Minneapolis with Kids: 30 Best Things To Do in Minneapolis, Minnesota
If you're looking for a fun midwestern family getaway, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are a great choice. There are so many fun things to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul with kids. After all, the Twin Cities are home to the Mall of America and a Great Wolf Lodge. Seasons are for real in these Midwestern towns, leading to glorious landscapes in the fall and spring, when families flock to the area's gorgeous outdoor offerings. And when the "Mini Apple'"becomes a frozen tundra (in, say, January and February), there are plenty of fun things to do in Minneapolis indoors.
Here are 30 of our favorite things to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul with kids, including kid-friendly St. Paul and Minneapolis restaurants and hotels. For more family vacation ideas in this part of the US, check out our Midwest Family Travel Guide.
Nickelodeon Universe is a full amusement park inside Mall of America. Photo by the author
Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis and St. Paul with Kids
"A roller coaster going through the mall? Amazing!" These were the exact words of my daughters when we arrived at Nickelodeon Universe, an amusement park based on the channel's most famous shows. There are 27 rides here that will appeal to kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, as well as opportunities to meet beloved characters like members of the PAW Patrol. We enjoyed the thrill of the Fairly Odd Coaster, that high-speed roller coaster that runs through the shopping center. And when we all got tired at the end of the day, it was nice to relax on the Dora the Explorer-themed Ferris wheel.
The largest aquarium in Minnesota, SEA LIFE is home to thousands of underwater creatures like rescued sea turtles, giant sharks, and the only sawfish in the state. It's really cool watching them swim over your head in the 300-foot-long underwater tunnel, one of the highlights of a visit here. Families also love seeing crocodiles and poisonous frogs in the rainforest exhibit and touching sea stars and sea anemones in the Pacific Northwest rock pool.
Design your own fashion model at Crayola Experience. Photo by the author
My daughters live to create, so they always enjoy a trip to Crayola Experience (there are five of these attractions in the US). The Minneapolis installment does not disappoint, with 20 hands-on activities like drip art, molding your own crayon, starring in your own coloring page, and designing your own runway fashion model to see on a big screen. Inside tip: Tickets are slightly cheaper if you purchase them ahead of time online.
4. Indoor Playgrounds and Trampoline Parks
Since the weather often turns soggy and snowy in Minneapolis, the area has a ton of fun and unique indoor playgrounds. One of our favorites is Adventure Peak at Edinborough Park, a one-acre(!), fully enclosed park in Edina. Highlights include a 37-foot-tall play structure that appeals to kids of all ages, a junior Olympic-size swimming pool, and a lush atmosphere with 6,000 trees and flowers. Families also love the foam forest, walk-on piano, and tightrope walk at the Eagles Nest in New Brighton, as well as the giant slides and tree house vibes at the Backyard Indoor Playground in Golden Valley.
5. Ice Skating
Go for a spin around one of Minneapolis' indoor ice rinks. The Richfield Ice Arena offers open skate on Sundays through Fridays. Parade Ice Garden holds open skate most days of the week for a very affordable price. And when the weather cooperates, there are plenty of outdoor ice rinks, too.
RELATED: Best Children's Theaters in the US
Children's Theatre Company brings popular kids' stories to life. Photo courtesy of the theater
See kid classics like Annie and How the Grinch Stole Christmas come alive on stage at this theater located next to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (another one of the best things to do in Minneapolis). Stage productions are tailor-made for families, with plenty of humor and brightly-colored costumes and sets. Visitors also appreciate the comfortable seats. Children's Theatre Company is a great way to introduce preschoolers on up to the world of theater.
7. Pro Sports Games
Professional sports are a big part of Minnesota culture. Feel the excitement of a live game with your family at one of Minneapolis' many sporting venues. The Minnesota Timberwolves play basketball at the Target Center downtown (also the home of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx). NFL fans can watch the Minnesota Vikings take the field inside the enclosed US Bank Stadium. Take hockey fans to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to see the NHL's Minnesota Wild on the ice. In the warmer months, watch the Minnesota Twins play baseball downtown at Target Field, or cheer on the Minnesota United FC soccer team at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Perform science experiments at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Photo courtesy of the museum
Best Minneapolis/St. Paul Museums for Kids
Curious young minds are bound to be stimulated by the cool exhibits at this science museum, which include dinosaur fossils, an experiment gallery, and a "collector's corner" where kids can bring in objects they find outdoors to trade for other natural treasures. Visitors also love exploring the universe in the astronomy area and learning the science behind athleticism in the Sportsology exhibit. With so many interactive elements, families can expect to spend at least three hours at this museum.
