Twin Cities for visiting family this July?
June 29, 2015 12:41 PM   Subscribe

My wife & four kids & I will be in St. Paul for a long visit in the middle of July. What should be on our schedule -- both things new in the last few years, and time-tested favorites? I grew up in St. Paul but moved away a long time ago; we bring the kids out in the summer to spend time with family. We haven't been out in a couple of summers, so I want this one to be awesome!

We have four kids, two girls and two boys, ranging from 16 to 7 years old; we'll be staying with relatives in St. Paul; and we'll have a car. We are coming from New England, so the weather won't be a shock but all the outdoorsy stuff will be a little different.

Of course we will go out to the Mall of America (Lego store!), go up to the lake (Vermilion), hit the best gift shop in the Cities (at the MN History Center), check out a mile-high pile of books from the public library on Grammie's card, and re-visit a bunch of other favorites.

How are these ideas (mostly for the kids)?
  • The old dioramas at the Bell Museum of Natural History
  • Fort Snelling
  • Drive out west to Sacred Heart to see the relatives' farm (and the edge of The Great Plains)
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts
  • The new Saints park
  • Cool, weird stuff like the Dairy Store at the U of M, down the block from the Raptor Center
We have done Ely and the Wolf Center; have been to Highland Fest (but not climbed the Water Tower!); have been to Duluth; have visited the Northwest Company trading post near Pine City; been to the MN Science Museum and Children's Museum and the awesome Mill City Museum, though not in a few years; gotten ice cream after a trip to Stillwater; and taken photos of the kids bewildered among the Walker Sculpture Garden.

Is there anything going on for the Como Conservatory's centennial? Are there must-do ice cream places (Grand Old Creamery > Izzy's)? Anything good at the Mpls. lakes (asking as a St. Paulite)? Any other neat things at the U of M, or other colleges?

Thank you for any ideas!
posted by wenestvedt to Travel & Transportation around Minnesota (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Minnehaha Falls? (Bonus trip to Sea Salt.)

Wandering around Midtown Global Market is always fun.

Matt's Bar for Jucy Lucys? (Let us not discuss That Other Place.) Punch for pizza? Mancini's Char House was pretty cool in an old-school kind of way, if you think your kids would be into it.

Ax-Man Surplus?

Have you taken the train along the St. Croix from Stillwater or Osceola (WI) to Marine on the St. Croix? (Minnesota Transportation Museum)

And I know moving your vacation is probably not a possibility, but you seriously owe it to yourself and your family to be there during the State Fair. If not this year, next year. It is the most amazing thing ever and every member of your family will have memories for a lifetime. It goes past cracktastic to amazing.
posted by St. Hubbins at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Kayak through the canals from Lake Calhoun to Cedar Lake (or even better, paddleboard)
Bike share everywhere -- 24 hours for $5
If you get the dates right, Aquatennial fireworks (which are actually bigger than the July 4th fireworks here)
Swedish Institute for weird Swedish food and an amazing Swedish-ish castle
Izzy's new ice cream store near Gold Medal Park
The massive under-construction football stadium
Light rail to Vietnamese restaurants in Frogtown
Askov Finlayson or Forage, more stores of unique MN stuff
Franconia Sculpture Park if you're out in that direction
Outdoor movies in several of the Minneapolis parks
Drive in movies at one of the last drive in theaters in Cottage Grove
Paddleford steamboat tours -- they leave from Harriet Island, which is fun itself
The Soap Factory art museum
The Minneapolis Art Institute does family days with people dressed up as historical figures -- maybe that?
posted by miyabo at 1:38 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ramsey County Fair is going on during mid-July.
Franconia is a place I usually take out of town guests. It's not that much of a drive. There are tours and you can do studio visits.
Seconding Midtown Global Market.
Dragon Festival
Middle Eastern Festival
Wabasha Street Caves.
posted by schnee at 1:43 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh definitely do Minnehaha Falls. You can rent a quad bike that can hold the whole family and bike around. Then there's amazing food at Sea Salt.
posted by miyabo at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bike share everywhere -- 24 hours for $5
If you will use NiceRide for more than 3 days, it makes sense to get a 30 day membership for $15. You get a plastic key and 60 minutes at a time instead of 30.
posted by soelo at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Wild Rumpus bookstore is lovely.
Lake Calhoun, as mentioned above, also has a great walking trail around it. There's also a good fish place, the Tin Fish, at the shore.
Sociable Cider has great brews for the folks, plenty of outdoor seating, and food trucks.
posted by Njotr at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are some outdoors-in-the-city ideas here . That Bassett Creek tour looks fun. Plus, all along the river by Mill City Museum/Stone Arch Bridge/Lock & Dam #1 (Lock is closed permanently now) is a fascinating up close look a the Mississippi River. There is a new Izzy's is near the Guthrie.

Como Zoo has some new exhibits if you haven't visited lately. Lots of baby animals, too. I am not a fan of zoos, but Como is nice because it is free (donation requested) and a manageable size and has done a lot of remodeling with animals in mind. Also has Como Town amusement rides, but we skip those. There are boat rentals of various kinds & surrey rentals at the Pavilion, which also has a new restaurant. A new garden is set to open for the Conservatory Centennial sometime this summer.

