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St. Paul, Minnesota

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • St. Paul was originally called Pig’s Eye after a man named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant.
  • Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” cartoons, was a St. Paul native.
  • In the 1930s, St. Paul was well known, in certain circles, as a safe haven for gangsters.
  • The St. Paul Winter Carnival is America’s oldest (1886) and largest winter festival.
  • Minnesota nearly moved the capital to St. Peter in 1857, but one legislator stole the physical bill, preventing the move.

The quieter twin

St. Paul isn’t the only city to be shaped by its river, but its 26 miles of Mississippi riverfront are important enough to be part of the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The protected area, which extends through and beyond neighboring Minneapolis as well, essentially defines the city for active visitors, at least during warmer seasons. Recreational choices cover the gamut from canoeing or kayaking, cruising or fishing to making use of riverfront trails for biking, hiking or in-line skating.

But, among all its outdoor activities, Winter Carnival is the Minnesota capital’s most famous event. Carnival is famous for its ice sculptures and, in some years, its ice palaces. The winterfest, which lasts more than a week and attracts 350,000, also includes parades, races, balloon rides, a jazz festival, a beer garden and more.

St. Paul is not so well known for an amusing piece of local lore — well, it’s amusing now, at the safe distance of more than 70 years. The city’s easily compromised police department of the 1920s/1930s made St. Paul the haven of choice for gangsters, provided the gangsters behaved while in town. They overstepped by kidnapping sons of the wealthy and collecting big ransoms, so the cozy arrangement came to an end. Tourists can pursue this subject with a local tour operator.

St. Paul, in south central Minnesota, is a twin but not an identical twin. Of course, St. Paul and Minneapolis have many similar attractions for tourists beginning with the Mississippi River and including theater, music, museums and sporting events. Minneapolis is larger but not overwhelmingly so; it counts around 400,000 residents to St. Paul’s 300,000. Tourists who choose St. Paul are likely to spend time in Minneapolis, too.

However, there are differences. St. Paul is Minnesota’s political center, and Minneapolis its business center. St. Paul’s fans highlight the charms of the smaller, “most livable” city, praising its intimate restaurants and attractive historic buildings. St. Paul is the quieter twin, whereas some call Minneapolis hip or flashy.

The bottom line is that the quieter twin appeals most to those travelers at the middle of the personality spectrum.

Things to do for Venturers

  • In August, race alongside the Mississippi in St. Paul for a half marathon on foot, or compete in this race while gliding on in-line skates. Competitors run or skate side by side. Or, slip on your skates anytime weather permits and follow trails along the river as far as you wish.
  • Explore the nightspots in St. Paul’s Lowertown, a former warehouse district. Several types of music and libation choices are on offer.
  • Attend the Winter Carnival in January. See the event’s well-known ice sculptures, but see them from a hot-air balloon.
  • Get involved at the working 1860s Oliver H. Kelley Farm at Elk River. Help (a little) with plowing (this involves horses or oxen), churning the butter or tending the garden.
  • Join a park ranger in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area on a bike tour that includes stops along the way to learn about the river and its history.
  • Enter one or more of the races that are part of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a five-day cycling event in June with several races in and near the Twin Cities. Or, compete in the Twin Cities Marathon in the autumn.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul; munch on deep-fried Snickers bars while there.
  • Travel by canoe in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which protects 72 miles of the Mississippi including the 26 in St. Paul. Be on the lookout for bald eagles and other wildlife.
  • Sightsee from a horse-drawn trolley (or walk) at a living history museum, called the Landing — Minnesota River Heritage Park, at nearby Shakopee.
  • Tour the Summit Brewery downtown.
  • Ski or snowboard at the Wild Mountain ski area at Taylors Falls. You can ski until 1 a.m. on Saturday nights. Taylors Falls is about 50 miles northeast of St. Paul.
  • See vaudevillian entertainment aboard the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, docked on the Mississippi in St. Paul. Or head out of town for the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the nation’s largest professional dinner theater site.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a Mississippi riverboat sightseeing cruise, operated by Padelford Packet Boat Co. Come in autumn and take a sailing focused on fall’s changing colors.
  • Join free tours of the Minnesota State Capitol and of the Cathedral of St. Paul. At the capitol building, lunch in the restored Rathskeller cafe. Also, make your way through a 36,000-square-foot stone mansion, the James J. Hill House, once the largest and costliest residence in the state.
  • Chase gangsters. Take the St. Paul Gangsters Tour, offered on Saturdays May to September, and learn something of St. Paul’s sordid past as a friendly host city to outlaws. See the caves on the Mississippi banks where they ran their Prohibition-era speakeasys.
  • Take the kids to play with, and learn from, the interactive exhibits at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Also, treat the children to a performance at the Steppingstone Theatre. The shows are created for tots, and the actors are all aged 8 to 18.
  • Shop on Grand Avenue, about 25 blocks of boutiques of all kinds. If all else fails, hop on the Hiawatha Light Rail Line at the Fort Snelling stop and head to the Mall of America.
  • If you get lucky, you can catch a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” at the city’s oldest theater, the Fitzgerald.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Saint Paul at www.visitsaintpaul.com