10 Jul Outdoor Adventures: Things to Do in Minneapolis This Summer
Staying 6 feet apart, wearing a mask, and social distancing are all common terms in our language these days. But just because we can’t go out an explore like normal, it doesn’t mean that we can’t go out at all. When the days seem to blend together, we always like to get outdoors to try something new, especially in the place we call home: Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota.
Whether you live in the Twin Cities, the state of Minnesota, or further afield and are looking for a fun road trip, there is plenty to do in Minneapolis. We created this list to showcase some ways that you can enjoy the metro area this summer. In a city filled with nature, there is ample room to get outside and explore while still social distancing from others. Minneapolis is home to a wide range of parks, bike trails, lakes, rivers, gardens, outside art, and fantastic patio dining options. There is something for everyone.
Even though Minneapolis (and the rest of the world) has been through a lot the past several months, it’s reassuring to see all the good that is starting to take place. We’ve seen more and more people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, getting involved with their communities, and supporting BIPOC owned businesses. Even though we all have a long way to go, people in the community have been learning, stepping up, and pressing for change.
Obviously, with everything going on in the world, rules and regulations are constantly evolving, so be sure to check in with your destination before heading out to explore. It’s always a good idea to make sure you double check opening times, have the most current rules and regulations, and always remember to wear a mask!
Read on for some of our favorite things to do in Minneapolis this summer, and every summer, really!
In a metro area with an abundance of lakes and rivers (Minneapolis alone is home to 22 lakes!), there are plenty of places to go for a paddle. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy the water and get out for a paddling adventure:
Kayaking on the Mississippi River:
For a fantastic river paddling adventure, head out onto the mighty Mississippi River. If you don’t have river kayaking experience, join a tour with Paddle Bridge Guide Collective. You’ll paddle right in the heart of Minneapolis along a gentle stretch of the river. We did a tour with them a few years ago and had a great time. If you like to get out on your own and have river paddling experience, another option is to rent a kayak from the Mississippi Paddle Share Program.
We had the opportunity to partner with the Paddle Bridge Guide Collective and Meet Minneapolis this summer for a sponsored kayak rental through the Mississippi River Paddle Share, and we are so glad we finally had the chance to enjoy this experience. The paddle share program allows paddlers to rent a kayak from one location and then return it to another spot downriver. When you reserve a kayak, you get a code that opens a locker. Inside the locker, you will find a kayak, paddle, and life jacket. For everyone’s safety, the kayaks are only rented out once per 24-hour period, and all equipment is sanitized between uses.
There are several different routes to pick from, most routes run down the Mississippi River, as well as Pickerel Lake in Saint Paul. The river routes range from 2 miles to 8.5 miles of paddling. We picked the City Plus Route which starts at North Mississippi Regional Park and ends at Boom Island Park. The route is 4 miles of paddling and takes around 1-1.5 hours to complete. We parked at Boom Island Park and then rented electric Nice Ride bikes to zoom the 4.5 miles to our starting point. It was a blast and we loved being able to go out on the river for some peace and quiet.
Paddling the Chain of Lakes:
Getting out on a lake is another great way to paddle, and Minneapolis is certainly not short on lakes! One of our favorite places to paddle is the Chain of Lakes in Uptown. You can rent a kayak, canoe or SUP from Wheel Fun Rentals at Lake Bde Maka Ska and start your adventure from there. The Chain of Lakes consists of a series of connected lakes, and you can paddle all the way through four of them: Lake Bde Maka Ska, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and Brownie Lake. While paddling through the lakes you can see the Minneapolis skyline, beautiful homes, and lots of trees and nature.
Some other lakes in the Twin Cities where you can find Wheel Fun Rentals are Lake Como, Lake Nokomis, and Lake Harriet. Also, if you have your own paddling gear, you can head to most any lake with a public access. One of our favorite lakes to paddle with our own gear is Lake Josephine—there are just too many great lakes to explore!
Hiking and Walking Adventures
Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have an abundance of parks to offer residents and visitors alike. In fact, in 2020, the Trust for Public Land ranked Minneapolis and Saint Paul as 1st and 3rd respectively as the top cities in the United States for park access and quality. Over 98% of residents in both cities live within a 10-minute walk of a park. This is one of the things we love most about living in the Twin Cities—there is always beautiful nature to explore, and you don’t have to go far to find it! Below are some of our favorite hiking trails and parks to explore in the city:
Hidden Falls Regional Park:
We’ve lived in St. Paul for the past six years (and around the Twin Cities area for over 13 years), but we have never properly explored Hidden Falls Regional Park. This park is located just down the road from where we live, and it is proof that there is always something new to uncover even in your own backyard. Hidden Falls Regional Park is located along the Mississippi River and offers around 6.7 miles of nice, shady trails, picnic area, fishing on the banks of the river, and more. We loved walking along the banks of the Mississippi River, and yes, the park does have a hidden waterfall, too!
