This year being the year of weddings (everyone I know is getting married), I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to explore cities that I wouldn’t ordinarily visit. The latest such trip was to Minneapolis at the beginning of the month. I’ve been to Minneapolis once before, though quite briefly, and on my last visit, I absolutely loved Minnesota. So I was excited to be going back and getting to know the city a little bit better.
Driving to Minneapolis from Chicago meant that I ended up spending ~14 hours in the car in three days, which was quite intense. However, I still found plenty of time to explore the city and see what it has to offer.
Saint Anthony Falls, the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi River, was the birthplace of Minneapolis. Saint Anthony Falls was discovered in 1680 by Father Louis Hennepin, a Catholic priest, who named them after his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. In the early 1800s, the land was acquired by the United States from the indigenous Dakota tribe who had inhabited it and European nations who had claimed it. In 1819, the United States Army built an outpost, Fort Snelling, to establish jurisdiction over the area.
Minneapolis was incorporated as a city in 1867, in the same year that railroad service started between Minneapolis and Chicago. The growth of the city from the 1870s to 1930s was primarily due to Saint Anthony Falls. Northern Minnesota is heavily forested, and lumber from the forests was processed in numerous saw mills that were powered by the waterfalls. Minneapolis was also a center of flour production. Grain grown in the Midwestern United States was shipped to Minneapolis by rail, where it was milled by one of the 34 flour mills on the banks of the Mississippi. Minneapolis was the leading producer of flour in the country in the early 1900s, earning it the nickname “Mill City”.
During the Great Depression, Minneapolis became run-down from lack of maintenance, and the flour milling industry began to decline. After undergoing a massive urban renewal project in the latter half of the 20th century, Minneapolis has now emerged as a vibrant, modern city, one that is fun and interesting to visit.
There is a lot of interesting architecture in downtown Minneapolis. After the urban renewal project, the city has become a mix of historic and modern buildings.
One of the most impressive buildings in downtown is the Minneapolis City Hall, which was built in 1888. It was the tallest building in the city for nearly 50 years after its construction, and it’s still one of the tallest structures in the vicinity.
Across the street from the city hall is the courthouse, in front of which is an eclectic group of sculptures.
Near City Hall and the courthouse is the historic Minneapolis Grain Exchange. This building is left over from the Minneapolis’ days as the center of flour milling in the country.
A mile or so away, the city’s baseball stadium, Target Field, is a modern structure in the middle of downtown. ESPN rated it one of the top professional sports experiences in the country. I took a peek inside during a Twins game, and it looks quite nice. However, I did not go inside because ticket prices are kind of high.
Minneapolis is also home to the first basilica in the United States, the Basilica of Saint Mary, which was constructed between 1907 and 1915.
The Basilica of Saint Mary is an active church, and it is open for visitors when services are not being held. It is close to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and visible from the bridge that leads into the garden.
Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis is a popular place for residents of the Twin Cities to gather on the weekends. Its biggest attraction is Minnehaha Falls, a 53 foot waterfall on Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi River.
There are short hiking trails around the park and along Minnehaha Creek, which have nice views of the falls. There is a path along Minnehaha Creek that one can follow to get to a viewing platform with the best view of the falls.
Even on a Saturday evening in nice weather, the park was not too crowded, and it felt like a nice foray into nature without actually leaving the city.
MINNEAPOLIS SCULPTURE GARDEN
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is located across the street from the Basilica of Saint Mary. Admission is free, making it a great stop for travelers on a budget.
One of the most iconic images of Minneapolis is the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It was commissioned especially for the garden, and the cherry alone is 1200 pounds.
In addition to its most well-known sculpture, there are many other interesting works of art that are worth a look. Woodrow is a piece made from tree bark and branches in the shape of a horse.
There is a bridge across the road from the garden that contains the longest written poem. The poem, written by John Ashbery, is the width of 16 lanes of traffic.
Standing Glass Fish is a piece that sits inside a glass structure above a lily pond. With the light reflecting off the 22-foot-high fish, it is magnificent.
I found the Prophecy of the Ancients unique, especially from the inside.
I enjoyed this Hemingway reference next to a sculpture of a swinging bell.
The sculpture garden is across the street from one of the premier modern art museums in the country, Walker Art Gallery, and the installations in the garden are part of the art gallery’s collection.
I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the sculpture garden, and I could have easily spent a half day there. It’s a great place to wander around.
The source of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, is located in Minnesota, and by the time it passes through the Twin Cities, it is quite sizeable. Saint Anthony Falls, whose power provided a catalyst for the growth of Minneapolis, is in the middle of the city.
I went for a run by the Mississippi River one morning, and I ran over the Stone Arch Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi with great views of the Minneapolis skyline.
Along the river, there are many reminders of Minneapolis’ milling history. Mill Ruins Park is a good place to explore the history. It is at the site of several mills, including the remains of the Washburn A Mill, which exploded in 1878 after grain dust ignited. The explosion destroyed nearly 1/3 of the milling district, which was rapidly rebuilt. The Washburn A Mill nearly burned down in 1991, but its remains now house the Mill City Museum.
Fort Snelling, the first military outpost in the area, is just outside of Minneapolis. The visitor center is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, so it was closed when I went. This meant that I didn’t get a map or any information about the site, so I didn’t have much of an idea what I was looking at.
Admission is $11 for adults and $9 for students.
HOW TO SEE THE CITY
The downtown area of Minneapolis is fairly small, so a lot of the sights are actually walkable. Walking is usually my favorite way to see a city, so I walked to most of the places that were within a couple of miles from my hotel. To get to Minnehaha Park or the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the easiest way to go is to drive, but the buses are also fairly straightforward.
The best way of getting around Minneapolis may be biking. Minneapolis has a citywide bike rental program, where you can buy a day pass for $7 and rent bikes for 30 minutes at a time to get from place to place.
Though it’s not usually on the tourist map, I thought Minneapolis was a great city for a weekend trip. It is an especially good place to visit to understand the history of the Midwest. Thanks for a great weekend, Minneapolis!
Have you ever been somewhere historically interesting like Minneapolis?