I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, but I didn’t really start to explore the city until I moved there to go to college. It quickly became one of my favorite places—the sprawl of tree-lined streets, the tall stone buildings, the little cafes, the skyline across the river. At the moment, I live twenty minutes from downtown Minneapolis, and (with a very few exceptions) I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
It’s been a while since I went into the city just for the sake of wandering around and exploring, but I used to do that a lot when I was in school. It was so easy to hop on the bus or the lightrail and head downtown to the stadium or to the Stone Arch Bridge.
While you probably don’t want to be doing too much outdoor exploration in Minnesota in the depths of winter, here are my favorite neighborhoods to visit in the city during the warmer months.
This large and busy neighborhood draws a young crowd. It’s a great place for shopping—everything is pretty close together and easily walkable. The center of activity is the square formed by West Lake Street, Hennepin Avenue, and West 31st Street, where you can try free coffee samples at Nespresso or play the piano downstairs in the Calhoun Square mall; check out specialty shops like Penzeys Spices; or visit classy clubs and bars like Stella’s Fish Cafe. A prime area for shopping, Uptown is home to two-story installments of Urban Outfitters, Ragstock, H&M, and more.
There’s plenty of spillover from the artsy side of Minneapolis here. The Uptown Theatre shows a lot of indie movies, and Magers and Quinn Booksellers frequently holds author readings and other bookworm-friendly events like the “Lit Crawl” in the summer. There’s swing dancing at the Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square on Monday nights. Minnesota’s largest art fair also happens in Uptown for a weekend every August.
If you head down Lake Street towards Lake Calhoun, you will run into a few popular brunch places such as Barbette; I also recommend a stroll around the Lake of the Isles in the summer. A longer walk up Hennepin Avenue will take you to well-loved coffee shops like Uncommon Grounds and Spyhouse as well as the 24-hour Uptown Diner—a greasy and affordable haunt for students and night owls.
Adjacent to Uptown by only a few blocks is the equally trendy (and equally hard to park in) Lynlake neighborhood, a cluster of shops and restaurants where you can find:
- Milkjam Creamery, a hip ice cream place with unique flavors
- The breakfasty Lynhall and French Meadow Bakery
- The perpetually crowded Up-Down arcade
- A number of breweries
- The Wedge Community Co-op, where you can stock up on organic foods and environmentally friendly products. I grew up going here; try the dairy-free coconut ice cream.
- My favorite restaurant, Lago Tacos.
Linden Hills & Lake Harriet
On the other side of Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet is edged by the beautiful Rose and Rock Gardens and the band shell, where movies and music are played during the summer. Follow Lake Harriet Parkway around to Linden Hills Boulevard for the quiet Linden Hills neighborhood. Stop for coffee or a bite to eat at one of the upscale independent cafes; shop for quirky trinkets or decor at Bibelot or the craft store Heartfelt; pop in for a bread sample at the Great Harvest Bakery; and pay a visit to the cats and other creatures that roam the delightful Wild Rumpus bookstore.
Drive or walk along Kenwood Parkway to see some of the big, beautiful old mansions that are the hallmark of this affluent neighborhood. Kenwood is near the Sculpture Garden, where you can view the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry and other sculptures.
The Stone Arch Bridge
This is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Minneapolis. The bridge itself is beautiful, but I also love the surrounding areas, which sort of fit into the St. Anthony Main and Downtown East neighborhoods.
Be sure to:
- Climb to the top of the hill at Gold Medal Park
- Stop for a cone at Izzy’s, the go-to Minneapolis-St. Paul ice cream shop
- Take advantage of the photo ops in the yellow room and on the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater
- Wander through Mill Ruins Park and the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park below the Stone Arch Bridge
- Visit the Mill City Museum
- Walk or bike along SE Main Street and admire the beautiful stone buildings on the other side of the bridge. Stop into the Aster Cafe for live music most afternoons.
My home for two years during college, Dinkytown will always hold a special place in my heart. Even though some of the restaurants there are getting nudged out in favor of more student housing, you can’t miss getting a burger and malt from Annie’s on the corner of University and 14th. If you need a late-night sugar boost, you can make a stop at Insomnia Cookies. From University Avenue, you can see the Minneapolis skyline as well as some of the University of Minnesota campus—a pretty place to go for a walk.
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