Vacation in the Twin Cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul Adventures

"The cold never bothered me anyway." - quote from Elsa, who is not a real person.


My best friend decided to move from sunny California to cold Minnesota right in the thick of winter. (Well... in early March, but it was still snowing so.....) We had previously made plans to take a trip together in the middle of March, but those plans quickly changed. Instead, I decided to go out to Minnesota for a few days during my vacation week to visit her and see how her move was going. Of course, it was a drastic change, coming from 70 degree Palm Springs weather to 30 degree Minneapolis weather (which was a little warm for them at that time). My friend, Claire, loves the cold weather and she felt right at home. I was happy to see her settling in to her new place and really excited to see what her new hometown was like. We spent the next few days exploring the nearby cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, both in the cold and out of it.

The Food

I really regret not taking very many food pictures... because I did enjoy some rather delicious and unique foods during my stay. Claire introduced me to the Minnesota version of Starbucks: Caribou Coffee. Oh.My.Wow. Ever since I was in college in California, I have been addicted to Starbucks and have a grande iced coffee at least once (sometimes twice) a day. I have also tried other large coffee shop chains such as Dunkin Donuts, Coffee Bean, etc., and many "Mom 'N Pops" along the way; but Caribou takes the cake. My favorite drink was the iced turtle mocha, which is espresso with your choice of either dark, white or milk chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, milk and ice. It was the perfect blend of a coffee taste with sweetness, but not too sweet.

Speaking of sweet... the only food I do have a picture of comes from Nadia Cakes. What's quite interesting about Nadia Cakes is that the bakery originally opened in Palmdale, California, which is just minutes from where Claire grew up in Lancaster. And, just like Claire, the owner of Nadia Cakes relocated to Minnesota, where she opened another bakery. Walking inside Nadia Cakes is like walking inside Kate Spade's closet, but with cupcakes. It's cutesy trendy look makes you feel like you are inside a cupcake: a really classy cupcake. And Nadia Cakes has so many options to choose from... There are regular cupcakes, cheesecake cupcakes, cupcakes with fillings, cakes, ice cream, coffee..... Enough to appease your sweet tooth and then some. Since it was St. Patrick's Day, Claire and I got a half dozen cupcakes and chose all Irish flavors. My favorite was the Sunken Drunken Irishman (pictured below with the little straws) and had a bit of Bailey's cream in the recipe. These little guys did not last very long.


Another unique and mouth-watering experience was that of a Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 Club. Eating in a converted speakeasy is an experience in itself, but eating a burger stuffed with cheese is a game-changer. I tried the Montana Jack, which was a burger stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with Heinz 57, chipotle mayo, shredded lettuce and onion straws. I quickly downed the burger with a cold old fashioned root beer. Aside from the Juicy Lucy, the 5-8 club has interesting options on its menu in general, ranging from a pizza burger to a pork chop torta. Because of the popularity of this spot with locals and visitors alike, you will most likely have a long wait time. Seating is first come, first serve, and staff does not seat you; so if you feel uncomfortable having customers watch you eat and wait for you to finish so they can grab your table, this might not be the place for you. But if you can get through the awkwardness, you will be greatly rewarded with a hot, juicy and cheesy burger. 

The Architecture

Part of my trips involves me just driving around until I find something interesting, then pulling over into a parking lot (or on the side of the road) to take a closer look at said interesting thing. For this particular find, Claire and I actually had a destination in mind: we were driving to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. However, as we exited the freeway, I saw the sunlight catch on the side of a glass window, causing it to almost blind me. I knew I had to stop to see what it was. Claire thought I had turned too soon, so she began trying to reroute me. As soon as I parked, she quickly understood why I made the "early" turn. 

