The average Minnesotan knows just two things about Rochester: It is home to the Mayo Clinic, and it is an exceedingly dull city. “I don’t need to go to Rochester, I’m not sick” is a common attitude.
The “boring” label is so strongly ingrained, in fact, that the CVB gives locals familiarization tours just so that if someone asks them what there is to do in town they don’t answer, “Nothing.”
While the prevailing wisdom is not completely wrong—frankly Rochester does rank fairly low on the excitement scale—the odd combination of big city and small town surprises most first-time visitors, of whom, between “The Clinic” and conventions, there are hundreds of thousands annually. It really is worth a visit.
Though the city is synonymous with modern technology (besides the Mayo Clinic, Rochester has IBM’s largest single building), the giant corncob water tower on the south side of town is a reminder of Rochester’s agricultural roots.
Olmsted County’s first settlers were New England farmers. In 1854 one of them, George Head from Rochester, New York , built a log cabin home–hotel–saloon at a waterfall on the South Branch Zumbro River.
A proper town, fueled by flour mills, soon sprang up here, and when a name was needed Head suggested Rochester because the rapids here reminded him of the Genesee River in his former hometown.
After an 1883 tornado devastated the city, Dr. William Mayo opened a hospital that would later grow into the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Today the Mayo name and legacy permeate the city. The clinic has brought gleaming skyscrapers and some cosmopolitan flair to this city of 86,000. This sophistication, along with a deep civic pride, makes Rochester a regular chart-topper on “Most Livable” city rankings.
Rochester was doing all right before the hospital opened and might have even become southern Minnesota’s leading city without it, but Dr. Mayo single-handedly put Rochester on the map, and it certainly would not be the economic axis that it is today without him.
Rochester International Airport (7701 Helgerson Dr. SW, 507/282-2328, www.rochesterintlairport.com ) is eight miles south of the city along Highway 63. Delta Airlines (800/225-2525) makes the short hop to the Twin Cities  several times a day and also flies direct to Detroit. American Airlines (800/433-7300) flies nonstop to Chicago O’Hare Airport.
Yellow Cab Rochester Airport Shuttle (507/282-2222) runs between the airport and major hotels for $11.50 per person up till the last flight of the evening. A taxi will cost about $25 to downtown.
Jefferson Lines (888/864-2832, www.jeffersonlines.com ) buses stop at the Sinclair gas station (205 6th St. SW) downtown. Go Rochester Direct (507/280-9270 or 800/280-9270, www.gorochesterdirect.com , $29 one-way) runs vans to the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, Mall of America, and Winona  (coinciding with Amtrak trains), with drop off and pick up at most of the city’s major hotels. Reservations are required for the outbound trips and recommended for the return.