Two Days in Minneapolis
Are you or a good friend of yours zapping through Minneapolis and want to see some of the best the city has to offer? Read on!
Why Minneapolis isn’t the brunch capital of the universe, we don’t know. Locals take breakfast/brunch very seriously. Weekends are planned around it. With only two days, you don’t have time for three-hour meals and bottomless mimosas, but you don’t want to miss out on this time-honored tradition.
If you’re downtown, check out Key’s Café, where breakfast means giant omelets and items from their in-house bakery. Hen House also boasts an amazing breakfast and bakery. Or go for broke at Ike’s Food & Cocktails and their gut-busting, “family style” brunch.
If you’re in South Minneapolis, there are the renowned brunches at Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery and the eternally hip Bryant-Lake Bowl.
Over in Northeast is long time brunch favorite, Red Stag Supperclub.
Morning – The Great Outdoors
Minneapolis is a year-round outdoor destination and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hop on a NiceRide bike and see where fate takes you. A cruise along the Mississippi is a good place to get started. If a surge of energy hits, just keep going as the River Boulevard is a key link on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 51-mile loop composed of parkways, boulevards, trails and lakes. It’s the only scenic byway in the country located entirely within an urban area.
If there’s snow on the ground, head for one of the city’s parks. You’ll have plenty to choose from as, by design, no Minneapolis resident lives farther than six blocks from a park. Some of these parks have hills for sledding and trails for skiing. Or, if you haven’t already, experience the surreal feeling of walking across a frozen lake. (But heed warning signs about ices thickness!) This activity unnerves the people from warm-weather climates every time.
Afternoon – The Great Indoors
If the weather is nice, ignore this part and just keep doing what you were doing in the morning, because nothing beats a sunny day in Minneapolis.
If you wore yourself out in the morning, decamp to one of the city’s countless patios for a drink and idle snacking. Some of the strongest patio concentrations are in Downtown Minneapolis and along Main Street across the river.
Inside options abound, but if you’re looking to do a “best of” activity, consider MIA, formerly known as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the city’s art keystone for over 100 years. With the exception of special exhibits, admission to MIA is free. Their collection is composed of a staggering 89,000 objects, including world-famous works representing about 20,000 years of history across all continents. You’re even allowed to snap photos for personal or scholarly use.
Then there’s the fascinating history of Minneapolis and its flour milling industry at the Mill City Museum, memorably presented in the multimedia “Four Tower” show, staged inside a rumbling freight elevator.
Evening - Theater
More than half a century of live theater excellence means there’s a live show somewhere in town to please just about anyone.
The crown jewel of the Twin Cities’ distinguished theater community is the Guthrie Theater. Founded in 1963 (relocated to its current site in 2006), the Guthrie stages performances year-round in its three-theater complex on Mississippi River Boulevard. It also has a wonderful on-site seafood restaurant, Sea Change, and irresistible photo opportunities out on the 178-foot cantilever known as the “Endless Bridge” and yellow-filtered, 360-degree views up in the “Amber Box.”
Nearby places to get a pre-show meal worthy of a fancy night out include The Bachelor Farmer with a menu originally designed by James Beard award-winning chef Paul Berglund. Their dedication to using fresh, locally-source ingredients year-round (including from their rooftop garden) and whole-animal butchery sparked a proud and pleasing trend that can now be found in restaurants around the city. Across the street is Spoon and Stable, run by James Beard Award winner, cooking superhero and Minnesota native, Gavin Kaysen. The menu is relatively short, with a Midwest seasonal theme, though tantalizing seafood options are also represented. 112 Eatery, owned and designed by James Beard award winner Chef Isaac Becker, serves “elevated comfort fare” conceived of to please off-duty chefs.
Alternatively, there’s Hennepin Avenue’s theater district, hosting top-shelf national and international productions and artists. The Orpheum, State, and Pantages Theaters are where touring Broadway plays, musicals, comedies and concerts make their stops. In operation since 1958, the legendary Brave New Workshop is the longest, continuously running sketch comedy and improve theater in the country. Illusion Theater, based in the Cowles Center, produces original theater, music and dance productions, many of which address current social issues. Orchestra Hall is home to the distinguished, Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903, who stage roughly 175 performances each year.
Pre-dinner options in the area are plentiful. CRAVE’s American/Japanese combo menu manages to do justice to both cuisines, including some epic sushi platters. Just downstairs is brewpub chain Rock Bottom, serving upscale pub food and several in-house brewed beers on tap. The Capital Grill sets the steakhouse scene wonderfully, with classy décor, classier service and truly wonderful cuts of beef. Their Signature Cheeseburger is among the best in the city.
If you’re willing to go a bit farther afield before your show, you have many strong options. Quite close by is the wonderful Butcher & the Boar, with a menu bursting with sausage, charcuterie and, obviously, boar. The sampler is the way to go. Near Loring Park, 4 Bells serves “South Carolina low-country” food in the form of fried chicken, beef and pretty much the whole checklist of east coast seafood.
