What to do all by my lonesome in Minneapolis for two weeks?
July 28, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I'll be staying in the UMN area for two weeks in August doing research, sans car and sans company. I'd love recommendations for good places to visit alone, either in the area or easy to get to on public transit. I am somewhat anxious/unadventurous, but want to make the most of my visit.

Particularly interested in:

-Places to eat/things to see in the UMN area during the day
-Places to go/things to see that are easy to get to without a car during the weekend (yes to museums, galleries, etc. etc.; probably no night life)
-A couple of nice places to eat during the weekend that maybe have something like a bar or a large table for singles where I won't feel too too conspicuous dining solo

I've heard that bike rental is a thing and could possibly manage a ~3 mile bike ride, if the route is very straightforward.

I've looked here and here, and have found some great suggestions, but am curious to hear advice that really focuses on reccomendations for the somewhat unadventerous solo traveller.
posted by munyeca to Travel & Transportation around Minneapolis, MN (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're doing literature, so you'll be on the west bank? Or the east? If you're on the west (you'll know it because it's the side with the colorful sixties apartment towers) you could go to the Hard Times for lunch. The Hard Times is a legend, an institution, a place where thousands of PhD candidates, punks, and various neighborhood characters have eaten a broad range of diner-type food...you should totally go. The vegan muffins are mediocre, IMO. The various reubens and rachels are good, so are most things with cheese. The hash browns are very crispy. I'd suggest going Not Right At Noon.

If you're on the east bank, you should go to the Village Wok on Washington (the main drag other than Dinkytown) - diner-y Chinese food, also a local legend. I usually go around 1pm to miss the lunch rush. I am told that the Ma Po tofu is very authentic; I am partial to the spicy eggplant and the mock duck chow fun. Dinkytown, eh, they'll probably tell you about it but it's gotten all corporate and blah in the last five years. There's a cafe inside the Dinkydome that is good and was back in the day at least frequented by humanities grad students. (You can't miss the Dinkydome).

Places to go: Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Walker art museum and sculpture garden. I absolutely adore the Trylon Microcinema, which you can reach by taking a bus downtown and taking the light rail to the Lake Street stop and walking, but you should reserve/buy your ticket online since it is really micro and things do sell out.

If you were walking around the UMN (or renting a bike) you could head over to the Prospect Park ("witch's hat") neighborhood. The houses are nice and it makes a pleasant stroll. In that area, you might want to visit Cupcake, which has cupcakes (we're the provinces; yesteryear's fads cling longest here). They're pretty good but frosting-heavy, but it's fun to look around in the architectural salvage place next door and then have a coffee and a snack.

I will post a couple of itineraries later when I have time.
posted by Frowner at 8:29 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Absolutely don't miss The Walker Art Museum, about 3 miles away from the U of M, and also right next to Loring Park.

You talk about nice places to eat on the weekend, which makes me wonder why you've imposed a 3 mile circle around yourself vs. letting a cab take you to other parts of the city.

Uptown is about 5 miles from the U of M, has fancy places to eat, and a great indie movie theatre -- the Lagoon -- which could be a good solo outing, esp. on a bad weather day.

W/in walking distance from the U of M (less than 2 miles) is the restaurants near and at The Guthrie, a world-class theatre. There's a great path across the river from the University to get there. Highly recommended.

Enjoy your stay, and don't forget that Minnesotans are super-dee-duper nice and will go out of their way to assist you in any way. I visit Minneapolis about once a year and it's the most low stress environment imaginable. I look around and just think "these people are here to help".
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nice Rides (the bike rental kiosks) has a number of docks on the UMN campus so hop on one and check out the awesome, awesome, awesome Midtown Greenway and the rest of Minneapolis. Minneapolis is pretty flat so you could ride five or six miles and not break a sweat which would allow you to check out pretty much anywhere off the Midtown Greenway including Uptown and the lakes.

I second what else has been recommended (definitely check out the Walker and Loring Park) and would definitely add, if you like burgers, to get a Ju(i)cy Lucy while you're in the Twin Cities. Our favorite is at The Nook in St Paul but the 5-8 Club is pretty good too. You can take the light rail over to the Warehouse District where pretty much anything you want awaits.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 9:00 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're going to be around after Aug. 22, you should catch a bus to St. Paul & go to the State Fair. There's great people-watching. You'd also be quite close to Como Park, which has a nice conservatory & a lake you can walk around.

