Divide and conquer is the best way to squeeze the best the Twin Cities has to offer into just a few days. If you take it by foot, plan on three or four miles of walking a day.
Start your tour where Minneapolis began, on the Mississippi River. On a summer Saturday, grab a pastry, coffee, and even an early-morning bratwurst at the Mill City Farmers Market (704 2nd St. S., 612/341-7580, www.millcityfarmersmarket.org , mid-May–mid-Oct. Sat. 8 a.m.–1 p.m.).
There’s plenty right on the riverfront to fill a morning: the Guthrie Theater’s (818 2nd St. S., 612/377-2224, www.guthrietheater.org ) endless bridge, the one-mile St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail (Main St. SE) the stunning Stone Arch (Portland Ave. S. and West River Pkwy.) and Hennepin Avenue Bridges (Hennepin Ave. South and West River Pkwy.), Mill Ruins Park (West River Pkwy. and Portland Ave., www.minneapolisparks.org ), and the Mill City Museum (704 2nd St. S., 612/341-7555, www.millcitymuseum.org ). Don’t miss the film Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat.
To get an even closer view of St. Anthony Falls, the only waterfall on the Mississippi, stop at Water Power Park (Hennepin Island, 206 Main St. SE, 800/895-4999, www.waterpowerpark.com ).
Spend the afternoon strolling down Nicollet Mall (Nicollet Ave. between 4th St. S. and 12th St. S.). Start at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, 612/630-6000, www.hclib.org ) and head southeast. Along the way, see the skyways by ducking into just about any store or office building and following signs. On Thursdays between May and October, the Lyndale Farmers Market sets up along most of the mall. At 12th Street, head down the Loring Greenway—a park-like path between two high-rise condo buildings—to Loring Park (15th St. W. and Willow St. S., www.minneapolisparks.org ).
Directly across the park from the greenway is the yellow-and-blue Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, which leads to the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden (1750 Hennepin Ave., 612/375-7600, www.walkerart.org ) home of the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and, inside the Cowles Conservatory, Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish.
Your evening options from here are great: Treat yourself to fine dining at Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 (1750 Hennepin Ave., 612/253-3410, www.wolfgangpuck.com ) inside the Walker, or La Belle Vie (427 Groveland Ave., 612/874-6440, www.labellevie.us ), across Hennepin Avenue. For less expensive ethnic fare, head to Eat Street, as Nicollet Avenue between 13th and 29th Streets is known.
After dinner, if you don’t have theater tickets, the bars along 1st Avenue are always hopping. Or unwind with lawn bowling on Brit’s Pub’s (1110 Nicollet Mall, 612/332-3908, www.britspub.com , daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m.) rooftop or a jazz show at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant (1010 Nicollet Mall, 612/332-1010, www.dakotacooks.com ).
Start your day in St. Paul with a croissant and café au lait at Meritage (410 St. Peter St., 651/222-5670, www.meritage-stpaul.com ), then step right outside and enjoy beautiful Rice Park (4th St. and Market St.) flanked by some of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Spend a few minutes admiring the interior of the Landmark Center (75 5th St. W., 651/292-3233, www.landmarkcenter.org ) or spend an hour or so at one of the small museums inside. Before leaving the park, take a peek inside the James J. Hill Reference Library (80 4th St. W., 651/265-5500, www.jjhill.org ), find out what’s showing at the Ordway (345 Washington St., 651/224-4222, www.ordway.org ), and snap a few pictures with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his friends the Peanuts characters, cast in bronze.
Your next stop is the Minnesota History Center (345 Kellogg Blvd. W., 651/251-3000, www.mnhs.org/historycenter ), which deserves as much time as you’re able to give it (the gift shop is a great place to get souvenirs).
The Cathedral of St. Paul (239 Selby Ave., 651/228-1766, www.cathedralsaintpaul.org ), a short walk away, welcomes both the faithful and the respectfully curious.
A little less than a mile away, the Minnesota State Capitol (75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 651/296-2881, www.mnhs.org ) offers tours on the hour, or you can wander on your own. Leave a little time to explore the memorials on the grounds.
For dinner and entertainment, head back to downtown St. Paul proper. The classic American St. Paul Grill (350 Market St., 651/224-7455, www.stpaulgrill.com ) and the Japanese Sakura Restaurant & Bar (350 St. Peter St., 651/224-0185, www.sakurastpaul.com ) are on Rice Park. For a less expensive meal, try the serene Tanpopo Noodle Shop (308 Prince St., 651/209-6527, www.tanpoporestaurant.com ).
Most of the Twin Cities’ livelier nightlife takes place in downtown Minneapolis, but the Artists’ Quarter (408 St. Peter St., 651/292-1359, www.artistsquarter.com ) in St. Paul hosts live jazz nearly every night.
If you’ve got an extra day in the Twin Cities and you’ve exhausted those rather ambitious itineraries for the first two days, it’s time to head out of the two downtown cores.
Get some fresh air on the walking paths around the Chain of Lakes (612/230-6400, www.minneapolisparks.org ) in Minneapolis, or in St. Paul’s sprawling Como Park. Take a short hike around Minnehaha Falls (4825 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612/230-6400, www.minneapolisparks.org ), which inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha.
On warm days, you can get some of the best seafood in the Twin Cities at Sea Salt (4825 Minnehaha Ave., in Minnehaha Falls Park, 612/721-8990, www.seasalteatery.com , April–Oct.) and Tin Fish (3000 Calhoun Pkwy. E., on the shore of Lake Calhoun, 612/823-5840, www.thetinfish.net , late April–Memorial Day).
If you’re in the mood to shop, then St. Paul’s Grand Avenue is your best bet. To venture any farther out of town, you’ll need your own car. The only real exception to this is the Mall of America (60 E. Broadway, Bloomington, 952/883-8800, www.mallofamerica.com ), which is a good option on a cold winter day.
For some kid-friendly sightseeing, head west to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska, 952/443-1400, www.arboretum.umn.edu ) or south to the Minnesota Zoo (1300 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, 952/883-8600, www.mnzoo.com ).