|When driving through the Twin Cities, it's
sometimes hard to discern which city you are actually in. There is no
visible dividing line; they really do blend one into the other. But there
are some who say that the differences are vast. St. Paul is a bit smaller
than Minneapolis, but some feel that lends more to its hometown feel.
Minneapolis can be more cosmopolitan, and certainly is larger. Some people
from St. Paul might say that Minneapolis is a den of vice. Some people
from Minneapolis may think that St. Paul is too quiet, rolling up its
sidewalks at night. Of course, neither of these is an accurate picture.
There are just as many people who flit back and forth between the two
cities and enjoy as much as they can of what each has to offer.
Downtown / Theater District / Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis is 'The City of Lakes.' Known for its beautiful chain of lakes
and annual summertime Aquatennial festival, the city also boasts a
thriving downtown with a world-class theater district. Remember that scene
at the beginning of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she flings her hat
into the air with careless abandon? That takes place on Nicollet Mall, the
bustling shopping corridor that runs parallel to the Hennepin Avenue
theater district. With its grubby and tough start as a lumber and grain
mill town, Minneapolis has turned into the Crystal City. The Minneapolis
Convention Center anchors the south end of downtown.
On the opposite end, at the riverfront, renovation is underway on the
Milwaukee Road Depot, a project that will include restaurants, a hotel,
and a skating rink. Many old mills still stand along the river, and they
are slowly being repurposed for other uses. Across Washington Avenue, many
old warehouses are also being renovated to revitalize the area. Open Book,
a literary center holding four major book-oriented organizations, just
celebrated its grand opening. The Metrodome is just a couple blocks
Follow Washington Avenue across Hennepin Avenue, and you come to the famed
Warehouse District, a hot-spot for nightlife, with many large spaces
accommodating a lot of revelers. Rosen's, South Beach, or Chez Bananas
might be the spot for your next night out.
A little south of downtown on Hennepin Avenue is the district known as
Uptown. Uptown is the Minneapolis equivalent of Greenwich Village. Dotted
with coffee shops and vintage clothing stores, it is a throbbing blend of
bohemian and cosmopolitan. At the corner of Hennepin and Lake is Calhoun
Square, full of shops and restaurants. Don't miss Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que,
where the atmosphere takes on the experience of being under the El in
Chicago, complete with a train going over every few minutes. Head left on
Lake and you can hit Cheapo for a vast selection of used CD's and a
backroom full of pressed vinyl.
The Lakes and Linden Hills
As Hennepin winds down leaving Uptown, it hits 36th St. Take a right here
and follow it directly to one of the favored recreational lakes in the
area, Lake Calhoun. Take a trolley ride or join one of the many people
skating, running or biking on the path that runs around it. This is just
one in the chain of lakes that lies south of downtown. To the south of
Lake Calhoun is the Linden Hills neighborhood. Linden Hills is full of
little antique and gift shops, and don't miss the Turtle Bread Company.
Their chocolate bread will melt in your mouth!
On the opposite side of downtown, take the Hennepin Avenue bridge to the
other side of the river for a varied assortment of restaurants and
nightspots. Here you will find some of the best eastern European food in
the cities, along with Mexican, Mediterranean, Asian, and plain old
American. Polish and Ukrainian immigrants made this area their home early
in the century. The area is known as Nordeast (being northeast of
downtown), and is a favored area for the University crowd.
The University crowd is so pervasive, in fact, that they have created
their own little city, called Dinkytown. In this area, crowned by the
Dinkydome, you can find many bastions of college life: bookstores (try
Cummings, a great little nook with tons of gems), coffee houses, sports
bars, clothing stores, fast food, music stores, restaurants, and of
course, copy centers. The streets resemble a little village, in an area
that's only about four square blocks. Frat houses line University Avenue,
and the ROTC building presents its imposing castle buttresses behind the
On the other side of the river is the West Bank campus, which abuts the
Cedar/Riverside area. If you want international, authentic and direct, try
Cedar Avenue. African, Asian, Indian, they are all represented here.
Intercontinental Video offers a wide selection of international films.
