If you've been following Mike and my City Search, you'll remember me having Erika from Portland a week or so ago tell us all about her lovely city in attempt to help this decision process. Today, I have the lovely Amy of Bluebird Rising here to tell us all about St. Paul, Minnesota and boy, is she thorough :] Thanks, Amy, in advance for such an informative post! This is oh-so helpful! Now let me hand the floor over to Amy so we can go on a little tour of her awesome city!
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There is so much to tell you about Saint Paul, I don’t even know where to start. I could tell you that our employment is solid, with more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state. Or that, despite the fact we deal with every kind of weather, we are pretty darn happy anyways. 52% of Saint Paul is under the age of 35, so the city caters to young adults who are on the go, and chances are, “on the go” means pedaling. But most importantly, we make sure to get out and enjoy every single season to the fullest.
But you could have done all this research on your own. So my job, as a born and raised Saint Paul lover, is to give you the insider scoop on what you need to know, where you need to be, and how to enjoy the first year in your new city, one season at a time.
Side note: In keeping with your interest of Saint Paul specifically, most things I mentioned are located within the city. That being said, the “Twin Cities” is somewhat of a package deal at times, and there were some things too great (ahem…..art and craft fairs galore) in Minneapolis that simply could not go unmentioned, so they have also been included. All items mentioned that are located in Minneapolis are marked with an *
Winter (December, January and February)
I can’t lie. Winter in Minnesota will be cold. While not quite the frozen tundra that we are made out to be, you will have to step up your game if you think that a cute down vest and fingerless gloves will get you through the season, because they won’t. They will get you to about mid-December. That being said, if you are willing to bundle up and rock some fuzzy mittens, I promise that you will stay warm enough to enjoy yourself just fine. To jump right in to winter, you need to know about:
The day after Thanksgiving, Rice Park outdoor skating rink opens for the season in downtown, and is a gorgeous way to work off the turkey calories and see our very own version of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. It is also a great time to hit the slopes with your snowboards. For the best spot in town, you only need to drive 20 minutes south to Afton Alps for all day snowboarding, skiing and tubing.
When you want to stay warm inside but still appreciate the season, go see the Wild play at the Xcel Energy Center, or the incredibly awesome Pond Hockey Championships* in January. Even if hockey is not usually your thing, remember that a good Minnesotan never passes up hockey tickets, and I promise that at the very least you will enjoy how psychotic the rest of us get. In January, make your way to the Winter Carnival for parades, the most amazing ice palace and ice sculpting competition you will ever see, and a city-wide scavenger hunt with a cash prize that people seriously go nuts trying to win.
If by this time you are sick of snow and ice, some uncommon indoor activities that I highly recommend are Hamline University’s 24 Hour Play Project, where students have 24 hours to write, rehearse and perform their plays, or head over to the Landmark Center for their museum and a consistent rotation of exhibits, movies, concerts. And of course, with all this time you spend in downtown, you cannot miss an awesome Italian meal at either Cossetta’s or Mancini’s. In fact, you should probably do both. Just to be safe.
Spring (March, April, and May)
You will know the exact day when Minnesotans will have decided that yes, today is the first day of spring, because it will be 40 and sunny, and people will respond by wearing sandals and/or shorts, driving with their windows down, and permanently smiling for no good reason. We love our winter, we do. But we are surprised every year how relieved we are to move on to the spring. The first item of excitement in spring is Saint Patrick’s Day, which you can see we are already counting down to. Saint Paul is home to many proud Irish, and the party is all day long, so you will have plenty of time after the parade to hit McGovern’s, Dubliner (my personal favorite), O’Gara’s and The Liffey for outdoor tents, music, contests and beer. Also, in honor of the Irish, make it a point to swing over to Minneapolis in March for a Jameson on the rocks at The Local*, the bar that has sold the most Irish whiskey in the world for four straight years. Then, head to the back of the bar for some quality time in the Kissing Room. Trust me. It’s tradition, after all
Now, with all this drinking you are going to need to eat, and you better learn quickly what a Jucy/Juicy Lucy is because nothing pairs better with a beer than a good burger. All locals have an opinion on this controversy; the debate is one of the rare times you will see “Minnesota Nice” go out the window. (And, for the record, it’s a Jucy Lucy if you ask me.) With all the varieties out there, I will save you time and tell you to try and focus on the Blucy from Blue Door Pub, and the Paul Molitor from the Nook, which is directly across the street from the field where our good old boy Joe Mauer played some high school ball.
