With Roseville, Minnesota as our base, we were perfectly positioned to spend an enjoyable 72 hours in the Twin Cities earlier this fall. Following is a day-by-day breakdown of the fun we had, including tips for visiting the Twin Cities with kids.
Day 1 – Mall of America / Nickelodeon Universe
I made my very first visit to Mall of America earlier this year, in May, for TBEX. I didn’t spend too much time shopping because I was attending conference sessions, but I did get to look around Nickelodeon Universe. The rides and attractions looked so fun and were so adorable that I told myself I’d have to return with the kids. I knew they’d love it. So, Mall of America and Nickelodeon Universe were our first stop upon arriving in the Twin Cities. Plus, I knew the kids would be ready to burn off a ton of energy after sitting in the car for several hours on our drive up from Chicago.
First order of business was food, so we treated ourselves to yummy cheeseburgers and thick milkshakes from Johnny Rocket’s. Next, we secured wristbands for the Nickelodeon Universe rides, which can be purchased at self-service kiosks located at each entrance. There are two wristband options: one at a flat fee which allows for unlimited rides; the other is more pay-as-you-go. With the latter option, each ride “costs” a certain amount of points. So, if you know in advance which rides you want to experience, you can add up how many points each family member will need, and purchase the points accordingly. Because I made zero advance plans, I paid full price for all-access wristbands for the kids and me. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea since my 3-year-old was not able to go on many of the rides due to height restrictions. Moral of the story: check out the ticket options ahead of time so you can decide which is best for your family.
One ride all of us were able to go on was the log chute. Oh my goodness, what a thrill! However, I was somewhat surprised that there are no safety belts in the logs to restrain riders, and there is one pretty steep drop. I held on tightly to my 3-year-old and we were fine, but just a warning for the really safety-conscious parents.
Day 2 – Minnesota State Fair
I’d never attended a state fair before but I had an idea that they’re known for weird foods and big crowds. The latter really isn’t my scene so I never tried too hard to attend a state fair, even in my home state of Illinois. But I was told by so many different people that the Minnesota State Fair is a MUST; it’s the best in the country. I was convinced to give it a go and we were off to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
We took advantage of the Park Free, Ride Free program offered by Metro Transit to the State Fairgrounds. Once there, we entered the fair near the West End Market. It is a newer section of the fair featuring vendor stalls, the Schilling Amphitheater, and the History and Heritage Center. I grabbed a beer, the kids and I danced to the bluegrass band that just happened to be playing (bonus!), and I thought, the crowd isn’t so bad. We crossed over to the Mighty Midway where Lucia and I rode the Ferris wheel and the kids played some carnival games. Still, the crowds were manageable.
Being the animal lovers we are, we made it a point to visit some of the livestock pavilions. Lucia was most interested in Horse Barn. I, on the other hand, went gaga over the goats! An entire pavilion containing the most adorable creatures on the planet. I wanted to take a few home with me!
Prior to our State Fair experience, a local Twin Cities friend told me that we HAD to get chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. It’s like a rite of passage. After visiting the horses and goats, we worked through the growing crowds over to Sweet Martha’s. The queue was long but my goodness it was so worth it. We were awarded our own overflowing bucket o’ gooey goodness: a heaping portion of still-warm, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I may have been more excited about the cookies than the kids were.
At this point, we’d been at the fair almost the whole day. We were walking and trying to decide what our next move would be. We turned a corner and BAM! We were face-to-face with a pulsing mass of humanity. I had never seen so many people congregated in a single space in my entire life. And now we were in the middle of it. I tried making my way through the crowd with Anthony in the stroller and while keeping tabs on my mother and Lucia. It was overwhelming. Then we witnessed an elderly woman in a motorized cart literally run over a woman walking in front of her, and that’s when I called it. Time to go. Later on, we learned that we were part of history. We were among the 260,374 people at the fair on Saturday, September 3, 2016, a new Minnesota State Fair attendance record.
Day 3 – Twin Cities
Minneapolis is often included in such lists as “best urban areas for nature lovers” and “best cities for outdoor enthusiasts”. As a nature-loving urban dweller, I wanted to experience some of what the “City By Nature” has to offer. The most popular spot to do so in Minneapolis is Minnehaha Regional Park. It is one of the city’s oldest parks and attracts more than 850,000 visitors per year. The park’s main feature is Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall. Yes, a waterfall in the middle of the city!
Minnehaha Falls definitely is the highlight of the park, but there is so much more to see and do. Miles of bike paths and walking trails; a playground; a disc golf course; and plenty of grassy areas along the river to picnic or just sit and enjoy the natural, urban setting. The day of our visit was perfect for a bike ride so we visited Wheel Fun Rentals within the park and rented a surrey. If you’re not familiar with the surrey, it’s a 4-wheeled bike with seats for 2 or 4 people, usually is covered by a canopy, and sometimes has a basket attached to the front. It looked like great fun so we were excited to get pedaling! But it wasn’t long before we realized just how difficult it is to power the surrey. If I were riding with 1 or 2 other strong adults, it probably would have been a lot easier. But my mom and my two young children couldn’t offer much pedal power. Needless to say, we and our surrey didn’t make it very far but we did have a lot of laughs!
Next, it was time for some indoor fun. We made our way to Mill City, a Minnesota Historical Society museum that tells the history of the flour industry. Yes, the flour industry. I realize it doesn’t sound terribly exciting but it is such an important part of Twin Cities history and the museum is so well done: from the venue (the rebuilt ruins of an old mill) to the interactive exhibits, Mill City has secured a spot on my list of favorite museums. Regular admission to the museum includes viewing of the clever and humorous “Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat” movie; the Flour Tower guided tour; and access to the 9th-floor observation deck, which rewards visitors with spectacular views of St. Anthony Falls and the Mississippi River. One word of caution regarding the Flour Tower attraction: it’s more of a multimedia show wherein visitors sit in an old freight elevator-turned-theater and stop at various floors within the mill. On each floor is a reenactment which tells a different story of the mill’s past. A couple of the stories involve loud, sudden noises that can be frightening to children. My 7-year-old was momentarily startled, but my 3-year-old was terrified. Keep that in mind if visiting with younger children.
After Mill City, we made our way to St. Paul to have dinner at Red River Kitchen at City House. This eatery’s concept was as intriguing to me as its menu and beer list. The venue isn’t exactly a restaurant; rather, it’s a restored grain elevator and flour mill (I see there’s a theme here, Twin Cities), at the base of which sits the dining area. There are picnic tables, pub tables and bar chairs, sets of bean-bag games, and unobstructed views of the Mississippi River. So, where does the food come from? Well, from May to October, one of Red River Kitchen’s two food trucks parks at City House and serves up delicious offerings made with ingredients from local Minnesota farms. I went with the Cubano sandwich and paired it with a locally crafted beer, Provider Ale by Steel Toe Brewing. I found City House to be extremely kid-friendly. It’s an unpretentious open space, staff provides the kids with buckets of chalk and encourages them to write on the interior brick walls, and there are hot dogs on the menu. Boom.
We really fit a lot into a weekend trip. It was busy but super fun! After two trips just this year, I’m becoming quite a fan of the Twin Cities and look forward to more adventures there – with and without the kids.
Big thank you to Roseville Visitors Association for complimentary tickets to the Minnesota State Fair, and to Meet Minneapolis for complimentary surrey rental and complimentary entrance to Mill City Museum. All words and opinions, as always, are my own.