As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, I have many architectural fangirl moments, especially in regards to old churches and schools. What had caught my eye was the sunlight hitting the glass blue cross. I found its color and its formation to be mesmerizing. We walked around the church completely, soaking in its beauty in the sunlight with the fallen snow surrounding it. Upon further research after my trip, I discovered that the church was built in 1916 and was modeled after the Ely Cathedral in England. The glass formation that caught my eye was built in 2006, and actually won an award for outdoor lighting design in the Twin Cities area. 

Another architectural fangirl moment was brought on by our visit to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. The building was open, and we were able to go inside as well as walk around the grounds. Built in 1907, this cathedral is now considered to be a historical landmark. This landmark has also been designated as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul by the Vatican and has a "bond of spiritual affinity" with the tomb of the Apostle Paul in Rome. Because of this spiritual bond, the cathedral receives thousands of visitors annually. 

As you can see, the cathedral is rather large, and when we decided to leave, we just went out the nearest exit. We happened to exit at the rear of the church, facing the parking lot and nearby houses. When we exited, I saw an interesting looking house in the distance, and we made our way towards it. We had stumbled upon the James J. Hill House; a customized stone-cut mansion built for a railroad executive of the 1800s. The mansion was built in 1891 with lavish features such as a two-story art gallery and a children's playroom with a stage for entertainment. Unfortunately, our timing for a visit to the mansion was a tad off, and they were no longer open for tours. That didn't stop me from creeping around the property for a little bit to gaze at the beauty of this beast. 

More historical facts about the mansion and its owners, as well as tour prices and times, can be found by following the link below.

The Art

After a little side trip (as mentioned above), we arrived at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden right before sunset. This allowed us to see the sculptures with almost a spotlight upon them, with the sun naturally highlighting the portions it wanted us to see. 

The sculpture garden had a wide variety of pieces, ranging from a little odd... very thought-provoking.

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a part of the Walker Art Center. The indoor portion of the art center was closed upon our arrival, so we were only able to walk through the garden. The garden is open from 6am until midnight daily and admission is free: parking is paid for by the hour via onsite pay machines.

We crossed the Mississippi River (by bridge, of course) to visit the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. The Museum is located on the University of Minnesota campus, and was designed by the same architect who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. 

A Minneapolis museum would not be complete without a Prince exhibit (photography is not allowed) and it is a must-see. Admission to the museum is free and there is a parking garage directly under the museum that charges an hourly rate but provides easy access via elevator to the exhibits above.

The Mall

Lastly, I will show you where I spent the most time (and money): the Mall of America. Did I just hear angels singing as I typed that? Yes, yes I did. It is that glorious. MOA is a four-story shopping mall including numerous retail stores as well as having its own Nickelodeon theme park, movie theater and aquarium. Luckily for us, we arrived at the start of the Nickelodeon theme park's tenth anniversary celebration and we were able to see a live taping of the Double Dare show with slime action (oh the 90's nostalgia!). 

While in the mall, we rode a terrifying Paul Bunyan themed log ride (not pictured) and screamed like 5 year olds as our log dropped several stories into the water below. (The theme park is enclosed, so there was no risk of us getting pneumonia.) We also went through an extensive mirror maze, in which I kept jumping at my own reflection (bad hair day, don't judge). 

As you can see, the cold did not stop us from adventuring: rather, it seemed to enhance the experience. The crunch of the snow beneath our feet provided a soundtrack to the visit of the sculpture garden ,the gloomy grey sky created the perfect backdrop for the architectural wonders we gazed upon, and walking around in the cold made coming home to a warm house that much more of a comfort. I would love to visit the Twin Cities again in the summer, just to see everything in a different light, but I'm not so much of a cold-weather hater as I was before. Until next time, Minnesota!

Odd and Interesting California Desert Finds: Part I

I may be sounding a little overly presumptuous in naming this "Part I", but I have a long list of other odd and interesting things in the desert that I will be exploring in the near future and I will be wanting to share those things with you guys as well.

