Finding the best things the Twin Cities have to offer - for pennies!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Stone Arch Bridge

The Stone Arch Bridge is a classic Minneapolis fixture. It connects downtown to the University of Minnesota and St. Anthony Main side of things. It is the site of the Stone Arch Festival as well as a great venue to view the many summer fireworks shows from.

I highly suggest visiting it for several reasons.

1. I can’t begin to express how many great photos you can take from it. The skyline is gorgeous from almost any location on the bridge and only gets better as the sun sets. Things you can see from the bridge: Downtown, St. Anthony Main, the St. Anthony Falls, the University of Minnesota, and a bit of Northeast. (The Stone Arch Bridge is also featured in many professional photographs, like engagement photos.)

2. If you’re an avid runner, rollerblader, biker or walker, the bridge is a dedicated bike and pedestrian path. You can continue on the West River Road paths or the various bike lanes that run throughout Northeast and the University area.

3. The Stone Arch Bridge is highly historical and has participated in Minneapolis’ history. It used to be a railroad bridge – railroads were and still are very active in this area of the Midwest. It is also included on the list of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

The Specs:

- The parking situation: There is a pay parking lot on the downtown end of the bridge. On the St. Athony Main side, there is an abundance of street parking (View the post on St. Anthony Main for more parking information.).

- Great 360 degree views!

- All lovers of outdoor sports will be able to utilize it in some way.

*Photos to come!*

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Foodie Day!

Even though I'm not a self-proclaimed foodie, it's fun to have a list of cool restaurants, cafes, and bars to go to if the mood strikes.

Today, I'm reviewing Rustica. It's located in Calhoun Village on West Lake Street in Minneapolis. Since this is my neighborhood, I've been meaning to try it for some time - I love all things bakery and all things European.

At first impression, it's a small, simple bakery with a lot of bread and a fair amount of pastry variety. Being the chocoholic I am, I chose the chocolate croissant. One word to describe? Unbelievable. I could have sworn I was in a French boulangerie! The croissant was crispy and buttery on the outside and perfectly chewy on the inside. There was just enough chocolate to satisfy the biggest sweet tooth but not enough to cover up the pastry enveloping it. Rating? Five million stars.

Of course, no breakfast is complete without coffee for me. Their coffee menu perplexed me because they don't just have carafes of coffee to pour from. They brew each cup individually when you order. I like to think of myself as a coffee connoisseur, but my coffee costing more than my croissant? I think not. I ordered coffee that was a medium roast from Brazil. My thoughts: maybe there is something to this made-to-order coffee. It wasn't burnt tasting, like the coffee you'd find sitting in carafes for hours. The blend was smooth too - no acidity. Verdict? While this won't be a daily habit, I'll definitely return on special occasions (or Fridays... or Mondays...) for a great cup of coffee.

The Specs:
- A great place near Lake Calhoun for pastries and coffee!
- Local bakery - not a chain.
- Everything made on site. You can even see it being done through the front windows!
- Really helpful, friendly and efficient staff.
- Two words: chocolate croissant. :-)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

St Anthony Main

Thanks to a suggestion from my good friend Eric, the next place we'll visit is St. Anthony Main. It's located across the river from downtown Minneapolis but is no less amazing.

Along with the many restaurants and small shops that call Main Street home, there are great views of the skyline and the West River Parkway. Visitors can walk out onto an island in the Mississippi (this park is officially called the Hennepin Island Park). Night shots of the city are my favorite from this spot.

A quick review of some of the businesses at St. Anthony Main:
- St. Anthony Main Theatre: A somewhat vintage movie theatre that shows new, and sometimes, classic movies. Favorite part about this place? The student movie ticket prices! $6 (even on weekends and nights) if you flash them your ID.

- Tugg's Tavern: This is home of some great burgers. But bring your appetite - the stuffed ones are huge! (I suggest the Tuggburger or the Saloon Burger.) Tugg's also has a great deck that looks out onto the river. Sip some of their signature strawberry lemonade and relax!

- Vic's Dining: Vic's is a swanky place to enjoy drinks or dinner. They have live music every weekend too! The bar is stocked with a great wine list. (It's one of the few places I've found that offers champagne splits.) Vic's has an outdoor terrace as well.

- Aster Cafe: Hands down, this is my favorite place on Main Street. The inside reminds me of a provincial French cafe, while the outdoor seating area reminds me of an Italian piazza cafe. The menu is simple and they even offer glasses of wine. I haven't been back since it's reopened under new management, but I can't wait to get back now that it's summer in Minneapolis. HIGHLY recommend!!

- Pracna: This is the only place at St Anthony Main I haven't been yet. It's known to be more on the expensive side, but well worth it. The few things I do know about it: I follow Pracna on Twitter and their tweets are incredibly amusing. They interact well with their customers AND have drink specials all the time!! Also, one night after a movie, a friend and I stopped in to use their bathroom (classy, I know) and their waiters were just the nicest people! We obviously weren't coming to drop coin in any of their pockets, yet they told us where to find the facilities. And with humor too, I might add. Even if the restaurant reviews were horrible (which they aren't), I'd go there because of their Twitter feed and their staff.