The MIA is one of the largest art museums in the US and is home to more than 90,000 works of art. Don't be intimidated by this, though—it's very family-friendly. There's a cute drop-in kid's space with books, toys, and little kid furniture, and the museum regularly hosts family events. Plus, young art lovers will be inspired by what's on display, including African masks and sculptures, suits of armor and weaponry, and the mysterious Lady Tashat mummy.
There are three floors of interactive exhibits at this children's museum in St. Paul. Kids can get their wiggles out on the Scramble, a four-story climber with a giant slide and a catwalk. Youngsters into pretend play will love Our Town, a little city where children can run the fire station, become postal workers, and man the register at a hardware store. The museum also features a water-play room, an area for testing out science experiments, and a rooftop terrace with a sensory garden.
Step inside the ruins of what was once the world's largest flour mill at Mill City Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum
11. Mill City Museum
This unique museum was built within the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Walking around it really does feel like stepping back in time. In the Water Lab, kids can get their hands wet while learning about the power of the Mississippi River (the museum is located on the banks of it). Meanwhile in the Baking Lab, families can catch cooking demos and try samples of fresh-baked treats. Be sure to hit the museum's observation deck for some stunning views of the city, too.
12. Bakken Museum
If you are looking for a STEM-enriching attraction, I present to you the Bakken. Founded by one of the people behind Medtronic, this museum explores the history of electricity through interactive exhibits. Young visitors love getting spooked in Frankenstein's Laboratory (recommended for ages 9 and up), making their own stop-motion films in the animation studio, and joining in on "Ben Franklin's electricity party," where kids can make their hair rise by cranking up a generator. Bonus: Children 3 and under are free.
Part museum, part library, this center in downtown St. Paul has educational material that both kids and parents will approve of. An exhibit on weather lets visitors experience the power of a tornado, and children love climbing and sliding through a model grain elevator in a section focused on Minnesota farming. Meanwhile, the Gale Family Library houses thousands of old photos, newspaper articles, and other archives related to the state's history. This is a great place for a budding researcher or bookworm.
Though only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, this St. Paul museum deserves a mention for all of the train lovers out there. There are 50 historic train cars that kids can explore, as well as old-timey equipment and photos. On Saturdays, visitors can watch live blacksmith demonstrations and take a 15-minute ride on a vintage caboose as part of their admission. Got a toddler? Be sure to check the museum's calendar for its Tots & Trains program, which features a train-themed story and craft.
RELATED: The Best Zoos in the US
The red fox is one of nearly 5,000 animals that live at the Minnesota Zoo. Photo courtesy of the zoo
Outdoor Things To Do in Minneapolis and St. Paul with Kids
15. Minnesota Zoo
Visit with the nearly 5,000 animals that reside at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley. One of the largest zoos in the country, it's home to a wide variety of species including bison, bats, wild horses, and snow monkeys. Discovery Bay is the on-site aquarium where kids can touch sharks, rays, and sea stars. There's also a couple of playgrounds, a carousel, an IMAX theater, and a family farm that's open seasonally. Needless to say, an outing to this zoo will likely be an all-day adventure.
They don't call Minnesota the land of 10,000 lakes for nothing. This group of five lakes, located about five miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis, has a ton to offer in the way of water play. Families can swim, rent kayaks and paddle boards, go fishing, or just lounge on one of the beaches at this park, which is open to visitors year-round. On land, there are bike trails, a playground, a bird sanctuary, and a rose garden. If you visit during the summer, be sure to check the park's calendar for live music and other events.
17. Midtown Greenway
Take the kids to bike, rollerblade, walk, or just enjoy a stroller ride on the Midtown Greenway. This 5.7-mile trail follows the path of an abandoned route of the Milwaukee Road railway. The Greenway consists of two one-way bike lanes and a two-way walking path, though they're combined in some places. It can get congested at certain times of the day, so be sure to help your little ones mind the traffic.
18. Woodridge Park
The largest inclusive playground in Minnesota, Woodridge Park in Cottage Grove has something for kids of all ages and abilities. The 23,000-foot playground has swings, spinners, slides, climbers, zip lines, and a musical instrument area. Add to that basketball courts, a baseball field, a splash pad, and a seasonal ice rink and it's no wonder this park is a favorite with locals.
