St. Paul is the capital of the state of Minnesota, and together with Minneapolis it makes up the Twin Cities. While I’m a Minneapolis girl through and through, I can’t deny that St. Paul has lots to see and do!
Since I lived only a few blocks from the city border and have spent quite a lot of time working in St. Paul over the last five years, I think I’m qualified to share some of my expertise. While St. Paul isn’t as large as Minneapolis, there’s lots to do in both the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Here are my top 20 things to do in St. Paul!
1. Marvel at the Cathedral of St. Paul
As the third largest church in North America, you can’t miss a visit to the Cathedral of St. Paul. Sitting on a hill overlooking downtown, close to both Summit Avenue and Selby Avenue, it is the site of the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul and on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It boasts a stunning and beautiful interior, with tours at 1:00pm Tuesday-Friday. It’s free to enter, and they have a (free) parking lot for visitors.
2. Have fun at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
Open 365 days a year, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory packs a double punch in one attraction. You can see everything from giraffes to polar bears in the zoo, and wander through the conservatory greenhouses to see the collection of all kinds of different plants and flowers. Don’t miss the Sunken Garden in the Conservatory. Both the zoo and conservatory are free (!) and have free parking lots for visitors.
3. Explore Lowertown
This up and coming, happening neighborhood at the edge of downtown St. Paul is the new place to be. Full of old warehouses (many of which are artist studio lofts), there’s so much to do and see in this lively and diverse area. The Farmer’s Market, Mears Park (bonus points if you go around lunchtime for the food trucks), the Union Depot building, and the many art galleries are just some of the highlights of the neighborhood! Don’t miss the newly renovated scratch kitchen and Saturday Night Jazz at Black Dog Lowertown, a mainstay in the neighborhood since 1998.
4. See a Saints game at CHS Field
While you’re in Lowertown, you absolutely can’t pass up the opportunity to catch a St. Paul Saints game at their new stadium, CHS Field. The minor league games are always fun and quirky, there’s great food (and an entire local craft beer stand), and the stadium is innovative and aesthetically blends in with the warehouses in the area. I guarantee it’ll be one fun night of baseball!
5. Take a (driving) tour down Summit Avenue
Summit Avenue has the largest stretch of Victorian mansions in the country, so it’s one place you absolutely must visit. The houses are gorgeous and simply incredible, along with several historic homes, including the James. J. Hill House (see number 12 below!), the F. Scott Fitzgerald House, and the Governor’s Mansion. You can easily drive or bike, but if you want more information, the Minnesota Historical Society runs guided walking tours on weekends in the summer.
6. Go shopping on Grand Avenue
Grand Avenue is one of the best shopping areas in St. Paul. While there are regular brand name stores, there’s some great finds at the local and independent shops in the area. There’s great options for eating as well—Grand Ole Creamery, Colossal Café and Bakery, and French Meadow Café and Bakery are some of my top picks! And of course, any neighborhood that booed and hissed the mayor out of a town hall meeting when he (unsuccessfully) tried to install parking meters gets a big gold star from me.
7. Relax at Harriet Island Park
Located across the river from the main area of downtown St. Paul, this beautiful park is one you can’t miss. It’s a great starting point to get onto the trails on this side of the Mississippi River if you’re feeling active, or just a nice place to hang out when the weather’s good. If you can, book a cruise on one of the Padelford Riverboats at the weekend and enjoy the view while floating down the river!
8. Take a tour of Summit Brewing Company
The first of Minnesota’s many craft breweries, Summit is an institution beloved by Twin Cities residents and Minnesotans alike. Pay homage to the microbrew industry and take a tour of the facilities! Tours need to be booked in advance, but they’re free. A non-perishable food donation is requested per person instead of charging for admission. There’s a huge parking lot.
9. Go underground at the Wabasha Street Caves
If you’re looking to learn about St. Paul’s gangster history, look no further than the Wabasha Street Caves. Originally used as a mushroom farm, the caves became a speakeasy popular with the mobsters in St. Paul, smuggling booze during Prohibition, and then a restaurant/club. Today the space is used for events and hosts a Swing night on Thursdays. Check online for tour times to see the Historic Caves (or the St. Paul Gangster bus tour), and bring cash.
