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Why to Visit Minnesota’s Twin Cities with Kids

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Whenever I visit Minnesota, I am struck by how green, green, green the landscape is. Leafy trees and expanses of lush grass as well as lakes both big and small abound. Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to a myriad of cultural activities like live music and theater plus kid-friendly attractions galore. I spent four years of my childhood in Minnesota before we moved away when I was eight. I returned to visit my big sister every summer before moving back for a few years after college. Then I met a Minnesota boy, got engaged and retreated to the West Coast. Now we’re married and live in San Diego but we make annual treks to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to see our families and revisit where we first fell in love. Here’s why to visit Minnesota’s Twin Cities with kids.

minneapolis sculpture garden spoon and cherry

The famous Spoonbridge & Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Minnesota’s Twin Cities

Each downtown area has its own feel; hilly St. Paul is filled with charming architecture and historic buildings, while Minneapolis is more modern and has a happening nightlife. Both have an extensive system of skyways for workers and shoppers who want to stay warm during the cities’ snowy winters. Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood is youthful and Bohemian, filled with kitschy stores, unique coffee shops, and breakfast joints serving bloody Marys to a somewhat hung-over crowd alongside families munching on eggs and pancakes.

What’s more, a hotel room at a five-star hotel in Downtown Minneapolis in the middle of summer for a family of four is much more affordable than a lot of U.S. vacation destinations.

minnesota lake

Minnesota natives Ryan and Trevor (my nephews) paddling a boat on one of the more than 10,000 lakes in the state

Chain of Lakes (Minneapolis)

For me, no trip to the Twin Cities is complete without a walk around one of the five main lakes near Uptown. Minnesotans love the outdoors and go out of their way to enjoy each and every sunny day their state gives them! As soon as the snow begins to melt, the paths circling the lakes are filled with bicyclists, walkers, skateboarders and rollerbladers. Rent a canoe, paddle boat, bike or other fun stuff from Wheel Fun Rentals. In winter, go here for ice skating fun instead.

Lake Calhoun is probably the most popular (and crowded) but Lake Harriet is my favorite. It’s fun to make a game of choosing which of the gorgeous Victorian mansions that encircle the lake you’d pick as your own. Enjoy free concerts at this lake’s band shell and then grab an ice cream cone from the concession stand June through Labor Day. The best part is the darling Lake Harriet Rose Garden. I always feel like I’ve stumbled across a secret treasure when I find this garden tucked across the street from Lake Harriet. This sweet-smelling park is free to the public and filled with roses of all colors.

lake harriet band shell in minneapolis

Lake Harriet’s band shell is a beautiful place to listen to live music concerts in the summer

Minnesota Zoo (Apple Valley)

As a five-year annual pass holder to the world famous San Diego Zoo, I have pretty high standards for what makes a zoo worthy of a visit. The Minnesota Zoo is one of the best I have ever visited. The verdant exhibits give animals like caribou, moose, and brown bears plenty of space to roam. On a rainy (or snowy) day, stick to the indoor shark and dolphin exhibits or wander through the Tropics Trail.

minnesota zoo splash area

Splash fountains at the Minnesota Zoo keep kids cool on hot summer days

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (Minneapolis)

Children adore the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a grassy park filled with flowers and unusual, modern sculptures. What kid wouldn’t be enthralled by a giant spoon holding a shiny, red cherry?

minneapolis sculpture garden flowers

A flower-filled walkway at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Mall of America (Bloomington)

I used to work 60+ hours per week as a full-time retail clothing store manager and part-time waitress at this massive mall. Believe me; it’s much more fun coming here to shop and play than it is to work! Wear some comfy shoes and plan to walk A LOT. Know that you will not be able to visit all 400 Mall of America stores in one day! There are two huge food courts plus numerous tasty restaurants to choose from. (My favorite is the Italian eatery, Tucci Benucch, with its wide array of pastas that both adults and kids gobble up!) Nickelodeon Universe is a themed amusement park that fills the center of the mall. Promise the kiddies a ride or two for good behavior after shopping, or make a day of it and purchase a wristband for the best all-day savings.

nickelodeon universe ride at mall of america

My daughter, Karissa, with her cousin, Siobhan, aboard a ride at the Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe

Twin Cities Water Parks (Various Locations)

For a place covered in snow nearly half the year, the Twin Cities sure does have its fair share of water parks! Last year we visited Cascade Bay in Eagan with my sister and her family. With three 13-year-olds of varying levels of waterslide bravery, a toddler, a preschooler, and three adults – there were pools, slides, fountains, and a lazy river to keep everyone content. Here’s a list of more than a dozen Minnesota water parks (a few of which are indoors).

minnesota waterpark

Cousins and Auntie Kay-Kay floating down Cascade Bay’s lazy river

The Twin Cities is a beautiful, fun-packed, and affordable choice for a summer getaway! If you want to explore Northern Minnesota, check out these Lake Superior road trip tips.

Which of these attractions would you like to visit in the Twin Cities with kids? Let us know in the comments! 

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Whoa! That hot mama in the swim suit makes me want to travel to Minnesota! Why do I let you be around me with a camera when I am half dressed? Lovely article. I live here and agree with your assessment of the variety of things to do with kids. Our bike ride/skate along the Minnehaha Parkway this weekend is a prime example of a place to enjoy the lush outdoors. We will have to take you to “Sea Salt”, the outdoor fresh seafood place in the Minnehaha Park. Awesome & tasty! Happy Mother’s Day! K

  2. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Karen (aka Auntie Kay-Kay) – Thanks so much for sending along your photo of Lake Harriet. And for “allowing” me to post photos of you in your swimsuit! Can’t wait to visit the you in the Twin Cities again this year!

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