I have lived in California for almost seven years now (wow....that's crazy...), and I have been living in a desert area during the entirety of those seven years. As a teenager, I dreamed of going to California, but never did I dream of going to a desert. As an east-coaster, I always thought of California as a place with sunny beaches and big cities... but I didn't think of cacti and tumbleweeds. However, I have come to find solace and tranquility in a desert setting. I see it as a place of freedom and inspiration; a place where you can showcase any thought or idea or passion you may have, and, even if it is not popular among everyone else, it is still appreciated and respected by those around you. This post is a compilation of solo desert adventures I have had within the past year that show just a little bit of the odd and interesting things you can find in the desert.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Desert Hot Springs, CA

Built in 1941 to serve as a museum in addition to an actual home, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was modeled after pueblos used by the Hopi Indian tribe. Its creator, Carbot Yerxa, built the pueblos using recycled materials from the Coachella Valley. It is rumored that he even straightened out used nails he found, only to use them again in his own creation. Cabot is not only famous for building the pueblos, but he is also known for helping to establish the town of Desert Hot Springs.

The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Monday) from 9am until 4pm during the fall, winter and spring (October-May), and is open Wednesday through Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday) from 9am until 1pm during the summer (June through September).

General admission and parking is free. If you are wanting to see more of the interior of the pueblo and learn about the creators of the pueblo museum, you can take a guided tour for $13 per person ($11.00 per person for Seniors, Active Military, and children ages 6-12). Check the website before you go for tour times and any unexpected closings.

Moorten Botanical Gardens

Palm Springs, CA

Chester and Patricia Moorten, a married couple who took up residence in Palm Springs in the 1930’s, created the gardens in 1938. Patricia was a botanist, and shared her love for plants with their only son, Clark, who currently manages the gardens so many years later. The gardens house over 3,000 samples of desert cacti and plants.

During the fall, winter and spring, the gardens are open from 10am until 4pm daily, except Wednesdays. From the first day of summer until the first day of fall, the gardens are open from 9am until 1pm daily, except Wednesdays.

The cost for entry is $5 per person. Children from five to fifteen are $2 per person, and children under five are free.

Salvation Mountain

Niland, CA

In the 1980s, Leonard Knight moved to Slab City and began a project now known as Salvation Mountain. The brightly colored and religiously clad mountain is made of adobe, straw, and over 500,000 gallons of paint.

General admission and parking is free. The website boasts that this attraction is open "from dawn till dusk, 365 days a year". 

Palm Springs Windmills

Palm Springs, CA - Desert Hot Springs, CA

Ahhh…the iconic windmills. You have probably seen these guys in the background of many Coachella Instagram pictures. Technically considered to be “wind turbines” instead of “windmills”, these mechanisms not only have a sleek Palm Springs modernism look to them, but also help us save money on our electricity here. 

You can take a closer look at many of the windmills for free by driving around the Desert Hot Springs area on Varner Road, or stop by the Palm Springs Amtrak Station off the I-10 freeway on exit 120 (take N Indian Canyon Dr. To Palm Springs Station Road). If you want a more in-depth look, there is a company that offers up-close windmill tours for less than $50 per person.

Guardian Lions of Route 66

Amboy, CA

Driving along Route 66, you will find many interesting quirks and oddities. One interesting find I came across on my way to Vegas was a set of two marble lions placed in the desert about 500 feet away from the road. It seems the lions are a stopping point for many visitors, as there were several beads, shot glasses, and other gifts or offerings as well as a notebook with several signatures and stories from these visitors, many of whom traveled from other countries to pass by this site.

There is no official website for the lions, but Atlas Obscura has an article on the lions and directions to their location.

These are just a few oddities found in the California desert that I have personally seen and experienced. If you know of any other quirky and interesting finds, let me know so I can check those out as well. From one adventurer to another: happy hunting!




Free Things to Do in Palm Desert, California

Did someone say free??

Let me tell you: I look for them deals. When someone says "free", I'm the first one in line. Entertainment and exhibits can be costly to see, so when I find a good deal, I feel compelled to share it with the world (after I check it out, of course!)