Minnehaha Falls Regional Park:
The star of the show at Minnehaha Falls Regional Park is the 53-foot waterfall that plunges into a beautiful gorge. Stairways lead down into the gorge for spectacular views of the waterfall. From there, follow the trails that run along the river to find pretty stone bridges, pools of water, and a sandy beach where the Minnehaha Creek runs into the Mississippi River. The Minnehaha Falls area also offers picnic spots, a disc golf course, a dog park, and the raved about casual restaurant, Sea Salt Eatery, which is currently offering take-out and patio seating.
Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park:
For an outdoor escape steps away from the skyline, head to the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park in downtown Minneapolis. The Stone Arch Bridge crosses the Mississippi River and is located in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District of Minneapolis. Built in 1883 as a train bridge, the Stone Arch Bridge is the 2nd oldest bridge on the river and it is now used as a pedestrian and bicycle trail. The view of the city from the bridge is our favorite angle of the skyline, especially at sunset.
The area is also home to Mill Ruins Park which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 19th century, the area was home to mills and such for companies such as General Mills and Pillsbury. Now, visitors can learn about the history of the mills through a series of exposed walls and water features. It’s a breath of fresh air and a history lesson all in one.
Mississippi Gorge Regional Park:
Mississippi Gorge Regional Park is another beautiful park located near our apartment. It’s another park that is located along the Mississippi River, right in the heart of the Twin Cities. The 123-acre park is made up of rustic prairie land, wooded areas, and views of the river. The park is a great place to hike, bike and birdwatch as there are miles of trails to explore. For a longer hike, jump on the 5.9-mile Mississippi Gorge Loop Trail that circles along the banks of the Mississippi River. During our most recent visit on a 90ºF day, it felt like we were transported to the tropics. We can’t believe how secluded the park is—it definitely doesn’t feel like you are smack dab in the middle of a city!
Minneapolis is brimming over with creativity. Music, theater, comedy, and all forms of art, really, can be found around every corner. We love exploring art throughout the Twin Cities, and while many of our typical haunts are currently closed, there are still some ways to get your creative fix and a couple of our favorites are below:
Look for Street Art Around the City:
There are many wonderful murals and street art displays to find throughout the city. Minneapolis is an artsy city and we love how art is everywhere you turn. In the past couple of months there has been an explosion of new murals and art surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd. To name a couple pieces, you can pay your respects to George Floyd at the Cup Foods memorial, and there is a new star for George Floyd on the iconic walls at First Avenue. Also, there is currently an abundance of temporary art painted on the plywood that covered the windows and doors of Minneapolis and Saint Paul businesses. Several people in the community are trying to find ways to make this art more permanent, so it will be interesting to see where it all ends up!
Some other iconic murals in Minneapolis consist of “The Times They are A-Changing” mural dedicated to Bob Dylan, the Music Wall that was made famous as the backdrop of an image of Prince, the “Baby I’m a Star” mural near the Orpheum Theater, and the Greetings from Minneapolis mural in Northeast Minneapolis. Wandering around outside to check out the murals throughout downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Northeast Minneapolis, Uptown, and other neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities is a great way to get outside.
Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens and Walker Art Museum:
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is adjacent to the Walker Art Center, and it’s another wonderful outdoor adventure in the city. The garden is free to visit, and it showcases more than 40 works of art. The most iconic sculpture in the garden is the Spoonbridge and Cherry–it is a giant spoon with a huge cherry balancing on the tip. When you look at the sculpture from certain angles, it sits nicely in the foreground of the city skyline. All of the sculptures are spread throughout the spacious garden and it creates a beautiful respite from the busy city next door.
In addition to the sculpture gardens, the Walker Art Museum will be opening back up again on July 16thwith new guidelines and rules. The museum is home to an acclaimed collection of contemporary visual, performing and media arts, and it is one of our favorite museums in the city. To enter the museum, timed ticket reservations are required and are available to purchase online. Capacity will be limited to 25%, social distancing is encouraged at all times, and hand sanitizer units are available throughout the building, and enhanced cleaning procedures are in place. The Walker Art Museum also just launched a new online collection called “Creative Black Music at the Walker: Selections from the Archives.” The publication showcases never before seen material such as rare video and audio recordings, commissioned essays, photographs, and so much more.
