Best Free Midwest Attractions: Minnesota
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Free art in the Twin Cities
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum Frank Gehry's gleaming silver building (left) on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River houses the University of Minnesota's art. The museum has 17,000 works and is known for its collections of American modernism, ceramics, Mimbres pottery and Korean furniture.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts The newly expanded museum's holdings include a renowned Asian art collection among more than 80,000 works that span 5,000 years of human history.
Tons of sculpture
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden The star attraction in this free garden is Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Spoonbridge and Cherry (left), with its 5,800-pound spoon and 1,200-pound cherry. More than 40 other works are on view, including Kinji Akagawa's Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking bench and The Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge designed by Siah Armajani. Tours are available in summer.
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Enjoy plants and animals
Como Zoo and Conservatory A new conservatory wing features orchid, bonsai and fern rooms. The zoo, meanwhile, houses all the animals that children like (zebras, giraffes, lions, monkeys, penguins and more) in a small, easy-to-navigate area. The new Tropical Encounters exhibit spotlights both animals and plants in a rainforest setting.
More free attractions in the Twin Cities
Minnesota Capitol Tours of the 1905 Capitol lead to an outdoor balcony below the dome. The architect who drew the U.S. Supreme Court also designed this beauty (left), the crown of Saint Paul.
Minnehaha Falls Park With 193 acres, limestone bluffs and a river overlook, this park halfway between the two downtowns ranks as one of the most popular local nature areas.
All about Spam
Spam Museum, Austin The world has Austin to thank for its favorite mystery meat. Founder George Hormel's processing plant cranks out 21,000 cans of Spam per hour. The Spam Museum (left) spins its meaty story with interactive and history exhibits. See vintage advertising, answer Spam trivia (Spam is actually made of pork shoulder and ham), and try canning Spam products.
Wildlife in Minnesota
Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Rochert About 18 miles northeast of Detroit Lakes, this 43,000-acre sanctuary (left), in the transition zone between northern hardwood and coniferous forests, has more than 250 species of birds and 50 types of mammals. A visitors center overlooks marshland and has exhibits and a theater presentation about area wildlife. Explore the refuge on a 5-mile self-guided scenic drive and or hiking trails.
Pilot a Great Lakes ship
Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth Learn about the lake's shipping industry and try your hand on a pilothouse wheel. The center has three replica cabins and a pilothouse, a two-story steam engine, 50 scale-model exhibits and presentations on shipwrecks, life on board a boat and more. The center's location at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge provides for great ship-watching, as huge freighters pass within 200 feet of the building.