What nerve it took to build a shopping center in suburban Minnesota and call it the Mall of America. And yet there is something iconic about this over-the-top shrine to consumerism. Subscribing to the all-American bigger-is-better philosophy, the mall could hold seven Yankee Stadiums or 258 Statues of Liberty; walk one circuit around a level of stores and you've clocked nearly a mile. There are over 520 stores at this huge retail center 20 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis, stacked on four brightly lit levels around a central glass atrium -- not only that, but 14 movie screens, a food court, 20 sit-down restaurants, half a dozen attractions, and even a wedding chapel. You've got to see it to believe it.
The main attraction is Nickelodeon Universe, America's largest enclosed theme park, which covers 7 ground-floor acres in the immense central atrium with more than 27 rides, including a kiddie roller coaster that loops around large planters full of trees. This will thrill toddlers and young grade schoolers; kids who've outgrown those tame rides will still enjoy the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, where 10,000 sea creatures swim around in tanks on a subterranean level. Between the virtual submarine ride and the "shark encounter" -- a glass tunnel that walks you through a shark tank -- it's like a mini–Sea World. At the mall. For teens or preteens (and, admit it, adults too), the A.C.E.S Flight Simulator lets you play virtual pilot on an F-18 Hornet jet or a WWII-era P-51 Mustang.
While not strictly a theme attraction (no admission charge, for one thing), the four-story Lego store is as good as a ride, with some 90 life-size Lego models to marvel at; the Build-a-Bear Workshop is another store that offers plenty of entertainment. So what if most of the other shops are the usual gang of chain stores? It's called the Mall of America, dude -- so who's expecting snooty high-end retail? It's supersize, it's commercial, and it caters to the masses -- and there's nothing more American than that.
Nearest Airport: Minneapolis–St. Paul International.
Where to Stay: $ Best Western Plus Kelly Inn, 161 St. Anthony Ave., St. Paul (tel. 800/780-7234 or 651/227-8711; www.bestwesternstpaul.com).