If you're on/near the Minneapolis campus of the U, you can catch a city bus or one of the free "Campus Connector" shuttles* that goes between the East Bank, West Bank, & St. Paul. That would drop you just a couple blocks from the Fair entrance.
* Use this website and then use the dropdown on the right to select "campus connector" to see the routes & stops

On-campus activities in Minneapolis: Weisman Art Museum, visit special exhibits at campus libraries (I need to get over the the Sherlock Holmes one soon!)
posted by belladonna at 9:15 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding Cupcake - I used to live near there and was actually never crazy about the cupcakes, but it's a great place for lunch/light dinner - excellent sandwiches and soups.

Take the bus or lightrail to the Midtown Global Market, where you can get pretty much any kind of ethnic food you want. My favorites are the tamales from La Loma (I haven't lived in Mpls in 6 years and I still crave these all the time!), Manny's tortas and the enchiladas and huaraches from Los Ocampos.

Jasmine Deli on Nicollet has really great Vietnamese food.

The Walker Art Museum is great, and then you can check out the sculpture garden, which is really fun.

The area around St Anthony is interesting, the oldest part of Mpls. It's just north of downtown (close to Dinkytown) and you can walk along the river, cross the bridge (check out the huge Premium Grain Belt beer sign). I recommend grabbing a sandwich at Surdyk's cheese shop (attached to the wine store) and having a picnic on the river.
posted by lunasol at 9:18 AM on July 28, 2013

If you feel up to it, maybe schedule a meetup? Minneapolis/St. Paul people are pretty nice and I don't get over to the great restaurants in the University area enough. (I get that not everyone is into meetups though)

Otherwise, if you're interested in this kind of thing The Museum of Russian Art is great and the current exhibition "Women in Soviet Art" is amazing. It's at a pretty easy location so I'm sure that Metro Transit has a bus that goes by there.

Also, don't know when you'll be here exactly but the Minnesota Fringe will be going on for a few weeks. It's the largest nonjuried fringe in the US and mostly around Loring Park I think. I'm going to see my friend in The Jimmy Swagger Hour and you are more than welcome to join me if you'd like.

I will also mention that I have spent my entire adult life eating solo at places all around the city and have never felt awkward so don't worry too much about that.

Also, if you're here next weekend, we have the art fair trifecta (scroll down - Uptown, Powderhorn and Loring Park). There's a free (I think it's free anyway) bus that goes between all three, and it's a pretty fun way to spend your time.

Finally, I haven't been there for ages, but I'm going to go ahead and recommend the Minnesota Science Museum. I love it and the Mayan exhibition going on right now looks kinda neat. Downtown St. Paul and I'm guessing pretty easy to get to by bus.

Have fun! And bring a light jacket, we're into fall weather now!
posted by triggerfinger at 9:22 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second most of Frowner's suggestions, though I hate the Village Wok and the little food court in the Dinkydome is gone--the building's there, but it's been turned into upscale apartments. In addition to Hard Times, I sometimes go to the Seward Co-op (salad bar!) and Seward Cafe at lunch. The Seward Co-op's a pretty long walk just for lunch, but it bikeable. It's sort of debatable whether one should bother with the Seward Cafe given that Hard Times is closer, but it is quiet during the day, so sometimes I go eat lunch and work. It's a long walk from the East Bank, but reasonable from the West Bank. (There's a pedestrian/cycle bridge over 94 at 22nd Ave.) On the East Bank, there's Bona on Washington, which is a Vietnamese restaurant, is a solid lunch option. (Normally my problem eating lunch near campus is not ending up at Bona by default.)

There's a Korean restaurant (called Korea Restaurant or something equally vague) on Oak. (If you're walking down Washington away from campus, turn left. It's on the right hand side past the Dominos, but it's kind of hard to spot, as it doesn't look much like a restaurant.) There's also what Google tells me is called Kim Chi & Tofu House (the sign just says Tofu House) on Oak, turn right off Washington, for different Korean food. (Korea Restaurant is vegetarian-friendly--they know what is/can be made vegetarian, even though it's not obvious from the menu. I suspect there's fish in the broth at Tofu House.)

There is also an abundance of chain restaurants near campus on the East Bank.

I'd skip Uptown (I say this in every AskMe about Minneapolis, so I'm obviously biased), unless you go for the cinema. It's a long trip from campus. (Probably the way to do it on the weekend is 16 to the 17. The 6 goes from campus (East Bank) to Uptown, but I suspect it's slower.)

