More than 18 million visitors find their way to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul every year, drawn by a place that touts outdoor fun as much as culture and cuisine. The area (population: 3.2 million), once known for its flour mills and Mississippi River ports, has a knack for welcoming the novel, while also preserving the best.
Click ahead to learn about 14 of our favorite things to do in the Twin Cities, from shopping on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul to exploring Minnehaha Falls Park halfway between the two downtowns. Want to share your favorites? Leave a comment below or on the Midwest Living® page on Facebook!
Pictured: The Cathedral of Saint Paul, as seen from the golden horse statues at the top of the Minnesota state capitol building.
The Walker Art Center was the first public art gallery in the upper Midwest when it was established in 1927. Today, housed in a larger center that opened in 2005, it's a world-class destination for viewing contemporary art and media. Next to the center is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, one of the largest urban sculpture parks in the country. Visitors love the iconic Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Spoonbridge and Cherry (pictured at left; 612/375-7600; walkerart.org).
The Twin Cities theater scene owes much to the internationally acclaimed Guthrie Theater, founded in 1963. World-famous English director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, searching for a Midwest city in which to establish a professional theater, chose Minneapolis.
Nearly 50 years later, the Guthrie is more successful than ever. Now in a new home on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Guthrie offers classic works and a dash of contemporary plays. Four restaurants offer a variety of dining choices, and a variety of tours -- including backstage, architectural and self-guided-- round out the Guthrie experience (877/447-8243; guthrietheater.org).
Guthrie Theater 
With 193 acres, limestone bluffs and river overlooks, this park --halfway between the two downtowns -- ranks as one of the most popular (612/230-6400; minneapolisparks.org). See a summer concert in the Minnehaha Falls Park bandstand, pack a picnic to enjoy while watching the falls, or take a relaxing walk or bike ride on the bike/pedestrian trail. The seasonal Sea Salt Eatery is good, too; try the fish tacos (612/721-8990).
Minnehaha Falls Park 
Kids could spend the day in these seven Saint Paul galleries, including a seasonal rooftop area that encourages art exploration. Each gallery in the Minnesota Children's Museum is geared towards creating an interactive environment for kids 6 months to 10 years old (though adults may be entertained, too). Babies and toddlers can explore the Habitot of forest, caves, prairies, and ponds, while older kids create storms and crawl through an oversized anthill in Earth World (651/225-6000; mcm.org).
Built in 1910, this 1,000-seat Saint Paul icon acts as Minnesota Public Radio's largest studio. Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2010, the Fitzgerald Theater is Saint Paul's oldest theater space and home to A Prairie Home Companion. Watch the website for Prairie Home Companion ticket releases. The theater also hosts a variety of other programs, including Minnesota Ballet performances, movie parties and musical performances (651/290-1200; fitzgeraldtheater.publicradio.org).
Fitzgerald Theater 
You can spend an afternoon along this Saint Paul street, grabbing lunch at one of the locally owned restaurants, shopping at the boutiques or getting spa treatments (651/699-0029; grandave.com). Grand Avenue runs for 30 blocks, with beautiful old homes and the campuses of Macalester College and University of St. Thomas adding to its charm. Favorite destinations for visitors include Cafe Latte, a cafeteria-style deli known for its three-layer chocolate turtle cake (651/224-5687; cafelatte.com).
Grand Avenue 
The architect of the U.S. Supreme Court, Cass Gilbert, designed this 1905 stunner in Saint Paul. Free guided tours of the State Capitol are a great way to see the beautiful building. Among its impressive features: the quadriga, or golden horses, on the exterior of the building. Designed by Daniel Chester French (sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial) and Edward Potter, the figures are made of copper and covered with gold leaf. Weather permitting, tours lead to an outdoor balcony below the dome. Walk past the gleaming horses and enjoy a panoramic view of the city (651/296-2881; mnhs.org).
A stunning recent expansion showcases highlights of an enormous collection, with nearly 80,000 works that span over 5,000 years of human history. The renowned Asian art collection is a must-see, as well as the European exhibit and the Modern and Contemporary galleries (pictured at left). Pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or join a public tour. Admission is free. Refreshments and live music are offered on Third Thursdays (888/642-2787; artsmia.org).
Outdoor recreation combines with historical sites in the heart of the metro area at Fort Snelling State Park, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Among the park's attractions: Historic Fort Snelling, an 1820s living history fort operated by the Minnesota Historical Society (the 1 p.m. daily cannon firing is popular!); a trail system that includes 18 miles for hiking and 5 miles of paved bike trails; canoe rentals on Gun Club Lake; a 9-hole golf course; and swimming in spring-fed Snelling Lake.
The world's largest mill -- the Washburn A. Mill -- ground enough flour in a day to make 12 million loaves of bread. The building now houses the Mill City Museum, which re-creates old-school flour production days with period equipment, railroad cars and a floor-by-floor tour in a giant freight elevator. The glass elevator rises from the rubble of Mill Ruins Park, with the iconic Gold Medal flour sign overhead (612/341-7555; millcitymuseum.org)
Mill City Museum 
More than 40 million people visit the Mall of America, 10 miles south of Minneapolis, each year (952/883-8800; www.mallofamerica.com). The nation's biggest mall has more than 500 stores, dozens of restaurants, an indoor amusement park, an aquarium and a butterfly garden.
A little planning before your outing will ensure you're not overwhelmed. Go to the mall's website for information on store locations, hours, parking, events and promotions -- and a handy coupon book. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and leave your coat in the car (the mall is 70 degrees year-round).
Mall of America 
Pedal or paddle your way around the Twin Cities with the help of Wheel Fun Rentals. Stores at five Twin Cities locations (Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Falls and the St. Paul Hotel) offer a variety of rentals, including surreys, bicycles, specialty wheeled vehicles, kayaks, pedal boats and canoes (vehicles vary by location; 877/273-2453; wheelfunrentals.com).
Wheel Fun Rentals 
An 11-block pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Minneapolis balances big-city feel with hole-in-the-wall discoveries. Highlights of Nicollet Mall include The News Room restaurant, Dakota Jazz Club (pictured at left) and a seasonal farmer's market. Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra, hosts a variety of musical performances (minneapolis.org).
Nicollet Mall 
Minneapolis has more parkland acres per capita than any other major city in the United States. Take a green tour on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. This 50-mile route loops through tree-lined neighborhoods and past rivers, lakes, woods and waterfalls. Explore parks such as the Chain of Lakes Park (pictured at left) along the way (612/230-6400; minneapolisparks.org).