10. Visit the Landmark Center
As the official Visitor Information Center for St. Paul, you can’t miss a stop at this historic building—formerly a U.S. Courthouse and Post Office. There’s several museums/galleries to browse, as well as regular events. Don’t miss Rice Park across the street, one of the oldest parks in the country.
11. Eat everything you can at the Minnesota State Fair!
The Minnesota State Fair is reason enough to visit St. Paul on its own. It’s reason enough to visit Minnesota on its own. Hell, it’s reason enough to visit AMERICA on its own! Time your visit right, and indulge in everything you could ever imagine served on a stick. The fair is one of the largest in the country, and runs the last week of August to Labor Day. Check out my post on 12 tips for the State Fair!
12. Explore St. Paul’s museums
While I think Minneapolis has a better selection of museums, St. Paul has several standouts that you should visit. The Minnesota History Center, the Science Museum (which is great for kids!), and the James. J. Hill House are my top picks for museums in St. Paul.
13. Visit the Minnesota State Capitol
Unfortunately the Capitol has been under construction FOREVER (actually only a few years, but I can’t remember it not under construction)—but it is set to reopen to the public in January 2017! Tours are run by the Minnesota Historical Society, and give an explanation of both the history of the building, and of the government of Minnesota today. Don’t miss the many memorials on the State Capitol Mall.
14. Eat a cinnamon roll at Keys Café and Bakery
While there are several different Keys locations across the Twin Cities metro region, the original is the one on Raymond Avenue in St. Paul. This family run business does amazing breakfast food, and their cinnamon rolls are seriously the best I have ever had. Smothered in frosting, they come with a huge slab of butter on the side. Get there early (before 11:00am) if you want to try to get a cinnamon roll on the weekends, otherwise they might have run out. There’s a few free spots in their small lot, otherwise there’s parking in the half-parking-lot across from the back of the bank.
15. Eat at Mickey’s Diner
This tiny diner, located on West 7th Street in downtown, was installed just before World War II. It’s still open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Scenes from the Mighty Ducks movies were filmed here, as well as parts of Jingle All the Way and A Prairie Home Companion. Grab some diner grub any time of the day—if you can get a seat!
16. Ice cream at Izzy’s
Again, there is another Izzy’s location in Minneapolis—but the St. Paul location on Marshall Avenue is the original. Izzy’s is some of the best ice cream you’ll get in the Twin Cities! They pioneered and trademarked the “Izzy Scoop,” a tiny ¾ ounce scoop included on top of your regular ice cream scoop so that you can try an extra flavor. Flavors rotate frequently—every single flavor I’ve ever had here has been good, so you can’t go wrong. Dulce de Leche remains a top pick for me.
17. Explore Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
This park, located just below Interstate highway I-94 and at the very edge of downtown St. Paul, is a breath of fresh air and can make you feel miles away from the city. The area was a significant site for Native Americans, and was made into a park in 2005. The park is 29 acres, and has limestone and sandstone bluffs, and beautiful plains of native plant communities. It’s a great place to wander when the weather’s nice. There is a tiny parking lot for visitors, but more parking closer to the edge of downtown.
18. Visit Historic Fort Snelling
If you’re interested in history, one place you absolutely can’t miss in St. Paul is Fort Snelling. A National Historic Landmark, the site is run by the Minnesota Historical Society today and is located where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet (an important cultural place for Native Americans). You can learn about military and local Minnesota history from prior to the Civil War up to World War II. Don’t miss the information on the famous Dred Scott (a slave who sought his freedom from the courts), and on the US-Dakota War of 1862 (where 38 Native American men were executed, making Minnesota the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history). Check in advance for opening hours during the off-season.
19. Discover Hidden Falls Park
This expansive park is situated right next to the Mississippi River, with great access for boating and fishing. You can follow the paths along the river, or search through the woods to find the actual Hidden Falls. The park is also located fairly close to the Highland Park neighborhood, a fun place to hang out and a great area to go shopping!
20. Find the Peanuts statues
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was from St. Paul! In honor of the city’s famous cartoonist, there are bronze sculptures of several of the Peanuts characters in the Landmark Plaza, right next to Rice Park in downtown.
Over to you! What are your favorite things to do in St. Paul?!
Check out my post on Minneapolis here!