From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
One-half of the famed “Twin Cities,” St. Paul, Minnesota, is a destination worth exploring all on its own. It’s full of fascinating secrets — for instance, downtown’s Rice Park is actually older than New York City’s Central Park, and St. Paul also boasts the largest number of Mississippi River shoreline miles of any town lucky enough to be positioned along the mighty waterway. (It’s got 26 miles of shoreline, to be exact.)
That’s just the beginning, too! Here are some of our very favorite things to see, do, and experience in St. Paul, Minnesota.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
As dense and urban as St. Paul itself is, the city is also within easy driving distance of some incredible green spaces. Here are the coolest state and national parks and preserves in the area of St. Paul, MN.
Tucked along the scenic banks of the St. Croix River, Afton State Park was first established back in 1969 and has been serving area families with beautiful views and plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities ever since. Particularly well loved for camping, picnicking, birdwatching, and water-based activities, the best part is that this stunning natural preserve is located just 40 minutes from the Twin Cities.
Want a state park experience that doesn’t require going far — or going anywhere at all? Fort Snelling State Park is uniquely located in the heart of St. Paul, and has served as a natural center and getaway for centuries. In fact, the Mdewakanton Dakota people, who lived here long before colonists took their lands, consider these sacred grounds the center of the earth. Today, the park is utilized for a wide range of outdoor activities such as fishing, nature walks, and biking.
A truly wild place, the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area offers more than 5,400 acres of wilderness to romp and play in, and is a popular spot for campers, equestrians, hunters and more. The larger park is actually constructed of four smaller areas, which follow the Minnesota River as it runs between Shakopee and Belle Plaine.
A sprawling protected corridor of one of the mightiest rivers in the word, let alone the United States, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area sets aside 72 miles of the waterway and a total of 54,000 acres surrounding it. Although close to urban areas, this Recreation Area ensures that parts of the river are set aside specifically for outdoor recreation opportunities such as fishing, boating, canoeing, birdwatching, hiking and bicycling. While there are no formal, developed campgrounds inside the park, there are plenty of lodging accommodations for RVers, tent campers, and others in the surrounding areas.
Consisting of just over 1,500 acres of scenic Minnesota countryside, William O’Brien State Park offers its visitors the unique opportunity to experience a wide range of ecosystems as they navigate its network of trails. Whether you’re interested in rolling glacial moraine, riparian zones, restored oak savanna, wooded areas or swampy bogs, you can see it all in this one fascinating and unique park. William O’Brien is also known as a great spot for cross-country skiing in the winter and features educational naturalist programs to get the whole family up to speed on the great outdoors.
If you’re looking to get your boots on the ground, you’re in luck. There are plenty of incredible hiking opportunities in and around St. Paul if you know where to look — and we do! Here are just a few of the coolest hikes to tackle in the area.
Located inside Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Jensen Lake Trail runs just over two miles and about 100 feet of elevation gain, making it a great spot for beginner-to-intermediate hikers. Given its beautiful surroundings, it’s no surprise that this trail is also often utilized by equestrians, mountain bikers, and trail runners; it’s especially well known for its voluminous wildflowers in the spring and summer. Just be sure to bring your boots, as it does get muddy!
If you’re looking for stunning views of the Mighty Mississippi, look no further. The Mississippi Gorge Loop Trail runs a little more than five and a half miles and sees about 400 feet of elevation gain, putting it closer to the moderately challenging category — but it’s still very achievable. As its name suggests, this path offers one-of-a-kind views of this incredible riverfront, though parts are steep and narrow, so do be sure to keep an eye out and make sure you’ve got good footing!
Tucked into Bald Eagle-Otter Lake Park, the Tamarack Nature Center trail runs just shy of three miles altogether and sees a little less than 150 feet of elevation gain, making it a good easy-to-moderately challenging hike for those who want to get some fresh air and exercise. Offering beautiful lakeside views, this trail is also frequented by runners and snowshoers in the winter, and the park also features a paved loop that’s accessible for those using strollers and wheelchairs.
For those in need of something lengthier and a little more challenging, the Holland and O’Brien Lakes Trail offers a great opportunity close to St. Paul. Tucked into Lebanon Hills Regional Park, this trail runs about five and a half miles and sees almost 400 feet of elevation gain, which translates to gently undulating hills — and, of course, incredible lakeside views. Best used from April through September, this trail is also known as a great bird watching spot by locals.
Another closeby, moderate-level option for St. Paul adventurers to consider is Harriet Island to Cherokee Bluffs. This trek runs just under four and a half miles and sees less than 400 feet of elevation gain, so nothing’s incredibly steep, but you’ll get your heart rate going. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with river views, wildflowers, wildlife spotting opportunities — and, of course, the intrinsic reward of a job well done.
If you’re going to keep up with all the adventure there is to enjoy in St. Paul, you’re definitely going to need some solid meals on your stomach. Good thing there are an incredible array of eateries to patronize in town! Whether you’re craving Mexican, Italian, or something else altogether, here are some of the best restaurants in St. Paul.
Sometimes, nothing satisfies quite like a heaping plate of hot carbs — and those are the days when you simply need to get yourself to Yarusso Bros Italian Restaurant. A community fixture for almost a whole century now, this eatery has had many iterations, but it’s always focused on what matters: delicious, authentic, freshly prepared food, served up with a large side of family hospitality.
If you’re of the mind that “plant based” means “boring,” a trip to J. Selby’s will set you straight. An airy cafe serving up vegan versions of comforting favorites like burgers, battered wings, tacos, and more, this spot is the go-to pick for vegetarians and even stricter eaters, but its offerings will please even the most discerning carnivore. There are also plenty of fresh and delicious dessert options available, so be sure to save some room!
