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With the world’s largest freshwater lake pounding rocky coastal cliffs, America’s largest indoor shopping mall and amusement park, tours of Prince’s studios and the Minnesota State Fair’s food-on-a-stick nirvana, the Land of 10,000 Lakes offers 19 themed mix-and-match trips to tug travelers north.
1. Eye Candy in the Galleries
- Minnesota’s legendary lakes and rivers inspired Winona’s Minnesota Marine Art Museum with its world-class paintings celebrating life on or along the water. Enjoy scenic Mississippi River views outside the museum’s doors.
- Considered one of the nation’s top 10 comprehensive art museums, Minneapolis Institute of Art provides visitors a look at 5,000 years of art, including its acclaimed Asian collection.
- The sleek Walker Art Center showcases contemporary art, photos and film, along with outdoor sculptures including Minneapolis’ iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry and new giant blue rooster, Hahn/Cock.
- Almost at the tip of northeastern Minnesota, the quaint harbor town of Grand Marais features
northern-inspired art at galleries and hands-on classes at North House Folk School and Grand Marais Art Colony.
2. This Lake is Superior
- Delve into Lake Superior’s shipping industry at the Maritime Museum in Duluth’s Canal Park and watch gigantic “Lakers” (bulk carriers) glide beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge into the world’s most inland harbor.
- Stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse for two of the state’s best photo ops. Stay for historic tours of the 1910 lighthouse, a 1,000-watt beacon of help for ships navigating storms that could sink dozens.
3. Tax-Free Shopping on Clothing
- You can walk through a tunnel surrounded by sharks, gawk at towering LEGO sculptures and virtually fly across America’s iconic landscapes on rides at Bloomington’s Mall of America. Power shoppers can choose from more than 525 stores, such as American Girl, Crayola, Lululemon, L.L. Bean and Nordstrom Rack.
- Find deals on national brands, such as Filson, Chico’s, Brooks Brothers and Kate Spade, at Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan.
- Northwest of the Twin Cities, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and fashionista shops blend Nike, North Face, Columbia and more at Albertville Premium Outlets.
- Look for artsy, one-of-a-kind shopping at boutiques and antiques emporiums across the state in towns such as Stillwater, Northfield, Red Wing, Duluth, Nisswa and Alexandria.
4. Made in Minnesota
- Ham it up at Austin’s playful and interactive SPAM Museum, showing how the much-mocked canned meat helped with war efforts and became a cherished cuisine in many countries. Look for Spambassadors handing out Spamples.
- Pose with the world’s largest boot (size 638D) and check out the RedWing Shoes museum to learn how this company outfitted soldiers and the craftsmen who built American cities. The Pottery Museum of RedWing’s 6,000 pieces show how the city’s iconic crocks helped pioneers preserve their food.
- Tour MarvinWindows & Doors inWarroad to see how this 100-year-old company transforms lumber and glass into custom windows and doors.
5. Culinary Magic
- Savor wood-fired meats, gourmet cotton candy and ice cream, local brews and more at St. Paul’s new Keg and Case food market in the historic Schmidt Brewery.
- Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market in the historic Sears Building serves local beers and bubble tea and fragrant dishes from shawarma to tamales with cuisine from the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia, plus soul food, burgers and barbecue from the U.S.
- Older than Minnesota’s statehood, Mantorville’s The Hubbell House has served travelers steaks, chops and chicken classics since 1854.
- Watch jaws drop when seeing Naniboujou Lodge’s vibrant Cree murals for the first time, then dine on trout, chops and walleye in its 1920s dining room north of Grand Marais.
6. Culture & Heritage
- Rising like a turreted castle from Minneapolis’ Park Avenue, the Turnblad Mansion houses the American Swedish Institute, where visitors can enjoy Nordic culture and exhibits, dine on Swedish meatballs, or grab a coffee and cardamom bread pudding at its Fika cafe.