Minnesotans are also huge fans of local music, which you cannot ignore while you are here. Shows at the Turf Club are one of the best insider ways to learn about new talent in a not so typical environment. Also, make your way over to Minneapolis for some shows at First Ave/7th Street Entry*, which has been considered one of ten greatest venues of all time, and has both local shows and famous headliners in a much more intimate setting than a typical concert. Since you are already in Minneapolis, you have to stop by Moto-i*, the first sake brewery outside of Japan for a drink or two, pretty much just so you can say that you did. Then, walk around the Lyn-Lake* neighborhood for amazing little craft stores, boutiques and hole-in-the-wall shops, or come down for the street fest bike rally in May.
If you just can’t get enough of live performances but want to expand outside of music, check out the Artist’s Quarter Slam Poetry the first Monday of every month. You’re guaranteed a good show, since you will be in the home of the two time 2009 and 2010 national champions!
Saint Paul is also home to a great farmers market. While items are available year round, things really pick up in May and stay strong through October. Wandering between all the local booths is a great way to stir up creativity for your grocery list.
And finally, my favorite sign that that summer is around the corner: Art-A Whirl* in NE. I promise you, which ever day you go, you will be back the next day to see and buy even more.
Summer (June, July and August)
Minnesotans get out and enjoy every sunny day we get, and we plan dozens of fairs and festivals to best make use of the summer months. The two you cannot miss are 1) Grand Old Day, and while you are in the area you might as well stop at Sweeney’s (for the patio) and the Muddy Pig (to seriously expand your beer knowledge). Also, check out the 2) Basilica Block Party* for good music that raises money for local charity.
The best creative events of the season is the Uptown Art Fair*, and the Fringe Festival* which are both a great way to showcase Minnesota’s artistic talent and are impressively well attended.
We also make the most of summer months on the baseball field. Head over to Target Field* to see an amazingly beautiful view of the skyline (bonus points for an evening game) and catch a tan. And even if you are thinking that baseball is not really your thing, at least go to Midway Stadium to see a minor league Saints game. Honestly, I have taken people who have said that they hated baseball to Midway, and after the game they wanted to go back! I can’t explain what it is about the place, but it will be well worth your time.
Since I’m sure your dog will want a piece of the warm weather as well, head over to Arlington Park where the entire area is leash free. Also, check out this comprehensive list of dog friendly places to stop and grab a meal after a long afternoon of playing.
Our “Great Minnesota Get Together,” a.k.a. the State Fair, is one of the most attended in the nation, and worth going to for some of the best people watching you will come across all year. Try the Korean BBQ tacos and the stuffed French Toast tots. And you better believe we buy those Sweet Martha cookies by the bucket.
Fall (September, October, November)
Fall is easily the most beautiful season in the state, and while is still warm enough to enjoy it thoroughly, I would send you biking on the Gateway Trail, which you can hop on right in Saint Paul. I love that it makes you feel like you are miles outside of the city, and that you end just north of Stillwater, which is a cute little city on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border great for an afternoon out or even a night away.
For getting in the Halloween spirit, check out the Wabasha Street Caves for the Caves and Graves Tour. (Or learning about the gangster hideouts that are hidden in the bluffs, or for learning swing dancing on Thursday nights.) Also Halloween related, Minneapolis is the home of the original Zombie Pub Crawl, which takes place in the West Bank neighborhood of the University of Minnesota and is always a good time.
Also in the fall, take advantage of all the hustle and bustle that 52,000 students create at the U of M campus, when the students are still somewhat excited to be there. A night at the Kitty Kat Klub* or The Varsity doesn’t even feel like you are on a college campus, and it’s a beautifully artsy place to spend any kind of night out.
I think the prettiest part of Saint Paul in the fall is Lowertown, a historic 18 block area on the river with the largest concentration of working artists in the Midwest, so head out for a last final fall day and check out everything quirky the area has to offer. If you end up hungry, walk a bit to the north and order the house pancakes at Mickey’s Diner, because not much else is more Minnesotan than that.
This completes a full year of Saint Paul experiences! And rest assured, if you ever need more areas of the city to explore or local things to try, taking care of that is super easy. You’ll want to go to Nina’s, the best place ever for a latte, grab the City Pages and Vita.mn from the front entry way and make your own list of how to take the city by storm.
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Thanks again, Amy! This has been so helpful and successfully made me want to hop in my car and come visit for a weekend, week, heck, maybe a month! If you liked this post and are now St. Paul obsessed like my, hop over to Amy's blog here and read some of her other posts!