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Where to take winter visitors in MSP: 14 time-tested activities

The Line

Whether you’re a coastal transplant still struggling to comprehend the physics of a polar vortex or a born-and-bred Northerner who doesn’t even feel the cold anymore, you’re probably not used to welcoming winter visitors to MSP.

You know the “winter visit” conversation: “Please come to MSP. It’ll be so much fun! Just, you know, wait until May or so. It’s ... better ... then.”

Seriously though. As anyone who’s spent a winter in MSP knows, the pace of life here doesn’t drop with the temperature (or the snow ... the snow). From Wirth Park to the St. Paul riverfront, Walker Art Center to the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, MSP bustles with life from November to April. So convince family and friends to visit this winter. And once they’re here, show them a great time with these classic MSP winter activities.

Minneapolis

Theodore Wirth Park
Theodore Wirth Parkway between I-394 and Golden Valley Road
Though sprawling Wirth Park is a delight in any season, it arguably puts its best foot forward in winter, when its 15 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails draw active visitors from all across the metro. If you don’t have your own skis, rent them on Saturdays and Sundays at the Wirth Par 3 Clubhouse, near Theodore Wirth Parkway and Plymouth Avenue. Snowshoe rentals are available at the nearby Wirth Chalet. What better way to introduce your out-of-town friends to the most traditional of winter sports?

Though sprawling Wirth Park is a delight in any season, it arguably puts its best foot forward in winter.

Lake of the Isles
Lake of the Isles Parkway
Stately mansions look great in winter, too, so strap on some snow boots (or grippy shoes) and take your friend on a walking circuit of this exclusive body of water. By the end, you’ll have figured out a tactful way to break the bad news: Josh Hartnett no longer lives here. Want a closer look? Lake of the Isles has a public skating rink (conditions permitting) with organized hockey games. Retreat to the warming hut (or the coffee shops of Hennepin Avenue, within walking distance) after executing your double salchows.

Minnehaha Falls & Minnehaha Park
4801 S Minnehaha Park Drive
Frozen waterfalls are cool; falling water in suspended animation. For best viewing, visit after a cold snap.

Frozen waterfalls are cool.

Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Avenue
The Walker Art Center is in the midst of a $75 million renovation and expansion that promises a bold new entrance to the grounds and a host of new sculptures in the adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Give your friend a glimpse of the pre-expansion garden — no, they don’t take the sculptures down for winter — before heading across the street to the Walker’s main building. Once inside, check out two limited-time exhibitions: Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (through Feb 28) and Andrea Buttner: Piano Destructions (through May 15).

Mia
2400 3rd Ave S
Need more art? Head southwest to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, or Mia, the Walker’s bigger, older cousin. Drop by on Thursday, Feb. 18, for the museum’s monthly Third Thursday gathering. This month features a preview of State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, running Feb. 19 through May 29. On your way out, cut through the adjacent Minneapolis College of Art & Design campus, and head to Eat Street for a bite at PeninsulaBlack Sheep Pizza or the Copper Hen.

Guthrie Theater
818 S 2nd Street
It’s hard to miss the Guthrie Theater on the Downtown East riverfront, though the iconic blue structure is a bit less conspicuous now that it’s literally in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium. What better way to warm up after a long day of MSP winter fun than to get a closer look — and enjoy a world-class theatrical performance for the bargain? For lighter fare, try “Two Comedies in One Night” (The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound), or go for a weightier alternative: You For Me For You, a poignant study on North Korean exiles.

American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Avenue
Before MSP was a cosmopolitan melting pot, it was the North American hub of the Swedish diaspora. The American Swedish Institute proudly carries the Swedish cultural banner today, celebrating the contributions of early Scandinavian Minnesotans and maintaining ties with the home of Ikea. And there’s no better time to teach your out-of-town friends about MSP’s Nordic roots than winter: that most Swedish of seasons. Check out The Troll With No Heart (through Feb 28) and The Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin (through May 22), then grab a bite at FIKA — just named “best lunch in Minnesota” by the Star Tribune!

Midtown Global Market
920 E Lake Street
The inside of the Midtown Global Market is always a comfortable 70 degrees, give or take a few ticks in either direction. It’s the perfect place to warm up after your half-mile walk from the Swedish Institute — either with a quick bite from El Burrito Mercado or Hot Indian Foods, or a craft pint from ever-popular Eastlake Brewery & Tavern.

St. Paul

Como Park
1431 Lexington Parkway N
Downhill skiing and snowboarding within St. Paul’s city limits? Yep, at the Como Park Ski Center. With two rope tows and a 150-foot vertical drop, Como Park isn’t exactly Aspen (or even Lutsen), but it’s a lot closer and a lot cheaper. After a few runs, warm up at the Como Park Ski Chalet or sit down for a longer meal at Como Dockside. Then venture into the Como Park Conservatory, particularly the Tropical Encounters area, for a relaxing, steamy mini-vacation to Costa Rica.

You don’t have to head north of the border to experience the joy of curling.

St. Paul Curling Club
470 Selby Avenue
You don’t have to head north of the border to experience the joy of curling. Just make your way to St. Paul’s ascendant Cathedral Hill neighborhood and drop in at the St. Paul Curling Club. Refreshments are available at the club, but for a longer craft beer and cocktail list (and full menu), head next door to the Happy Gnome, a Cathedral Hill institution. And if curling is really your thing, hit the Frogtown Curling Club too.

Science Museum of Minnesota 
120 Kellogg Blvd W
As you wander the halls of the Science Museum of Minnesota, you’ll soon forget the cold outside. And, if you and your visitors catch Omnifest (through March 3), you’re liable to forget you’re in Minnesota at all. It’s like the Sundance Film Festival for giant-screen nature movies.

Red Bull Crashed Ice
Downtown St. Paul
The Red Bull Crashed Ice extreme winter sports series makes the Winter X-Games look like a knitting circle. If your winter visitors are inclined to see grown men and women doing ill-advised, probably highly dangerous things on steep, iced-over tracks (this year’s course has a 12-story drop: what?), convince them to visit Feb. 26-27. Just be sure to arrive early: The last St. Paul event attracted more than 100,000 people over two days, according to Red Bull.

The last St. Paul Crashed Ice attracted more than 100,000 people over two days.

Park Square Theatre
20 W 7th Place
Park Square Theatre isn’t as well-known as the Ordway or as glamorous as the Guthrie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a winter visit. From Renaissance classics (Romeo & Juliet, Feb. 12-13) to edgy modern shows (Nina Simone: Four Women, March 8-26), Park Square’s schedule is engaging and well rounded. After the show, walk over to Tin Whiskers Brewing or Bedlam Lowertown.

Ordway Music Theatre and Concert Hall
345 Washington Street
The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is among the North’s finest theatres. Give your out-of-town visitor a dose of MSP high culture with a performance by SEOP Dance Company (March 5), Minnesota Opera’s rendition of Tosca (March 12-26), or a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performance (various dates). After (or before) the show, meander over to Cossetta Alimentari or Bad Weather Brewing Company’s new taproom.

This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Brian Martucci is The Line's innovation and jobs news editor.  

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Comments (1)

That would be "MIA"

Acronyms are capitalized. No matter WHAT some cutesy marketer has decreed.