We recently attended a wedding reception in St. Paul and, being inclined to take any excuse to travel we can find, stuck around for a few extra days, through July 4th, to explore what the Twin Cities has to offer. We were very pleasantly surprised. The area has plenty to offer for families with kids of all ages, and is a great place to spend several days.
First, I have a confession to make: we planned the trip in advance, and left little up to chance or spontaneity. As much as we as a family cherish our spontaneous and never-plan-things-out side, planning things out actually helped us enjoy our time a little better. It wasn’t so much that we sat down with a schedule and filled in all the time slots. It was more like we sifted through the loose assemblage of things we wanted to do, and the pieces kind of fit themselves together. We managed to do everything we wanted to do, and, even though Judah suffered from far fewer naps than he was accustomed to, everything went pretty smoothly. Perhaps this should act as some sort of model for our future travels.
Then again, nah.
Anyway, we didn’t know what to expect from the cities. Minneapolis (or, as Shiloh calls it, Mini Air Police) doesn’t exactly scream “world-class destination”. In fact, all I really knew about the area before we went there was that 1) I wouldn’t be caught dead there in the winter (well, actually, I would be caught dead there, because if I went there in the winter, I would die from frozen blood or something), and 2) The Mall of America is a place that is there. But the more time we spent there, the more impressed we became. It is a very kid-friendly place, and has some absolutely beautiful parks, and great amenities.
Our foray into “planning” was not flawless, however, as was proved when we rolled up to the Enterprise rental desk with no reservation. We asked for a mid-sized car, and the only thing they had available was a pickup truck, which they offered us at the same price as a mid-size. Okay then. I guess we’ll just get the F-150. It was actually pretty nice though. Big, spacious cab.
We stayed at the Springhill Suites in Eagan, which turned out to be a pretty great spot. It wasn’t too far out of the way, and had some nice amenities close by. On the map, it looks like an odd place to stay, but it turned out to suit us nicely.
The day after we arrived, we headed to the Mall of America first. Being the largest mall in the country, and featuring an indoor theme park, we had anticipated spending a fair bit of time there, which was precisely what we did. We spent half of day 1 there (the reception we came for was in the evening), and almost the entire second day there as well. Read here for a more thorough writeup of our time in the Mall.
The wedding reception was held at a brewery in St. Paul called Bad Weather Brewing Company, a quaint, hipster-friendly establishment just outside of downtown. The bride and groom rented out the function room and had a Mexican food truck on hand. It was all very informal, and a ton of fun to catch up with them, and meet a few other people we used to know and many more we didn’t. Shiloh and Judah were the only kids there, and were showered with attention and “so cuuuuuute!” comments from all angles. And, I’m proud to say, my baby girl stole the show at one point. The mic was going around for brief speeches and thank yous, and it ended up in Shiloh’s hands.
Me: “Shiloh, do you want to say something?”
Shiloh: (brief nervous pause) “. . . Daddy, I love you!”
Literally everybody in the Twin Cities: “Awwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Totally unprompted and straight from the heart. That’s my girl.
The next day we had our eyes on the Minnesota Zoo. It was certainly a well-run zoo, with quality exhibits. The main detractor for us was the fact that the zoo can really only use its vast outdoor space to house animals that can survive the winter. That limits their options quite a bit. But what they did have outdoors was great, and the tropical exhibits they had indoors were top notch. Read here for more on our time in the zoo.
Before we went back to the mall the day before, we stopped by a park near our hotel to let the kids play for a bit, and we noticed they were setting up some kind of carnival in the field there. We looked it up, and the carnival was scheduled for July 3rd and 4th, so after we finished at the zoo, we headed to the festivities. It was a pretty decent carnival, with standard carnival/state fair activities. Shiloh won a prize at a fishing game, which amounted to a tiny stuffed dog and a cheap plastic wand, all for the low, low price of $5. But she was happy at least. I had my eye on a food I had never tried before: cheese curds. I do love cheese and deep-fried stuff, so I shelled out a cool $7 for a small tray of them, only to find out it was nothing more than fried mozzarella chunks. It was disappointing. I was all excited for a genuine cultural experience. I wanted to try your weird midwestern cheese food. I still don’t know what cheese curds are, but I know they ain’t mozzarella.
The next day was the 4th of July. Shiloh was terribly excited about our country’s birthday, and kept assuming there would be cake at some point. I had to burst her bubble repeatedly that there would be no cake. But we did have bomb pops. Trish had bought a matching set of dresses for herself and Shiloh that was covered in bomb pops, and she was on a mission to eat some with the dresses on for a photo op.
The last main place we wanted to visit was Minneapolis’s lake parks. We headed down to Minnehaha Regional Park to see the famous waterfall in the middle of the city (that freezes solid every winter. Nope.). Read here for more on our time there. Suffice it to say, it was fun, and involved quad bikes, bomb pops, and broken rules.
We headed back to the hotel for showers and naps for the kids to get them as well-rested as we could before heading downtown for fireworks. We tried to time our arrival well, and it mostly worked out. By the time we got there, we found a parking deck nearby and joined the rivers of people flowing down towards the Mississippi. Trish got in line behind a thousand other people to get some snacks for us, while we watched a live band. Once she had food, we began the hunt for a spot among the packed crowds to sit and watch. Luckily (miraculously?) we found about one square yard of unclaimed grass next to a sidewalk, and settled in for the next hour or so while we waited for the ‘works to start. Both kids were now up well past their bedtimes, and were waddling around like alcoholics – barely able to stand up straight, giggling, and snacking on deep-fried junk food.
The fireworks were right in front of us. Judah was immediately entranced, and stared blankly for a good eight to ten minutes before he got bored and snacked some more. Shiloh was enthralled the whole way through. They lasted a full fifteen minutes, and it was an impressive spectacle. Well done Mini Air Police.
We flew out early the next morning. All in all, it was a surprisingly good trip to a place we would not have otherwise considered a destination unto itself. We would gladly go back.