The Mall of America is one, gigantic playground of shops, restaurants, and activities.
I lived the first 40 years of my life in Minnesota. All four of our kids were born there and I was fortunate to stay home with them when they were young, so I had a lot of time to explore and find many great activities. When we moved, we were surprised at how many people had sports tournaments or family reunions as a destination in Minnesota. My daughter was told many times by her new (non-Minnesotan) friends that the Mall of America was one of their dream trips. So, if you ever find yourself in Minnesota, here are our top 10 favorite spots, most of them in or around the twin cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul).
Nickelodeon Universe, an amusement park right in the center of the Mall of America, is huge and has thrill rides for all ages,
including the insane Spongebob rollercoaster (below)
1. Mall of America - I was a teenager when the mall opened and was there on opening day to see how in the world they put an amusement park inside a mall. From that day, I have loved the place. I spent my teens shopping or going on rides, my 20’s at the bars on the 4th floor, my kids early months walking the three main floors (3.5 miles) when temps were too low outside, and the baby wouldn’t sleep unless moving, their toddler years at the weekly Toddler Tuesdays and their elementary years full circle enjoying the rides and shopping again. When we go back for a visit now, we always make a trip to the mall. The kids still love the rides, mini golf (there are now two different options), the ropes course and zip line, the mirror maze and shopping. Our favorite food spots are Tucci Benucch, Shake Shack, The Magic Pan Crepe Stand and Johnny Rockets. There are now hotel options connected to the mall so you literally wouldn’t have to leave!
2. The State Fair - This is a way of life for Minnesotans. For the last 12 days of summer you can partake in the second largest Fair in the country and words hardly describe the endless opportunities for fun. The food options are huge and each year the new foods are highlighted before the fair begins. Everyone who goes has their own itinerary for activities and food and swears by their plan. Despite all of the new options every year, our family always ends up at the same place around the same time without trying. Our favorites are French fries, Sweet Martha’s cookies, the giant slide, the kids stage for breakdancing and magic shows, the trampoline and bike/skateboard show, some rides and the free stuff in the education building. As we wander from area to area we basically gorge on as much food as possible.
State Fair favorite - the big pail of warm, freshly-based chocolate chip cookies
3. "The Lakes" - Winter is long and cold in Minnesota and at the first sign of warmth, people head to the lakes. By this I mean the Minneapolis chain of lakes where you can walk, run, roller blade, bike and take in some awesome people watching. If you want to get on the water you can rent canoes, paddle boards or kayaks. The Bakken museum is on lake Calhoun and is a great stop for budding scientists.
Paddle boarders passing between the connecting lakes of Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.
4. Up North - this isn’t a place or even a direction but rather any place on a lake (MN has 10,000 + of them). If you are in MN in summer, hitting a resort or a VRBO on a lake is a great use of your time. Life is simpler, time goes slower and fun is always had Up North. The Brainard Area, Mille Lacs and Lake Vermillion are a few great places for lake time.
Tubing fun on one of the 10,000 lakes
5. Children’s Museum (St. Paul) - We have been to many children’s museums across the country and I can honestly say MN has one of the best. Since we lived there they have had a major renovation so it looks even more amazing than when we were last there. If you make it there, head to Mickey’s Diner or Cosetta’s for lunch and Candy Land for caramel corn.
6. Science Museum - Also in St. Paul is an awesome Science Museum. If your kids are past Children’s Museum age, head here instead. The food recommendations are the same.
7. Stone Arch Bridge/Guthrie/Mill City Museum- what was once a non-used area by downtown Minneapolis, is now a beautiful water front area which is great for a few hour stroll and meal. There is a great path to walk or run which takes you over the Stone Arch Bridge and includes a stop at the Guthrie balcony for great views. Head to the Northeast side of the river, where St. Anthony Main has many many food choices, bars and a movie theatre. The Mill City Museum is a very unique museums worth a couple hour visit and is also in this area.
8. ValleyFair - If you have elementary age kids or older head to the outdoor amusement park/water park. It’s still as fun as it was when I was a kid!
9. Northeast Minneapolis - If you find yourself in MN with some time away from your kids, head to Northeast Minneapolis for a bar crawl. This industrial area is now home to many amazing distilleries and brew houses as well as a couple old favorites. Tony Jaro’s, Psycho Suzi’s and Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit are cornerstones of this area. Newer to the area are Tattersall Distillery, Indeed Brewing Company and Bauhaus Brew Labs. An afternoon or evening in this area is sure to be a fun time. Note: you can bring your kids to many of these during certain hours but they may not find them as enjoyable as you do.
10. 50's Grill—This is our family’s favorite restaurant in Minnesota so I have to add it to the list, even though you really have no other reason to go near its location! This is a family run place where some of the employees have been working there since it opened. All of the food is freshly cooked and the bakery makes the most amazing cakes and pies. I worked there from ages 16-20 and still love their food as do my kids. We never go to Minnesota without making a stop.