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Top Ten Cities For You and Your Kids: Minneapolis, Minnesota

by Elaine Sosa Labalme

The Mississippi River cuts a swath through the eastern side of Minneapolis while the Chain of Lakes graces its western flank.  In between, you’ll find a city that has reinvented itself from a onetime milling capital to a destination filled with museums, attractions and sporting venues.  An outside-in approach to Minneapolis makes the most sense and makes it possible for families to enjoy the city’s splendor year round.

Round Town

Begin your exploration of Minneapolis along the Nicollet Mall, a downtown thoroughfare characterized by ultra-wide sidewalks and leafy trees.  Fountains gurgle, buskers play and workers stride purposefully when they’re not on one of the many bicycles made available by Nice Ride Minnesota, a bike-sharing program that is the envy of the region.  Direct your gaze skyward, the better to ogle a downtown skyline filled with high-rises both old and new.  Many of the newer buildings are glass sheets that act as mirrors for surrounding structures yet it’s the older ones that captivate such as the Westin Hotel, an art-deco marvel in the old Farmers and Mechanics building and The Hotel Minneapolis, awash in the Carrera marble that was original to the building circa 1916.  A bronze statue of “local” Mary Tyler Moore flinging her hat into the air is at the corner of Seventh and Nicollet whereas the new central library designed by architect Cesar Pelli is three blocks north and definitely worth a visit.  Make a right at 2nd Street S. and head to the Guthrie Theater, enclosed in a blue glass cube on the shores of the Mississippi.  The building offers free public access and if you head upstairs to the cantilever deck, you’ll find yourself hanging over the river.

Much of Minneapolis is easily accessible to cyclists via the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a 52-mile loop trail that surrounds one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation.  Rent a bike at Wheel Fun Rentals on the shores of Lake Calhoun and pedal its 3.1 mile circumference before moving on to cozy Lake Harriet, sweetest member of the Chain of Lakes.  Stop at the old-time band shell and adjacent playground before indulging in a canoe or kayak rental.  Returning to Lake Calhoun, take the Midtown Greenway just north and make your way across town to the riverfront but not before stopping at Los Ocampo on nearby Lake Street for a burrito that’s big enough for two.  From the riverfront, head north and if time and energy allow, bike up to and across the ped-friendly Stone Arch Bridge that spans the Mississippi.  The pocket map published by Nice Ride Minnesota is all you’ll need for directional assistance.  minneapolisparks.org/grandrounds/home.htm

Be a Sport

All four major professional sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) are played in the Twin Cities and the newest sports facility is Target Field, home of the Minneapolis Twins baseball club.  The LEED-certified stadium opened in 2010 and features a rooftop canopy that encloses field lights and provides coverage to 35% of seats.  The Kramarczuk brats are made a mile away on game day and beg to be followed by Talenti Gelato, sold at carts throughout the stadium in mouth-watering flavors like Caramel Cookie Crunch, Double Dark Chocolate and Tahitian Vanilla Bean.  Gawk at the digital scoreboard, the fourth largest in the majors, then revel in the Legends Club, a 3,000 seat affair that celebrates the glory days of the Twins and their World Series victories in 1987 and 1991.  Dearest of all are Minnie and Paul, twin neon pals who lord over the outfield and shake hands after every home run.  Now that’s sportsmanship!  minnesota.twins.mlb.com

Culture Vulture

Once viewed as a flyover city with little in the way of big-name attractions, Minneapolis has fashioned itself into a culture capital in recent decades and nowhere is this more evident than at the Walker Art Center, one of the premier modern art museums in the country and the legacy of lumber baron T.B. Walker.  The permanent collection is fun for kids yet they’ll get stuck at “Dolphin Oracle II,” a marriage of AI and 3-D animation that invites questions and proffers answers akin to a magic 8-ball.  A cavernous room filled with colorful hammocks and a looping Jimi Hendrix soundtrack is also good for an hour or two.  Back outdoors, the Target Open Field is a sloping lawn ideally suited to log rolls that also allows for more structured games borrowed from the adjacent Tool Shed.  walkerart.org

Across the street is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where “Spoonbridge and Cherry” is just that, a massive white spoon cradling a bright red cherry that is the whimsy of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.  Over forty sculptures fill the Garden and kids can, and should, take a ride on the out-sized swing by sculptor Mark di Suvero; Alexander Calder is also represented in the excellent collection.  garden.walkerart.org 

