Eden Prairie, MN
Although Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is just 12 miles southwest of Downtown Minneapolis, its abundant lakes and thriving business community make the city of 60,797 residents more than just a first-ring suburb.
For much of its history, Eden Prairie was a sleepy village, originally settled by Native Americans and then by farmers. The city's location along the northern side of the Minnesota River, combined with prairie and forests, created a bucolic stretch that made its founders think of idyllic Eden.
Some of that Eden-like feeling lingers, thanks to public parks, lakeshore recreation and protected prairie land. When looking for things to do in Eden Prairie, a top starting point is enjoying one of its 17 lakes, 100 ponds and 4,500 acres of wetlands.
A popular choice with locals is Staring Lake Park, on the city's southern edge. The park offers hiking, an archery range, disc golf and plenty of picnic areas. An on-site observatory provides opportunities for stargazing and hearing talks by local astronomers. On Staring Lake's northern shore, an outdoor center provides another educational boost via classes and workshops about local wildlife and environmental topics.
On the city's north side, Bryant Lake Park draws visitors for its rolling hills, significant wetlands area and large songbird population. Although within bustling Eden Prairie, the park is home to deer and other wildlife.
Akin to seeing the city's natural landscapes, visiting Eden Prairie's now-thriving shopping and dining scenes is a must. A major shopping mall, Eden Prairie Center, lies at the heart of a booming retail area. Once the setting for the 1995 movie Mallrats, the center features a woodsy decor, in a nod to the state residents’ love for rustic cabins and deep woods. A children's play area inside the mall even has kid-sized foam snowmobiles and canoes.
After getting a shopping fix, stop in at Wildfire, connected to the mall's west side. The restaurant and bar imparts a Sinatra-in-Tahoe vibe, led by jazz music, retro lodge decor and signature martinis. Also attached to the mall is Biaggi's, an Italian eatery specializing in portions so large that most diners leave with a small shopping bag for leftovers. Ringing the shopping center are numerous other restaurants, from Neapolitan-inspired pizza at Punch to inventive maki at Little Sushi on the Prairie.
Given the city's family-friendly atmosphere, it's easy to find things to do in Eden Prairie with children. In addition to playing and learning among the wealth of parks and nature workshops, visit Pump It Up, about two miles east of the mall. The indoor playground boasts gigantic inflatable bounce houses, slides and obstacle courses. Another favorite choice is Brunswick Zone, a bowling alley that also offers Lazer Tag, arcade games and pool tables.
With lively retail and restaurant options, Eden Prairie is no longer a quiet expanse of farmland—the Minnesota Vikings football team even chose the city for its metropolitan headquarters. Proximity to the Twin Cities makes visiting Eden Prairie a jam-packed day trip worth taking.