Minneapolis/St. Paul city guide
In our years of gallivanting across the country, we’ve found the Twin Cities to be one of our favorite places to visit. Why? Well, maybe it’s because we haven’t gone during the dead of winter — the closest we’ve gotten is late March, when it was definitely cold but not snowy — but otherwise we’ve found the Minneapolis region to be extremely welcoming and full of surprises, with a vibrant food and nightlife scene and a quirky but fun culture. Or maybe it’s because we’re big hockey fans and Minnesota does a fine job living up to its “State of Hockey” moniker.
Minneapolis/St. Paul doesn’t often resonate with sports fans looking for a glorious weekend on the road, but with all four “major” pro sports, a strong college scene and lots to do outside of sports, we’ll gladly go back whenever we get the chance. We hope this guide to the Twin Cities will inspire you to do the same.
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Sports in the Twin Cities usually means downtown Minneapolis, where three of the region’s pro sports venues are, with the University of Minnesota not far away. St. Paul stuck its foot in the pro sports waters in 2000 when the Wild entered the NHL and began play at the Xcel Energy Center, and they’ll get a second pro team when the expansion MLS club Minnesota United FC moves into a new stadium in 2018 (for now, they’re playing the 2017 inaugural season at TCF Bank Stadium, home of Minnesota football).
In the distant past, seeing games in the Twin Cities was strictly a suburban venture. Two former venues, Metropolitan Stadium (Twins and Vikings) and the Met Center (the old NHL North Stars), were located in Bloomington, a southern suburb near the airport. Both buildings are gone now — read on to find out what replaced them.
• Target Field: Home of the Twins. Located at North 7th Street and Interstate 394 in downtown Minneapolis.
• Target Center: Home of the Timberwolves. Located at North 6th Street and North 1st Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. (To answer a follow-up question you might have, yes, the Target Corp. is headquartered in Minneapolis.)
• TCF Bank Stadium: Home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Minnesota United FC. Located at University Avenue SE and Oak Street on the Minnesota campus.
• U.S. Bank Stadium: Home of the Vikings, located at Chicago Avenue and 4th Street in downtown Minneapolis. The stadium sits on the site of the old Metrodome, which was demolished in 2014 to make way for the new venue.
• Xcel Energy Center. Home of the Wild. Located at Kellogg Boulevard West and 7th Street West in downtown St. Paul.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport lies south of downtown Minneapolis (and southeast of downtown St. Paul) and is a Delta hub, meaning selection of flights from most major cities in the U.S. should be plentiful, but fares might not always be to your liking. Low-budget airlines Southwest and Spirit also serve MSP, though.
Amtrak serves the region via Midway Station in St. Paul. The station is a stop on a line stretching between Chicago and Seattle and is a viable option for those trying to reach the Twin Cities from Chicago or Milwaukee (the trip from Chicago takes about eight hours). Bus service, particularly from Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, is plentiful via Greyhound, Megabus and other bus lines.
If you’re road-trippin’ it, Interstates 35 and 94 converge in the Twin Cities (I-35 splits into west and east routes and travel through Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively). I-35 south will take you to Des Moines; I-94 leads to Milwaukee and Chicago.
Where to stay
The easy answer would be downtown Minneapolis, since that’s where most of the venues are. Hotel choices are plentiful, but naturally the priciest in the region on average. What you sacrifice out of your budget, though, you make back in convenience, as downtown Minneapolis is within walking distance of most things a visitor would want to be close to, with everything else fairly accessible via public transit.
If your trip centers around the Wild (or Minnesota government business), downtown St. Paul boasts its own set of hotels, restaurants and nightlife, though from an outsider’s standpoint it often gets overshadowed by Minneapolis.
Other areas well-populated by hotels include the area around the University of Minnesota campus, just east of (and across the Mississippi River from) downtown Minneapolis, and Bloomington near the Mall of America.
The region’s Metro Transit light rail system is not extensive but, for the sports-fan visitor, is highly useful in that it operates between the airport and downtown Minneapolis, with stops at the Metrodome and Target Field/Target Center. The system added a second line in 2014 connecting downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul, bringing with it greater access to the Xcel Energy Center.
Buses are also convenient to reach the University of Minnesota — a dedicated busway runs between downtown and the campus, and a line operates along that route for Gopher football games at TCF Bank Stadium. (There are also free shuttles from downtown St. Paul on Gopher football Saturdays.)
If you’re flying in, staying in downtown Minneapolis and don’t plan on straying outside city limits, you’ll have no need for a car.
Parking in downtown Minneapolis is readily available, but it is as scattered and as expensive as you would expect for any downtown. Target Field and the Target Center are served by parking structures (“parking ramps” in localspeak) near both facilities, while U.S. Bank Stadium relies largely on nearby office buildings’ parking structures. Prices start at $9 depending on the event and the day of the week.
In St. Paul, there are two structures serving the Xcel Energy Center. As is always the case, parking can be found for cheaper the farther away from the event you stray. Metered (and sometimes free) parking is available on the streets in both downtowns.
Go to the mall
Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is a centralized spot near most hotels (and blocks from Target Center and Target Field), and is filled with restaurants and stores. Don’t forget to check out the statue of Mary Tyler Moore in her famous hat-tossing pose. Her TV show character Mary Richards is to Minneapolis what Rocky Balboa is to Philadelphia — a fictional character whose identity is ingrained with the city in which he/she lived. (Note: The statue is in storage until 2017 while Nicollet Mall undergoes renovations.)
Speaking of malls, hop on the light rail to Bloomington and see the Mall of America, one of the world’s largest malls. Even if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by shops, there is a good sports context worth checking out — the mall was built on the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium. In the center of the mall where the Nickelodeon Universe is, you can find a plaque marking where home plate once lay, and a random seat mounted on the wall commemorates the landing spot of the longest home run ever hit in the stadium, by Harmon Killebrew.
Minneapolis lays claim to the Juicy Lucy (or Jucy Lucy — more on that in a sec), a hamburger with melted cheese inside the patty. You can try it at many establishments around town, but two in particular claim to have invented the dish: Matt’s Bar, 3500 Cedar Ave. South (which uses the “incorrect” spelling), and The 5-8 Club, 5800 Cedar Ave. South (which spells it “correctly”). If you have time, it’s worth sampling both since each restaurant has its own way of preparing the burgers.
Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul each boast their share of gourmet restaurants and hip eateries — as well as chains familiar to visitors. (If you’re going to try a chain, you could do a lot worse than Famous Dave’s, a BBQ restaurant that has Minnesota and Wisconsin roots.)
If you’re feeling more adventurous, venture south of downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue to “Eat Street,” a collection of popular restaurants, many of them ethnic.
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Art Center sit on the southwest edge of downtown, a healthy but not overbearing walk from Target Field. As long as it’s not wintertime, it’s worth a stroll through the sculpture garden to see works like “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (see photo at top of this post).
The University of Minnesota, on the other side of the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis, is the region’s college team, with Big Ten football (at TCF Bank Stadium) and basketball (at Williams Arena).
It being the “State of Hockey,” the Gophers also boast a strong ice hockey program, as do many high schools in the region — the most famous being Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a veritable factory for NHL players in Faribault, about 50 miles to the south.