The Ultimate Guide to Twin Cities Pride

By Brian Fanelli

Rainbow Flag at Pride
Photo by Brooke Ross Photography

The modern Twin Cities Pride is a massive, annual, family-friendly party that celebrates the large LGBTQ community in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Like all pride celebrations, its roots can be traced back to the infamous Stonewall riots of 1969 and the ripples of unrest and protest that spread across America in response.

Approximately 50 people attended Minnesota’s inaugural, proto-pride protest in 1972, on the third anniversary of Stonewall, but only about half of them marched down the Nicollet Mall; the other half waited in nearby Loring Park, ready to bail out their friends and loved ones if and when they were arrested.

These days, with an estimated 400,000 annual attendees, Twin Cities Pride is the nation’s third-largest free pride festival, behind only New York City and San Francisco. The 2018 Twin Cities Pride Festival will take place June 23-24, both in and around Loring Park. The annual parade along Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis starts at 11 a.m. on June 24.

More Like Pride Month

We call it Pride Weekend, but that’s not entirely accurate—it’s more like Pride Month. During the whole month of June, unique pride celebrations beckon travelers from far and wide to visit the Land of 10,000 Gays.

On June 1, join Faded Productions on the water for the annual Pride Yacht Party on the Majestic Star. Held on the largest yacht in the Upper Midwest, this over-the-top floating party boasts four levels of entertainment and activities, two fully stocked bars, a sky deck for #boatselfies, plus an all-star cast of DJs and live performers to keep you dancing all night long. To keep the party fun and safe for everyone, the Pride Yacht Party "celebrates QTIPOC (Queer Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Indigenous People of Color) and will not tolerate homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism or any form of hate and/or violence."  

Later that week, on June 5, Twin Cities Pride presents “A Conversation with Chelsea Handler” at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Hosted by local TV personality and queer icon Jana Shortal, the evening is slated to be “a town hall-like event centered around social activism” but with “plenty of comedy sprinkled in.”

And at the annual Pride Family Picnic on June 17, bring the whole family to Como Park in St. Paul for an alcohol-free afternoon filled with free picnic foods, softball, lawn games and various kid-friendly activities.

Twin Cities Pride Weekend, June 22-24

Twin Cities Pride Loring Stage by Brooke Ross Photography
Live music on the Loring Stage / Brooke Ross Photography

Every year, hundreds of thousands of rainbow-clad festivalgoers flock to Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis to celebrate and uplift the LGBTQ community at the annual Twin Cities Pride Festival and Parade. Festivities kick off Friday night at the annual Beer Dabbler event, complete with adorably tiny sampling glasses of Minnesota-brewed craft beer, live music, food trucks and lots of dancing.

If you opt to skip the beer tasting, spend your Friday night at Icehouse for Soul Friday. A dance party with a mission, Soul Friday is the city’s premier dance night celebrating queer women of color and friends. Bring a pair of comfortable shoes and groove out to a mix of R&B, old- and new-school hip-hop, house and world music.

Group pride portrait, by Brooke Ross Photography
Twin Cities Pride Festival / Brooke Ross Photography

Saturday morning, the Pride Festival kicks off at 10 a.m. back in Loring Park. Highlights include four all-day free entertainment stages, 400 exhibitor booths, 40 food vendors, the LGBTQ history pavilion and the ticketed “Pride in Concert,” headlined by R&B star and Broadway actress, Brandy. The Pride Festival is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday morning, run your fine behind over to Boom Island for the annual Rainbow Run 5K. Beginning at 9:30, the race takes you along the scenic Mississippi riverfront before going down the Pride Parade route on Hennepin. You’ll be cheered on by early birds gathering for the parade, and all runners ages 21+ get a free beer at the finish.

Named in honor of the late transgender activist and former parade organizer, the 2018 Ashley Rukes Pride Parade begins Sunday, June 24, at 11 a.m. Get there early to cheer the Rainbow Runners and snag a stellar spot along the route, which begins downtown at Hennepin Avenue and North 3rd Street, and dances its way south all the way to 16th Street.

Exploring the Twin Cities

Because neither of the Twin Cities has an official “gayborhood,” our queer community makes its home across the entire metro—creating and nurturing LGBTQ community hubs and businesses in practically every corner of the region. But if there were an official ruling on the matter, the Loring Park neighborhood, home of the Pride Festival, would likely take the title.

One of Minneapolis’ distinctive downtown neighborhoods, the mostly residential streets of Loring Park are notable for their eclectic mix of historic brownstones, new apartments and condos, and the area’s largest and most diverse queer community. To get a feel for this vibrant neighborhood, grab a coffee and treat at the queer-owned Muffin Top Cafe and take a stroll around the neighborhood’s eponymous park. Sip your coffee from a bench overlooking Loring Lake and watch as countless rainbow flags flutter from the windows and stoops of the neighborhood’s many homes.

Spoonbridge and Cherry by flickr user Jpellgen
"Spoonbridge and Cherry" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen / Flickr user jpellgen

At the park's western border, a distinctive, poetry-laden, blue and white pedestrian bridge carries you from Loring to its artsy neighboring park, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Remodeled and reopened in 2017, the sculpture garden is the crown jewel of Minneapolis' park system and a must-visit for all travelers. Open every day of the year, visitors can always get a photo with the garden's iconic centerpiece, "Spoonbridge and Cherry", or plan your visit between May and September to play a round of Skyline Mini Golf on the Walker Art Center's rooftop terrace.

Grab breakfast, lunch or dinner at the queer-owned Nicollet Diner, which stays open 24/7/365—but stop in before 1 a.m. to take advantage of the diner’s full bar, complete with boozy milkshakes and other fun drinks. And of course, no visit to Loring Park is complete without a game of pool, a round of Big Buck Hunter and a pitcher of Grain Belt at The 19, everyone’s favorite gay neighborhood dive bar. Like all true dives, The 19 is cash only, but unlike some lesser dive bars, there’s an ATM on-site.

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Statewide Pride

Twin Cities Pride is far and away Minnesota’s largest pride festival, but smaller cities across the state hold their own annual celebrations of the LGBTQ community, as well. Whether you’d like to attend every pride festival in the state, or simply prefer smaller events, these five festivals and parades have you covered.