Outside of downtown, the theater options are no less appealing. An important component of the city’s performance legacy is the Children’s Theatre Company (formerly known as “The Moppet Players”), still going strong after 50 years and over 200 productions. The theater has been named “The #1 children’s theatre in the nation,” by Time magazine. It’s considered to be “North America’s flagship theatre for multigenerational audiences.” The Jungle Theater, founded in 1991, operates out of a 150-seat space, where they impressively produce five shows each year in their mission to be “a neighborhood theater with national impact.” Minneapolis has a long history with comedy improv, something that HUGE Theater has dedicated its space to since 2010.
Launched in 1992, the Pillsbury House Theater produces three main stage productions annually, focusing on contemporary works, a late-night series that includes a meal with the artists and “Naked Stages” where emerging artists perform new pieces after a seven-month training fellowship. Renowned institution, In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, produces full-length puppet plays geared for families and adults, using puppets and masks they design and build themselves.
Outstanding dining choice before shows in this area are, again, numerous. Just about anything in our Eat Street guide will fit the bill.
Morning – Cover Some Ground
Have breakfast at one of the places listed under Day 1 or talk to a (qualified!) local about even more options.
You may have heard that Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Though it is a tidy slogan, it is also a dirty lie. There are in fact 11,842 lakes, with more cumulative shoreline than California and Hawaii combined. Inside the Minneapolis city limits there are 13 lakes to choose from, but for a maximum lake quotient in minimal time, you’ll want to visit the Chain of Lakes, near Uptown. This grouping is composed of Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet (arguably the two most popular lakes in the city), Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake. They all have bike and pedestrian paths, boating, kayaking, gardens and picnic areas. Also available at some lakes are facilities for archery, fishing, tennis, soccer, volleyball, grills, skiing paths, ice rinks and hot food.
Prefer to get in your steps shopping? Then, check out a few of the city’s concentrated shopping destinations.
In the North Loop, the Minneapolis Farmers Market, opened in 1937 at its current location (the original opened in 1876), currently has 230 vendors working out of 170 stalls. Products include seasonal fruits and vegetable, beef, poultry, pork, bison, cheese, honey, eggs, wild rice, herbs, flowers and garden items. The market is open year-round, with reduced hours in winter. The adjacent, unaffiliated Farmers Market Annex, open on weekends only, sells pottery, metal sculptures, wood carvings, clothing, jewelry, crafts, paintings, and more.
D. NOLO (“Destination: North Loop”), described as a “curated collection of unexpected finds,” is a boutique shop selling fashion-forward women’s clothing, home goods and accessories. Grethen House stocks a delightful variety of upscale women’s clothing and accessories, with a sharp eye on trends and the season. Statement Boutique carries “approachable” (meaning price-wise) local and designer jewelry, clothes and accessories.
Askov Finlayson sells high-end, magazine photo shoot-ready men’s clothing, bags, accessories, apothecary items, outdoor apparel and supplies. You can tell proud Minnesotans own the store, with the “North” theme emblazoned across its products. Men’s clothing and formalwear shop Atmosfere are best known for their suits for weddings and similarly swanky affairs, but they also carry a selection of business and casual clothing. National chain Filson stocks similarly upscale goods like outdoor clothing, supplies, bags and camping items. Its adjacent sister shop, Shinola, stocks a curious mix of men’s and women’s apparel, watches, bikes and audio equipment. Wilson and Willy’s is a “modern day general store,” featuring Minnesota-made items like men and women’s apparel, home furnishings, décor and accessories, and apothecary products.
James & Mary Laurie Booksellers, founded in 1969, have accumulated a staggering 120,000 books (many of them hard to find or out of print) and 30,000 vintage classical and jazz records. Jeromeo wellness center and shop offers both massage therapy and items like jewelry, pottery, art, antiques, and other home and personal items.
One on One is a bike shop/café hybrid. They sell new, refurbished and custom bikes, do repair and have an Indiana Jones-caliber “bike junkyard” in the basement where the patient and curious can dig through the heap of bikes and parts.
There are a number of shops and “malls” around Cedar Riverside selling clothing, jewelry, art, food, hookhas, and other imported merchandise from Africa and Asia. To get you started, check out Al Karama Exotic Clothing & Furniture (415 Cedar Ave S) and Dalab Jewelry & Fashion at the same location, upstairs in Suite 5.
The outdoor gear and apparel wonderland that is the sprawling Midwest Mountaineering has occupied prime Cedar Avenue real estate since the mid-70s. They stock equipment for camping, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, skiing and skating, and hold regular sales and special events. Upstairs is Thrifty Outfitters, who stock (and repair!) discounted outdoor apparel and gear.
The original Freewheel Bike (they now have three locations, plus a mobile service van) is a beloved retail and repair shop. Since 1974, they have been promoting Minneapolis cycling culture, including a repair shop open for public use. Their fiercely loyal customers credit the low-key, friendly, expert staff for their ongoing patronage. Much later to the scene, but nevertheless a popular, community-oriented option is The Hub Bicycle Co-operative, who sell gear, new and used bikes and do repair.