It is also the centennial for MIA. Lots of special exhibits, some that are surprises, along with all the usual fabulous stuff there.

Darn--looks like you will miss the Cat Video Festival which will be at CHS Field this year.

You can now ride the Green Line from downtown St Paul to downtown Minneapolis to get an urban view. Surly Brewhouse is open and walkable from the Green Line. You need to be 12+ to tour; not sure about the restaurant. But maybe you need an outing.

If you haven't done Minnehaha Park and the Falls, that is kind of a must. You can rent surreys there, too, to zoom along the path. Sea Salt is a great restaurant in the old park building. Paths connect to Fort Snelling.

Here's the dateBook for public library activities. It lists what's happening in all 8 library systems, including St. Paul. I linked to the Legacy amendment activities, but there is lots of stuff for all ages. (To continue the Mississippi River theme, Charlie McGuire, the 'singing park ranger' will perform at the Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings on July 14 at 6:30). You can search the dateBOOK by library, date, event, etc.

The Bell Museum still has the dioramas and has added the ExploraDome (extra tickets; reserve early).

Have fun!
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

little off the beaten path: urban tubing on Minnehaha creek.

as the article says you can also canoe, but tubes are probably easier to get a hold of. I recommend using tubes that are small and light, because there are some sections that you need to get out of your tube and walk a little bit.

you could also hit up Valley Fair.
posted by nanhey at 6:45 PM on June 29, 2015

I forgot to mention Minne. She is in Lake Calhoun this year. Not every city has it own Lake Creature--take a drive around the lake until you spot her.

If you do go to the Raptor Center & Dairy Store on the St Paul Campus, Gibbs Farm is right there, too, at Larpenteur & Cleveland. It shows Dakota life and Minnesota Pioneer Life.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:00 PM on June 29, 2015

Response by poster: As a little guy I went to a week of summer camp at Gibbs Farm. I have deliberately not yet taken my kids there. :7)

But this list is otherwise overflowing with great ideas. Thank you all so much -- and keep them coming!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:03 PM on June 29, 2015

Response by poster: We keep missing the Fair, though I got the oldest one there as a tot. (I went last year solo, and hit the Fair twice in one week. Heaven!)

A county fair is a great idea. Do any of them still do demolition derbies?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:04 PM on June 29, 2015

Best answer: OK, skip Gibbs.

Most of the county fairs have a demolition derby, but the metro area county fairs tend to be at the end of July into August (except Hennepin, which is in June). We saw pig racing at the Steele County Fair. And my favorite county fair event is 4-H rabbit agility. Here are the county fair dates. Maybe Anoka (July 21-26) or Sherburne (Elk River, July 16-19), both of which seem to have demo derby.

If you have makers in your crowd, I second the recommendation for Ax-Man, but hauling the stuff home or what they make at Grammie's might be an issue.

A worthwhile detour (or beginning) for the Sacred Heart leg is Peppermint Twist drive-in in Delano (cash only). Superb fresh raspberry shakes. Everyone will need a boost to start or a reward at the end because Hwy 212 is boring, with few spots to stop.

So, enough from me. Hope you all have a great time.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:36 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Birchbark Books, owned by the author Louise Erdrich.

The HD sandwich at DeGidio's.
posted by brujita at 11:13 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A great way to spend a summer days is to take a trip to Lake Minnetonka and ride the steamboat Minnehaha. Eat at Maynards or Lord Fletchers for fantastic people watching and lake views.
posted by lstanley at 6:42 AM on June 30, 2015

Response by poster: I would like to report the following:
  • Fort Snelling is way more awesome than it was when I went there on field trips in the 1980s
  • Couldn't get Saints tickets for love nor money. I hear the park is open to walk through when there's no game, but we didn't make it downtown.
  • The gluttonous ice cream servings at Nelson's are now available in St. Paul at the Snelling Avenue location. Come hungry, leave repulsed.
  • We climbed the Highland Park Water Tower, specially open for Highland Fest, and it was very cool. (My parents had never done it, and we made them go, too.)
  • We went to the local branch of the St. Paul Public Library system, in Merriam Park, and the awesome librarians made us feel right at home.
  • The Science Museum of Minnesota is fantastic. (But the new OMNIMAX movie "Journey to Space " is spliced together out of old OMNIMAX movies about going to space, which is kind of lame.)
  • A friend who works at the Minnesota History Center gave us a special tour on our last day, and we saw maybe the coolest sight of the whole trip.
  • We went to Como Zoo and neither gorillas nor bears tried to eat us: a win!

    Lessons from this trip:
  • The kids learned lots of new things on this trip -- playing mandolin; welding; driving a boat; etc. -- and that made each day more of an adventure and less passive. I plan to incorporate more of that next time.
  • I had a list of possibilities prepared, so every morning I could compare the weather to our energy level and pick something out for when they asked "What are we doing today?" before I'd even made any coffee.
  • They make these devices called a travel router (like this, by HooToo) that will throw out a small WiFi network and then serve content from USB storage. We didn't have one this time, so I had to load movies onto iPads & Nooks before we left home, and pray that the kids would enjoy them.

    I am going to use more of these ideas for next summer's trip -- thank you all again so much!!

  • posted by wenestvedt at 1:33 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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