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More Than Mall of America

Do more than shop on your Twin Cities vacation. Check out these other Minneapolis and St. Paul top attractions.

 

In a state with thousands of lakes, many people naturally assume the only popular activity in Minnesota is fishing. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true, fishing, both freshwater and ice fishing, is a draw for many outdoorsmen and women, yet Twin Cities Minneapolis and Saint Paul are better known for world-class shopping, cultural diversity and some of the best restaurants in the nation. Plus, the Twin City area is home to hundreds of attractions you can’t find anywhere else. Here are just a few of those top attractions you won’t want to miss.

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

A trip to Saint Paul’s zoo is like three adventures in one. First, the Como Park Zoo is Minnesota’s best free attraction available. Cougars, lions, Siberian tigers, zebras, giraffe, gorillas and many more exotic animals can all be seen here amid beautiful, well-kept grounds. During the warmer months, don’t miss the Sparky the Seal Lion Show, which has been a Como Park Zoo favorite since 1956. www.comozooconservatory.org

Second, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is Minnesota’s answer to those wanting to see beautiful plants every season of the year. Inside the glass conservatory, visitors can stroll through various garden areas including the Sunken Garden, the Palm Dome, the Fern Room, the Orchid House and more. Outside, when the weather is warm, the Japanese Garden and the Enchanted Garden are in full bloom.

Third, Como Town, adjacent to the Como Park Zoo, is a kid-sized amusement park with more than a dozen rides plus an arcade area, theater and plenty of eateries. From the Screamin’ Dragon rollercoaster to the Sky Glider, most rides are designed for children ages 4 through 12. www.comotown.com

Science Museum of Minnesota

Science exhibits, Omnitheater films, youth classes and adult education can all be found at the Science Museum of Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Saint Paul. Visitors can participate in a number of hands-on permanent and traveling exhibits and learn everything from how a disease travels through the body to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The museum’s permanent exhibits include the Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery, the Mississippi River Gallery, the Human Body Gallery, the Collections Gallery and the Experiment Gallery.  

The Omnitheater, which is the only convertible dome IMAX theater in the United States, has a 90-foot domed screen on which visitors can watch films such as Grand Canyon Adventure and Super Speedway that actually make you feel like you’re part of the ride. www.smm.org

Mall of America

Another destination that is like three destinations in one, the Mall of America is not just another supersized mall. The nation’s largest entertainment and retail complex also includes a 1.2-million gallon aquarium and a large theme park.

Called the “World’s Best Shark Encounter” by Discovery Channel, Underwater Adventures Aquarium at the Mall of America allows visitors to stroll right through the center of the aquarium in a glass tunnel 14 feet below the surface of the water. Sharks, seahorses, stingrays and sea turtles swim all around you in Shark Cove, and just a few steps away you can see freshwater varieties found in lakes and streams. The Circle of Life touch pool allows children to touch small sharks and stingrays, and in Starfish Beach you can take a ride on a virtual submarine. www.sharky.tv

For the thrill seekers in your family, head to the center of the mall for Nickelodeon Universe to experience riding an indoor rollercoaster beneath a glass ceiling or swooshing down the Log Chute. More than a dozen rides for kids and teens are housed inside the park, along with a variety of games, eateries and shops. www.nickelodeonuniverse.com

If the draw of world-class shopping brings you to the Mall of America, you won’t be disappointed. It’s nearly impossible to see all the shops and restaurants located on four levels in one day, although many have tried. With more than 500 small stores plus Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears and Bloomingdale’s, you’re certain to find exactly what you’re looking for. www.mallofamerica.com

The Arts

Well known for its cultural attractions, the Twin Cities offers an abundance of world-class museums, art galleries and performing arts venues that shouldn’t be missed. The Walker Arts Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Orchestra Hall, the Ordway and dozens of others top the cultural scene list in the state.

Valleyfair

Summertime in Minnesota isn’t complete without a trip to Valleyfair in nearby Shakopee. The upper Midwest’s largest amusement park, Valleyfair features more than 75 rides plus Soak City Waterpark and the Challenge Park featuring the RipCord, Adventure Golf, go-carts and bumper boats (additional fees apply for Challenge Park).

Once school is out, teens flock to Valleyfair for the thrill rides, including Steel Venom, a 185-foot roller coaster that travels up to 68 miles per hour, and Power Tower, a gravity-defying ride that shoots riders up or down a 250-foot tower at more than 50 miles per hour. For the non-thrill-seekers in your family, there are also plenty of children’s and family rides available. www.valleyfair.com

Stillwater, Minnesota

Often called the birthplace of Minnesota, Stillwater is a quaint town north of the Twin Cities that was voted ninth in the 100 Best Small-Town Getaways by Midwest Living magazine. As the weather warms in Minnesota, visitors from all over the state and beyond take the scenic drive to Stillwater to enjoy antique shopping, browsing through bookstores, wine tasting, dining along the St. Croix River and even cruising along the river in a gondola built in Venice, Italy.  

But don’t just stop at Stillwater; take in another close by and quaint town: Lake Elmo, and experience quite possibly the best dining Minnesota has to offer at the Lake Elmo Inn restaurant. Owner John Schiltz has been crafting delicacies using some of Minnesota’s specialty ingredients, such as walleye and wild rice, for more than 25 years. www.ilovestillwater.com

Duluth

OK, so Duluth isn’t a Minneapolis or St. Paul attractions, the but the town, roughly three hours north of the Twin Cities, is best known as the place to watch more than 1,000 Great Lakes freighters pass by annually. It’s also a great vacation destination, filled with hundreds of upscale shopping boutiques and more than 50 restaurants, all located at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior.

While in Duluth, you’ll have a tough time narrowing down the activities to fill your day, from the Great Lakes Aquarium to the Duluth OMNIMAX Theatre. Or climb aboard the S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum and learn about the flagship of the USS Great Lakes Fleet. Outdoor enthusiasts will love to take a ride on the Vista Fleet for a lunch or dinner cruise around the lake, take a 90-minute train ride on the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad or just watch the freighters as they pass through. www.visitduluth.com


Destinations: Minnesota, Minneapolis, Saint Paul

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Shopping


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