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!