I believe Nice Ride is limited to 30 minutes at a time (or you pay a penalty), which probably does cut you down to 3-4 miles. (It's hard to say. Nice Ride bikes are pretty heavy so you go slower than usual.) They are viable as transportation (a friend used Nice Ride for much of last summer after his bike got stolen), but it might be tricky if you don't know your way around. He'd basically hop from station to station on longer trips--return a bike and immediately get another to restart the clock. (He had an 'annual' pass, but I believe you pay for the whole day if you don't have a subscription, so you could do the check in/check out thing.)

Some 18s go to within a couple blocks of the Museum of Russian Art. Going to the Midtown Global Market from campus will require a transfer. The 16 and 50 run between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St Paul via campus. The 94 is an express* bus running to St Paul. It honestly might be faster to take a bus towards downtown Minneapolis and catch the 94 to St Paul than to take the 16 or the 50 (the 50 may not run on weekends).

*It's not a 'real' express bus in that you don't pay express fares. But it goes on the highway.
posted by hoyland at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2013

Right around campus, there's a pizza place called Punch Pizza that has delicious authentic Neapolitan pizza. They have a large communal table, and some seating along the bar, so there are often people dining solo. It's a great low-key place to get delicious food and a glass of wine or beer.

Further east, between Stadium Village and the Prospect Park neighborhood, on University Ave, there's a great little cafe with an Asian flare, called Green Spoon. That was a great place for a quick lunch, and they had pretty good pastries in the morning when I lived nearby.

Loring Pasta Bar is a bit more upscale and has pretty delicious food. As of last summer, they had a pretty good happy hour deal on small plates and drinks, and I'm assuming they still have that.

If you're over in West Bank, go grab lunch some day at Seward Coop. They have a great salad bar and hot bar, and make deli sandwiches to order. The food is delicious and easy, and they have tables in the front where you can hang out and eat.
posted by JannaK at 10:22 AM on July 28, 2013

The WSJ just published a weekend in Minneapolis that touches on some cool things not otherwise mentioned in the above answers.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 11:20 AM on July 28, 2013

Nice ride is not limited to 30 minutes. The bikes are heavy but totally viable - my sister and I rode them from St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis and back when I was visiting last summer.
posted by MillMan at 11:35 AM on July 28, 2013

Foxy Falafel is very near the U of M and has delicious falalfel. There are also some cute vintage stores on that block.
posted by brookeb at 1:05 PM on July 28, 2013

Lots of good ideas above, and I totally recommend the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie as each being worth a trip. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is also a really great museum and worth a trip and is accessible by bus from campus. Al's Breakfast is an institution in Dinkytown and one of the things I miss about the Twin Cities, though I'd recommend giving it a shot on a weekday rather than weekend when the waits are really long.
posted by goggie at 1:12 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

For daytime dining: If you're going to be on the West Bank, you could grab lunch at Afro Deli or Acadia. Both are immediately adjacent to campus on Riverside Avenue. Afro Deli is great for takeout, and Acadia is more of a cozy corner bar where you can tuck into a booth and some comfort food (warm sandwiches, fries) for as long as you like. There's a Starbucks inside of the Carlson School of Business (which will probably be running on shortened summer hours), but if you want to get slightly off-campus and support an independent coffee shop, Mapp's Coffee is right on that stretch of Riverside, too. (The Seward Co-op and Seward Cafe are really great options if you have time for a long lunch, but they're not as close to campus.)

If/when you visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, you may want to leave yourself time to bookend the trip with meals/snacks, as it's really, really close to Nicollet Avenue ("Eat Street"). Jasmine Deli, mentioned above, is in that area, but there are dozens of other restaurants offering everything from takeout pizza or falafel to a nice, sit-down, Greek or German meal. (There's a list here.)

Uptown is definitely more of a haul from campus, especially without a car, and the retail and restaurants over there aren't especially unique (an Apple store, Urban Outfitters, etc.). If you're not seeking nightlife, you may want to avoid that area in the evenings. Since it's so close to three of the city's lakes, though, and home to one of my favorite bookstores in the world (Magers & Quinn), it might make for a really pleasant outing on a weekend or free day. You could bike there on the Midtown Greenway, bring a snack (or pick one up nearby - Isles Bun & Coffee has amazing cinnamon and sticky buns), and find a spot somewhere beside a lake to read, people watch, or lay out in the sun.

