There are 10,000+ Reasons to Visit Minnesota This Year; These 8 Are a Slam Dunk
In many ways—10,000 to be exact—Minnesota's reputation precedes it. But the state is so much more, literally: It turns out to be the Land of 11,842 Lakes (or nearly twice as many if you count the small-ish ones). And well beyond being a watery wonderland, it's one of the year's best pilgrimage sites for sports fans, foodies, music lovers, bookworms and retail therapy devotees. From the first NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament to be held on the Vikings' new home turf to the 160th (!) Minnesota State Fair, here are our "Elite 8" reasons to visit in 2019.
April's double-header of sports firsts
If you’re even a casual observer of sports towns, you’ve no doubt noticed that Minneapolis and St. Paul are having a moment: Last year alone, the Twin Cities hosted the Super Bowl, the X Games and the NCAA Frozen Four. And this spring brings two major milestones: Minneapolis' U.S. Bank Stadium will see its first-ever NCAA Men’s Final Four on April 6 and 8.
And St. Paul's Allianz Field—the brand-new home of the “Loons,” as the Minnesota United soccer team is known—officially opens one week later on April 13 with some of the world’s best players and their rabid fan base in the house. But St. Paul being the capital of "Minnesota Nice," rest assured: Rabid fandom simply means infectious cheers that, more often than not, help carry the home team to victory.
If you’re in town for either event, or both—we know you’re out there, super-fans—you’ll need to know where to pre- and post-game. There will be plenty to do at the NCAA Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and of course the Tip Off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall, complete with a 10-story Ferris wheel. But if you want to grab a drink by the U.S. Bank Stadium, you’ll want to head over to the unofficial Viking fan watering hole, Erik The Red Nordic BBQ & Barbarian Bar, where you'll occasionally see players, one of whom—former linebacker Chad Greenway—recently launched Gray Duck Vodka. If you could use a bite with your drink, go for the namesake Nordic BBQ or the house smorgasbords.
Alternatively, head to Matt's Bar for the Twin Cities' signature burger: the melted-cheese-filled Juicy Lucy (yes, the patty itself has a hot, molten center). In fact, you'll find countless takes on the treat throughout the area, not least, the beloved blue cheese-filled Blucy at the Blue Door Pub (with locations that are short rides away from both the U.S. Bank Stadium and Allianz Field).
And for one of the most refreshing variations on the sports bar theme, check out the new Black Hart by Allianz Field—an LGBTQ+ and soccer bar where in the course of one night, you can attend, say, a Minnesota United away game watch party and a drag show.
And a heads-up to anyone who's got junior sports fans in tow: Round out your trip with a lap through the new Sportsology exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, where courts, fields and tracks become super-fun and interactive labs—and your kids will get dunking down to, well, a science.
The sweetest start to spring
On the one hand, this is a state whose historic main streets are full of charm and mom-and-pop storefronts.
On the other, Minnesota and malls go way back—specifically, to 1956, when the Austria-born architect Victor Gruen debuted Southdale, a modernist utopia (and by all accounts, the nation’s first mall) in the Twin Cities suburb of Edina. And though you shouldn't forego one experience for the other, 2019 happens to be a particularly sweet time to visit Mall of America, where you can now visit Candytopia, an edible theme park where you’ll find confectioner's renderings of everything from Prince's guitar to a swimming pool-sized marshmallow pit. Curated by Jackie Sorkin, of TLC’s Candy Queen fame, this most delicious of interactive exhibits doesn’t require a golden ticket, per se, but you will want to reserve to get into this limited-engagement experience (here through September, when parting will be such sweet sorrow).
Of course, you can ride out that sugar high without even leaving the famously enormous mall: Beyond the 500+ stores, you’ll find the nation’s largest indoor theme park (that is, the 7-acre Nickelodeon Universe); a flight simulation ride—complete with wind—that takes you on an aerial grand tour of America's landmarks; and the best shark exhibit on earth, according to Animal Planet (that would be the Snorkeling with the Fish offering at the mall’s Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium). And that's just for starters.
One for the books
With more publishers, bookstores, readers and writers than any other city its size, Minneapolis is about to up its already epic literary cred: The Loft Literary Center's inaugural WordPlay takes place May 11-12, when a superstar lineup of authors—Stephen King, Jamaica Kinkaid and Dave Barry, to name a few—will descend on the city to read from recent works, sign books and hang with fans.
Among the books debuting here is the perfect local literary souvenir: Under Purple Skies: The Minneapolis Anthology, a compendium of renowned resident authors, and “the ultimate (literary) tour guide to the neighborhoods and wild places, history and politics, culture and cuisine, music and myths of the Twin Cities,” according to noted author Benjamin Percy. Also try to catch the Rock Bottom Remainders, a merry band of rocking authors—Stephen King on guitar, Amy Tan on vocals and Mitch Albom on keyboard, for starters—who’ll take to the stage the night of May 10 at First Avenue, the much-loved club made famous by Prince.