In this post, you will find an entire day's worth of activities in sunny Palm Desert at no cost. The only thing you will need to pay for is food and drink, and a little bit of sunblock. 


*Note: I recommend bringing enough water for everyone in your group. Even if the day starts out cool, it can get hot very quickly and dehydration is NOT fun.

Palm Springs Art Museum - Palm Desert

This museum has the best of both worlds, as it has both an indoor exhibit as well as an outdoor sculpture garden. The Galen (the interior portion of the museum) currently houses the Lost and Found exhibit, showcasing the artwork of Bob Van Breda. 

*Note: be sure to check the museum website by clicking the "Learn More" link below for more information on what exhibits are showing before you visit.

The outdoor portion, known as the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden, is a welcoming desert oasis. You can follow the blue "water" path throughout the garden to see all ten sculptures.

Both museum admission and ample parking are free.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

The Living Desert is one of my favorite places to visit. The atmosphere is very soothing and calming, unlike mosts zoos you will encounter.

Typically, there is a cost for admission.

I know, I know. I said "free" in the title. So, listen Linda...

If you have a Bank of America debit card/credit card, your admission is FREE the first full weekend of every month. Simply show your card and your ID and BAM you get in for free (they will give you a receipt showing you paid $0). This museum is on the list for Bank of America's "Museums on Us" (free admission to select museums across the country during the first full weekend of every month). Yes, that definitely takes some extra planning, but if you can swing it, it will save you some money. If your plans don't include visiting on a weekend like this and you're fine paying for a ticket, the cost is $19.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids. While planning your trip, be sure to check the Living Desert website via the link above for any special deals or additional discounted days.

The zoo is divided in half, showcasing desert animals and plants from North America and Africa. While North America has the better gardens, Africa has the more beautiful (and interactive) animals.

The zoo has fun sights and activities for all ages. For an additional cost, you can feed the giraffes, ride a camel, ride the carousel, or enter an aviary of beautiful lorikeets. Save money by planning ahead and purchasing a "total adventure package", which includes all four activities for $17.95 per person.

As always, bring water on this activity. You really are walking around in the desert and mostly in direct sunlight and it is very easy to get dehydrated, especially if you are hiking.


Technically considered to be located in Rancho Mirage, this location is a world of its own. The calm and serene gardens provide the perfect backdrop to the historic onsite estate. Known as the "Camp David of the West", the site has included visitors such as seven United States presidents and the British royal family.

While admission to the Sunnylands Center and Garden are free, it can be quite tricky to get a ticket for a tour of the estate. Tickets can be purchased online for the following month starting the 15th of the present month. For example: on March 15th, tickets are released for the month of April. Tickets sell out very quickly. If you are unable to retrieve a ticket and are still intrigued by the estate, you can view a video presentation inside the Sunnylands Center on the estate and it's famous visitors.

Coachella Valley Vista Point

For the best views of the Coachella Vally, take a drive up 74 in Palm Desert (past the Living Desert) until you see a small parking area on your left-hand side. Visiting the site is free, and you may see some big horn sheep along the way.

*Note: this spot can be windy at times.

Bonus Activity: Desert X

Desert X started in the spring of 2017 as a site-specific exhibition and was probably all over your Instagram feed. Everyone from Coachella goers to vacationers to locals went on this scavenger hunt-like art quest to find and photograph these pieces in the desert. Of course I joined in! 

According to the website (link above), Desert X will be back in the spring of 2019. Last year, all art exhibits were free to view. I am assuming it will be the same next year. Check the website for updates before you visit and locations for where to find the art.

Relax and Enjoy the Views

The desert has a beauty all its own. We have the most gorgeous sunsets and breathtaking mountain views. Even just driving to Costco is an adventure!

If you have tried any of these things or have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment below. Thanks, and happy adventuring!