Top Things to Do in Rochester

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Thursdays Downtown transforms downtown Rochester into an all-day block party / AB-Photography.US

Top Things to Do in Rochester

By Lisa Havelka

Rochester is broadly known for the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, but you don’t need to be checked-in to check out this extraordinary Minnesota destination. From arts to events, shopping, dining and breweries, use this visitors guide to find what to do, where to eat and where to stay when you’re in Rochester.

What To Do

Rochester Art Center exterior

The Zumbro River outside the Rochester Art Center / "<a href="" target="_blank">Rochester Art Center</a>" by <a href="" target="_blank">Jpellgen</a>, shared under <a href="" target="_blank">CC BY-NC-ND-2.0</a>

Explore the Art Scene

Start with the Rochester Art Center overlooking the Zumbro River, where the contemporary art scene comes alive through world-class exhibits and programs. Inside the building’s soaring, copper and zinc-plated walls, you’ll find a diverse collection of photography, paintings, multimedia projects and more. And be sure to interact with the arched “Circumcenter” sculpture in front of the building, a “modern-day wishing well” that translates typed messages into braille and plays musical notes based on the translation.

One of Rochester’s most unique arts destinations, run by Threshold Arts, is located in the former Rochester Armory, an iconic downtown spot you can't possibly miss: The building’s castle-like turrets and stately red brick exterior stand above their neighbors both literally and figuratively, and things only get more impressive as you head inside. 

For patients and companions at the Mayo Clinic, the medical campus offers incredible opportunities to view art inside its many historic buildings. Take a self-guided art tour or a one-hour guided tour, which includes the world-class work of Dale Chihuly in the Gonda building.

Mayo brothers statue near Gonda Building entrance Rochester

"My Brother and I" statue of the Mayo brothers on the downtown Mayo Clinic campus / Ron Bennett

Nearby, the ARTWalk showcases dozens of public art installations throughout downtown Rochester, including sculptures, murals, unique doorways and even painted geese. The downtown Mayo Clinic campus is particularly fertile grounds for public artwork, with plenty of courtyards and pocket parks boasting artistic delights such as the famous “My Brother and I” bronze sculpture in the Feith Family Statuary Park.

Get off the beaten path for a visit to the Charles E. Gagnon Museum & Sculpture Garden, Rochester's first private museum located in the home of the former sculptor. View the extensive collection that features bronze sculptures, including the rendition of the Peace Fountain that is located in downtown Rochester Peace Plaza Park.

Entertain and educate your kids with a stop at the Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester, featuring fun, hands-on exhibits like the Dino Dig, Hands-on-Health and Amazing ANTics, where kids can learn all about the fascinating lives of ants!

Rochester silver lake paddleboating

Rent a paddleboat and head out for an afternoon on Silver Lake / TJ Turner, courtesy Experience Rochester

Get Outside

With over 100 city parks and 85 miles of bike trails, Rochester has plenty of places where you can get outdoors to experience the beauty of southern Minnesota for yourself.

Silver Lake is one of the most popular spots in town, just a mile outside of downtown. This small, freshwater lake on the Zumbro River is perfect for nature walks on forested paths, bike rides along the river, wildlife watching, boating and more. If you're in need of equipment, rent a bike, kayak, paddleboard or canoe from Silver Lake Boat and Bike Rental and head out for adventure.

From there it’s just a short jaunt to the incredible 329-acre Quarry Hill Nature Center. Wildlife abounds at Quarry Hill, home to 35 Minnesota-native animals, a 1,700-gallon aquarium with seven varieties of fish and a pair of raptors. The adjacent Quarry Hill Park features paved and hiking trails, a pond, and a historical man-made sandstone cave.

Shoppers on Historic 3rd Street in downtown Rochester

Head to Historic 3rd Street in downtown Rochester for shopping, restaurants and entertainment

Go Shopping in Style

Connected by skyway, the Galleria at University Square offers world-class shopping, personal services and dining in downtown Rochester. Inside you’ll find unique stores such as the Counterpoint, the Nordic Shop and Knight’s Chamber. After shopping up an appetite, choose from superb places to eat like PescaraChester’sB.B.’s Pizzaria, Salad Brothers, Bravo Espresso and more.

