Editor’s note: I have to admit that my experience in the Twin Cities is rather limited, having only been here for a wedding as an adult, and to visit the Mall of America as a child. Perhaps it is time for a return trip, especially to eat some of the amazing food Sam describes in this wonderful glimpse of the area. For more of Sam’s writing, click here to visit his index page.
Most of my life, I lived on the West Coast, specifically in nice coastal cities. Something that I often heard was people wondering why anyone would ever live anywhere but on either the East (particularly the Northeast) or West Coast. However, having lived for the past five years in Utah, and having been throughout much of the country, I have discovered that there are so many incredible places throughout our country that have wonderful beauty and culture. In particular, I have developed a love for Midwestern cities; they are often on rivers, as they were established on trading routes, and in doing such, the cities are built around the river with the river playing an integral role in the city itself and its culture. These cities also often have wonderful people who are kind and humble, as well as unique cuisines and great brewery scenes. They often represent the very best of America. I wrote last time of a recent visit I had to one such great Midwestern city, Cincinnati, Ohio, and this past month I got to visit yet another great area, the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
In the 1990s, Minneapolis was one of the most desired destinations of many people. The 1990s was the decade of the shopping malls, and this city has the mall of all malls, the Mall of America, which at the time was the largest mall in the world. Today, the Mall of America is still a spot that attracts many with its abundance of shopping as well as indoor theme parks and aquarium; however, as the world has moved largely to online retailers, Minneapolis-St. Paul has had to find other ways to lure travelers. Firstly, the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country; as a hub for Delta and budget airline Sun Country, it is fairly accessible, has an upscale, new look to it, and boasts a variety of nice restaurants. However, Minneapolis has really captured many people through its numerous urban hiking and biking trails. My first stop in the Twin Cities was to Minnehaha Park, a beautiful urban park with a seasonal seafood restaurant and beer patio. The park contains many hikes, including along the Minnehaha Creek. However, the main attraction within the park is the Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall that plunges into a pool below that forms the beginning of the creek. Surrounded by foliage, this waterfall is beautiful and romantic and will absolutely enchant any visitor to the city. It is easy to see Minnehaha Falls was a favorite destination among pioneer landscape painters and photographers from the 19th century until today.
Minnehaha Creek flows into the Mississippi River, and therefore is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 54,000-acre area of protected corridor in the Twin Cities. Another area that is a must-visit in Minneapolis that is a part of this corridor is along the Mississippi River itself that goes right through the heart of the city. Make your way to the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, by St. Anthony Falls. Though it has dams on it today, this waterfall is the only natural waterfall on the whole Mississippi River and is beautiful to see. Over in this area is the Mill Ruins Park and the Mill City Museum. In the early 1900s, Minneapolis was one of the most important cities in the country as it was the headquarters of the grain mill industry, and being at the head of the Mississippi River, had the ability to ship grains throughout most of the rest of the nation. Today, you can see the ruins of the old mills on the riverbank, such as Gold Medal Flour and Pillsbury; their abandoned mills are now a park with trails that you can walk through among the ruins. In my brief visit to the Twin Cities, I unfortunately did not have time to visit their many great art museums in the area. However, while at the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, one also needs to walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. The 2100-foot-long bridge that goes across the Mississippi was opened in 1883 and was initially a train bridge. However, today the bridge is a pedestrian bridge that locals and tourists bike, walk, and jog across while enjoying views of the city skyline and the river.
Along the riverside and a block away from the Mill Ruins Park is a unique restaurant that is worth a try while in Minneapolis. Owamni is an indigenous American restaurant with its chef being nicknamed “The Sioux Chef.” The website for the restaurant is in both English and the Dakota language and the menu at the restaurant explains the mission of the restaurant. The restaurant only uses ingredients that would be used by the indigenous peoples of the region prior to the settlement of Europeans, meaning that there is no chicken or beef. Though a bit pricey, I have not experienced another restaurant like Owamni anywhere and it is made all the better with great views of the Mississippi River. While in Minneapolis, another important culinary experience is to try Somali food. Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States with a third of the nation’s Somali population living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The one I picked was Mama Safia’s restaurant, which had great reviews and authentic food as well as a kind and hospitable staff. Another great restaurant in Minneapolis that is unique that is well worth the visit is Wood & Paddle Eatery in Downtown Minneapolis. This restaurant has a menu that specializes in Minnesotan cuisines and also offers a variety of local beers. I opted for one of Minnesota’s most famous fish and ordered myself the Walleye Schnitzel and hands down the best cheese curds I have had in my life. In my 36 hours in Minnesota, between these three restaurants, I got to have three different and distinct meals that I do not know that I could get anywhere other than Minnesota.
While downtown, you can marvel at the beautiful skyline of Minneapolis and catch a baseball game at the Minnesota Twins’ stadium, Target Field, which opened in 2010. While the stadium lacks anything unique that would make it iconic like some other stadiums have, it is still a beautiful stadium that offers views of the Minneapolis skyline from beyond the outfield. One of the best features of the stadium is a sign of the old Twins’ logo above center field of one player representing Minneapolis and another representing St. Paul extending a hand to each other over the Mississippi River. When a player on the Twins hits a homerun, the two players shake hands. Another fascinating component to downtown Minneapolis is how the buildings are all connected to each other by a series of skybridges and tunnels, making it so that during Minnesota’s harsh winters, you do not need to go outside.
A somber place that is appropriate to visit and pay homage to while in Minneapolis is the location where George Floyd was murdered in 2020 by police officers, which sparked riots and protests calling for racial justice throughout the country. Outside of the convenience store, there is street art that depicts the memory of Floyd and the cause of racial justice. The exact spot where he was killed has become a makeshift memorial that pours onto the street and takes up an entire lane of traffic. While the place is sobering, it is also thought-provoking in regards to what we need to do in order to create a more perfect union.
Finally, on your visit to the Twin Cities make sure that you do not just visit Minneapolis. Rather, take a drive over the Gray’s Bay Causeway in Wayzata located on Lake Minnetonka. This short drive gives a look at one of the 10,000 lakes that Minnesota boasts and also gives a view of the upscale lakeside homes. Also swing by Minneapolis’s twin, St. Paul, which is the capital of Minnesota. Take a look at the Minnesota State Capitol and its bright copper statue of four horses drawing a carriage carrying a Roman legionnaire titled Progress of the State. The statue was created by Daniel Chester French, the sculptor who made Abraham Lincoln’s sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial, and Edward Clark Potter. While in St. Paul visit the Cathedral of St. Paul. This large imposing cathedral attracts tourists and the faithful alike, with some kneeling and praying inside and outside the cathedral for hours. It is the third largest Catholic cathedral and sixth largest church in the United States. The massive organ and the cathedral dome are awe inspiring. While you are in the cathedral, see if you can find the seat that notes where the first Catholic President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, sat.
For every person wanting to experience true Americana culture, make sure that you explore the United States’s great Midwest, and make sure you do not skip out on the Minnesota Twin Cities, just do it when it is warm out!
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