- Hike among southeastern Minnesota’s pink quartzite outcrops to a waterfall and learn about pipestone that has been mined by hand and carved into sacred peace pipes for thousands of years at Pipestone National Monument.
- Costumed interpreters bring to life a lively logging camp at Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, which is along the Great River Road and where TheWizard of Oz star Judy Garland was born (and is home to a museum in her honor).
7. Big Events, Fun Times
- Watch horseback riders chase down Jesse James and his gang after a thwarted bank robbery during Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days. The packed September weekend includes a parade, rodeo, art festival, chili cookoff, beard contest and more.
- Take a mammoth appetite to the Minnesota State Fair for its on-a-stick, OMG foods from obligatory fried cheese curds and buckets of still-warm cookies to porketta pasties and wild rice meatballs. Add in games and giveaways, a dairy princess carved in butter, blocks of livestock barns and rocking grandstand concerts.
- Bundle up for America’s oldest winter festival, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which brings together parades, a snow slide, snow sculpting, ice carving and occasional ice palaces.
- More than 1,200 reenactors bring history alive from fur-trade heydays to pioneers and Civil War camps at Albert Lea’s Big Island Rendezvous in early October.
8. Professional Sports Hub
- Listen for the crack of a bat and roar of fans as the Minnesota Twins play at Target Field with stellar views of Minneapolis’ skyline—especially at sunset or moonrise.
- Cheer on the Minnesota Timberwolves during basketball season at Target Center in Minneapolis, which also hosts the 2019 NCAA Final Four playoffs.
- Join happy crowds in downtown St. Paul on nights the Minnesota Wild hockey team rules the ice at Xcel Energy Center.
- The giant Gjallarhorn blares when the Minnesota Vikings score touchdowns at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, which hosted the 2018 Super Bowl.
- The Minnesota Lynx, winners of four Women’s National Basketball Association titles since 2010, play at Target Center and Williams Arena.
- Allianz Field in St. Paul expects to open by spring 2019 as the new home for the Minnesota United, a professional soccer team nicknamed the Loons.
9. Protecting the Species
- Get nose to beak with resident eagles, watch for wild ones along the Mississippi River and learn about America’s symbol of strength at Wabasha’s National Eagle Center.
- With a resident wolf pack, special programs for both kids and adults, and ongoing exhibits, Ely’s International Wolf Center demystifies this once-endangered animal.
- Ely’s also home to North American Bear Center, which includes exhibits on bear species and viewing areas for watching the five resident black bears as they forage for food and interact.
- Preston’s National Trout Center sits fittingly in southeast Minnesota, part of a four state driftless region with 600 spring-fed creeks that make it a national draw for anglers.
- Houston’s International Owl Center, also in southeastern Minnesota’s Root River Valley, gives visitors an up-close look at resident birds and interactive displays on what makes this beloved family of birds unique.
10. That’s Entertainment
- Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the largest professional dinner theater in the country, has staged classic musicals, concerts and comedy acts for more than 50 years.
- Minneapolis’ Hennepin Theatre Trust brings in Broadway blockbusters, such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, plus musicians, comedians and holiday shows to its elegantly restored State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters.
- St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts hosts the St. Paul Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, dance ensembles, concert and Broadway tours, and family-focused productions.
- St. Cloud’s historic and restored Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center blends regional talents, such as GREAT Theater and Tonic Sol fa, with touring shows.
11. Something’s Always in Season
- At 1,200 acres,Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen lures garden and nature lovers with vast collections of trees and flower gardens, prairie, woodlands, traveling exhibits and the new Bee & Pollinator Center.
- Enjoy serene, shady paths beneath the pines along the Mississippi River or stroll the formal flower and rose beds stretching for several blocks at St. Cloud’s Munsinger Clemens Gardens.
- Grab picnic lunches and smell the flowers at Duluth’s Leif Erickson Park & Rose Garden with Lake Superior as the backdrop.
