Downtown Minneapolis skyline at night

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis and St. Paul

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Downtown Minneapolis skyline at night / Nattapol Pornsalnuwat via Capture Minnesota

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis and St. Paul

By Ashlea Halpern

With its glittering skyline, scores of manicured trails and greenspaces, world-class live venues, megalithic mall and restaurants repping nearly every cuisine under the sun, there isn’t much Minneapolis and St. Paul lack. Add to that a packed events calendar and a skyway system that makes it easy to get around in any weather, and the Twin Cities’ slate of offerings rivals cities thrice their size.

Here are five ways to live your best life within the metro area, from critically acclaimed cuisine to the country's best state fair (sorry Texas!).

Family at Mall of America, Bloomington

Mall of America, Bloomington / Ryan Taylor

1. Eat, stay and play at Mall of America

When it opened 30 years ago, Mall of America was the largest shopping center in the country. It still holds that title today — and boasts more attractions than ever. Beyond its 520-plus shops (charging no tax on clothing and shoes, mind you), the mall’s bragging rights include a movie theater, comedy club, aquarium, escape room, esports venue, mirror maze, miniature golf, laser tag and more. Kids will be floored by the number of head-spinning rides at Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s first indoor theme park, and the LEGO Store’s towering menagerie of wild animals built from tiny plastic bricks.

From full-service restaurants to fast-casual food courts, meal options abound: Start with a Shake Shack burger or a steaming bowl of Ichiddo Ramen and finish with a fruity Mexican paleta from La Michoacana Purepecha.

Family-friendly amenities including stroller and wheelchair rental, storage lockers and lactation rooms make it easy to spend a full day (or weekend) here, and there are more than 20 hotels within walking, driving or shuttling distance for when you’re finally ready to pass out. Sleek, contemporary picks like the JW Marriott and Radisson Blu are directly connected to the mall; both sport indoor pools, and the latter is pet-friendly to boot.

A packed crowd at Surly Brewing's Festival Field

Surly Brewing's Festival Field  / First Avenue

2. Catch an outdoor concert

The biggest names in show business usually stop in the Twin Cities when they’re on tour, and the schedule gets especially busy in summer. 

Major concert promoter C3 Presents (Austin City Limits, Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, Lollapalooza) is set to unveil its first Minnesota Yacht Club Festival on July 19-20, with appearances by such A-listers as Gwen Stefani, Alan's Morissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and St. Paul's own Hippo Campus. 

The 8,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake hosts its annual Rock and Rockets music festival with fireworks and a free concert on the Fourth of July. Other big draws for summer 2024 include a totally '90s bill headlined by New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and D.J. Jazzy Jeff on June 23 and a rare appearance by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on June 6. 

Let’s not forget Surly Brewing Company's Festival Field either. Confirmed 2024 shows for its sprawling outdoor space include Black Pumas (June 21), Andrew Bird and Nickel Creek (July 13), and an indie rock extravaganza rounded out by Pixies, Modest Mouse and Cat Power (June 20).  

A couple trying out Nitro Fluffs at Dining Travail, Robbinsdale

Dining Travail, Robbinsdale / Ryan Taylor

3. Dine at an award-winning restaurant

Minnesota's first five-star hotel, Four Seasons Minneapolis is anchored by two new restaurant concepts from celebrated chef Gavin Kaysen (Spoon and Stable, Demi).

But those aren’t the only A-games in town. After Ann Kim (Young Joni, Sooki & Mimi) earned the title in 2019, three Twin Cities toques were 2022 finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Best Chef Midwest award: Yia Vang of Union Hmong Kitchen; Mexican chef Jorge Guzmán of cozy Kingfield restobar Petite León; and Sean Sherman, a.k.a. The Sioux Chef, owner of the acclaimed Native American restaurant Owamni and its fast casual Midtown Global Market concept, the Indigenous Food Lab.

Another memorable tasting experience awaits at Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Robbinsdale, a rooftop cantina helmed by Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg. Previous menu have veered from playful "octo tacos" and comforting cumin lamb dumplings one minute to roasted chicken with leek ash, trumpet mushroom mousseline and truffled jus the next.

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

One of the many dreamy Jean Nouvel designs at Guthrie Theater / Ryan Taylor

4. See a spectacular theater show 

The high caliber play and musical programming runs the gamut at the storied Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Upcoming 2024 highlights include the Little Shop of Horrors (June 22-Aug. 18), the Pulitzer Prize-winning English (July 13-Aug. 18), and the villainous Shakespeare nod All the Devils Are Here (Oct. 12-Nov. 17). 

If you can't make a show, the building itself — designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel — deserves its own standing ovation. Among its more notable features: the Amber Box, a yellow-hued glass room jutting out of the face of the boxy blue building, and the Endless Bridge, a 178-foot walkway cantilevered off the front, where, in summertime, visitors can bask in meditative views of the churning Mississippi River.

Take a closer look at either during one of the Guthrie's ticketed guided tours or a complimentary ASL-interpretation that can be arranged two weeks in advance by contacting [email protected]

Minnesota State Fair midway at night

The Minnesota State Fair midway after dark / H Brown Ton Photography

5. Embrace the Minnesota State Fair

They don’t call it the Great Minnesota Get-Together for nothing. Our state fair (Aug. 22-Sept. 2) is the largest in the country by average daily attendance. Why does it get such an impressive turnout? Because in the span of a single day, visitors can take a magic carpet ride down a Giant Slide, watch Princess Kay of the Milky Way get her likeness carved in butter, eat every deep-fried food imaginable (on a stick!), witness a live cow birth, admire paintings and sculptures from some of the most talented artists in the state, and root for the best-dressed lamini at the annual Llama-Alpaca Costume Contest.

Keep the Grandstand's annual concert series in mind as well. While past years have been headlined by everyone from The Black Keys to hometown heroes The Hold Steady, 2024 has gotta be the first, and maybe last, time you'll be able to see comedian Nate Bargatze one day (Aug. 24), and Mötley Crüe (Aug. 29) the next, with a little Kidz Bop karaoke thrown in for good measure on closing day.  

Ashlea Halpern

Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and a writer for Dwell, New York Magazine, Bon Appétit, AFAR, Airbnb, Midwest Living, Artful Living, and Minnesota Monthly. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.