Minnesota is definitely a four-season state. The total state population is approximately 5.3 million residents, with 2.85 million of us residing in the Twin Cities. My son and I live in Stillwater, a small town of about 18,000 residents nestled the St. Croix River Valley which borders Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2007, Midwest Living magazine dubbed Stillwater as one of the Midwest’s top 100 small towns for getaways, and my son and I could not agree more. We have all the amenities of small town life, yet we are only a 15-minute drive from the Twin Cities. Here are some of our favorite activities and places to go in the metro area.
- There are oodles of good sledding hills in St. Paul, and Afton Alps has snow tubing chutes that shuttle you along at light speed.
- Cross country skiing trails are plentiful throughout the metro area, including Lake Elmo Park Reserve, Fort Snelling State Park, Como Park Ski Center, and Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
- Downhill skiing and snowboarding are also quite popular during the winter. Most places provide ski rentals for a fee, and some provide free lessons for beginners. Nearby locations include Afton Alps, Welch Village, Wild Mountain, Buck Hill, and Hyland Lake Park Reserve.
- Snowshoeing is an excellent form of exercise, and allows for a lovely walk through some of Minnesota’s pristine habitats during our winter months.
- Enjoy a view of the beautiful St. Croix Valley in a hot air balloon ride. Two places in Washington County that provide rides are Aamodt’s Balloons and Stillwater Balloon.
- There are several local wineries to tour and purchase from, including St. Croix Vineyards, Chateau St. Croix Winery, and Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery.
- If wine is not your cup of tea, you can also tour breweries in the Twin Cities, including Surly Brewing Company and Summit Brewing Company.
- Axdahl’s Farm is ready to meet all of your gardening needs when the warm weather hits. In addition to gardening supplies, Axdahl’s also sells seedlings to get your vegetable garden started and has literally hundreds of annual and perennial flowers to beautify your beds. While at Axdahl’s, make sure you pay Truffles the pot-bellied pig a visit behind the barn. You can pay a quarter to feed her a treat and she lets you pet her like a puppy dog.
- The Twin Cities have two zoos. The Como Park Zoo is located in St. Paul and includes picnic and play areas, a small amusement park, and a swimming pool. Sparky the Seal performs daily during the summer. The Minnesota Zoo, located in Apple Valley, has extensive indoor and outdoor grounds and tries to display animals in their natural habitats.
- Bring your portable BBQ grill, lawn chairs, and mosquito spray to watch up to three back-to-back outdoor movies at the Vali-Hi or Cottage View Drive-In theaters. Shows begin at dusk, so many people bring sleeping bags and blankets and put their little ones to bed in the backseat as the evening progresses.
- There are several small beaches to choose from in Ramsey County. Many of these are free, and they make for a cool afternoon in the hot weather. Some beaches have lifeguards, and some do not.
- I do not golf (yet), but my boyfriend does. Golf courses he enjoys include Keller, Oak Glen, and Manitou Ridge.
- There are several hiking trails in the metro area, including the Gateway State Trail and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. You can also drive within an hour outside the metro area and explore Interstate Park to the east or Sand Dunes State Forest to the west. Geocaching has also become popular at most of the state parks, where you can do it privately or as part of the Wildlife Safari program.
- Most of our state parks also have camping sites available. A family friendly one with running water and flush toilets is William O’Brien State Park. For the more adventurous camper, there are numerous back-to-basics campsites scattered throughout the state, many of them being along the shoreline of crystal-clear Lake Superior.
- Farmer’s Markets are plentiful in the Twin Cities. The most popular ones are the St. Paul Farmer’s Market and the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, which has locations at Minneapolis/Lyndale and Minneapolis/Nicollet.
Several farms in the Washington County area offer a variety of family-friendly fall activities, including hayrides, corn mazes, and pick-your-own-pumpkin patches.
- Axdahl’s Farm – Hayrides, pumpkin patches, and a barn full of fall veggies such as sugar pumpkins, squashes, and decorative gourds.
- Aamodt’s Apple Farm – Some years you can pick your own apples. Their barn contains barrels of apples for purchase, apple cider, baked good, and a variety of jams, jellies, and syrups.
- Afton Apple Orchard – This orchard also has a barn full of apple-y goodness. Each September they have a fall festival with hayrides, pumpkin patches, a playground, petting zoo, face painting, and a cider press.
- Country Sun Farm – This farm also offers hayrides, has a corn maze and a large play area with games for children. You can purchase baked goods, caramel apples, and pumpkins from their indoor shelter.
Museums and such:
- Science Museum of Minnesota – Of course I list this first. I have been going to the Science Museum for over a decade now and I always find something new each time. The Science Museum has an IMAX theater, visiting exhibits, and an outdoor educational area called The Big Backyard which is open during warm weather.
- Minnesota Children’s Museum – My son has outgrown this, but it was fun to go to when he was smaller. Permanent exhibits encourage children to explore, be artistic, and communicate.
- American Swedish Institute – Located on Park Avenue in Minneapolis, this looks like a castle. This is a place to learn about Nordic culture and the role Swedish immigrants played in Minnesota’s history.
- Walker Art Center – Home to the beautiful Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, wonderful art shop, and several visiting exhibits each year.
- Minnesota History Center – An interactive museum and home to the Minnesota Historical Society library and archives.
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts – I have been here several times and still have not seen everything. This museum is non-profit and houses all sorts of exhibits ranging from ancient to modern.
Victorian Home Tours: Stillwater and St. Paul have some of the most well-preserved victorian era homes in the country.
- Valley Tours provides both custom-designed group tours and narrated walking tours through homes in historic Stillwater.
- The James J. Hill House, a prominent feature on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, has guided tours throughout the day, including a Story Time tour designed for younger audiences. St. Paul also has several other homes and historical buildings you can tour.
- You can also take a walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul.
Bowling: Fun for the entire family
- Bryant Lake Bowl – Located in the Lyn/Lake neighborhood, this alley has Cheap Date night every Monday.
- Pinz – Located in Oakdale, this alley also has laser tag, an arcade, and a pub style restaurant.
Roller Skating: Exercise, good music, and fun all rolled in one!
- Metrodome – Located in Minneapolis, the Metrodome is currently under repair due to our most recent winter storm.
- Wooddale FunZone – Located in Woodbury, this roller rink also has a bouncy play area and video games. Monday nights are $1.00 admission and skate rental each, and Wednesday nights are Disco Mania.
- Saints North – Located in Maplewood, this roller rink also has mini-golf and laser tag.
Girls’ Night Out: Grownups need to get away every once in a while. Here are a few of my favorite places to hang out with friends.
- Origami – The claim is true…they do have the best sushi in Minneapolis. And they make one mean pomegranite martini.
- The Sample Room – Local ingredients from small family farmers and artisanal producers.
- The Good Earth – Vegetarian made-from-scratch dishes for those of us who prefer to be herbivores.
- Everest on Grand – Seriously spicy Nepalese cuisine and curries
- Barrio – Over 150 tequilas to choose from and delicious guacamole. Three locations in Minneapolis, St. Paul/Lowertown, and Edina.
- Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge – Three themed bars in one location and plenty of tattoos.
- Moscow on the Hill – My favorite dish, which I order every time, is the peasant style pelmini. You can purchase their horseradish vodka from several liquor stores in the neighborhood. We use it to marinate roast for an out-of-this-world Beef Wellington.
- La Grolla – My boyfriend’s new fave, which is a huge compliment considering he is usually not a fan of Italian food. Located in the Selby neighborhood, this place also offers vegetarian dishes.