12. Stories From Historic Homes
- Get a glimpse of a lumber baron’s home in the early 1900s with a tour through Little Falls’ Linden Hill Estate next to the Musser Mansion on nine acres of Mississippi River shoreline.
- Learn about life upstairs and downstairs at Minnesota’s version of Downton Abbey: the 36,000 square-foot James J. Hill House. Learn about the railroad titan, then add a tour of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue—the country’s longest stretch of Gilded Age mansions.
- Revel in the elegance of Duluth’s storied Glensheen Mansion, which is also known for its picturesque grounds and location along Lake Superior.
13. Must-See History Museums
- Mill City Museum’s unique group elevator theatrically reveals the explosive history of Minneapolis’ heyday as the world’s biggest flour producer. Look for hands-on cooking demos and scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River as the museum rises from the ruins of a former mill.
- Delve into colorful tales of immigrants and life on the Iron Range with Chisholm’s Minnesota Museum of Mining.
- Listen for the wail of a steam whistle and chug of wheels while climbing aboard historic train cars at Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum in the downtown depot. Elevate the experience with a train excursion to Two Harbors.
- For the best all-around look at the state and how it developed, stop by St. Paul’s Minnesota History Center. Bonus: beautiful views of the Cathedral of St. Paul and State Capitol.
14. Lakes, Yes, but River Cruises, too
- Enjoy Mississippi River serenity and Twin Cities skyline views with sightseeing on Padelford Riverboats, Paradise Charter Cruises or Magnolia Blossom Cruises.
- Take a St. Croix Boat & Packing Co. cruise from historic Stillwater to enjoy St. Croix River scenery.
15. Zoos & Aquariums
- Touch anemones in a tidal pool, get close to a grizzly bear, travel the Minnesota Trail or walk through lush habitats of Southeast Asia at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley.
- Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium inside Mall of America leads from the fresh waters of the Mississippi River to tropical seas with walk-through shark tunnels and a chance to touch and feed sting rays.
- Marvel at the polar bear, giraffes, an orangutan and gorillas at St. Paul’s Como Park Zoo. Stroll through the greenery and flower shows at Como Park Conservatory.
- See what lies beneath Lake Superior at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium, which also includes waterfowl, river otters and touch pools with sturgeon and jellies.
16. A Capitol Experience
- Tour Cass Gilbert’s elegant and recently restored Minnesota State Capitol, from historic murals to the golden horses upon the dome built in 1905.
17. Historic Churches
- Choir and organ music soar into the arches of the Cathedral of St. Paul from its perch above downtown.
- In Minneapolis, the grand Basilica of St. Mary has drawn visitors since it opened in 1926.
- St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville is known for its bold design like a concrete honeycomb inset with stained glass.
18. Famous People and Their Places
- Prince fans pay homage to his musical legacy (and even his ashes) with a tour of his home and studios at Chanhassen’s Paisley Park.
- A vibrant mural along Minneapolis’ Hennepin Avenue commemorates Minnesota-native songwriter and musician Bob Dylan.
- Charles Lindbergh Historical Site combines tours of the famed aviator’s boyhood home outside Little Falls with a museum that includes a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis cockpit, tales of his son’s kidnapping, and exhibits on medical inventions and environment efforts.
- See the Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home to learn about America’s first Nobel Prize winner for literature, who drew some of his observations from his hometown of Sauk Centre.
19. It’s All About Nature
- Enjoy the fragrant, pine-canopied beauty of Itasca State Park, where visitors hop across rocks marking the humble headwaters of the Mississippi River.
- Head into Minnesota’s longest cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park to see flowstones, caverns and underground pools.
- Harmony’s Niagara Cave tours include a waterfall, slot-like canyons, fossils and a cave chapel where hundreds of weddings took place.
- Explore Voyageurs National Park, near the Canadian border, by boat to see its vast lakes and hundreds of wooded islands, learn about fur trade history and dine at the remote Kettle Falls Hotel with its wildly warped bar-room floor.
By Lisa Meyers McClintick