At the Mill City Museum, Minneapolis’ roots are explored within the shell of Washburn “A,” the city’s original flour mill.  Flour was the powdered gold that powered Minneapolis for nearly a century and here you’ll learn about the rivalry between General Mills and Pillsbury and how St. Anthony Falls, a 20-foot drop across the Mississippi River, made it all possible.  An elevator “ride” spans the multi-story building with interactive stops at every floor while the main attraction is the movie “Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat,” an irresistible chronicle of the city from inception to modern day.  millcitymuseum.org

To the east in St. Paul, the Science Museum of Minnesota is a model of information and education, all of it presented in a way sure to expand young minds.  Kids will touch this and turn that over four floors of exhibits before landing in the Big Back Yard, which features a prairie maze, rain gardens and story boards on the history and composition of rivers (and yes, that is the mighty Mississippi out back).  There’s no escaping the EarthScapes nine-hole mini-golf course, an inventive and challenging romp, and the traveling exhibits are consistently top-notch (the current exhibit, “Dead Sea Scrolls,” and the accompanying Omnitheater movie, “Arabia,” make for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill).  smm.org 

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area near the museum’s front door is the only national park exclusively devoted to the Mississippi River; its “Bike with a Ranger” program runs every Saturday during the summer months and your ranger will happily provide a copy of the fact-filled Mississippi River Companion guide if you ask.  nps.gov/miss/

Shop Till You Drop

At the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington (light rail will take you there), you can shop at one of over 500 stores but there’s enough going on here to keep you busy for an entire weekend.  Nickelodeon is at the center of this Universe with a seven-acre amusement park that features more than 25 rides and attractions.  The Moose Mountain mini-golf course is eighteen swervin’ curvin’ holes while the Underwater World Aquarium is an eye-popping experience deep down below.  Magiquest is also available and located next to a house of mirrors that’s equally mysterious; the D-Box theatre is plush comfort and features 4-D screenings of first-run films.  Oh yeah, about the shopping:  stores revolve around the central Universe and are arrayed over three floors of mall space totaling 4.2 million square feet (walking shoes required).  While most every retailer you know is a tenant (many, such as Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, in considerably larger form), the beauty of the shopping experience is encountering specialty stores showcasing favorite brands (e.g. Swatch, Vans, Lego, Tommy Bahama’s).  mallofamerica.com

Where to Stay

The Hotel Minneapolis is a mod fantasy tucked into the century-old Midland Bank building, its Carrera marble gleaming throughout the lobby.  A crowning achievement in adaptive reuse in the downtown district, the hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, a cluster of singular properties conveying the perks and privileges for which the brand is known.  Ample living space will be found in the King Corner Suite, featuring three large floor-to-ceiling windows and a 42-inch flat-screen TV alongside a full-sized sofabed.  The bath is huge, towels are thick and the workout room a treat for parents.  Family members will lounge about the lobby-level Great Room, replete with paneled library and graced by the kind of cosseting red leather chairs you wish you had at home.  215 4th Street S., Minneapolis  (612) 340-2000; thehotelminneapolis.com.  Doubles from $109; Internet specials and package rates available.

Where to Eat

At Restaurant Max in The Hotel Minneapolis, a showy room is the backdrop for a very good kids’ cheeseburger and a pork chop bathed in a spicy peach glaze.  Lunches are bustling yet the best time to stop by might be happy hour, when sinfully-delicious truffle fries are available for $2 and flatbreads a pleasing app for young palates.  215 4th Street S.  (612) 340-2000; therestaurantmax.com 

At Brit’s Pub, the fun’s up on the roof, where lawn bowling is in full swing every evening and outdoor movies are featured on Monday nights.  Standard Brit fare is on tap (fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie) along with a slew of brews that go nicely with the extensive selection of appetizers.  1110 Nicollet Mall  (612) 332-3908; britspub.com 

James Beard Award-nom’d chef Isaac Becker is behind 112 Eatery, where the exposed brick walls add extra warmth to a soul-satisfying menu that will resonate with both parents and kids.  The pan-fried gnocchi drizzled with parmigiano reggiano is children’s pasta gone glam while the stringozzi with lamb sugo is a medley of noodles coated in meaty goodness and the burger is topped with a hunk o’brie.  Portions are big enough to share and the cocoa nib (chocolate) cake with raspberry vanilla ice cream a revelation.  112 North 3rd Street  (612) 343-7696; 112eatery.com 

At Hell’s Kitchen, Dante’s Inferno is a happy place and while breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, you’ll make this your go-to place each and every morning.  The caramel roll is a butter-fest as big as a melon and French toast means battered baguette (kids) or cinnamon-raisin bread (adults) topped with an assortment of fresh berries.  80 9th Street S.  (612) 332-4700; hellskitcheninc.com.


Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA . When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and eight-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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