Saint Paul, MN
Businesslike yet fun, St. Paul, Minnesota, is home to everything from museums to small eateries and great parks. It has one of the biggest shopping malls in America, and it has lakes, hiking trails, and safe bike paths. There's a friendly vibe in the neighborly feeling of this big northern city.
Must-See in St. Paul
Definitely stop by the Mall of America. Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, Nickelodeon Universe, American Girl, Lego, boutiques and restaurants fill up the halls here -- and hotels are right next to the mall so you don't have to drive back and forth too much. The Science Museum of Minnesota is also a great destination, if you are interested in Mississippi River ecology, IMAX movies, and general science exploration. And Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is open year round -- yes, they are even open in the winter.
Where to Stay in St. Paul
For families, stay in one of the suburbs, like Roseville, Shoreview or Vadnais Heights. It's like being in your home neighborhood: everything from fast food to grocery and convenience stores is easy to find and very clean. The Shoreview Community Center has a great pool, where kids can run off energy.
On-the-go adults can check out Cathedral Hill, where the James J. Hill House is open for tours and the historic Cathedral of St. Paul welcomes pedestrians. The Excel Energy Center hosts major concerts downtown, not too far from the Science Museum of Minnesota.
If you're out for a deal, go local and check out places like the Rosedale Center (shopping mall) in Roseville. If you're going to the Science Museum of Minnesota, grab lunch at the nearby, tiny Dairy Queen before you enter the museum.
Best and Worst Times to Be In St. Paul
The weekends around Memorial Day and Labor Day are very busy. Minnesota is a huge camping/lake destination, so during these holidays, there are always tons of boats, campers, and other trailers being hauled around and through the city. St. Paul's roadways also become congested at regular rush hour times. But if you happen to be driving around in the morning (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) or evening (anything past 7 p.m.), traffic is usually clear and tourist spots are fairly easy to negotiate.
Where to Get Lost in St. Paul
You can easily become absorbed in the Mall of America. Not into shopping? Head for the lower level Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, which has giant fish tanks, sliding side walks, and plenty of touch pools and aquariums to peer into and investigate. Games by James is one of the best boutique stores, because it has elaborate chess sets (think Civil War soldiers or snarling dragons as pieces) and a lot of variety for ordinary board games, like Monopoly with a "Star Wars" theme. At any other store, you'd have to order it online.
Best Deal in St. Paul
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is free -- don't miss the gift shop or the summer-only Sparky the Sea Lion show. Or you might want to stop at historic Fort Snelling, which is like a small wilderness hideaway tucked between the highway, the airport, and the Mississippi River bluffs. Costumed interpreters give an authentic glimpse of life from the 1800s.
Transportation in St. Paul
St. Paul is closely linked to Minneapolis, so there is good metro bus transportation. There are also great bike paths, shielded from regular roadways so you feel quite safe. But if you are staying in a suburb of the city, you'll definitely want to have a car so you can quickly get from one area to the next.
Getting in from St. Paul Airport
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is in Bloomington, right between and to the south of the twin cities. The Mall of America is very close by –- you can watch planes take off and land as you park your car. To get to St. Paul from this airport, go east on MN-5E and head for Shepard Road or click here for more detailed instructions.
Local Tip for Visitors to St. Paul
Minnesota economy is heavily based on lake tourism, which winds down somewhat after Labor Day in September. Keep an eye out for major late-summer events, like the Minnesota State Fair (at the end of August into September).
Author's Bio: Louisa Danielson has been in and out of the Twin Cities since before she can remember. She is a freelance writer who specializes in tourism and community event information.