Mayday Books, founded in 1975, is a volunteer-run, progressive, non-profit book shop that now resides in a cozy basement location on Cedar Avenue. It’s a decidedly political outfit that runs meetings, readings, film screenings, discussion groups and more.
In Midtown, you have a more international, crafty scene. Both the Midtown Global Market and Mercado Central have a substantial amount of shopping options in and around their food courts, including apparel, jewelry, art, groceries, books, alcohol, and a wide variety of home goods. Lake Plaza is another food court and bazaar catering to the Hispanic community, with 84 food and retail vendors. The Midtown Farmers Market is open May through October, Saturdays (8 a.m. – 1 p.m.) and Tuesdays (3 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.). On hand is fresh produce, eggs, chicken, honey, maple syrup, flowers, spices, bread, sauces, jams, jellies, arts, craft and a variety of ready-to-eat food. There’s also live music!
Farther east, Shantie Plaza carries traditional, handmade Indian apparel, including saris, kurtas, lehengas, and accessories. Hymie’s Vintage Records, described by Rolling Stone as “a classic, overstuffed mom-and-pop used-vinyl haven,” has been operating on Lake Street since 1988. And it wouldn’t be a proper Minneapolis neighborhood without a bike co-op, a role The Hub Bike Co-op serves wonderfully. They have open shop events for DIY repair, classes on things like bike maintenance and winter riding, and they sell rehabbed bikes and gear for budget-minded shoppers.
If the weather doesn’t suit you, indulge in one of the city’s defining physical attractions: Minneapolis Skyway System. This is the largest, contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges in the world, composed of roughly 11 miles of pathways connecting 80 city blocks. The system connects corporate offices, bars, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, government services, retail, gyms, grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, doctors, dentists, masseurs, pharmacies, hair and nail salons, dry cleaners, live theaters, three pro sports facilities, a church, art exhibits and, well, you get the idea. Exploration and getting lost are the purest form of experiencing the skyways or opt for a themed, self-guided tour if you want to focus your wandering.
You can download a complete skyway map here.
Lunch – Why Minneapolis Is Among the Best
The Wall Street Journal named Minneapolis as one of the top places in the world to visit in 2018, sharing space with such exotic destinations as Grenada, Madagascar, Shanghai and Montenegro. One of the reasons we earned this recognition is our food scene, driven by 13 James Beard Award finalists. So, if you haven’t already, treat yourself to one of the city’s top meals, at lunchtime prices.
The James Beard influence at the Bachelor Farmer, Spoon and Stable and 112 Eatery were already mentioned above. Additionally there is James Beard greatness behind the scenes at Bar La Grassa, serving a wide variety of pastas and other crowd-pleasing Italian staples and the recently reopened Grand Café, serving French bistro classics with creative flourishes.
Afternoon – Drink It In
The craft beer scene has landed on Northeast Minneapolis hard. There are more than a half dozen breweries, distilleries and even the odd cidery, including numerous tap rooms serving it all. It’s a great area for a weekend brewery crawl or a dedicated night in a craft beer bar sampling beers from across the neighborhood.
The dizzying options include the 612 Brew and its enormous indoor, wood-brick space and a small, atmospheric stone amphitheater outside. They keep about 10 of their products on tap at any given time. Bauhaus Brew Labs serves a German-American beer hybrid in their busy taproom which hosts events like film screenings, trivia and live music. Indeed Brewing Company has two taprooms, serving pints of their flagship Day Tripper Pale Ale, IPAs, “experimental brews,” and the Wooden Soul series of wild, sour and barrel-aged beer. Finally, there is Sociable Cider Werks, for those who like a little apple zing with their brewery explorations.
For a full listing of craft breweries, click here.
Evening – Live Music
If you didn’t come to Minneapolis already equipped with plans to catch live music, allow us to persuade you. Without question, the city’s most famous live music venue is First Avenue. It had 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, Iggy and The Stooges, The Cure, The Replacements, U2, REM, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Moby, 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.
Also downtown is the Dakota Jazz Club, a delightful music venue/chef-driven restaurant combination. Prince liked to frequent the Dakota as both guest and as performer, which is about as high praise as a place can get. And the debut of the Minneapolis Armory, a much needed mid-sized music venue, will coincide with the 2018 Super Bowl.
If dancing to live music is more your speed, the North Loop’s legendary Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill has hosted live music seven days a week since 1976. Thanks to Prince’s former habit of dropping in to see music and sometimes hitting the stage to jam, popular musicians passing through town now occasionally do the same.
The Cabooze attracts music artists ranging from up-and-coming, buzz-worthy acts to groups on nostalgia tours to those that aren’t quite ready for an arena show, but almost. If an act is big enough, they stage it out in the parking lot. Originally a movie house, the Cedar Cultural Center has been one of the city’s most respected music venues since 1989, hosting jazz, indie, world, blues and folk artists as well as other live performances.