Maybe it’s Taco Tuesday… or maybe it’s just a random day on which you’re craving tacos (which is to say, every day, right?). Either way, Pajarito is the place to go in St. Paul for delicious Mexican eats that are classic and yet refined, all washed down with freshly-crafted cocktails. If you’re not in the mood for tacos specifically, there are plenty of “not-taco” dishes to choose from, like elote-style brussels sprouts, queso fundido, and pork chops.
Looking for the best Asian restaurant in St. Paul? There are certainly plenty to choose from, but there’s a good argument to be made for Sakura Restaurant and Bar, a local go-to for sushi lovers that also offers enough hot dishes to keep the sushi skeptics satisfied. Along with its carefully curated and wrapped rolls, this spot also features tempura, teriyaki, and bento boxes, as well as selections from a well-staffed full bar. Save some room for mochi ice cream for dessert!
St. Paul is significantly north of the Mason-Dixon line… but if you’re craving some authentic southern treats, Revival has got you covered. From fried green tomatoes to brown sugar ribs and everything in between, a trip to this restaurant is like a tour of the south without taking a single step out of town. We especially recommend a side of hush puppies.
Great outdoors? Check. Great dining? Check. But there’s still plenty left to hold your attention in St. Paul. Here are some of our top picks for weekend one-offs, family adventures, things for couples to do in St. Paul and more.
There are plenty of all-age-appropriate options to add to your itinerary in St. Paul!
Originally opened all the way back in 1897, the Como Park Zoo and Observatory is home to 1,700 animals spanning more than 60 species, including both common and endangered creatures. A popular attraction, this one-of-a-kind zoo draws more than a million visitors annually — not only for its vast array of wildlife and fun educational programming, but also because it’s free for visitors and members alike!
If you really want to get your kids interested and engaged in the world around them, it’s hard to do better than a comprehensive, hands-on science museum experience — and the Science Museum of Minnesota certainly has that experience on offer. With a world’s worth of artifacts, exhibits, and research on display, this unique museum has been fascinating guests of all ages for more than a century.
When everything’s bright, it’s easy to see what there is to do… but what about once the sun goes down? Here are some of the best options to dive into in St. Paul after hours.
Love beer? You’re not alone. Have an intolerance to gluten? You’re not alone there, either… but getting ahold of a beer that won’t make you miserable can be something of a task. That’s not the case at Burning Brothers Brewing, which serves up a bevy of delicious, gluten-free beers that you don’t have to fear, even if your insides aren’t on board with traditional carbs.
Movie night is a classic diversion, but if you want to step it up a notch, consider hitting Grandview Theatre instead of one of the big box stores. Dating back to 1933, this spot offers a range of the hottest current films as well as notable throwbacks and indie movies, and also serves up delicious snacks.
Good news: if you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money — or any money at all — to get more familiar with St. Paul, you don’t have to! Here are our favorite affordable and free things to do in town.
Formerly known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, the Bell Museum is located on the University of Minnesota campus and is a vast and comprehensive natural history museum and planetarium. Along with its permanent and rotating collections and exhibits, visitors can participate in special events and programming, and tickets start at just $12 a head for adult guests.
While the first Minnesota State Capitol building was constructed all the way back in in 1849 (and eventually fell to fire), and the second Capitol building served for a little over a decade at the end of the 19th century, the third building — which is still the Minnesota State Capitol today — was opened to the public in 1905, and remains open for guided and self-guided tours today. Admission is free, though a $5 suggested donation helps keep the tours operating.
Minnehaha Regional Park is a Twin Cities gem, offering visitors the opportunity to see, for free, a stunning 53-foot waterfall without ever leaving the heart of this metropolis. Along with simply sitting back and viewing the falls, this park also offers bike trails, a disc golf course, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art, wading pools and more. In short, it’s an absolute must-do… and it doesn’t cost a single cent.
If you’re in need of some “me” time, check out this great day spa and salon in St. Paul.
A one-stop shop for all things relaxing, rejuvenating and beautifying, Phresh Salon and Spa offers a full menu of hair care services from cuts to color and more, as well as professional skin care, body treatments, massage in a wide range of modalities, nail care, waxing, you name it! Whether you’re getting ready for your big day or just treating yourself because you deserve it, this is a great place to sit back and relax.
Working out can do more than help your heart and lungs grow healthier — it can help your mind grow quieter. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios in St. Paul for those who’re looking to work it out.
The name says it all. If you’re looking to increase your performance and grow better, faster, and stronger, the St. Paul Strength Room has everything you need to achieve your goals. Better yet, you won’t be on your own. The professional trainers who work here will guide you through customized workouts that are fast, effective, and fun. It’s a can’t-lose situation.
Offering a wide range of yoga classes suited to yogis of all fitness and interest levels, the St. Paul Yoga Center is an inclusive and welcoming space that makes sure to account for beginners and bodies of all ages and ability levels. Try out the new student special to enjoy unlimited classes for a month at a low price!
As exciting as St. Paul itself is, there are also some wonderful day-trippable locations to consider getting away to!
This Minnesota town with its imposing name is located just an hour away from St. Paul, and offers quaint yet hip lakeside streets populated with bistros, boutiques, and beaches. If you’re looking for a workout, bring your bike and hit the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail — and keep in mind that you can still be home in time for dinner if you want to!
Known for its epic football team and its even-better dairy products, Green Bay, Wisconsin is a great place for a weekend getaway from St. Paul. Spend some time exploring the National Railroad Museum and block out part of your day to get outside, too, because there are plenty of great outdoor spaces immediately surrounding this one-of-a-kind town!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in St. Paul that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in St. Paul? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.
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