I absolutely fell in love with the Land of 10,000 lakes. Minnesota is a picturesque state populated by some of the warmest and friendliest people you'll ever meet. During the warmer months, you'll find yourself with endless ways to connect with nature and soak in the stunning surrounding sights. Minneapolis especially stands out as a large city with a thriving city life that has lakes and rivers woven throughout its borders. The city stretches out to accommodate many neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality. Downtown is brilliantly connected by skyways that link fourteen miles of buildings together to keep residents out of the cold temperatures during winter months. The food scene here is brilliant with many award-winning restaurants to choose from. On any given summer day there are dozens of festivals to choose from. In the summer, Minneapolis is my idea of perfection. I wish we knew how magical it is here so that we would have planned a longer stay. We'll be back! In the meantime, below are my Top Ten Things to do in Minneapolis in Two Nights.
1. Figure Out a Way to Wind Up in Winona:
Along with Marfa, Texas, and Madrid, New Mexico, Winona ranks high on my list of the USA's best undiscovered towns. Winona is located in southeast Minnesota sitting beautifully along the Mississippi River while nestled in a scenic bluff country that is loaded up with parks and picturesque perspectives. For a town of roughly twenty-seven thousand people, there is a lot to soak in here. I highly recommend an afternoon exploring this wonderful town. Below are some of the highlights of Winona.
Reaching eighty-five feet high into the sky, Sugar Loaf is Winona's most notable landmark. A short, but moderate, hike up the bluff yields breathtaking vistas overlooking Winona Lake, The Mississippi River, and the town of Winona. The climb to the peak is mostly an incline of four hundred feet. Once you get closer to the top the trails are lined with gorgeous wildflowers, endless views of prairies, and ultimately stunning landscapes for miles on end.
Bloedow's Bakery has been a staple in Winona for almost one hundred years. Locals line up for their homemade loaves of bread and pastries but the real top sellers are their famous donuts.
Downtown Winona The downtown area of Winona is a registered Historic Landmark. The main strip is on E. 3rd Street where you'll find yourself charmed by the eclectic stores selling anything from musical instruments to comic books or yarn to high-end home decor items. This certainly is a quirky little town in the most attractive way possible! The buildings are perfectly preserved from their late 1800s inception, the stores are colorful, the people are friendly, and the food is really good too! We really loved everything about this discovery.
Blooming Grounds Coffee House This neighborhood cafe was packed with patrons when we arrived for lunch. Both their large outdoor patio and super spacious indoor space were almost filled to capacity. We loved watching the locals swarm through the doors to pick up their orders along with others who lazily lingered over their lunch at the restaurant. Our salads and wraps were really good. Blooming Grounds Coffee House is reminiscent of a hip coffee house you'd find in Brooklyn, NY, minus the hipster attitude.
Garvin Heights Lookout
The lookout point offers sweeping views of Winona Lake and The Mississippi River overlooking Winona. The fields leading to the overlook are overflowing with wildflowers and every hue of green that you can dream of. This is a stunning scenic stop not to be missed when in the area.
*Numbers 2-10 are in Minneapolis*
2. Linger Along Lake Harriet Bandshell Park During Sunset: Walking along Lake Harriet during dusk is as picturesque as it gets. The waters on the lake are as calm as ever during this time of the day creating beautiful reflections of anything caught in its sight. There is plenty of space for everyone to enjoy with separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists. Spend the last moments of a perfect summer day strolling along the lake and wishing the sun a farewell.
3. Bask in the Aroma of the Rose Garden's Bouquets: Right near Lake Harriet is a remarkable rose garden. You won't have to search too hard to locate it as the sensational scents will help guide you to the 1.5-acre garden filled with roses of every kind and color. As if the flowers were not enough, there is also an exquisite water fountain imported from Italy to add to the majestic atmosphere.
4. Make a Morning Visit to Minnehaha Falls:
The Minnehaha Falls do not require a trek or hike to discover. In fact, finding a parking spot is the biggest obstacle at the park so get there as early as you can. Once you snatch a spot, the walk to the falls is under three minutes. These natural falls are remarkable from every angle. Make sure to take the many stairs down to the lower falls to fully appreciate all perspectives of this natural wonder. Feel free to linger in the park as there is plenty to do. Surreys and bikes are available for rent and on summer weekends many festivals are hosted in this popular destination.
