My mom has never properly visited Minnesota since dropping me off at college 3 years ago at Orientation. So with my mom in town for a week, I’ve decided to take her to all of the must-go places in the Twin Cities.
(In case you’re not familiar with the term “Twin Cities”, it’s used to reference the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area within Minnesota. The two cities never converged because the Mississippi River runs straight down between the two cities.)
Without further ado, here’s a list of 10 fun and cheap things to do in the Twin Cities:
1. Watch a show at the Guthrie Theater
Wait. Didn’t I say that this list is filled with cheap things to do? Hear me out. For play lovers (like me), you can score a ticket to a Guthrie play for around $40. If you can go during preview week, a ticket can go for even under $30. That’s a steal compared to tickets to other plays and musicals that sell for well over $80-90 a ticket!
The Guthrie Theater itself is a work of art, so even if you’re not into plays, you can still visit the building and check out its cool architecture and interior design. They have architecture tours and backstage tours that you can sign up for as well. The Bridge to Nowhere (see bottom left of the photo above) is a favorite among many locals and is a great spot for taking photos of the Stone Arch Bridge.
My mom and I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner on the Thrust Stage, one of 3 spaces at Guthrie. The stage’s intimate setting allows us to immerse ourselves in the story plot; every seat in the Thrust Stage has a good view (we sat in the third to last row). One of the things that I particularly like about the Guthrie is that the plays are very relevant to current events and/or extremely thought-provoking. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a play that centers around an interracial couple in 1967 that is trying to gain the approval of their parents. After watching the impressive performance, I’ll definitely be back for more shows (with my student discount).
2. Stroll along the Stone Arch Bridge
Just a 5-minute walk from the Guthrie Theater, the beautiful architecture of the Stone Arch Bridge cannot be missed. On any given day, you can see runners and cyclists getting in their daily exercise, families strolling along, and tourists taking photos of the view. Like its name, the bridge is made entirely out of stone. It’s the only one of its kind on the Mississippi River. Go stroll on the bridge during Minnesotan summer nights – just make sure to bring bug spray!
3. Admire art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Since I’m not the biggest fan of more traditional forms of Western art, I love visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see their temporary exhibitions that showcase more modern styles of art. First of all, admission is free! Second, their permanent collections have pieces from all over the world; however, I tend to gravitate towards their galleries of photography and less conventional pieces.
During the visit with my mom, MIA had several exhibits that relate to art by Japanese artists. They were a collection of sculptures, photography, and paintings of various topics. One exhibition, “Excavating the Future City”, displayed the photos taken chronologically after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake which was extremely powerful. The Japanese artists’ photography was very simple and minimal yet it conveys a sense of beauty in its tranquility and simplicity. Another exhibition, “Boundless Peaks”, showcases the works of Minol Araki. His beautiful ink paintings show very impressive brush strokes and the usage of color gradation to create shadows. The work below was my favorite; I like how the pink color stands in contrast with the rest of the blacks and greys in the painting.
4. Take the iconic photo with the Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Going the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which is part of the Walker Art Center next door, is a must when you’re visiting the Twin Cities. According to a very unscientific study, the Walker Art Center says that 93% of locals have at least one photo with the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture. I’m not sure if I can be classified as a local, but I can tell you that I have at least 2 photos there 😀
The top of the cherry stem sprays out water, which feels rather nice on hot summer days (yes, we do have summer in Minnesota). It’s cute. It’s a bit odd. It’s definitely photo-worthy.
BONUS: Visit the Walker Art Center next to the garden!
If you’re not THAT excited about the $15 entrance fee at the Walker, visit during Target Free Thursday Nights from 5-9PM or Free First Saturdays of the month. (Save your money for the $5 parking fee instead.) The Walker Art Center showcases contemporary visual and performance art for visitors. I enjoyed the “I am you, you are too” exhibit, which “explore contemporary life through themes of citizenship and belonging, borders and barriers, and ways in which everyday life informs our understanding of ourselves.” In the photos below, I have taken several images of the art that was on display in the exhibit.
5. Shop ’til you drop at the largest mall in the United States
If you’re a shopaholic like me, the Mall of America is definitely the place for you. It’s located one light rail stop away from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport, making it a perfect place to spend a layover if you like shopping. They have everything from discount stores like Nordstrom Rack to high-end shops like Burberry. Oddly enough, I also like eating my way through the mall while shopping. MOA has a huge selection of dining options since their recent renovation of the North side of the mall.
