A couple friends walk by the Chateau Theatre's marquee in downtown Rochester

Top Things to Do in Rochester

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A couple friends walk by the Chateau in downtown Rochester / Paul Vincent

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

A couple friends look at an installation in the Rochester Art Center

Rochester Art Center 

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.

Be sure to interact with the arched “Circumcenter” sculpture in front of the building. The “modern-day wishing well” translates typed messages into braille and plays musical notes based on the translation.

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.

“My Brother and I” bronze sculpture in Feith Family Statuary Park

The “My Brother and I” sculpture in Feith Family Statuary Park / TJ Turner

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 SPARK Children's Museum of 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!

An aerial shot of downtown Rochester and its surrounding green spaces

A drone's eye view of Rochester / Paul Vincent

Get Outside

With more than 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 at the Makers Market shop in Threshold Arts

Shoppers at Makers Market  / Paul Vincent

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 Chester’s, Olde Brick House, 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.  

Also of note in the nearby building that once housed Paine Furniture is Threshold Arts and its sunny Makers Market shop, which stocks a wide range of local work — everything from original paintings and woodcut prints to abstract jewelry and bookends made to look like melted disco balls. 

Mayowood Mansion Rochester

Mayowood Mansion  / Alexandra & Bharath Photography, courtesy of 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”).

Three colorful non-alcoholic cocktails on a table at Thai Pop

Mocktails at Thai Pop in Rochester / photo by Paul Vincent

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 Kahler Grand Hotel in downtown Rochester and the Miracle Mile shopping center near Kutzky Park, Fiddlehead features a creative light bites menu (chickpea and cannellini bean hummus with grainy mustard, spicy giardiniera, red pepper relish, whipped herb chèvre, and coconut bacon, anyone?) and such dynamic specialty drinks as a miso caramel latte and a "sober stout" made with espresso, club soda, house-made vanilla syrup and a splash of cream. 

To find outdoor dining in Rochester, just look up. Rochester’s rooftop restaurant light up the city's skyline along Historic 3rd Street. The Tap House offers 50 rotating beers plus a rooftop patio with a large fireplace. CRAVE is located on the second floor of Hotel Indigo and features a retractable glass roof and lots of windows for taking in all that fresh air. 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 or cocktail fix, stop by the downtown speakeasy Bitter & Pour or venture off to a neighborhood spot like Forager Brewing Co.Little Thistle Brewing Co.Kinney Creek Brewery or LTS Brewing Co. Or grab a drink and dinner at ThaiPop, a local favorite that leans into palate-expanding Southeast Asian flavors and complementary drink ingredients like butterfly pea flower, passion fruit juice, and syrups made with kaffir lime, palm sugar and tamarind. 

Onlookers enjoying the Social Lights in Rchester

Social-ICE / 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-ICE 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.

The pool at the Kahler Grand Hotel

The pool at the Kahler Grand Hotel  / Paul Vincent

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.