5. Stroll Around Lake Nokomis: We truly cherished our time on the 2.5-mile loop around Lake Nokomis. The trails are flat and really easy to walk along. There are spectacular views throughout the path covering everything from fields of wildflowers to city skylines. Plan ahead and wear your bathing suits! We didn't have ours and wished we did. There are a few swimmable beaches and plenty of kayak and SUP rentals along the way. Spending some time on the water is the ultimate way to cool off after walking the lovely loop.
6. Stare at the Weisman Art Museum in Wonder:
I am a big fan of Frank Gehry's work. The Weisman Art Museum may be his greatest masterpiece. Although the museum is closed until the Fall for renovations we were perfectly content just staring at the facade. In reality, I can't imagine that any work of art inside is more striking than the building itself.
7. Saunder Through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden:
Eleven acres full of whimsical sculptures make for a fantastic (and free) way to explore the city. We all loved walking through the interactive part admiring the works of art enclosed by the city's architectural delights. You'll find yourself feeling like a local here. Many Minneapolitans meander through the park or lazily lay in the grass wasting the weekend away in a gorgeous setting. Don't miss out on a visit here.
8. Stride Across Stone Arch Bridge:
The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge built in the mid-1800s. It is the only arch bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River. Crossing over the bridge takes you through a bit of history and a visual lesson of what this part of the city was once like compared to what it has become. The juxtaposition of old versus new is quite remarkable. There are several abandoned flour mills along the way, preserving the history of this former milling town. A walk here is a sure way to learn about Minneapolis' past while exploring another part of the city.
9. Dig into the Delicious Dining Scene: The food scene in Minneapolis is unbeatable. We had one delicious meal after another. I spent a lot of time researching the city's best restaurants and making our dining selections. Be forewarned, you must make reservations in advance as the best restaurants fill up fast and walk-ins are subject to waits of over an hour. There were so many incredible choices to make. We needed a solid two weeks here just focused on eating to make a dent in the food scene. Unfortunately, we just had two nights to dive into as many decadent dishes as possible. Fortunately, I think we championed discovering some culinary treasures.
For a simple and light breakfast in a lovely atmosphere, start your day at Monello. Lean back in a luxe leather booth under ambient lighting while sipping your coffee. What especially stood out was their garam masala granola. I was a bit hesitant to order this spiced dish. When the kitchen sent me a sample, I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty it was. The service is fantastic here. This restaurant is not trendy or extremely creative with its menu. However, for a calm start to the day in a great setting with plenty of healthy menu options, Monello is a very good choice.
Alma Cafe (breakfast) This popular cafe opens at 8:00 am. By 7:50 am there was already a line forming with eager diners craving a pastry or breakfast sandwich coupled with a perfect cup of Joe. Staff kept coming out of the kitchen with large trays of freshly baked bread and treats. The scents of coffee beans being ground mixed with freshly baked goods is enough to make anyone publicly drool. We loved every bite of everything we ordered at Alma. We shared three of the flakiest chocolate croissants created by mankind. Although we absolutely loved these indulgent treats, the real gems here are the breakfast dishes. The baked egg strata made with organic eggs, bread, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, gruyere cheese, and thyme is just dreamy. We also devoured the Torta Sorta served on a toasted buttered roll topped with scrambled eggs, refritos, pickled jalapeño slaw, and chihuahua cheese. The innovative dishes in this causal cafe are outstanding.
Ask any local for a great lunch spot recommendation and Red Cow will come up again and again. In fact, when we were there a film crew was onsite shooting for Campus Eats highlighting the best restaurants in college towns. Although Red Cow is known for their burgers, I was really surprised by how outstanding their salads were. On a long road trip, you need to watch what you eat, or else the next road you'll find yourself on is one of dieting, which isn't fun! There were so many enticing salad options here we ordered three different types and they are all so good. My husband opted for the buffalo chicken tenders, which he devoured. This is a great stop for an authentic neighborhood experience with many fantastic food options for both vegetarians and carnivores.
