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Minneapolis Like a Local: An Insider's Guide

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The Stone Arch Bridge sits next to the trendy Mill City district in Minneapolis / Mike Krivit Photography, courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Minneapolis Like a Local: An Insider's Guide

By Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Looking for off-the-beaten-track treasures in Minneapolis? Use our insider's guide to travel like a local and explore the best arts, culture, restaurants and entertainment in the City of Lakes.

There’s no easy way to define Minneapolis. Name a scene, activity or subculture and we’ve got it. And while you’ll never go wrong visiting institutions like the Walker Art Center or the latest hot-chef restaurants, the city has many other gems to discover just off the beaten path. Use our insider's guide to discover for yourself the kaleidoscope of events, places and people that make Minneapolis the beautiful, indefinable city that it is.

Colorful woven mats at the Somali Museum of Minnesota

Beautifully crafted kebdo (woven mats) at the Somali Museum of Minnesota, Minneapolis / Nikki Tundel

Hidden Gems of Arts & Culture

The Minneapolis arts scene has an impressive national reputation, and with good cause. Award-winning arts and cultural institutions like the Guthrie TheaterWalker Art CenterMinneapolis Sculpture Garden, Mia and The Loft Literary Center beckon art hounds from across the globe, but it's the city's lesser-known gems that truly make the city shine.

One of the newest is the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery. Founded in 2018, the museum aims to preserve, record and highlight the important achievements and rich contributions of African Americans in Minnesota. Learn about early African American settlers, the Great Migration and much more.

Housed in a refurbished church and funeral home in south Minneapolis, The Museum of Russian Art is the only museum in North America dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Russian art and artifacts. From modern, surrealist ceramic sculptures to Cold War-era oil paintings depicting the heroism of everyday workers, the museum offers a bold and nuanced look at Russian politics, art and culture through the years.

Two women looking at painting at Russian Art Museum in Minneapolis

The Russian Art Museum is one of Minneapolis' hidden gems

Found on a busy stretch of East Lake Street, the Somali Museum of Minnesota is the world's only operational Somali history museum. The gallery spans just five or six curated rooms, but despite its modest size the museum's collection of cultural artifacts, paintings and sculptures includes more than 700 expertly curated pieces. Bringing together contemporary Somali artists and established cultural historians, this unique museum is well worth seeking out.

Another worthwhile cultural activity is to explore Minneapolis’ literary community. The city remains home to incredible independent bookstores, from the 25-year-old Magers and Quinn, to the new Moon Palace Books, to the volunteer-run Boneshaker Books. The Loft Literary Center hosts classes and special events, including the annual Wordplay festival that welcomed the likes of Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan in 2019.

For a bookstore experience you truly won't find anywhere else, head to Birchbark Books and Native Arts in the Kenwood neighborhood. Owned and operated by renowned Native American author Louise Erdrich, Birchbark describes itself as a cozy little neighborhood bookstore and "locus for Indigirati—literate Indigenous people who have survived over half a millennium on this continent."

Walking through the Quaking Bog at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis

Theodore Wirth Park is the largest and most natural park in Minneapolis / Terri Wheeler

Get Off the Beaten Trails

You can’t talk about what to do in Minneapolis without mentioning its incredible array of outdoor activities. Minneapolis is practically overflowing with outdoor activities, from biking on the Midtown Greenway and Chain of Lakes Regional Park, to trail running on dirt paths adjacent to the Mississippi River, seeing the sights at Minnehaha Falls, and so much more.

But for visitors who prefer their outdoor activities with a side of solitude, you'll want to head to some of these lesser-known gems scattered around Minneapolis' award-winning parks system:

  • The Midtown Greenway may be the most famous bike trail in Minneapolis, but the quieter Minnehaha Creek Trail a few miles south takes the cake for its prettiest. This trail bobs and weaves through dense woods and takes you from the Mississippi River to the Chain of Lakes.
  • At Webber Natural Swimming Pool in north Minneapolis, the nation's first naturally filtered public pool uses plants and other organic filters to keep its waters fresh for swimmers, similar to how a stream, lake or wetland stays clean.
  • Explore the wildflower garden, bird sanctuary, golf course and mountain bike trails at Theodore Wirth Regional Park in north Minneapolis.
Plate of Ecuadorian food at Chimborazo in Northeast Minneapolis

Plate of Ecuadorian food at Chimborazo in Northeast Minneapolis / @hueandfood

Eat Like a Local in Northeast Minneapolis

No doubt about it, Minneapolis’ dining scene is top-notch. And while we could point you to any one of the James Beard Award-winning chefs in town or the well-known Eat Street, we think there is another area in the city that deserves a lot more love than it gets: Northeast’s Central Avenue from Broadway Street north to the border with Columbia Heights.

Here you’ll find cuisines you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city. Newer immigrant populations have brought this section of the city alive with tastes both delicious and comforting.

The neighborhood's foodie epicenter is undoubtedly the corner of Central and Lowry, a bustling hub of restaurants and shops that practically begs to be explored.

Among my favorites is Football Pizza. Named not for the game but the unique shape of its pizzas, this neighborhood staple serves up absolutely singular, Afghani-spiced pizzas alongside more traditional Afghan foods, from familiar kabobs to more uncommon plates like goat kourma. Venture another block down to find Holy Land, a Middle Eastern restaurant-slash-grocery with what might be the tastiest deli in the neighborhood, and bring your bounty across the street to chow down among friends at Fair State Brewing Cooperative.

You've also got two Thai restaurants on the block (Sen Yai Sen Lek and Khao Hom), Minnesota Barbecue Co. and a truly incredible variety of restaurants showcasing foods from across Central and South America. Naming them all would be impossible, but stand outs include El Taco Riendo, Sabor Latino, La Colonia, Maya Cuisine and my personal favorite, Chimborazo.

You’ll kick yourself if you don’t experience Chimborazo. Hands down some of my favorite and tastiest Minneapolis meals have been enjoyed there. Marcos Pinguil, the owner and chef of Chimborazo, features foods from Ecuador and the Andes. Cassava croquettes? Savory peanut broth? Ecuadorian fried rice? These are the favorites you don’t know about yet.

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte is an El Salvadorian raised in Minnesota. She graduated from Harvard University in 1998 with a degree in romance languages and literature and has worked as a journalist, poet, playwright, editor, blogger and spoken-word artist. She and her husband live in Minneapolis with their two boys.