On Saturday mornings during the summer, the Mill City Farmers Market happens right at the foot of the Guthrie Theater, which is a short walk/bike ride upriver or west on Washington Avenue from UMN. It's a fun area to walk around (and photograph), as there's quite mixture of old and new architecture. You can wander across the Mississippi river on the pedestrian-/bike-only Stone Arch Bridge or head to the upper levels of the Guthrie (which is open to the public) for even better views.

One of my favorite nicer places to eat in Minneapolis is downtown, near Target Field: Saffron. The head chef has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards, the food and drinks are always delicious, and there's a bar/lounge area that sounds like it would fit the bill for you. They also do a great happy hour.
posted by Austenite at 2:44 PM on July 28, 2013

Excellent recommendations above - as a many-year bus commuter to the U, I will group mine by bus route:

First, though, walking distance:
West Bank - Afro Deli for sure (I usually go for the Afro steak dinner, but splurge and get the Somali Chai tea and sweet potato fries), Acadia Cafe, Midwest Mountaineering for awesome shopping (go upstairs to the Thrifty Outfitters discount floor)
East Bank - Punch Pizza is pretty stellar. You can easily walk to St Anthony Main from both banks of the U. Once there, hang out by the river (Aster Cafe and Wilde Roast are my favorites, and both have great happy hours) or stop at Surdyks for a gourmet sandwich, picnic food, or classy booze.
St Paul campus - the St Anthony Park neighborhood is adorable and walkable from the campus connector route. Check out Colossal Cafe (excellent breakfasts), Muffuleta Cafe, a couple neat shops

The 16 (or the 50 limited stop) can take you to downtown Minneapolis (see above recommendations) or downtown St Paul. University Ave is not pretty, but there is a ton of awesome things if you head east toward St Paul. Here are some suggestions of increasing eastwardness:
Cupcake, Foxy Falafel, vintage stores along Raymond Ave and University, Ax Man Surplus Store (go there and be amazed - make sure to read the product signs), On's Thai Kitchen, Fasika (Ethiopian restaurant), Ngon (excellent classy Vietnamese restaurant with local beer), Trieu Chau (cheaper Vietnamese), Homi Mexican restaurant (best mole in the Twin Cities - trust me), Cheng Heng (Cambodian restaurant), Little Szechuan for good Chinese, and ride the bus all the way to downtown St Paul if you'd like (Lowertown is where the action is).

The 3 will take you to downtown Minneapolis or downtown St Paul via a more residential route. It stops in St Anthony Park as well (see above).
posted by Maarika at 5:10 PM on July 28, 2013

Thanks so much for all the excellent recommendations, everyone! I'm staying on the east bank and librarying on the west so I'll have plenty of opportunity to to see many of these things.
posted by munyeca at 5:38 PM on July 28, 2013

You could go to the Bell Museum of Natural History, which is on the West Bank side near Dinkytown. A very old-fashioned museum - kind of kitschy actually. It's dim and cool and tranquil, unless they have day campers running around, in which case less tranquil. But you will have a very Minnesota experience.

I like Kafe 541 in Dinkytown. (Haven't been there in a couple of years, hope it's still there.)
posted by lakeroon at 5:48 PM on July 28, 2013

If you make it to the Weisman - and you should - make sure to spend some time hanging out on their second floor patio. Take the elevator up as if you were going to the bathroom, but go to the right from the elevator door. At the end of a short hall, there's a door out to a decent-sized patio that has an absolutely kickass view of the Washington Ave bridge (which, yeah, it's an eyesore, but kind of a charming one) and downtown.
posted by COBRA! at 7:27 AM on July 29, 2013

Seconding the recommendation for Al's Breakfast. Still the standard by which I judge eggs benedict, and the seating is ideal for singles (one long bar of 14? seats, nothing else). Groups larger than about three don't really work in Al's.

Near the east bank are Hong Kong Noodles and (the UMn branch of) Tea House. Both are quite authentic Chinese restaurants (Hong Kong Noodles does southern/Cantonese-style food, and Tea House does Sichuan and Hunan-style food).

Also seconding the recommendation for the Witch's Hat Tower, which has an amazing view of downtown Minneapolis as well as being a funky bit of architecture in itself.

The Foshay Tower's observation deck, right in the middle of downtown, has an even better view. The IDS Center's ground level Crystal Court can be a pretty nice place to pass the time, too. And while you're downtown, it can be a lot of fun to just explore the skyways.

And you've probably already discovered the Metro Transit website, but just in case. Looks like route 3 is your friend for getting into downtown from the UMn campus.
posted by jiawen at 1:57 PM on July 29, 2013

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