Minneapolis. What comes to mind? Prince’s purple jumpsuit, Francis McDormand’s accent in the movie Fargo, the Mall of America and six months of winter.
Perhaps the larger of the Twin Cities (Saint Paul being the smaller) is not on the tourist map, but it often gets props for being a nice place to live. (Forbes called it most affordable city to live well. The Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth was rated the best place to live by CNNMoney).
So it’s a fine place to live. But why visit?
First, there is the food…then the live music, the art, the coffee shops, and, of course, the fact that Minneapolis is second only the New York in number of theater seats per capita.
Bring your coat (and if your ears are delicate, a hat as well) during the winter, but don’t expect ice fishing weather from April to October. That is when the city’s lakes, trails, and outdoor events make it a budget traveler’s dream destination.
It will soon be cheaper to fly to Minneapolis. Southwest will be launching flights to and from Chicago Midway in March. From Chicago, you can get a connection to any city in the US that Southwest flies. That will drive down airfares to MSP, once a stronghold of Northwest. Names like Megabus, Greyhound and Amtrak are also players in the transit game. Minneapolis sits in the cross-hair made by Interstates 35 and 94. It is reachable by car in a day from virtually anywhere in the Midwest.
The bus and train system is better than average for a mid-sized city, but still far from perfect. This is a driving city, especially if you want to take advantage of outdoor activities. Summer is bicycling weather and most of the urban destinations are within pedaling distance of one another. Buses and the new light rail system both allow bikers to bring their wheels on board.
What to do
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free every day and often holds special events and exhibits. The nationally famous Walker Art Museum has free admission on the evening of the first Thursday of every month (with plenty of events and activities on offer). The adjacent sculpture garden is open year round, but is mainly a summertime attraction. The Como Zoo (actually in Saint Paul) does not charge for entry and is known for its polar bears and penguin exhibit. It is also free to peruse the art galleries in the growing hipster hot-spot of Northeast Minneapolis (Nordeast).
Theater prices can vary greatly. The Orpheum and Guthrie put on world-class stage productions, but tickets are highly priced unless you luck out in the rush line. There are plenty of other professional theaters and live music venues. These vary in size from a few thousand to a few seats. City Pages (print version is free at pretty much every restaurant, coffee shop and bar in the city) has a complete list of weekly events plus a collection of liberal editorial rants and naughty adverts in back. There is no better source for what happening and what’s cheap each week.
What to do (summer)
An evening stroll around Lake Harriet or Lake Calhoun, capped by a stop at one of the neighborhood bars or cafés in the area, is a pleasant (and cheap) way to spend a few hours. If you are on the prowl, such a trek can easily be seen as a chance to check out some attractive joggers. If that’s too low-brow, there’s the Shakespeare in the Park series during the summer and $2 movies at the historic Riverview Theater near the Mississippi River Road.
Where to Eat
Ethnic eateries line University Ave in St. Paul (from the State Capital to Snelling). These offer a filling, good meal for under 10 dollars. There is a similar strip in Minneapolis on Nicollet Ave. Sandwich shops, bistros, and cafes offer cheap fare throughout South Minneapolis and near the University of Minnesota.
Where to Drink
Nordeast is one of those hip artsy neighborhoods. Though its desirability is growing, there are still plenty of spots catering to the “I’m hip and creative but rather poor” crowd. Lots of these have live music or events on the weekend evenings (and good people watching every night of the week). If you are looking for some fun of the beer-in-a-pitcher variety, virtually any venue on or near the U of M campus will do.
Minneapolis offers a genuinely laid back trip. Cold weather or warm, there is plenty going on. And no, not everyone talks like Francis McDormand in Fargo.