Central Business District - Theater District
This area is typically where the party starts and ends in downtown Minneapolis. Buckle up, because there’s a lot of options.
You’re in the middle of it. The heart of downtown. And lucky for you it’s not all office buildings and government centers. The Central business District has high quality dining options, a thriving nightlife that includes a whole block of theater venues, and of course the famous skyway system that’ll make you forget all about the subzero temperature outside. Conveniently, some of downtown’s best hotels are here in the thick of it, meaning many days of amusement can be planned without stepping a toe into a car.
Things to Do
There’s no shortage of live entertainment in the Central Business District. Hennepin Avenue’s theater district hosts top-shelf national and international productions and artists. The Orpheum, State and Pantages theaters are where a number of touring Broadway plays, musicals, comedians and concerts make their stops. The legendary Brave New Workshop is the longest, continuously running sketch comedy and improve theater in the country and hosts many variety acts throughout the year. Illusion Theater produces original theater, music and dance productions that address current social issues.
First Avenue had already cemented its legacy as one of the top live music venues in the country before Prince used it as a location for key parts of his 1984 film “Purple Rain.” The incredible history of this club is literally written on the outside walls of the building. Since 1970, artists that performed here have included Tina Turner, Ray Charles, BB King, The Cure, The Replacements, U2, REM, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Coldplay, The White Stripes, and virtually any other popular artist you can name. The neighboring, intimate 7th Street Entry is its smaller, live music sister venue.
The Dakota Jazz Club is a delightful music venue/chef-driven restaurant combination. It has hosted a wide variety of artists including Lucinda Williams, Bob Mould, Cowboy Junkies, Angelique Kidjo, Mavis Staples, Mike Doughty, Anoushka Shankar, Aimee Mann, and Ronnie Spector. Prince liked to frequent the Dakota as both guest and as performer, which is about as high praise as a place can get. And just down the street is Orchestra Hall, home to the distinguished, Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, who stage roughly 175 performances each year
Along that same street stands the Foshay, now the W Hotel. Head up to the observation deck for some breath-taking views of the city and visit the museum to learn about the skyscraper’s history and its quirky architect.
Minneapolis Skyway System
Getting lost and un-lost is rarely as fun as in the covered bridges known as the Minneapolis Skyway System. This part of downtown is the epi-center of the skyway system which connects 80 city blocks and provides indoor access to an incredible number of food and shopping options. Some highlights include BEP Eatery, Sushi Takatsu, Pad Go Pow, Green and the Grain, and Brothers Deli. For shopping stroll through the City Center building and find popular retail stores, including Brooks Brothers, Marshalls, Pacifier, Union 73, and Saks OFF 5th. Lastly, don’t forget to stop into Minneapolis’ pride and joy, Target’s flagship store located along Nicollet.
Where to Eat and Drink
Right in the heart of the theater district, CRAVE’s American/Japanese combo menu manages to do justice to both cuisines, including some epic sushi platters. In the warmer months their rooftop seating fills up fast.
Housed on the ground floor of Le Meridien Hotel, Mercy serves Instagram-worthy seafood dishes, like the crab leg fried rice, and a variety of protein-themed small plates and entrees. The vine-covered patio is the preferred spot for breakfast, brunch and after work drinks. For something truly special, and more than a little weird, try to get in on one of their three-hour, dining in the dark events.
Meat eaters rejoice, Butcher & the Boar’s menu is bursting with sausage, charcuterie and, obviously, boar. Don’t know where to start? The sampler is the way to go.
This part of downtown has many extravagant dining options as well, try Murray’s Steakhouse, if lovingly prepared cuts of beef and classic cocktails are your thing. The Hennepin Ave outpost of The Capital Grill sets the steakhouse scene wonderfully. Classy décor, classier service and truly wonderful cuts of beef. Their Signature Cheeseburger is among the best in the city. Manny’s Steakhouse, is easily the most recognizable steakhouse by the locals. It’s definitely a special occasion type of place, but absolutely worth the money. Elegant chain The Oceanaire Seafood Room excels at seafood, obviously, but also serves up steaks with flair and an impressive wine list. Their happy hour food menu is almost too good to be true. Seven Steakhouse Sushi & Rooftop is a clever hybrid of all the popular places mentioned above. Their roof patio overlooks one of the busiest intersections in downtown.
Where to Stay
The Radisson Blu is an upscale, but casual and their in-house restaurant, Firelake Grill House & Cocktail Bar is one of the pioneering downtown hotel restaurants that’s good enough to attract locals. The Westin Minneapolis is a strong three-star option housed in a historic bank building. Loews Hotel is a decorative, yet comfortable option right across the street from Target Center’s entrance. The Marriott City Center is located at roughly the geographic center of downtown’s entertainment options.
The Hampton Inn & Suites is a relatively new three-star option literally one minute from both the theater district and Target Center. The Embassy Suites by Hilton is housed in the landmark Plymouth Building and offers complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi, evening receptions and in-room fridges and microwaves. Luxury property Le Meridien sits just steps from all the theaters in the district and just down the street, AC Marriott, is a strong contemporary option, with complimentary Wi-Fi and an evening reception with free drinks and tapas.
How to Get Around
If you're driving, be aware large number of downtown Minneapolis’ streets are one-way. Double check you’re going the right way before making a turn. Also, it is forbidden to drive on the Light Rail tracks or on Nicollet.
Free parking is rare, but possible. Some meters in downtown aren’t monitored after 6 p.m. on weekdays, or at all on weekends, however most are monitored until 10 p.m. or later seven days a week. Each meter will clearly state hours of enforcement. Be aware that a flat $25 rate is enforced for certain events (Twins and Vikings games, etc), no matter how long you plan to park. For detailed information, check the interactive Minneapolis Street Parking Map.
The Central Business District should be wholly walkable for the most part. If you want to get off your feet for a bit, several buses, including the Bus Route 18, run up and down Nicollet. Keep an eye out for the “FREE RIDE” buses that travel back and forth on this section of Nicollet as well.
You may prefer to bike or scoot your way around the city. Nice Ride and electric scooters, Lime and Bird are out in full strength during the warmer months, especially in the Central Business District. It’s an easy way to get from point a to point b and be surrounded by bustle of downtown living.
Your perpendicular option, the Light Rail Blue and Green Lines, run roughly east-west through downtown on 5th Street. A ride within the downtown zone is only $0.50.