Minneapolis skyline as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge

Minneapolis Is Underrated. Here Are 10 Reasons Why It Shouldn’t Be.

When I moved to New York City and told people I was from Minneapolis, I was frequently asked questions like, “Did you live on a farm?” And: “Doesn’t it snow year-round up there?” I hadn’t realized that people outside of the Midwest knew so little about my city.

Well, I think it’s time you got better acquainted. Far from the frozen farmland you might be envisioning, the largest of the Twin Cities (the other one is St. Paul, the state capital) has a vibe that’s at once youthful and sophisticated, with a nice balance of vibrant cultural offerings and exciting outdoor activities. This something-for-everybody spirit combined with the city’s manageable size has prompted some to dub it the Mini-Apple. Here are the best places to take a bite.  

The Stone Arch Bridge looks over the Mississippi River's St. Anthony Falls
mo01229 / Flickr
Stone Arch Bridge

Located in the center of the historic Mill City district, the Stone Arch Bridge is often referred to as the crown jewel of Minneapolis. Built in 1883, it offers unobstructed views of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls, which fueled the former flour factories and saw mills that give the neighborhood its name. Today, the bridge is a popular place for a scenic stroll or bike ride. On one side is bustling downtown and the not-to-be-missed Mill City Museum, housed amid the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill—until it exploded in 1878. On the other side of the bridge is calm and quaint St. Anthony and its cobblestone streets and picturesque cafes.

"Spoonbridge and Cherry" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, located in the Walker Art Center's sculpture garden in Minneapolis
Free Art

When it comes to quality as well as accessibility, Minneapolis is a goldmine for art lovers. The century-old Minneapolis Institute of Art houses an impressive 80,000-piece collection spanning 5,000 years of human history—and best of all, general admission is free (sometimes there is a small fee for special exhibits, however). The Walker Art Center, a world-renowned and groundbreaking hub for contemporary work, offers free admission on Thursdays, but you can always enjoy the Sculpture Garden at no charge. The 11-acre space is home to the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s gigantic sculpture (pictured above) of a silver spoon cradling a cherry. Other places to check out art for free include the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Gallery and the Weisman Art Museum, designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Stone Arch Bridge is a popular place for Minneapolis bikers.
PunkToad / Flickr

Despite the bitter winters here, Minneapolis proudly boasts the second highest number of bike commuters in the United States, behind only Portland. There are over 129 miles of on-street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street paths, and it’s not uncommon to see brave cyclists pedaling their way through all kinds of extreme weather. The city even has a bike-only highway called the Greenway, which connects the city to nature trails and the suburbs. If you want to join the two-wheeled throng and didn’t pack a bike, don’t worry—you can rent one for a small fee at one of the Nice Ride bike share stations conveniently located all across the city.

A kayaker takes on one of Minneapolis' 13 lakes
Jeff Wunrow / Flickr
Chain of Lakes

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and 13 of them are in Minneapolis. That means there are lots of water activities to try out, from kayaking to lounging on beaches. The most popular spot for watery recreation is the Chain of Lakes, a network of five lakes and surrounding parkland. Luxurious mansions line the shores, amid an idyllic landscape in shades of green and blue. In the summer, the lakes host the city’s “Music and Movies in the Park,” a series of free concerts and screenings.

Music lovers wait outside First Avenue before a show.
Chris Yunker / Flickr
First Avenue and 7th Street Entry

The musical and entrepreneurial efforts of pop icon Prince—a Minnesota native—brought new energy into Minneapolis’s music scene, helping to make it the diverse and thriving force it is today. Most notably, the Artist famously frequented and promoted the now legendary music venue First Avenue and 7th Street Entry. Top artists of all genres have performed here; you’ll see their names in the stars on the exterior wall of the theater.

The 53-foot waterfall is the star of Minnehaha Park.
mo1229 / Flickr
Minnehaha Park

Minnehaha Park, named after the Dakota word for waterfall, provides another peaceful dose of nature within city limits. Though it seems at first glance to be a typical urban green space, step just past the entrance and you’ll find the park’s namesake, an incredible 53-foot cascade. Though the trails and wading pool close in the winter, the park remains popular all year round, as visitors come to see the waterfall when it’s frozen. Eerily, it looks almost as if somebody has pressed pause on a TV remote somewhere. The rocks and pool below get icy as well, becoming a slippery but picturesque tableau that’s irresistible to photographers.

The Surly Brewery is a popular place for a lively night out
Runner1928 / Wikimedia Commons
Breweries and Distilleries

In Minneapolis, the breweries are so good they can change the laws. Prior to 2011, these establishments weren't allowed to sell alcohol onsite, resulting in a subdued beer scene. But local favorite Surly Brewery (pictured above) helped change that, and the Surly Bill of 2011 injected new life into Minneapolis’s craft breweries. Now there are tons of them, alongside burgeoning distilleries like Tattersall. These places also usually sell locally sourced food that’s gourmet yet affordable. Minnesota's Nordic roots can be tasted at the Du Nord distillery; for global flavors, try the food trucks stationed outside 612 Brew.

A couple sits to enjoy the diverse and delicious food Eat Street has to offer.
Phil Roeder / Flickr
Eat Street

The success of the Minneapolis food scene may stem from the city’s affordability: It’s an attractive option for start-up restaurateurs. Or it might be the weather—Minnesotans are often looking for refuge from the cold. And we can’t discount the plethora of nearby farms. Whatever the reason, Minneapolis has a number of nationally acclaimed restaurants across the city. The area to visit for a guaranteed score is Eat Street, a 17-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue in the Whittier neighborhood that’s home to more than 50 restaurants of various types, price points, and styles. We recommend stopping for a cup of joe at Spyhouse Coffee, grabbing a bowl of pho at Quang Restaurant, and finishing with a tasty treat at the vintage-inspired Glam Doll Donuts.

A woman sits to read a book in the sun.
Gregory Bodnar / Flickr

Minneapolis is definitely bookworm-friendly. Popular spots for lit lovers include Birchbark Books, started by novelist Louise Erdrich; the Loft Literary Center, which hosts creative writing classes above the Minnesota Center for Book Arts; and Wild Rumpus, an eccentric children’s bookstore with live chickens, cats, and chinchillas roaming freely. Bookstores and libraries often host literary events and readings, so be sure to stay updated on what’s happening at MN Publishing TweetUp’s Facebook page.

The gorgeous Gurthrie Theater in Minneapolis
Payton Chung / Flickr

The big player in Minneapolis performing arts is the Guthrie Theater (pictured), a Tony Award-winning institution known for staging top-notch classic and contemporary plays and musicals. But that’s just the beginning of what Minneapolis has to offer theatergoers. In fact, the city is second only to New York in the number of theater seats per capita. Your options for a memorable evening of performance include everything from the renowned Children’s Theatre Company to the locally adored Mixed Blood Theatre, which specializes in unconventional work by artists of color. For a more traditional experience, head to the Theater District, a stretch of Hennepin Avenue where three renovated historic theaters—the Orpheum, the State Theatre, and the Pantages Theatre—host a wide variety of shows from touring Broadway productions as well as local troupes.