Minnesota: Minneapolis, The Coolest Place on Earth for Families.
Minneapolis may seem an unlikely family destination, yet any place that can host a Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four tournament has got to have some winter draw! Even setting aside the appeal of top-quality sporting events – which may be hard to do for Gophers, Wild, or Timberwolves fans – there’s plenty to keep little (and big) people busy in the Twin Cities, indoors or out.
One size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to family travel. Your best bet when coming to a major metropolitan area is to figure out what everybody likes to do, what you want to expose those innocent blank slates to, how far your want to venture from the city center.
The Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and several other ensembles in town offer concerts designed for fidgety young listeners who wouldn’t sit still for a symphony. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center (and other venues) have drop-in craft and art workshops. There are several performing arts companies – including the world-renown Children’s Theatre Company and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre – that put on shows especially for kids. Whatever you plan, though, plan ahead – these kinds of activities aren’t happening all the time. The cost-conscious may want to check out the bargains of the day at the TCTix booth in City Center.
For culture you can count on, try one of the Cities’ museums. I’ve never heard any kid complain about the Minnesota Children’s Museum or the Science Museum of Minnesota! Each of these St. Paul attractions can keep little hands busy for hours while their parents pick up a few things they didn’t know. The History Center Museum, Bakken Library and Museum of Electricity in Life, Bell Museum of Natural History, Original Baseball Hall of Fame of Minnesota, and Wells Fargo History Museum, while a bit more specialized, all have great appeal too. For these, make sure you gear your visits around interests and attention spans.
Once you’ve had enough of life’s higher pleasures, head down to Bloomington’s Mall of America -- it not only offers one stop for shopping, there are even scheduled junkets for that purpose from Japan – there’s so much else in the mall that it’s Minnesota’s top destination. Take, for instance, Knott’s Camp Snoopy, the 7-acre sky-lit amusement park in the middle of the mall, with rides and attractions from serious roller coasters to the mildest of kiddie rides.
Or would they prefer to take a moving sidewalk through a 300’ glass tunnel through a million gallons of salt water, surrounded by all sorts of sharks, tropical fish, and turtles? Or to pet a velvety-smooth ray as it swims past in the touch tank? They can at Underwater Adventures.
Older kids may want to take a spin in a virtual reality racecar at the NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway. And all ages will get a kick out of the LEGO® Imagination Center, complete with a free play area and (of course) plenty of LEGO products for purchase.
Suburban malls – and there are lots of them, including one (Southdale) reputed to be the country’s oldest – aren’t the only places to spend a day indoors.
Just park in a downtown ramp, walk into attached edifice, and voila! Most of Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s downtown buildings (including hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas) are connected by literally miles of walkways. If you (or your kids) have never experienced a skyway system before, it’s worth it just for the experience. Like something out of a sci-fi fantasy movie, in which there is no atmosphere outside -- except that this is our reality, remember, it can get down to about –25°F or so.
You’ll have to cross a couple of streets to get to The Depot, a restored Milwaukee Road shed that Marriott turned into an indoor hotel/ice rink/waterpark complex. The rink and waterpark hours are determined partially by hotel occupancy, so call over to make sure they’re available. Then strap on some skates (rentals available) or put on your bathing suites, and have some fun!
Suburban Shoreview also boasts an indoor waterpark (Tropics), while Edina boasts an entire 1-acre indoor park (Edinborough) complete with swimming pool, ice rink, and a playground. Both are open most of the time you’re likely to want be there.
For more Twin Cities under glass head over to the Como Park Conservatory, a 1915 domed botanical garden in St. Paul’s huge Como Park. It’s a refreshing burst of life and color in the middle of winter. While you’re there, walk next-door to the free Como Zoo. Or if the park is white, drive over to the golf course where you can rent skis for a tour around the park or try the convenient bunny slopes.
X-country skiing is available at lots of other parks throughout the metro area too, and many of these also have some hills available for sledding and tubing (especially if you have your own equipment). Bloomington’s Hyland Park has ski lifts and rents downhill equipment, and Minneapolis’ Worth Park rents tubes to use on their dedicated tubing hill complete with rope tow. Keep in mind, though, that for anything significant you’ll have to head out of town to Afton Alps (in Hastings, with a 350’ vertical drop) or Spirit Mountain (Duluth, 700’).
For family vacation planning call 1-888-676-MPLS (6757) or www.minneapolis-kids.com