Minneapolis, Minnesota, the second largest industrial hub in the midwest (when coupled with its sister city, St. Paul, also the capitol of Minnesota) and also the largest city in the state, both in terms of size and population. Known as the “Twin Cities”, Minneapolis and St. Paul are bisected by the Mississippi River, and as such form a major commercial center given their position on such a prolific body of water. The entire Twin Cities metro area houses over three million people, though only about 500,000 live in Minneapolis proper. A city of bridges, parks, and pop-up concerts, Minneapolis makes its mark on the midwest as one of the most culturally diverse and ethnically significant hubs to be found anywhere in the north.
Our journey into the city was unfortunately a short one, and I’m afraid the length of this post will reflect that; but don’t let that dissuade you, Minneapolis is truly an amazing place, somewhere I found myself thinking, “I could live here…” after only about 15 minutes of walking around. A premature assumption perhaps, but the point stands, it made one of the best first impressions of any large city I’ve ever been to. Most cities with an industrial history such as this come off as grimy and downtrodden, at least at first. With old factories and docks that are still in operation long past their heyday, or perhaps that have been abandoned and left to pollute an otherwise modern city-scape. Not Minneapolis. The city has a unique way of owning its past, and making it into something even better.
Our initial destination was the river front, and immediately as we pulled into sight of it I was confused as to what, exactly, was going on. The blocks transitioned from housing gritty looking factories that hadn’t been in use since the 50’s, to gorgeous gated communities with trimmed hedges and Victorian architecture, back and forth like this at an almost alarming rate. It seemed like we were in a secret part of the city almost, from afar it appeared to be nothing more than old shipping infrastructure, but up close it housed some of the most cultural and modern communities I had ever seen. Then I realized it was something of both, or rather, it had once indeed been old industrial infrastructure, but instead of demolishing these parts of the city in favor of newer, more modern constructions. The old buildings had simply been repurposed into something new and amazing, preserving the cultural heritage of the area without compromising growth. Old foundries that now housed tech start-ups, a hydro electric plant turned into a cafe, an old dam that had been made into a park.
Wandering through this unique landscape, time and time again we saw buildings that from a distance looked like something that anyone who wasn’t up to no good would desperately want to avoid; but when we reached them it would turn out to be a bustling tavern complete with youthful college grads, or a 5-star restaurant beleaguered with 20 or so triathletes, waiting impatiently for a table. As we ventured further down into the parks lining the river itself, we found an odd mix of overgrown trails with amazing scenic views of the Mississippi, and decaying industrial sites now preserved behind chain linked fences garnered with informational placards. We even stumbled onto a popup concert, the loud discordant riffs of guitarists warming up drew us through the trees to a small grassy amphitheater, nestled amongst the trees. Then, emerging from the treeline towards one of the many bridges connecting the Twin Cities, we saw perhaps the most spectacular sight to be beheld this side of downtown. The massive hydro-electric plant that had powered the city for decades prior. Millions of gallons of water disappearing over a series of massive cascades, leading down into a derelict lock system for the multitudes of cargo ships that used to crowd the river.
If you are to visit anywhere in the city I recommend it be here, along the river front. Endless curiosities line the water, and no matter what you came here for, the riverfront has something for you. Bike trails, hiking paths, scenic views, shops, theaters, restaurants, it’s almost too much to take in, certainly more than we could accomplish in the few hours we had. Just be aware that parking down here can be quite a hassle, with such a variety of draws what little street parking there is to be found is almost always taken, and we had to park a good mile or so up from the water. That being said, the walk down to the river is quite a pleasant one, and just as interesting as the developments further down, and personally I had no complaint.
After venturing through the river front areas, we decided to call it a night, as we arrived after about nine solid hours of driving. This however, turned out to be a mistake. Our plan was, foolishly, to see what we could of the city the next day, which for any of you not following along, just so happened to be July 4th. The city was a ghost town, not a soul in sight, save a few colorfully dressed homeless. We had planned to see quite a bit that day, or hoped to rather, including an observation deck 30 stories above downtown, the skyway, and many more of the nifty little facets downtown Minneapolis has to offer. However, seeing as it was a holiday, everything, and I mean everything, was shut down. That’s sort of the problem with cities this size, big but not huge. Nobody actually lives downtown, they just work there. So when everyone has a day off, the streets just empty out.
Even so, we ventured into the city to see what we could find. Our first misfire was the observation deck atop the Foshay Tower, an upscale hotel in the heart of downtown. Before the word “observation” had even left my mouth, the woman at the counter guessed our intentions, and promptly apologized, saying it was closed off. Down but not out, we continued on to check out the ‘skyway’; a matrix of above ground tunnels connecting a vast majority of buildings in the downtown area. The main purpose of these is to alleviate the strain of traveling on foot through the freezing wind tunnels created by a city in winter, especially one this far north. Really though, it’s also just plain cool. Down every street, bits and pieces of this hovering glass-clad sidewalk can be seen shooting out at all angles from the sides of buildings, skewering adjacent towers and disappearing around corners. Unfortunately for us, it is once you run out of skyway, and run into buildings, that our trouble began. While the skyway itself was open, the buildings it connected were not, and so it became essentially one giant maze of dead ends with no solution.
At this point our hopes of seeing the city began to falter, and we settled for watching the tram system wind through streets at speeds that can only be described as “not very exciting”. A trip to target center (target seems to own a large portion of the city, as we encountered not only the sports fields named after them, but at least 3 actual targets in the city itself) and we had accomplished all we really could, defeatedly making our way back to the car. We had one last stop before we left on our journey west to Fargo North Dakota, a pedestrian overpass we had gone beneath on our way into the city, which we believed would yield an excellent overlook for the entire city. We were right, it did, and despite being next to some rather unsavory residential developments, it was by far the high note of the morning.
Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about the city of Minneapolis. It’s clean (as clean as a big city can be), cultured, varied in its architecture and amenities, and it has a unique college atmosphere that makes it feel like a vast collection of small towns who have come together to form something much greater than themselves. The downtown is nothing if not neat, and the parks, river front, and outlying areas only serve to add a peculiar but pleasing blend of spice to this otherwise grand metropolis. Though I’m not sure on what occasion many of you would have to visit the Twin Cities, I recommend that if you ever have reason to be within 200 miles, you make one.