Another claim to fame, is that Minneapolis is consistently named one of the best cities for biking in the USA, and it has even made it onto best in the world lists, too! There are over 120 miles of bike trails to enjoy (and even more throughout the entire metro area), many of which are connected to one another. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one from the bike share program, Nice Ride Minnesota. Nice Ride has always offered regular bikes to rent, and just recently they added e-bikes to their roster. Here are a few trails in the city that we enjoy:
Midtown Greenway Trail:
The Midtown Greenway is a 5.5 mile trail that runs through Minneapolis, and it is open to both bikers and walkers. The greenway was built along an old railway corridor. It spans south Minneapolis and runs from the Mississippi River to the Chain of Lakes area, and the trail connects directly to several other bike paths. The trail is a major bike route through the city that is used for both enjoyment and daily commutes. There are more than 25 exit and entrance ramps leading onto the trail and most of the route bypasses car traffic via bridges and underpasses. Along the trail, you can see various art instillations and a lot of greenery, which makes it a beautiful place to go for a ride.
Chain of Lakes Trail:
The Chain of Lakes isn’t only a great spot for paddling, it’s also a wonderful place to go for a bike ride. There is a trail that runs around three of the lakes: Lake Harriet, Lake Bde Maka Ska, Lake of the Isles.
The loop is just over 10 miles, and it is a flat, paved trail. It is a byway of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, which spans all over the city. You can rent a bike from Wheel Fun Rentals or a nearby Nice Ride station, or you can bring your own bike. This area can get busy but riding around the lakes is definitely refreshing.
While the Twin Cities typically has a wide range of outdoor movies in the parks throughout the summer, as of now, they have all been cancelled this year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options for enjoying an outdoor movie this summer. See below for a couple of fun ways to catch a flick outdoors:
Vali-Hi Drive-In Theater:
Catching a drive-in movie is one of the ultimate social distancing activities. You can set up chairs in front of your car or you can cozy up inside your vehicle for a fun evening under the stars. We always make a bed with a bunch of blankes in the back of our SUV and watch the movie with the hatch open. It’s cozy and a fun way to get out of the house, especially during times like these!
There are a few drive-in movie theaters around the Twin Cities, but the one we’ve always gone to is the Vali-Hi Drive-In Theater. This theater is located about 20 minutes from downtown Saint Paul and they show double feature movies every night of the week. Normally, there is space for around 800 cars, but to give everyone a little more distance, they are now allowing around 375 cars per night. We arrived for the Monday night movie about 30 minutes before the gates opened and there was already a huge line of cars. We were around 100 cars back from the gate, so we didn’t have a problem getting in. The theater is known to sell out though, (even during non-pandemic times), so be sure to get there early. Pack games, snacks, and even dinner to keep you entertained while you wait for the sun to set. It’s a fun evening and feels like you are traveling way back in time.
Films and Fireworks at CHS Field:
Since Saint Paul Saints baseball isn’t happening at the CHS Field this summer, they have found a few fun ways to repurpose the stadium. One of these events is the Pop-Up Café that is open for lunch with tables set up along the concourse. Another event being held at the field is Films and Fireworks, which we excitedly bought tickets for to catch the showing of The Goonies. Every Friday (during the month of July to start), a movie is shown on the giant videoboard in left-center field, with a firework display to follow. Tickets utilize seating in four socially distanced areas throughout the park, some of which are in the stands and others are on the field. We bought general admission tickets and had our choice of seats throughout the lower level deck of the stadium. There was plenty of room to spread out, and it was a beautiful evening for a movie and fireworks.
With plenty of green space throughout the metro area, there are several gardens to enjoy. A few notable gardens to explore are the Caponi Art Park, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and Japanese Garden, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and the gardens at Lyndale Park. We haven’t had time to check them all out this year, but we did manage to plan a visit to the Arboretum which was wonderful! Here’s a bit more about one of our favorite parks in the metro area:
Gardens at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum:
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a plant lovers paradise with over 1,200 acres of maintained gardens and trails. Due to social distancing regulations the park has begun to open in phases. They first started by opening the 3-mile loop drive. Now, the 3-mile hiking trail, and a few shorter trails are also open. Entry to the gardens is possible with a timed reservation, and the time slots are known to sell out, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to visit. The 3-mile trail has been turned into a one-way loop, and signs are posted throughout the park to remind visitors to stay 6 feet apart and to keep your distance from others.
When we arrived at our 1:30 timeslot on a Wednesday, there were quite a few people at the park, so we started with the 3-mile drive. We spotted plenty of beautiful gardens, trees, sculptures, and landscapes throughout the drive, and it is a good introduction to the grounds.
Next, we parked the car and started the hike. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we didn’t encounter too many people on the trails. Everyone did a good job at keeping their distance from other groups. We might have just been lucky with a quiet walk, but with all the signage and the staggering entrance times, it felt like they did a good job at thinning the crowds. The trails were mostly paved and provided a combination of sunny and shaded areas. After the 3-mile loop, we explored some of the shorter trails near the visitor center.