The Specs:
- With a great location and and an even better parking situation, why wouldn't you go?! (There's a parking ramp, which most of the businesses will validate for. There's also a parking lot [very reasonable], metered street parking, or my personal favorite, free street parking across the street at 3rd Ave and 4th St.)
- So many festivals happen in this area: The Stone Arch Art Festival, Oktoberfest, July 4th festivities, etc.
- Carriage rides! The Hitching Company runs rides all summer in two loops: the Downtown Loop and the St. Anthony Main Loop. Note: if you make reservations, you can schedule a carriage ride all year round.
- Mobile Entertainment leads Segway tours from St. Anthony Main. See the city on these super cool two-wheeled wonders!

Lakewood Cemetery

Going to a cemetery to "sightsee" is debatable. It can be seen as disrespectful of those who have gone before us or just plain morbid. In my eyes, seeing gravestones is interesting because it's a piece of history. I like to read the inscriptions and marvel at the age of the stones.

The Lakewood Cemetery is a massive piece of property situated between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. There are stones from the 1800's nestled beside more modern ones. It's easily accessible from Hennepin Avenue, where the main gate is. Biking is prohibited, as is photography. (In lieu of my own photos, I've used some from the Lakewood Cemetery website.)

The first thing that attracted me to this place was the chapel. It's said to be the first piece of Byzantine architecture in the United States. Generally, it's reserved for weddings and funerals, but during business hours, the staff at the Administration Building will be happy to open it for you. I didn't go in it, but from the photos in the downloadable guide, it looks to be unreal.

The Specs:
- Etiquette is VERY important to adhere to. Go to and read the rules before going. I can't stress this enough. It's easy to forget that this isn't just a cool place, but a sacred burial site for many too.
- Parking along the roads is allowed, as long as it's away from open sites or processions.
- The Administration Building, where all kinds of information on Lakewood Cemetery can be found, has different hours than the cemetery grounds itself.

Falling for Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls is one of the "must see" places in the Twin Cities. It's in every guidebook and most of the native Minnesotans rave about it. As a non-native, I needed to see this place first hand. What did I expect? A freaking waterfall, and not much else.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I saw the falls first from the river flats and then walked up the other side to see the falls from the top. Although both were great, I enjoyed the falls from the bottom.

The Specs:
- Parking is E-A-S-Y! I suggest parking across Hiawatha Avenue on the street and crossing over to Minnehaha Park. Before arriving at the waterfall itself, you'll get to see the John H Stevens house (He's a cool guy - he was the first settler to Minneapolis. Kudos, buddy!) and a little garden area with an arbor.
- If you choose not to drive, you can get there on bike by the Grand Rounds bike path or the light rail, which stops right at the entrance to the park.
- Take the stairs all the way to the bottom of the park. It's designed like something you'd see in Germany and there are better photo ops of the waterfall from the bottom.
- Stay a bit! I haven't tried it yet, but the Sea Salt Eatery near the top of Minnehaha Falls is supposed to be superb - and inexpensive!
- There are bike rentals - and even the kind that two or four people can ride. Prices range from $8/hr for mountain bikes to $27/hr for that four person "surrey" I was talking about.
- Admission is free, of course :-)

An Enchanted Forest in the City

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary is truly magical. Walk through the gate and you're immersed into a deciduous forest, filled with birds, flowers and animals. I half expected characters out of Beatrix Potter books to pop out at any moment!

The Specs:
- The sanctuary is located in Theodore Wirth Park, which is minutes from downtown or uptown Minneapolis.
- Admission is free, save a few quarters for parking if you're driving.
- Also accessible by bike paths.
- Home of the Minnesota state flower, the Ladyslipper! I've seen pictures but never had the opportunity to see one in person. Very geeky of me to be excited, but I'm trying to learn as much about my new home state as I can!
- Bring mosquito repellant and dress appropriately. I didn't and came out of this experience with mosquito bites everywhere and dirty feet (from NOT wearing good shoes).
- Walk the entire park. Totally worth it and doesn't take long at all. There's a lowland portion (where the ladyslippers and goldenrod grow) and then a hilly part that makes you think you're in the wild.

The Walker's Secret Room

Like many, I've visited the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden countless times, but I have never come across this hidden outdoor room. It is located in the grassy knoll directly behind the Walker Art Center, across the street from the sculpture garden.

The Specs:
- Admission is free because this exhibit is part of the Sculpture Garden.
- Parking is a pain. I suggest biking (there are bike racks near the greenhouse), bussing (a bunch of routes stop right at the Walker), or parking somewhere in the neighborhoods around Loring Park.
- A day that's sunny and has a cumulus cloud-filled sky is the best time to go. There weren't many clouds in the sky on the day I went (see photos), so the photos didn't turn out quite as I had hoped.
- While it's an intimate venue, don't try any funny stuff. There are security cameras mounted in the corners. ;-)
- Stop by the see the Spoon and Cherry while you're at it!