For a statewide tour of literary greats, visit Sauk Centre, home of America’s first Nobel Prize winner, Sinclair Lewis; Walnut Grove, where you can visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum on the banks of Plum Creek; and St. Paul, F. Scott Fitzgerald's old stomping grounds (among other sites, don't miss the swanky Commodore Bar in the lobby of his one-time apartment building).
Back-to-back music bashes
Speaking of his Purple Highness, we should note that April brings Celebration 2019, a four-day Prince-a-palooza with live music, food, panel discussions and presentations on Prince Rogers Nelson’s life, art and genius. All of the above takes place at Paisley Park, his home and recording sanctuary—and now a music world pilgrimage site, along with the aforementioned First Avenue, still one of the hottest clubs in town (and easiest to spot, too, given the star-spangled exterior).
Of course, the state’s musical heritage is hardly one-note: Another native son hails from the north shore of Lake Superior, scene of the Duluth Dylan Fest 2019—a series of concerts, readings and celebrations of all things Dylan—May 18-26. Yes, this is the city where Bob Dylan was born (albeit as Robert Zimmerman), and where, at 17, he watched Buddy Holly play at the Duluth Armory three days before the idol’s death. Today—in addition to the Fest happenings—you can walk “Bob Dylan Way,” an almost 2-mile pathway that honors the Nobel Prize-winning hometown boy. And while you’re here on the shores of the largest of the Great Lakes, take a peek beneath the waves at the Great Lakes Aquarium or just stroll along the Lake Walk at Canal Park.
A celebration at the source
In Minnesota's oldest state park—Itasca—some of the most beloved digs are celebrating their 90th birthday this year, and have just come under Department of Natural Resources ownership. Go see why generations of local families have escaped to these stick-built hideaways, the ideal base camp for exploring the park's ancient pine stands, copious lakes—and oh yes, Mississippi River source.
Make your way to the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center for some background, then walk to the old-timey wooden sign that reads: "Here 1475 feet above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico." Wade in the shallows, walk across the river—or kayak or canoe along it. Whatever floats your boat.
A major upswing
In an already golf-happy state (90% of Minnesota's 500 or so courses are public), a 2019 addition is upping the game: The inagural 3M Open PGA Tournament takes place this summer at the Arnold Palmer-designed TPC Twin Cities, where not just the golf is great: The Grammy Award winning Zac Brown Band will be playing the after-party.
But even if you don’t get to the tournament, there are golf ops aplenty for you around the state, with top spots that include the stunning Legend and Quarry courses at Giants Ridge (all set within the Superior National Forest of the Mesabi Iron Range); the Mississippi River Valley's Jewel Golf Club in Lake City; and the Brainerd Lakes trifecta: Grand View, Cragun’s and Madden’s.
For something completely different, check out the artist-designed mini-golf on the rooftop of the renowned Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis as of late May. You'll get gorgeous city views while you play, but don't leave the roof without taking the quick walk to the section that lets you look down on the famed Spoonbridge and Cherry.
Scan the just-released list of James Beard semifinalists for 2019, and you'll see that the Twin Cities are particularly well-represented. There are nominees in every category from Best New Restaurant (the taco-and-oyster joint Popol Vuh) to Outstanding Restaurant (the seasonally-inspired dinner-only Restaurant Alma) to Best Chef of the Year: Midwest (Thomas Boemer of In Bloom, where all things wild and foraged are used to exquisite effect).
Little wonder that Esquire recently declared Minneapolis “the food world's best kept secret” and added more picks to the must-visit list: the purpose-built Surly Brewing Co. Beer Hall, with some of the best beer in town (including several brews served only here); the seasonally-driven Borough, where "the pickled mackerel and raw vegetable salad will change how you think about winter bounty," and Mercy for "the best fish fry of your life," among other hot spots.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together
When you get tired of using utensils, follow the locals over the 160th-anniversary edition of the legendary Minnesota State Fair (a celebration that's just a year younger than the state itself). From Aug. 22-Sept. 2, you’ll be able to find almost any food you can imagine—and several you can't—on a stick: egg rolls, deep-fried fruit, mashed potatoes and more.
There are also midway rides, livestock judging and the iconic dairy princess competition. And in the Grandstand, you’ll see everyone from Brandi Carlisle to Lionel Richie. But however fabulous the performances, we guarantee that something else will be just as talked-about: the bucket of chocolate chip cookies paired with the all-you-can-drink milk bar.