A mix of city and nature, Minneapolis is a great Midwest getaway for families. It has a mix of cultural attractions and tourist destinations that you can easily plan a weekend there. Here’s my recommended weekend itinerary for Minneapolis, with suggestions on things to do that will be fun for kids.
Disclosure: Our visit to Minneapolis was hosted by Meet Minneapolis. Some attractions were complimentary, and some we paid for. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Having spent a few long weekends in the area, I’d recommend three days to explore Minneapolis and the surrounding cities (AKA, the Twin Cities). This includes St. Paul and Bloomington. We spent a long weekend in Minneapolis in the summer. With two kids, we did a little bit of everything – biking, a museum, a waterfall, and the Mall of America. You can be as cultural or commercial as you want there.
How to get to Minneapolis
Minneapolis is located along the Mississippi River on the eastern side of the state. The nearest airport is about a quick 10-mile drive to Minneapolis. It’s an international airport, and it just so happens to be super close to Mall of America.
You can rent a car at the airport or take the light rail into the city.
We opted to drive from Omaha to Minneapolis. It’s about a 5- to 6-hour drive.
Tip: The restaurant stops are few and far between from Omaha to Minneapolis. Plan a stop in Des Moines if you think you’ll need a lunch or dinner stop.
When to visit Minneapolis
Having visited the Twin Cities in the winter and the summer, if you asked me, the best time to visit is summer. Between the cities’ lakes, abundant bike trails and farmers markets, there’s no shortage of things to do outdoors.
But, the cities are also very well-prepared for inclement weather. You can easily have a great winter vacation there and never really have to venture outdoors (skywalks are everywhere in downtown Minneapolis). Read about spending a winter weekend in the Twin Cities.
Where to stay in Minneapolis
Minneapolis is a large enough city that’s close to other cities, so you can feel overwhelmed with options. I enjoyed staying downtown, though it did have some downsides.
Downtown Minneapolis hotel option
We had the ideal location with The Marquette Hotel, Curio Collection By Hilton, in downtown Minneapolis. It was within walking distance of several shops (including Target and Walgreens for forgotten toiletries), great restaurants, public transportation, and a bikeable distance to riverfront trails and museums.
The drawback is that it didn’t have a pool, which is a biggie for families, in my opinion. This place would be, however, a great couples getaway hotel.
If you brought a car, expect to pay for overnight parking at most downtown hotels. At The Marquette, parking was $30/night.
Kid-friendly hotel option near Minneapolis
When I told friends I was headed to Minneapolis, the most recommended hotel was Great Wolf Lodge, which happens to be near the Mall of America in Bloomington (about 10 miles from Minneapolis).
Sample weekend itinerary for Minneapolis
Day 1 – Biking & Bakken
Morning: We had breakfast at our hotel the first morning, but I would recommend venturing out to a favorite restaurant from our previous visit – Mickey’s Diner (it’s one of the most memorable places in the Midwest for breakfast for good reason). Get an omelet.
Before things get too warm, take a bike ride along the riverfront, crossing over the Stone Arch Bridge and biking a short distance before crossing back over the river.
It’s a very kid-friendly route (mostly – we got a little lost and had to ask directions a few times). I used this map to plan it. It’s not idiot-proof, because, as I said, we managed to wander off the trail a bit.
We took a break at in East Downtown near the Mill City Museum to stroll around the farmers market and see the nearby park. There were a food truck and vendors where you can get lunch or you can opt for a local restaurant. We biked back close to our hotel to have lunch at the Hen House Café. It’s a “don’t miss” dining experience in Minneapolis.
Afternoon: We spent two hours at The Bakken Museum, a surprising hidden gem. It’s an eclectic museum, telling the story of Minnesota’s role in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovation. Housed in a gorgeous mansion, it’s Minnesota’s only Smithsonian affiliate museum.
The entire family had fun in the electricity room, which did involve trying to get each other shocked. That’s how we roll. My daughter was fascinated by the medicinal garden. We checked out a little backpack with a nature kit, and she had a blast trying to catch and identify insects.
The garden is incredibly peaceful, so don’t skip it!
Near The Bakken Museum is Bde Maka Ska Lake. There are beaches there, bike trails, and watercraft rentals. It was a little too cool for taking a dip in the lake for us, though.
