MY TRIED AND TRUE CHOICES
First—how this list came about: For about 10 years–2000 to 2010–I produced and hosted a local interview TV show called “Strictly Seniors.” To keep it lively, I had the theory that any subject was fair game, including favorite local tourist sites. The following list is based on my personal and somewhat detailed experience.
Some of these you probably know firsthand; others may be a bit of a surprise. Still others are eliminated because of distance, time required and such. At the conclusion of this somewhat lengthy treatise I will list a few other options. I have organized these options by location. Enjoy!
Tour # 1: OUR FAVORITE TOUR SPOT PLUS OTHER WINNERS
GUTHRIE-THE NON-THEATER EXPERIENCE, 818 Second St. S, Minneapolis
When we have guests in town with time for only a quickie tour, our choice is always the Guthrie Theater. In my opinion, the Guthrie view on the cantilever bridge over the Mississippi River is the Twin Cities’ top tourist attraction. Take either the elevator or the 60 second escalator, the longest escalator ride in Minnesota. Walk out onto the 178 foot cantilever bridge and see the spectacular views of the Mississippi, St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. This is quintessential Minneapolis: the beauty of the river, St Anthony Falls–the founding spot of the city, and the 1883 bridge, the creation of the “Master Railways Builder”, James J. Hill.
The theatre building is open 8AM-11PM., Tuesday through Sunday, and Monday 8AM-8PM. No tickets required. The Guthrie encourages guest visits. There is street and ramp parking across the street.
MILL CITY MUSEUM, 818 Second St., Minneapolis
Departing Guthrie and walking half a block, you enter the Mill City Museum, located in the ruins of the historic Washburn “A” Mill. The museum presents the history and memorabilia of the milling industry, Minneapolis having been for many decades the flour milling capital of the world. It is called “The Most Explosive museum in the World”. Take the Flour Tower tour, an excellent multi-media presentation, showing the mill in action and depicting the mill’s tragic and memorable 1878 explosion that killed 18 workers.
Mill City Museum hours for July and August: Tuesday-Saturday, 10AM to 5PM, and Sunday, Noon -5PM. Closed Monday.
Driving further west:
WALKER ART CENTER SCULPTURE GARDEN, 1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Now celebrating its 25th year, the Sculpture Garden’s magnificent potpourri of sculpture designs is located across the street from Walker Art Center. With more than 8 million visitors since it opened, the Garden is another of Minnesota’s top attractions. The 11-acre site showcases more than 40 works. The most famous is the imposing “Spoon and Cherry” by sculptor Klaus Oldenburg. Pick up a brochure describing all the sculptures and artists inside the Walker’s main entrance on Hennepin Avenue. The Garden is open 24 hours; Walker’s main entrance hours are 11AM- to 5PM; Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.
MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ARTS (MIA), 2400 Third Ave. S. , Minneapolis
The problem with visiting most art museums is that you may not know exactly what to see and how to time your stay. The MIA has the solution. When you walk in, go to the information desk and ask for the brochure, “Highlights of the Collection”. This brochure, “An Hour Long Tour to See the Best of the Best” presents highlights of the many collections, and how to see them in a one-hour visit. Enjoy yourself and let MIA do the selecting!
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 AM-5PM; Thursday 10AM-9 PM; Sunday 11AM-5PM. Closed Monday.
TOUR #2: WEST MINNEAPOLIS FAVORITES
A FEW LAKES, OF COURSE
The west side of Lake of the Isles with its beautiful homes is a good starting point. But the lake wasn’t always desirable property; in fact it was a bit of a swamp. Thanks to the genius of our early Minneapolis parks commissioner, Theodore Wirth, the ugly duckling real estate underwent a swan-like transformation. Next, drive south to Lake Calhoun, where swimming and sailing races provide an idyllic summer setting. The popular “Tin Fish” outdoor restaurant is at the northeast corner. Immediately south is Lake Harriet, another major sailing rendezvous. The remarkable Rose Gardens are just beyond the lake’s northeast corner.
LAKEWOOD CEMETERY, Hennepin Ave. and 36th St., Minneapolis
A tour into a cemetery? Surely you jest! Once the initial shock is passed, your guests will realize that a visit to Lakewood, established in the 1870’s, is not your standard style cemetery. By 1895 the street car brought people to Lakewood, for a modest nickel, to picnic, enjoy the grounds and stroll among sculpture works. Between 1870 and 1930 many prominent sculptors created funeral monuments, mainly for prominent Minnesotans, and this welcome custom continues to the present day.
A brochure providing the location and description of the sculptures is at the administration building office. Cemetery gates are open 7 days a week, including holidays. Summers 8AM-8PM; administration building hours Monday-Friday 8AM-4 30PM. Saturday 8AM-Noon.