Tenant This tiny treasure delivers enormous flavors. Seating twenty people for two very precisely timed seatings (6:00 pm and 8:00 pm) Tenant proves that a Prix-fix menu can be casual and simultaneously creative. Serving six courses at $60 per person, dinner here is quite a steal. The staff of eight were harmoniously collaborating in the kitchen to prepare the perfect plates delivered to all the tables at the same time. Counter seating offers a full view of the kitchen staff assembling the dishes with such precision. Our vegetarian menu looked like this:
Green salsa verde topped with roasted cauliflower, chili fresco, roasted beets, berries, and edible flowers. Egg salad with tomato mayonnaise, charred and pickled fennel, and charred citrus on homemade focaccia. Shitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, grilled sweet corn, turnip, grilled zucchini, and scallions topped with vegetable broth. Doppio pasta with grilled brocolli and kale tossed in a marscopone ricotta sauce. Braised artichoke and grilled asparagus mixed with homemade pasta in a tomato harissa sauce.
Peach custard with whipped cream and streusel. For the two in our party who are not vegetarian, lamb, shrimp, and crab were included in their dishes. There is no menu here. The kitchen will call you before your reservation to understand your food restrictions and then they masterfully work their magic.
Run by a James Beard award-winning chef, Young Joni draws a crowd of foodies like no other restaurant. Boy was it tough to snag a reservation here. When we arrived for our 6:30 pm reservation, the enormous restaurant was packed and walk-ins were quoted ninety-minute wait times. I am so happy that I was relentless in my reservation-making attempts because this was a meal we would not have wanted to miss. The menu offers a variety of globally inspired dishes but the stars of the show here are the creative wood-oven fired pizzas. All three pies we ordered were exquisite! The Tavern is comprised of homemade red sauce, mozzarella cheese, jalapenos, and honey. The Broccolini is loaded with broccolini, mozzarella, french feta, castelvetrano olives, garlic, Calabrian chili, preserved lemon, almonds. I mean, have you ever heard of such a thing? Everything from the interior decor to the details in the hardbound menu, to the innovative dishes, is superb.
As we were going through old magazines while packing up for our move out of New York City, we found a review for Milkjam Creamery in an old Bon Appetit magazine. We immediately noted that the ice-cream shop is located in Minneapolis which made its way on our road trip route. On our list it went and then before we knew it into the shop we found ourselves. The flavors are so unique and exciting we each opted for two scoops so that we can taste our two favorite combinations. Our choices were Peanut Butter Mousse Tracks made with peanut butter ice-cream, housemade peanut butter cups, and butter fudge; Ridin' Duuurty comprised of oreo milk with oreo chunks and salted peanut butter; PB VS Everybody concocted with peanut butter banana and oreo cookie chunks. Can you say yum? I need more now.
10. Treat Yourself to Laid-Back Luxury Lodging: Hotel Ivy, a Luxury Collection Hotel As soon as we checked in to Hotel Ivy we immediately found our happy place. The property is immaculate and oozes an understated modern ambiance. There are several corners and restaurants to hide in, the gym is one of the best hotel gyms we've come across, the spa is spectacular, and the staff is trained to pamper every visitor. We became friends with the lobby bartender who we chatted with both nights that we stayed at the hotel. It was hard to say goodbye to him and we ended up parting with a hug! The downstairs bar, Constantine Bar, is a sexy candle-lit lounge that serves impeccable drinks. The rooms are spacious with rather large bathrooms. Also, the hotel has connecting rooms which oddly is not often available in hotels throughout the country. We had plenty of space to relax and unwind on the premises while being a stone's throw away from all the sights we explored.
Minneapolis really won our hearts. This city should be on everyone's summer destination list. It offers a perfect balance between discovering city streets along with the plentiful opportunities to explore nature. Summer brings everyone out creating a lively and fun environment. The culinary scene here stands out as one of the top ten best in the country. Locals are friendly and fun. There's really nothing not to love about spending part of your summer vacation here!