Summer Family Fun in the Twin Cities
Summer Fun in Minnesota's Twin Cities
By Shelley Seale
The end of the school year is fast approaching, leaving many people wrestling with that annual decision: Where to go on summer family vacation?
There are always lots of factors: A variety of activities so that everyone along on the trip will enjoy themselves; weather and climate; ease of getting there; and cost, among other things. Minnesota is a great place to consider.
It's absolutely spectacular in the summertime, and provides a diversity of attractions from lakes, zoos, hiking/biking trails, golf and other outdoor activities; to world-class museums, amusement parks, and a wealth of kid-friendly activites, for kids of all ages (whether 1 or 100!).
The biggest metropolitan area is the Twin Cities, referring to Minneapolis and Saint Paul. However, there is really also a third major connected city offering huge choices in fun activities — Bloomington. With a combined 90,000 miles of shoreline and 929 metro area lakes, it's no mystery why Forbes called them the nation's healthiest cities.
Here, grouped by the three areas, are our picks for family fun in the area this summer.
This vibrant city is filled with culture, art, recreational activities and fun attractions that will appeal to everyone from the rowdiest kid to the most sophisticated cosmopolitan. Get acquainted with Minneapolis by first visiting the Stone Arch Bridge.
It’s recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark that spans 2,100 feet across the Mississippi River. You won’t get a better view of the Minneapolis skyline and St. Anthony Falls. To get a sense of the city's past, visit the unique Mill City Museum, which was built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. Here, visitors of all ages learn about the intertwined histories of the flour industry, the river, and the city of Minneapolis.
Let's Go to the Zoo!
The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley encompasses 500 acres with close to 3,000 animals and 504 species. And when it comes to the art and culture scene, you don't have to leave the kids behind; youngsters will love the famed spoon-and-cherry outdoor sculpture at the Walker Art Center, as well as taking in a show at the Children’s Theatre Company. Discover paintings by van Gogh at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, catch a Broadway show at the Orpheum Theatre, or enjoy the melodic sounds played at the newly renovated Orchestra Hall.
Minnesota wasn’t named the Land of 10,000 Lakes for nothing. Get outdoors on these beautiful waterways for swimming and boating; or catch a baseball game at Target Field. The most bike-friendly city in America also boasts one of the only fully urban scenic byways in the country. Don't have a bike? You can rent one at an extremely affordable price from the many Nice Ride stations across Minneapolis. With nearly 200 miles of recreational paths winding through the metro area, there is a park within six blocks of every residence in the city.
Staying at a chic urban hotel like the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown allows you to be near all the walkable action; yet it's also an easy hotel (and downtown area) to get into and out of to see other parts of the Twin Cities by car.
Families can start at the acclaimed Minnesota Children’s Museum downtown, which they will find undertaking an expansion and renovation to add entirely new exhibits, including a multi-story climber, expanded toddler gallery, exciting air-and-water gallery and more; a café with coffeebar, and other amenities.
With permanent and rotating hands-on exhibits that fuel learning, interaction and imagination, this children's museum is a must-stop for families.
There is also another location in Rochester, and a small museum annex at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Next, check out the Science Museum of Minnesota, founded in 1907 and offering 370,000 square feet of activities including a 10,000-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery, five permanent galleries, 10 acres of outdoor exhibits, and an Imax Convertible Dome Omnitheater.
At the Twin Cities' other zoo, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the whole family will enjoy seeing polar bears, zebras, lemurs and 1,000 other animals that call the zoo home. Also check out Como Town, the adjacently located kid-centered amusement park, or the beautiful displays of exotic plants at the conservatory gardens.
St. Paul is also full of history, from the Summit Avenue district where you can admire some of the state's most beautiful Gilded Age architecture. Named one of America’s Great Streets, Summit Avenue is where you will find the former home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (at 599); the home where the famed author was born is also in this neighborhood (481 Laurel Ave).
The James J. Hill House is open to the public for tours, and they often host fun family events such as Easter Egg hunts and other holiday events; Victorian ghost stories; and live music.
They also offer walking tours of the historic neighborhood, which is home to the longest remaining stretch of Victorian homes in the country.
Bloomington/Mall of America
We should start by clarifying: this is not your standard shopping mall. Mall of America is more like a shopping/eating/playing mecca, truly a destination in itself where you could spend days and not do it all.
From the fun-for-all-ages Nickelodeon Universe amusement park and Seal Life Aquarium, to Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, a small annex of the Minnesota Children’s museum, the Lego Imagination Center, a mirror maze, flight simulation center, and the new Crayola Experience, MOA wins over even people such as myself who don't like malls.
There are also plenty of hotel options right there — my pick was the Radisson Hotel Bloomington, which is home within the hotel itself to the Water Park of America; a total blast at all times of year since it’s completely enclosed inside. Plus, Radisson hotel guests get exclusive use of the water park from 9-11 each morning, so you can avoid the crowds.
Of course, if you do want to shop, this is the place to do it. With no sales tax on clothes and shoes in the state, the savings here are unbeatable.
MOA is home to many upscale, buzz-worth restaurants including Crave, Cedar + Stone Urban Table and the FireLake Grill House + Cocktail Bar; along with family fun dining spots like Rainforest Café.
Catch a flick at the huge movie theater or, for adults, have a night of laughter at House of Comedy. Happy hour specials, salsa dancing lessons and live bands every weekend provide plenty of entertainment for the grown-ups.
With the Twin Cities served by all major airlines and an easy drive from most of the Midwest, the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area is hard to beat for summertime family fun.
Shelley Seale is an Austin Texas-based freelance journalist who writes about lifestyle, travel, health, education, business, and nonprofit issues. She writes about her adventures around the world at her blog, Trading Places