|Whether its by land or by sea, there are many different
ways to see the Twin Cities. Fast or slow, private or group, tours
are a great way to orient yourself. Take one of the many tours pointed
out here, and you are sure to find out about some hidden spot that
you could not have discovered otherwise.
If its a riverboat ride that soothes you, try the Padelford Packet
Boat Company. In St. Paul, the cruises start at Harriet Island.
In Minneapolis, head to Boom Island, across the river from downtown.
Take a ride on the Betsey Northrup or Jonathan Padelford. These
narrated tours are a great way to learn some of the history of the
area, both human and geological. The Minneapolis tour includes locking
through the Number One lock on the Mississippi River. Both locations
offer dinner cruises and Sunday brunch cruises, as well as other
special themes and music events.
St. Croix River
The St. Croix River is the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin,
just a half-hour east of St. Paul. It is a nationally designated
Scenic Waterway, and the shore is dotted with historic river towns
offering drinking, dining, and shopping. Just north and east of
the Twin Cities is Taylors Falls, where you can board the Taylors
Falls Princess or Taylors Falls Queen for a short cruise to admire
the scenic beauty and fantastic rock formations. There are also
dinner cruises available. Or rent a canoe if you want to do it yourself.
Directly east, in Stillwater, the Andiamo is moored, offering buffet
lunch cruises and more aboard the 1890s riverboat. South and east
is Afton and the historic Afton House Inn. Their cruise ship line
offers Sunday brunch and dinner cruises aboard three modern cruise
ships of various sizes.
Lake Cruises and Water Transport
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the lakes is on them. If you didn't
happen to bring your own boat, try one of the tours offered. Lake
Minnetonka offers many different types of on-lake excursions. Float
along gracefully on the Minnehaha, the Lady of the Lake, or the
Queen of Excelsior. If you prefer to go a little faster, try Mahogany
Bay Vintage Cruise to rent a classic speedboat. On many of the area
lakes, its mostly self-serve. Go ahead and rent a bike or canoe.
Windsurfing, jet skis, kayaks, paddleboats, and sailboats are also
to be found.
This is the grand motorcoach tour that lets you ride in style. Narrated
by a standing guide, tours take you throughout the Twin Cities and
to the Mall of America. Bilingual tours and airport greeting are
If you would like a more intimate experience, try TwinCitiesTours.
These tours don't use the typical mammoth tour bus; you will ride
in comfort in a luxury sedan or van. This enables the tour to go
into many quiet neighborhoods where a bus wouldn't be welcome. Each
is narrated individually, not using a script. They offer several
standard tours, including holiday lights, but encourage customizing
to take you to what you want to see.
Get a little closer to the scenery in one of the many trolley cars
that motor around the cities. Both downtowns offer trolley service
to make it easier to orient yourself downtown. Or just for fun,
try a trolley on tracks around Lake Calhoun or Lake Harriet. Minneapolis
RiverCity Trolley and the Minnesota Transportation Museum are two
of the operators of this type of transportation.
The Metro Transit system will do the driving for you. Hop on an
Arts & Eats Express or Sites & Bites Express and ride the
bus to restaurants, shops, and attractions in downtown Minneapolis
and the surrounding area. The difference is whether you want arts
or sight-seeing to be the focus. Both stop at the Minneapolis Institute
of Arts and great restaurants. The ride is only $1.50; if you want
to get off to explore and then continue, ask the driver for a transfer
and you will have 2 ½ hours to use it. Arts & Eats stops at
most downtown hotels every hour; the Sites bus stops at most of
them every two hours. See www.metrotransit.org for maps and more.
Arts and Museum Pass
While not strictly a tour, it is a heckuva deal for museum enthusiasts.
The Greater Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association offers
a ten-day ticket to many of the most popular cultural destinations.
If you clamor for knowledge, this is your ticket. Only $15 for adults
and $11.50 for children and seniors, its half the cost of buying
tickets for each individual venue. The pass is available through
the Minneapolis Visitors Information Center, the Explore Minnesota
Store and the Walker Art Center. This includes hot spots throughout
the metro area, such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, American
Swedish Institute, and Minnesota Childrens Museum.
Enjoy the history behind some of these fabulous architectural jewels.
Summit Avenue is considered the longest intact example of a Victorian
neighborhood in the country. This beautiful sweeping parkway is
where F. Scott Fitgerald lived and wrote. Tours are organized by
the Minnesota Historical Society and are offered every year on Saturdays
in the summer. If you can't make it then, at least drive the stretch.
The James J. Hill House, home of the entrepreneurial railroad tycoon,
is open year-round.
Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul offers tours by costumed guides
portraying the likes of Ma Barker, John Dillinger, and Alvin 'Creepy?
Karpis detailing their experiences. Free on the last Sunday of each
month at 1:00 pm. Reservations required. Many gangsters flocked
to St. Paul during the 1930s, and holed up in the Wabasha Street
Caves before ending up at the courthouse. Tours of these caves are
St. Anthony Falls Heritage Zone
Take a walking tour down the Mississippi Mile, near downtown Minneapolis.
This is a nationally designated historic site. Discover the roots
of the mill town and marvel at the Stone Arch Bridge. These self-guided
tours take you along the Grand River, right past St. Anthony Falls.
If you get tired of walking, take a horse-drawn carriage ride on
Nicollet Island. Nicollet Island Pavilion and Amphitheater hosts
a variety of events each summer.
If you want to put a little more activity into your tour, rent a
bike and take the path! There are many designated routes for biking,
walking, jogging, and in-line skating throughout the Twin Cities.
Many of them are old railroad beds that have been repurposed for
recreational benefit. The Gateway Trail is a blacktop path that
covers 19 miles from St. Paul to Stillwater. Grand Rounds is 45
miles of paths that connect the lakes in Minneapolis. On the West
end of town, the Luce Line State Trail is even longer ' 63 miles
that offer great sight-seeing. These are ideal for nature-lovers.
L. A. Smith