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Minneapolis

minneapolis stone arch bridge Though not technically in Minneapolis, the Mall of America is, for many travelers, the focal point of a Minneapolis vacation. (The mall is located in Bloomington, a 20-minute drive outside the city.) The mall is most famous for its mind-boggling girth. It's the country's largest shopping and entertainment complex, housing more than 500 stores within a 4.2 million-square-foot expanse. Those who aren't inclined to test the boundaries of their credit limits will find plenty of attractions within the mall that have little to do with shopping: an amusement park, an aquarium, a 3-D movie theater, a mini-golf course and a comedy club, to name a few. Plus, getting to the mall is child's play. Metro Transit, Minneapolis' light rail system, runs from the airport (and numerous points in the city) straight to the mall for just a few dollars each way.

Minneapolis' fascinating history as the 19th century's "Flour Milling Capital of the World" is brought to life in the Mill City Museum, an attraction built from the ruins of an old flour mill that exploded in 1874. Mill City visitors will learn the story of the famous flare-up (flour dust is more combustible than you might expect), as well as the history behind Minneapolis' beautiful Riverfront District, where Mill City is located. The museum features the Ruin Courtyard, a lovely enclave set amidst the crumbling walls of the 19th-century mill, where concerts and other events take place on evenings and weekends.

The World's Weirdest Museums

You know that iconic Minneapolis photo of the big-as-a-car cherry atop the massive spoon? You can come face to face with the real thing at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. "Spoonbridge and Cherry" by Claes Oldenburg is the focal point of the outdoor museum, which houses more than 40 works of art within 11 acres of gorgeous gardens. (Admission is free.) The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is part of the Walker Art Center, which features several modern and contemporary art galleries. A range of exciting happenings fills the Walker Art Center's calendar of events, so we recommend taking a look at what's going on when you're in town if you're planning a visit to the museum. Concerts, craft workshops, dance performances, film screenings, lectures, special tours and other events are offered on a regular basis.

Pretty river views, lush hiking trails and a cascading waterfall draw nature enthusiasts to Minnehaha Park on pleasant days. The park offers a volleyball court, an off-leash dog park, biking paths, hiking trails, picnic areas, sculpture gardens and playgrounds for children. A seafood restaurant, Sea Salt Eatery, which serves cold oysters, ice cream and frosty beer, is open seasonally. Rent a bike for the day at Wheel Fun Rentals, located within the park, and hit Minnehaha's picturesque trails. The highlight of the park is Minnehaha Falls, a gorgeous 53-foot waterfall on Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Minnehaha Falls is certainly a pretty sight, but it's got nothing on St. Anthony Falls -- the only major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi. The waterfall is the main attraction in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, a scenic section of the Riverfront District. The best way to see the sights by the river? Walk the 1.8-mile St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, which loops around the falls -- as well as directly over them on the Stone Arch Bridge. The trail provides stunning views of the Mississippi and passes near historic homes and factories, as well as several tree-lined riverfront parks.

Less Traveled National Parks

Not far from the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail sits the Ard Godfrey House, the oldest frame house still standing in Minneapolis. The house, which was constructed in 1849, has been fully restored and is outfitted with authentic 19th-century period decor and furniture. Visitors can stop by for a free tour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons during summer months. (Private tours for groups of 10 or more people are available year round.)

With more than 22 shining lakes within city limits (and dozens more outside the metropolis), Minneapolis offers miles and miles of shoreline. (In fact, one could argue that Minneapolis is a "beach town.") The most popular spot to enjoy Minneapolis' lakes is the Chain of Lakes, a residential community that encompasses five wide city lakes: Cedar Lake, Brownie Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. An extensive range of aquatic activities is on offer in the Chain of Lakes, including swimming, sunbathing on lakeside beaches, volleyball, water sports and, during the winter, ice skating and hockey. The whole place is connected by 13 miles of walking and biking trails. And it's convenient to get there, too. The trip from downtown Minneapolis to the Chain of Lakes neighborhood takes just 10 minutes by car.

Catch a ballgame at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, or take a behind-the-scenes tour of the popular open-air stadium. Located in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, Target Field offers guided tours on game days and non-game days during the season. Tours taking place on non-game days feature access to exclusive areas like the dugout and clubhouse seating, whereas game-day tours are more limited. Getting to the stadium is simple; there's a Metro Transit stop right in front of it.

Admission is free at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a massive museum where an art lover could easily while away a day or two. Collections in the museum, which span roughly 5,000 years of history, range from contemporary art to photography to textiles.

In a city that takes theater quite seriously, a traveler would be remiss to forgo a visit to a theater venue -- even if he or she has no interest in sitting through a show. The Guthrie Theater is an excellent place to catch a performance, but the venue is a popular spot for just, well, hanging out as well. There's a bar, a store, a restaurant, a cafe and a series of comfortable lounges where travelers armed with laptops can hook up to free Wi-Fi (and avoid those pricey hotel Internet fees), or take in absolutely amazing views of the Mississippi. (In this writer's opinion, the views alone make Guthrie a must-visit.) Various tours of the theater are available, including backstage tours, architecture tours and costume tours. And, of course, there are the shows. If you're interested in tickets, check GuthrieTheater.org for schedules and prices.
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