We loved being able to get out of the city for a refreshing break full of beautiful plants and landscapes. The arboretum is a great place to visit during all seasons of the year, but we really enjoyed seeing many of the plants in full bloom, especially the roses.
Where to Eat and Drink
While life certainly hasn’t returned to normal, many restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops are starting to open up again. Most of our favorite places are offering take-out options, and several are starting to open their patios and dining rooms with limited capacity and tables that are spread out. Some spots have reduced hours and reduced menus, but we are just happy they are open because we have missed eating out so much. Here is a breakdown of some of our favorite restaurants that we have been lucky enough to visit this summer:
Surly Brewing Co.:
Surly Brewing Co. is a craft brewery with a fantastic restaurant located in Minneapolis. The brewery has a giant outdoor patio that is perfect for enjoying on a summer evening. Surly has been offering take out for a couple of months, and now, the Beer Garden is officially reopened for guests to enjoy. The menu consists of pizza, wings, sandwiches, salads, and more, and the beer list is long and varied.
We were so excited to snag a table on the patio, and we were very impressed with the safety measures being taken on site. You will learn all the current rules when making a reservation. At the time of our visit we were asked to take our temperature the morning of our reservation and if we had a fever or were feeling sick, they ask you stay home for everyone’s safety. Guests are required to wear masks everywhere in the brewery except when sitting at their table.
Tables are spread out and available for parties of no more than 4-6 (the size is depending on if you are in the same household or not), and touch points are cleaned regularly. The menus are online (unless a hard copy is requested) and orders are placed at the bar and brought to your table when ready. All of these requirements really made us relax and allowed us to enjoy dining out once again—it was the perfect way to enjoy a summer evening in Minnesota.
Finnegans Brew Co.:
Finnegans Brew Co. is a brewery located in downtown Minneapolis. One of the coolest things about this brewery is that they donate 100% of their profits to charity and focus on eliminating hunger in the communities where their products are sold. Their mission statement is “turning beer into food.” That’s a sentiment we can definitely get behind.
Finnegans has been offering curbside growlers for sale for a couple of months, and recently opened their patio and taproom for service again. When we visited, only the patio was open, but at 4,000 square feet in size, there was plenty of room to enjoy the socially distanced tables. Now, the 6,000 square foot taproom is also open with even more tables spread out and distanced. Reservations are required to visit the brewery, but a quick text or joining the online waitlist is all it takes to book a table. To make a night of it, you can order food delivery from a variety of nearby restaurants, such as Red Savoy’s Pizza, Red Cow, Pizza Luce, Lago Tacos, and more.
Soul Bowl at Graze Food Hall:
The Graze Food Hall located in the North Loop is open up again for both take out and eating in (masks are required). With spaced out tables inside, a rooftop patio, and a ground level patio, there is plenty of room here, as well. There are several delicious eateries located at this food hall, but we had our sights set on one of our favorites: Soul Bowl. Soul Bowl is a fast-casual fusion soul food restaurant. The menu is mainly made up of delicious bowls, and you can enjoy one of their signature combinations or build your own. My favorite is a toss up between the “Southern Bowl” filled with mac & cheese, greens, and fried chicken, and the “Caribe Bowl” which comes with coconut rice and peas, plantain, and jerk chicken. Micah is partial to the build your own option of mac and cheese and BBQ beef. You can also pick from salad, sandwiches, sides, and desserts.
Earlier this summer prior to the building opening up, we ordered take-out from Soul Bowl’s app, but this time around we placed an order inside and then ate outside on the rooftop patio. During our weekday visit, there were only a few other tables occupied and we were able to enjoy the sunshine with pretty views of the Minneapolis skyline.
We have also made it to several of our favorite restaurants for take-out. Many of these spots are open for patio dining again, but for one reason or another, we opted for takeout.
We ordered arepas and yuca fries from Hola Areapa, kebabs from Shish Mediterranean Kitchen, jerk chicken with rice and beans from Pimento Jamaican Kitchen (pictured below), curry and fried rice from Pad Thai on Grand, tacos and burritos from Boca Chica Taco House, and coffee from Dogwood Coffee Co.
In addition to all the spots I listed above, we have a giant list of our other favorite restaurants we are hoping to make it back to soon. There are just so many fantastic restaurants in the Twin Cities. Some spots we are still craving are Red Cow, Moscow on the Hill, Blue Door Pub, Ramen Kazama, Wakame Sushi, Pizzeria Lola, Young Joni, Psycho Suzies, and Cossetta. There are also several food trucks popping up around town serving MN State Fair food since the fair was cancelled this year. My list literally could go on…and on…and on! Good thing there are lots of outdoor adventures in the area to keep us active!
Even though this year is anything but usual, there are still plenty of fantastic adventures to have. What activities are on your list to enjoy this summer?
Pin it to save for later!