactly true, but if you go out to see a show, you’ll get a good feel for the town. Besides the Guthrie Theater (now with three stages), we love to see whatever is playing at The Jungle in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood, 2951 Lyndale Ave S., Minneapolis. Or hop over to Mixed Blood Theatre on the West Bank, 1501 S 4th St, Minneapolis, always innovative despite its old fire station digs. (I’m partial to both these neighborhoods, too, since spending years working in each.)

Biking

On wheels or on foot, circling Minneapolis’ lakes is a ritual–maybe daily, weekly or just seasonally, but still a ritual. Holiday weekends are ideal for biking, because lots of people have left town to drive “up north” to “the lake,”–classic Minnesota jargon for getting the hell out of town. Either circle the lakes or ride along Minnehaha Creek to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park, part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  Or,  (quite scenic and less crowded) do the Mississippi river roads from Minnehaha Falls north to the University of Minnesota campus and downtown. The East River Road will give you yummy views from above. The West River Road will take you right down to water level. I’m also a fan of the Theodore Wirth Parkway trails, where it’s hard to believe you’re still in the city. These are all part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, with more than 50 miles of bike trails. Bring some cash. Seasonal restaurants at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Park attract long lines for beer and fish tacos. Dogs are welcome.

Music

While the Twin Cities have earned their share of Grammy Awards for work recorded here (from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) let’s honor musicians by getting out to hear live music! (We won’t bore you with a list of Minnesota bred stars. Did I mention Bob Dylan, Hüsker Du, Dessa, or Prince?)

The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. Famous for jazz and any other imaginative live music, any night is sure to be good, except when they are closed for private events.
For live music in St. Paul, cozy up to Vieux Carre for tasty tunes and cocktails, too.
The Electric Fetus, 2000 4th Ave S, Minneapolis. A throwback to the days when the three largest record distributors in the world were right here, and every record store was a head shop. It’s not a coincidence that Prince stopped into these two Twin Cities music institutions the week he died.

Also, of course, there’s First Avenue

Art, Architecture, and Walking Around Downtown

Of the two biggies, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis, gets my attention more these days than Walker Art Center, because they’ve upped their game in photography, contemporary art and design, and still rule the roost in special exhibits, Asian art, and the Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School rooms. Having said that, my walking tour starts at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  Check out the cantilevers in this city (!!) starting with Walker Art Center, whose original architecture by Barnes was spiffed up by Herzog & de Meuron. All roads through downtown–from Peavey Plaza at Orchestra Hall, or Target Field (Twins baseball), or Target Center (Timberwolves), or the US Bank Stadium (grrrr, Vikings) lead to the river where more cantilevers drift over the water. Notable overhangs: The Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, and The Guthrie Theater, 818 S 2nd St. (both downtown), and the Weisman Art Museum (Frank Gehry, architect), 333 E River Pkwy, Minneapolis, on the University of Minnesota campus. See more museum notes below in our What to do in Winter section.

The western gateway to downtown is Loring Park, which connects to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Loring Park is especially great in the summer, hosting the Twin Cities Pride festivities and an annual Loring Park Art Festival.

On downtown Minneapolis’ eastern side at the river, you’ll see the Stone Arch Bridge, some old locks, the original milling district, and further up river, the Hennepin Avenue bridge. Down river is the new 35W bridge (recently purple-ized), built after the alarming collapse of the previous bridge on that site. We who live near the river tend to “walk the bridges,” creating circle routes of varying distances.

The St. Anthony Main district on the east side of the river (opposite downtown Minneapolis) is a good place to stop for a refreshment. Try the Aster Cafe, 125 Main Street Southeast, Minneapolis, for more peering at people in parks, plus skyline views.

A Drink and a Bite

A brief somewhat random rundown of some decent places for a quick refueling. For recommendations where to eat in downtown Minneapolis, check out this post: what to do in Downtown Minneapolis.
Eli’s East, 815 E Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis, just because. Say hi from me. Eli’s East gets extra points because it’s in the neighborhood of our first home. Great small plates, and an imaginative cocktail menu.

And we like our Irish Pubs. These all offer tastier food than you’d imagine, and plentiful good spirits, in every sense of the word:
Morrissey’s 913 W Lake St, Minneapolis- near everyone’s home in Uptown, and also with an adjoining room open on special occasions. Try the signature Belfast Burger. (Morrissey’s is also just across the street from local landmark Bryant Lake Bowl, where you can also grab a bite, see some experimental theater, and yes, roll a few lines.)
Emmett’s, 695 Grand Ave, St Paul- New! St. Paul! Fast becoming the hangout in the Grand Avenue shopping area.
The Local , 931 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis–The gold standard and a good spot on Nicollet Mall, plus it’s across the street from Target HQ, and a stone’s throw from Brit’s.
Kieran’s Irish Pub , 85 N 6th St, Minneapolis–Convenient because it’s just a block from First Avenue, and also primo corner for buying discounted tickets for the T-Wolves at Target Center or Twins games at Target Field from the guys on the street. The Target Center is right across the street, and Target Field is just a two-block walk.

A Meal for Your Own Good

I always feel better after eating at Spoonriver, 750 S 2nd St, Minneapolis. That’s about the best recommendation I can think of. Brenda Langton started her restaurant career with a vegetarian restaurant in St. Paul, carried on for years at another location in Minneapolis, and has now found a groove with a careful menu, including cocktails, for everybody. It’s right next door to the Guthrie Theater, and is swarming with good vibes on summer Saturdays, too, when the mellow Mill City Farmers’ Market is in session