Alternative: I absolutely adored The Bakken, but if you wanted to choose a different museum (and skip the lake), check out the Science Museum of Minnesota. You can easily spend half a day there and not see everything. It’s very hands-on and great for kids.
Tip: Both The Bakken Museum and Science Museum are members of ASTC, which means if you have a membership to another ASTC museum (like Omaha Children’s Museum), you can get free admission to them for four people.
Evening: We walked to Pizza Luce in downtown Minneapolis, which was pretty busy on the Saturday night we went. Kids’ meals come with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Day 2 – Brunch & Mall of America
Morning: Make a reservation for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen, a local restaurant not affiliated with Chef Ramsey or the TV show. It was the food highlight of the entire trip, though the playful “hell” theme made my kids a little nervous.
It’s a kid-friendly place, though, with a kid’s menu and everything. I recommend getting the lemon ricotta pancakes, and if you’re extra hungry, get the sausage toast appetizer and top it with their famous peanut butter and orange marmalade.
Go by 8:30 a.m. to beat the crowd. If you’re a mimosa or Bloody Mary bar kind of person, go after 9 a.m. so you can enjoy their spectacular 35-foot DIY bar for each.
Afternoon: Head to Mall of America, which is bigger than you can even imagine. You walk more than a mile if you try to explore just one level of the mall!
We spent about 7 hours there and it was not long enough to do all that the kids had wanted. The bulk of our time was spent at Nickelodeon Universe, a 28-acre indoor theme park.
Get there right when the amusement park opens (usually later than the mall) to have your pick of short waits for rides. By noon, expect long lines for the popular rides. That last hour of the day, though, is also a great time for shorter waits.
In addition to the rides, we did Dutchman’s Deck Ropes Course and zip line. It’s an additional fee from the all-day ride pass. It’s surreal zip-lining through the mall. The ropes course was a workout but probably the favorite thing for us grownups. Due to the wait and how long you may want to spend on the course, it can be a major time suck. So if your time is limited, I would advise not doing it.
Related post: Ultimate Guide To Visiting Mall Of America With Kids
We also played a round of putt-putt golf at Moose Mountain Adventure Golf at the mall. This activity also takes a lot of time since it’s 18 holes of miniature golf.
We also visited SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium on the lower level of the mall. It was one of our final stops of the day, so we had to rush through it a bit. The long tunnels were impressive, but the highlight for the kids was the touch tank.
I spent quite a bit of time researching where to eat at the mall because I’d heard some grumblings about the typical mall fare there. With that in mind, we chose to have lunch at Twin Cities Grill. It was a welcome respite from the loudness of the mall and rides. As a sit-down restaurant, though, it does take a while to get through the meal.
Alternative: Looking for someplace fun but not an all-day experience like Mall of America? Can Can Wonderland is an indoor miniature golf place where artists created each unique hole. It’s a colorful, zany dream space – you have to see it to believe it. Plus, there are some fun arcade games to keep you entertained while you wait.
Day 3 – Art & a Waterfall
Morning– Start the day off early and visit the Sculpture Garden outside the Walker Art Center. You’ll see the iconic sculptures without crowds of people in the background (plus the light will be best). And to boot, you get prime parking on the street.
Most of the artwork is hands-off for good reason, though if you walk around, you will find one “swing” that the kids will enjoy.
Afternoon – Head to Minnehaha Falls, a beautiful waterfall located inside city limits. It’s a short walk to see the waterfall, but prepare for several steps down and back up.
Downriver from the waterfalls, find a wading area where kids and grownups like to cool off. The kids were excited to join the others in the cold water. Meanwhile, I grimaced as I stepped on the rough rocks.
Tip: Bring water shoes!
If you brought bikes, plan on doing a bit of riding since the paved trails there are great for families.
No bikes? Rent a bike or four-person surrey bike in the park. The park is home to Sea Salt, a popular seafood restaurant, which I had planned on us dining at. Apparently, half of the city was there and the wait was close to 45 minutes just to order.
As luck would have it, though, there was a bluegrass festival at the park that day and several food trucks were parked nearby. There also happened to be a Surly beer truck, if a cold beer sounds good to you after a bike ride and trip to a waterfall. (FYI: Sea Salt also has beer on tap)
Plan a Minneapolis family trip
We’ve explored Minneapolis and St. Paul in the summer and the winter. Here are some more fun things to do and places to visit in the Twin Cities (and nearby):