The Gang’s All Here: Family Fun in the Twin Cities
By Ellie M. Bayrd and Amanda Fretheim Gates
With amusement parks, ice cream shops, learning centers and outdoor activities, the Twin Cities is filled with fun for the whole family.
Family fun often starts at Mall of America. It's the state's biggest attraction and filled to the brim with excitement. Start at the center of the mall in the nation's largest indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe. At the only Nick-themed park, thrilling coasters and silly rides for youngsters entertain. Kids who tune into SpongeBob, The Naked Brothers Band or iCarly will find the more than 30 rides, and several costumed characters, in this seven-acre park very familiar.
But that's not all. Just inside the park sits the American Girl store experience, featuring a café and doll hair salon. And on the east side of the mall, there's the new Sea Life Aquarium, where visitors wind through an enormous aquarium featuring 5,000 sea creatures. New additions to the aquarium include two green sea turtles, an interactive rock pool, a jellyfish exhibit, and more. The mall also entertains with Moose Mountain Adventure golf, the Amazing Mirror Maze, A.C.E.S. Flight Simulation and Theatres Mall of America. Make time to play in between stops at the mall's more than 520 shops.
As of last summer, the Midwest's largest amusement park, Valleyfair, now offers visitors Planet Snoopy—a section built just for the little tykes. Following $9 million in renovations, this section of the park features about 15 Peanuts-themed rides, including six all-new rides. (Fun fact: Snoopy's creator, the late Charles Schulz, was a Minnesota native.) In the rest of the 90-acre park, visitors enjoy nearly 70 rides, including several coasters for thrill seekers. One recent addition that leaves visitors smiling is the Breakers Bay wave pool in Soak City water park—the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day. If that's not enough, try a trip to Challenge Park, which includes adventure golf, go-karts, bumper boats and more, and makes for a great stop for the teens in your life.
For more water park fun (on a rainy day, perhaps), there's Water Park of America—which is home to the largest indoor water park in the country—in Bloomington, just across from Mall of America. Take a trip down its 10-story family raft ride, then catch a few good sets on Minnesota's only Flow Rider Surf Simulator. In the heart of downtown, the Minneapolis Depot Water Park is where you find fun and three stories of water slides.
Water adventures continue on the Mississippi River, which flows through both Minneapolis and St. Paul. There's no better way to know the river than by floating on it. Padelford Riverboats take visitors from St. Paul's Harriet Island and up toward Minneapolis with historical narration. Paradise Charter Cruises depart Minneapolis from Boom Island. Public narrated cruises on the Minneapolis Queen paddlewheeler take riders through St. Anthony Fall's two locks, and past views of the Minneapolis skyline and the new 35W bridge. Experience the largest river system in North America from the state where it all begins.
Families also love the hands-on museums here, like the Minnesota Children's Museum and Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. The Children's Museum is perfect for ages up to 10, has an outdoor Rooftop ArtPark, and currently showcases the "How People Make Things" exhibit, a behind-the-scenes look at how everyday items are created. Kids (and adults) of all ages love interactivity at the Science Museum; don't miss the dinosaurs, Big Back Yard, and the "Real Pirates" exhibit now on display. The Bakken Museum is perfect for curious minds as well. Located on Lake Calhoun, this museum is devoted to exploring electricity and magnetism.
With a metro area representing all major professional sports teams, it's hard to leave without catching a game. The Minnesota Twins have the best ballpark in the nation—just ask ESPN magazine, which named Target Field tops. For more outdoor baseball, there's the Saint Paul Saints, who deliver home runs and laughs. Enjoy the game and the humorous antics between innings as the team takes the field of Midway Stadium. The ladies of the WNBA Lynx also put on family-friendly entertainment all summer long at Target Center.
There are many ways to stay active in the Twin Cities. Mobile Entertainment's Segway Magical History Tour takes guests on a five-mile rolling journey, providing views of the Minneapolis' St. Anthony Main and Mill District neighborhoods and other historical areas along the Mississippi River or St. Paul's historic Snelling Avenue neighborhood of the capital city as well as the Saint Paul Cathedral and Minnesota State Capitol.
Miles of biking, walking, and in-line skating trails allow active visitors to Minneapolis-St. Paul to keep moving. In fact, Bicycling magazine named Minneapolis the No. 1 bike city in 2010, while the U.S. Census Bureau ranked it No. 2. Head to Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes, or any of the other 900 metro lakes, and find those winding paths for walking, sandy beaches for sunbathing, calm waters for swimming or kayaking and much more.
Cool off at one of these local ice cream shops.
Sebastian Joe's Ice Cream Café Stop in at one of this family-owned shop's locations in west Minneapolis for all natural treats. Flavors change daily but favorites include raspberry-chocolate chip and Pavarotti. Combine a dipped cone and walk along Lake Calhoun or Lake Harriet for a perfect day. 1007 Franklin Ave. W., Mpls., 612-870-0065; 4321 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-929-7916, sebastianjoesicecream.com
The Grand Ole Creamery Located on picturesque Grand Avenue in St. Paul, this shop has won countless awards for its tasty treats. With almost 200 flavors and homemade, hand-rolled, malted waffle cones, you may just want to make a treat here into your entire dinner. Flavors such as cotton candy, maple nut and black cherry will keep you smiling all day. Two locations, including 750 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-293-1655, grandolecreamery.com
Pumphouse Creamery At Pumphouse Creamery you can enjoy all-natural ice cream with organic milk and locally produced ingredients. Choose from many different flavors, like chocolate ice cream with local cherries or banana ice cream with handmade caramel. You can even get a five-scoop sampler for around $4. 4754 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-825-2021, pumphouse-creamery.com
Izzy's Ice Cream What's the first shop to be run entirely by solar panels? St. Paul's own Izzy's Ice Cream, located in Merriam Park. Look no further for an afternoon treat; Izzy's has it all with its 31 flavors, including sorbet and non-dairy ice cream. Get a little something extra with the "Izzy Scoop", the small sample-sized scoop on top of each order. 2034 Marshall Ave., St. Paul, 651-603-1458, izzysicecream.com
Crema Café Serving up delicious Sonny's Ice Cream, this charming and unforgettable shop is a great place for a quick snack or a romantic night out. Sit on their cozy patio and give your taste buds a treat with chocolate cabernet chip or pineapple mango basil. 3403 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-3868, cremacafeminneapolis.com