COMO-HARRIET STREET CAR, 42nd St. and Queen Av. S., Minneapolis
More nostalgia, this time back to the first half of the 1900’s, the era of electric mass transit. Tom Lowry founded the Twin City Street Car Lines in the 1880’s (initially horse-drawn), and by the early 1900’s had put down over 500 miles of street car tracks throughout the Twin Cities. Today tourists can take an abbreviated trolley ride; the starting point is one block west of Lake Harriet at 42nd and Queen Av. S. The round trip takes 20 minutes, costing $2.00. (Disclosure: At high school during the 1940’s I would buy 6 tokens for $.45. The Como Harriet line was my street car touchstone.)
Hours: 12: 30-8: 30PM, Saturday and Sunday; 1-4PM and 6: 30–8-30PM. Wed; 6:30-8:30PM, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.
TOUR #3 ST. PAUL
COMO ZOO (ANOTHER BIG FAVORITE), 1225 Estabrook Drive, St. Paul
I heartily enjoy the Como Zoo because it is reasonably convenient and offers so many varieties of accessible animals. What a marvelous selection: lions, tigers, the splendid new Gorilla Forest, orangutans, polar bears, giraffes, zebras, flamingos and more, the more specifically referring to my somewhat personal relationship with Sparky, the sea lion that performs at the zoo.
My saga: In the mid-1960’s I ran a public relations firm and was hired by Capp Towers Hotel, 1313 Nicollet Av., (Now Called the Millennium). The hotel had recently put in a top floor bar and swim pool, and wanted publicity. My immediate, and ultimately disastrous, decision was to hire Sparky and his trainer. A trained sea lion is an outstanding performer, so the show was a major publicity coup, including front page coverage of the national show biz publication, “Variety“. But in my enthusiasm I had neglected to consider the Sparky aftermath: He left behind an unwelcome collection of body deposits. The pool had to be closed for three weeks and I was summarily fired. One bright spot: The reason we made “Variety’s” front page was the writer’s decision to highlight Sparky’s “aftermath.”
COMO ZOO HOURS: Open daily, 10AM- 6PM. SUGGESTION: The zoo is very, very popular, so get there at opening.
JAMES J. HILL HOUSE, 240 Summit Av., St Paul
James J. Hill was one of the titanic figures of America’s gilded age. Nicknamed “The Empire Builder”, he developed the Great Northern Railway. His success was reflected in his massive Romanesque 42-room mansion that his family moved into in 1891. It contained 36,000 square feet on five floors including 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, a two story sky-lit art gallery and a reception hall nearly 100 feet long.
Tours run every half hour, 10AM-3:30PM. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday beginning at 1PM. Tours also on Monday and Tuesday at 11AM and 1:30PM.
MINNESOTA HISTORY CENTER, 345 KELLOGG BLVD. W.
The major exhibit this summer is “Minnesota and the Civil War”. Minnesota troops played key roles in two seminal Union victories. At Gettysburg, on July 2nd, 1863, the Minnesota First Regiment was instrumental in stopping the Confederacy charge that became the turning point in the entire Civil War. The Minnesota Fourth Regiment, on July 4th at Vicksburg, Mississippi, also provided a critical role in this major victory that opened up the entire Mississippi River for further Union victories in the south.
The Center is open 10AM-5PM, Wednesday through Saturday; 10AM- 8PM, Tuesday; Noon=5PM, Sunday. Closed Monday.
TOUR #4: FORT SNELLING
I place Fort Snelling in a separate category because, depending on your level of interest, you could spend anywhere from a few hours to all-day. The Fort was built in the 1820’s, so when you enter the time becomes 1826. The soldiers wear the uniforms of that period, carry 1826-era musketry and won’t answer to any post-1826 query. You can also view soldier living quarters, watch period style cooking and laundry preparation. Be sure to visit the hospital and ask the pharmacist about 1826 medical techniques, and his opinion about the radical notion of a young French scientist, Louis Pasteur. Pasteur believes that a surgeon should clean surgical instruments after each surgery, thus reducing subsequent infections. (The pharmacist had read about it in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine.)
The soldiers drill and fire their weapons 5 days a week, Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30AM and 2 30PM; Sunday 2:30PM. The Fort is open 10AM to 5PM, Sunday, Noon-5PM. Closed Monday.
THOSE LEFT OUT I PARTICULARLY REGRET: The Minnesota Zoo’s animals are free-range roamers but it’s a bit of a drive. Mall of America is primarily a shopping experience; the Eloise Butler Flower Garden is challenging to find. In St Paul, I admit that I have never bonded with the Children’s and Minnesota Science Museums but they’re great for kids. And thanks for staying with me all the way.