This street is also the scene of Cedarfest, an annual August music
festival that brings everyone out of the woodwork. If it's pierced or
tattooed, you'll see it at Cedarfest. The bars along this little strip are
hot music venues, and what they lack in elegance they make up for in
University Avenue continues on past the frat houses, over Hwy. 280, and
into St. Paul, running parallel with I-94. On this main drag, you can pull
up in your car for a chilidog at Porky's, where classic car buffs still
bring their showy vehicles on summer evenings. The area from approximately
Cretin to around Lexington is known as the Midway. Many of the
establishments along this strip date from the 50s: the Turf Club,
Christiansens, and Midway Bank. You will find a few places to while away
an afternoon. Midway Used and Rare Books, with three floors of books, is
prominent on the corner of Snelling and University.
Further down University, past Lexington, is what is known as Frogtown. The
area is fast becoming a center of Asian businesses, with markets,
restaurants, and services from many nationalities.
Between Snelling and Lexington north of University Avenue is the Como
area, containing the green jewel of Como Park. Como Park is home to Como
Park Zoo, Como Park Conservatory, Como Golf Course, the Como Lake
Pavillion, and acres of green space for picnics, games, and outings. To
the west of the Como area, across Snelling, is the Minnesota State Fair
Grounds. Events are held on the grounds year-round. Just north, across Hwy
36, is Rosedale Shopping Center.
Downtown St. Paul
The downtown St. Paul interchange has been known as spaghetti junction for
years, but is vastly improved from earlier years when it earned the name.
Across the freeway from the Capitol is the heart of downtown, with the
Minnesota History Center easily visible from the freeway. The St. Paul
riverfront has been undergoing a facelift over the last few years, just
like Minneapolis. Recently renovated co-op loft apartments, the brand new
Science Museum built into the bluff, and the new arena, the Xcel Energy
Center, all line Kellogg Blvd along the river. The Ordway Center for
Performing Arts, Heartthrob Cafe, and the Children's Museum are all
located downtown as well. Each January the century-old Winter Carnival is
celebrated in St. Paul. Many of the events take place downtown in Rice
Park, in front of the Landmark Center.
Cross the river on the Robert Street bridge and you will find Harriet
Island to your right. This is the home of the Covington Inn and the No
Wake Café. Take a riverboat ride on one of the boats of the Padelford
Cathedral Hill to Highland Park
Overlooking downtown on the west is the St. Paul Cathedral, which is open
to visitors. The area around there is aptly known as Cathedral Hill, and
business and government workers from downtown flock there for lunch and
happy hour in one of the many bars or restaurants in the neighborhood's
Victorian-era buildings. Chang O'Hara's, Costello's and W A Frost on Selby
Avenue are all well attended, each with good food and wide selections of
Further west from downtown between I-94 and Ford Parkway, from Cretin to
Snelling, are three private colleges. This concentration of college
students makes for many energetic neighborhoods: Highland Park,
Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, Crocus Hill. Grand Avenue is lined
with shops, restaurants, and bars. This area is heaven for those who like
to browse, drink and eat. Get there early on a Friday, or be prepared to
walk a few blocks. Parking isn't as organized as it could be.
One block up from Grand is Summit Avenue, one of the greatest extant
neighborhoods of Victorian architecture in the country. Starting at the
James J. Hill House as a two-lane street, Summit turns into a broad,
sweeping parkway, separated down the middle by a parklike boulevard that
is frequented by joggers and strollers. It runs about four miles to
Mississippi River Blvd. Summit Avenue house tours are offered Saturdays
during the summer; other tours are offered throughout the year, such as
Garden Tours. James J. Hill House tours are available year-round.
West Seventh Street
The West 7th Street corridor still holds some vestiges of the good old
days. Here you can still find the traditional supper club, such as
Mancini's Char House or Parrish's Supper Club. Famous Dave's has a
location on this stretch. The Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls plant just took
down their giant candy bar. But Mickey's Diner is still there, in all its
neon splendor. You can find the other Mickey's Diner downtown, across from
the Greyhound Bus Depot. This 1930s dining car is on the National Register
of Historic Places, and has been featured in many movies. West Seventh
runs into Hwy 5, which will take you right to the airport.
There is so much to see and do in the Twin Cities; it's no wonder it's
hard to know where to start. The best advice is to just get started. Just
spend a few days meandering. No matter where you hit, you are bound to
find what you're looking for, even if it's just a bit of relaxation.