Most notably, though, is probably the huge amusement park that’s smack in the middle of the mall. The Nickelodeon Universe has all the kiddie and thrill rides to satisfy all amusement park cravings. While I’m not a fan of these rides, many others are, and you hear screams of joy and delight from roller coasters.
6. See interactive exhibits at the Science Museum of Minnesota
I’m a bit biased on this one. Since I fulfill my work-study portion of my college financial aid package at the Science Museum of Minnesota, I do think that the museum is a great place to bring friends and family. Aside from the typical science-y exhibits on human anatomy and skeletal structures of dinosaurs, SMM also hosts a variety of super awesome (but temporary exhibits). One of my favorite exhibits was the Science Behind Pixar, where visitors could learn about the process that goes behind digital animation. Currently, SMM has two temporary exhibits: Mind Matters, which is an exhibit that aims to start a conversation and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, and Towers of Tomorrow, an exhibit that showcases skyscraper replicas in LEGO and allows visitors to build their own LEGO towers. The Science Museum of Minnesota has things for visitors of all ages, and 21+ visitors can sign up for Social Science events for some drinks and music throughout the year. Don’t forget to watch a film in the Omnitheater! SMM is 1 of 4 IMAX theaters that still do screenings with film (as opposed to digitally).
7. Join the ice cream debate and see which ice cream is the best in the Twin Cities
There are a ton of local ice cream shops around and as a result, there are rivalries. I’m not as familiar with the places in Minneapolis, but I absolutely love the Thai Tea flavor from Milkjam Creamery in Uptown. It tastes just like boba! My all-time favorite has to be Grand Ole Creamery though. Their portions are generous, and the ice cream is thick and creamy. The waffle bowl changes up the texture and makes eating a fun experience. Izzy’s Ice Cream is a close second; I had their Honey flavor and you can taste little, crystallized honey inside. Sooooooo good!
8. Eat this. Eat that. Eat everything!
The Twin Cities is no New York or Los Angeles, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a diverse range of international cuisines. If you know me, you know that I swear by Yelp when finding new places to eat.
A cheap and delicious favorite noodle soup, pho is like comfort food to me. The kid’s size bowl of pho from iPho by Saigon can easily fill me up for $5.50. I also really like Fasika, which is an Ethiopian restaurant. You don’t use eating utensils here and portions are ridiculously huge. A friend and I shared one platter and were still comfortably full ($25 for 2 after tax+tip!). You can’t go wrong with restaurants on University Avenue. These restaurants are usually run by immigrant families that can cook up a storm and serve authentic foods for a great price.
Another favorite restaurant of Macalester students and locals alike is Shish. They serve Mediterranean food and the chicken shawarma is only $6 with pita bread. There are so many choices in the Twin Cities – you just need to find them (on Yelp)!
9. Take in some nature and history at Fort Snelling
The area surrounding Fort Snelling is not only an area for outdoor recreation but also for learning. Historic Fort Snelling offers plenty of knowledge for history buffs. During my visit two years ago, I learned about the importance that Fort Snelling holds for Americans and for the Dakota tribe.
Throughout my entire visit, the staff at Fort Snelling emphasized the importance of tolerance and language used to address the Dakota people. They also restated the two-sidedness of Fort Snelling; while it held nationalistic importance during wars, it was also a place of conflict and distrust for the Native Americans. The staff’s willingness to state the two sides of Fort Snelling shows the progress that we, as a country, have made in trying to understanding the (shameful?) past and the progress that we have made moving away from the conflict. I wrote about my trip in a previous blog post here.
10. Devour a Juicy Lucy burger
I didn’t learn about the Juicy Lucy until after I started college here in Minnesota. A local Minnesotan creation, a Juicy Lucy burger consists of a meat patty that is stuffed with cheese inside. I’ll have to admit that I haven’t tried that many Juicy Lucys so I’m not the best person to go to for recommendations. However, the photos I included here are from my visit to Casper and Runyon’s Nook in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. Make sure to wait before biting in so that you don’t get burnt by the cheese!
That’s it for my 10 fun and cheap things to do in the Twin Cities! I hope you found my suggestions helpful and learned something new about the Twin Cities. Tell me your suggestions in the comments if you live in the area or have visited Minneapolis-Saint Paul yourself 🙂