Go below street level to check out the Grand Shops of Kahler & Marriott, a climate-controlled, underground pedestrian mall right in the middle of downtown. With more than 65 shops, art galleries and stores, The Grand Shops have something for everyone. Be sure to stop by Carroll’s Corn, home to the Triple Mix, a hand-crafted, gourmet popcorn that combines salty, sweet and cheesy goodness fresh popped daily.  

Mayowood Mansion Rochester

Visit the Mayowood Mansion on a trolley tour / AB-Photography.US, courtesy Experience Rochester

Take a Historic Trolley Tour

Still looking for more to see and do in Rochester? Catch a ride on the Rochester Trolley for a tour of the city’s top sites and attractions. Tour highlights include the "Pill Hill" National Residential Historic District, the historic Plummer House and the Mayo Clinic campus. As your trolley weaves its way through Rochester history, it will stop for optional “hop-off” tours of especially noteworthy sites, such as the historic Mayowood Mansion and Assisi Heights Spirituality Center.

If history isn’t your thing, take a Rochester Microbrew Trolley Tour or a haunted Rochester Tour and visit the grave site of Doc “Moonlight Graham,” the first man emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln (you may also recognize his name from “Field of Dreams”).

Forager Brewery in Rochester

Forager Brewery in Rochester

Where to Eat

Whether you need a strong cup of coffee to start your day or a perfectly mixed cocktail to end your night, Fiddlehead Coffee Co. has you covered. Located at the Flats on Fourth in downtown Rochester, Fiddlehead also boasts a world-class pastry program and a fast-casual lunch and dinner menu focused on ethically sourced, hyper-local ingredients.

To find outdoor dining in Rochester, just look up. Rochester’s rooftop restaurants, including the Tap House, La Vetta and Kathy’s Pub, are just a few that halo Historic 3rd Street and light up the city’s skyline. The Tap House offers 50 beers on tap plus a rooftop patio with a large fireplace. H3 Rooftop’s bar above Terza Ristorante, a full-service Italian restaurant, offers panoramic views of downtown and Soldier's Field Park. For entertainment while you dine, take in a rooftop show above Kathy’s Pub. Long known for its indoor live music offerings, Kathy’s now hosts rooftop performances during the summer months.

For your craft beer fix, head to one of Rochester’s fantastic local breweries. Whether you stay downtown for a drink at Grand Rounds Brew Pub or venture off to a neighborhood spot like Forager Brewing Co.Little Thistle Brewing Co.Kinney Creek Brewery or LTS Brewing Co., you’ll find incredible beers at all of Rochester’s craft breweries and taprooms.

Onlookers enjoying the Social Lights in Rchester

Social Lights festival in Rochester / Alpla Digital

Attend an Event

For summer visitors, one must-attend event is Thursdays Downtown. Every Thursday from July through August, downtown Rochester transforms into a massive, all-day block party that brings arts, culture, food, music and more to the heart of the city. From afternoon food vendors to evening entertainment, this free summertime staple has it all.   

Social Lights is the city's premier winter event, held every February on Peace Plaza in the heart of downtown Rochester. This wondrous winter event brings upwards of 50,000 visitors together to admire its wide assortment of intricately carved themed ice bars, dance to music by live DJs and sip on signature drinks by the fire pits.

(This year’s event will be slightly altered due to COVID-19.)

Exterior Kahler Hotel Rochester

The Kahler Grand Hotel puts you right in the heart of downtown / Courtesy Kahler Hospitality Group

Places to Stay

Rochester’s abundance of downtown hotels makes it an easy place to visit, with over 6,000 rooms spread across 58 different venues, but you’ll also find plenty of campgrounds and RV parks just outside the downtown core. The city is also home to five hotels that are 'TAG approved,' a special designation awarded to hotels that support the LGBTQ community.

Lisa Havelka

Lisa Havelka is the southern regional coordinator for Explore Minnesota. Born and raised in southern Minnesota, Lisa loves antiquing, visiting Minnesota wineries, riding motorcycles, and catching live shows at Minnesota’s many music venues.