Perhaps you've seen this iconic bridge in images of downtown Minneapolis. Built during the 1880s for rail transportation, it's now recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark. Pedestrians can walk or bike across the bridge while taking in panoramic views of St. Anthony Falls, the Mississippi River's only natural waterfall. There is a visitor's center with restrooms at one end of the bridge. It generally takes about 25 minutes to complete the route.
Don't miss Minnehaha Regional Park's 53-foot waterfall. Photo by Mikael Häggström
More natural eye candy awaits your family at one of Minneapolis' oldest and most popular parks. Minnehaha Regional Park features 170 acres of lush greenery, limestone bluffs, seasonal wading pools, river overlooks, and historic buildings. The park's highlight is its majestic 53-foot waterfall, which continuously ranks as Minnesota's most photographed site. Bonus: Admission and parking are both free.
Take a tour through this 11-acre park, home to more than 40 sculptures. They include the quirky Spoonbridge and Cherry, a sculptural fountain featuring a giant spoon with a large cherry resting atop it (kids love this one). The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is free, requires no tickets for admission, and is open from 6am to midnight every day of the year.
Best St. Paul and Minneapolis Restaurants for Families
Great meal in a fun atmosphere? Yes, please! Grab an early dinner before the party crowd arrives at Punch Bowl Social and take advantage of its vintage arcade, bowling lanes, and free games like darts and corn hole. The restaurant is known for its burgers and tacos, but also has yummy shareable dishes like queso and chips.
23. Hot Plate
Hot Plate serves up delicious brunch items like biscuits and gravy and waffles in a restaurant that's full of kitschy decor. Kids love the board games, classic dolls on display, and the wall of paint-by-number masterpieces. The only drawback is that lines can get long on weekends, so go early if possible.
A favorite with locals since 2011, Tilia has a three-course kids menu that goes beyond just chicken fingers. Little ones can start off with an appetizer like house-made chips and salsa before moving on to an entree such as Spaghetti Juni (a sophisticated name for buttered noodles), then cap it all off with a chocolate chip cookie. For the adults, there's fresh seafood, pasta, and other new American plates.
Young and adventurous eaters also love the choices offered at this trendy food hall, where families can get sushi, pizza, vegan meals, and more.
26. Spots for Sweet Treats
Indulge that sweet tooth at Sweet Science, a small-batch ice cream spot in Edina that features unique flavors (sweet corn blueberry, oatmeal cookie, and banana cream pie are just a few), all made with no corn syrup. Or get your pastry, pie, and cake fix at local chain Taste of Scandinavia, which has a bakery that will make anyone's mouth water.
Soak up the family fun during a stay at Great Wolf Lodge.
Best Hotels for Families in Minneapolis/St. Paul
27. Great Wolf Lodge
The water park at the Minneapolis location of this popular family resort features giant tube slides, a four-story water tree house, a wave pool, and a lazy river, among its other thrill rides. Kids also love the resort's out-of-the-water attractions, like MagiQuest, a wizardly, role-playing scavenger hunt and game. There are a variety of fun suites for families who choose to stay here, but day passes are also available for those who just want to enjoy the water park.
Guests note the cleanliness of this Venetian-inspired Holiday Inn just off I-94 in Maple Grove. Of course, the big draw for kids is the hotel's indoor water park, which features two water slides, a floating obstacle course, basketball hoops, and a toddler splash zone. There's also an arcade and an on-site restaurant, at which kids 11 and under eat free with adults. Plus, families who stay here are within walking distance of a Chik-fil-A and a Benihana.
With dark colors, tartan furniture, and a cozy fireplace, the Graduate Hotel has a warm, woodsy vibe to it. It also feels very collegiate, and that's no wonder as it's located right in the heart of the University of Minnesota campus (a neon sign in the lobby states, "We are All Students"). Families love the clean rooms, the hotel's air hockey tables, and its proximity to local restaurants and shops. Weary parents also love that there is a Starbucks connected to the hotel.
Visiting the Mall of America? Get easy access to it in under 10 minutes via a skywalk (or drive there in less than five). There's also ample parking at the Best Western Bloomington, an indoor pool and splash pad that are open daily, and complimentary breakfast in the morning. There's nothing super fancy here, but plenty of convenience for families.