One Day in the Twin Cities

one day itinerary minneapolis st paul twin cities

The Twin Cities have a special place in my heart.

It’s at least partially a mythology my brain has built up around it–the soothing drone of Garrison Keeler rippling across the prairie grasses, a shadow of young F. Scott Fitzgerald hashing out his thoughts about life over absinthe, the glint of chrome at Mickey’s Diner — which I’ve never actually been to, so there may not be any chrome but I feel like there should be — the silent grandeur of Summit Avenue whose houses have seen so many glittering snowfalls and so many gem-like leaves in August.

I think the mythology we accumulate about certain places makes them come alive in our minds in a special way. And sometimes, the mythology can make the reality look a little drab.

But here is some wonderful reality for you.

After our wedding, Josh and I spent one day bouncing around Minneapolis/St. Paul before moving on. Although it was just a taste of what the Twin Cities have to offer, it was a perfect, bite-sized refreshment.

You could easily fill up an entire week or two there, but here is a one day itinerary for the foodie, art buff, or just plain multicultural enthusiast.

One Day Itinerary: Minneapolis and St. Paul

As a former barista, there are so many coffee shops in the Twin Cities that I would loooovvvvvve to visit. We just went to Claddagh Coffee, though, and it was a perfect, low-key start for our day. Bring your order down into their comfy basement. Some coffee shops have kind of a pretentious, hipstery vibe. Some coffee shops have an overly commercialized vibe. This one was just pure, quirky, casual comfort. Oh, and toss some gold to their leprechaun on your way out.

Next — now trust me on this — the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Plan on spending all day here. They have a cafe inside, so you don’t need to leave for lunch! We arrived around one in the afternoon, walked until our feet hurt and walked some more, didn’t leave until closing time — and we still missed out on a couple major galleries. Even if an art museum doesn’t sound interesting to you, there is something here for everyone — jade exhibits from Asia, mummies from Egypt, re-creations of Jane Austen era rooms, swords and suits of armor, all the famous paintings and sculptures your eyes are capable of absorbing in one day (actually, more), sheep to take selfies by. . .

Not kidding about the sheep.

sheep selfie

Also, admission is free.

So when they kick you out at closing time, you’ll need to find some dinner. Moscow on the Hill. Do it. If I lived next to Moscow on the Hill, I would eat my way through their entire menu. Perusing the enormous vodka menu, Josh was like a kid in a candy store. I think we split their Appetizer Tasting Platter and it happened to be a variety of all things salmon, and it was amazing. I also tried escargot for the first time, and it is actually not revolting if you don’t think about it too hard!

It has been a year and a half, and my mouth is still watering, thinking about the salmon pate.

 

At the end of our long day, we checked into Hotel 340. They upgraded our room at check in due to availability, so I’m not exactly sure what kind of room we ended up in, but it may have been a king suite. It felt more like an apartment than a hotel room — I think I’d be ok with living there! It was a charming mix of modern convenience with early 1900s ambiance soaring 12 stories above the streets of St. Paul.

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Usually, I’m the type of person who likes to try new things. I never buy the same shampoo twice. I’m always trying new recipes from Pinterest. If I’m going to travel somewhere, why see things that I have already seen?

But all that said, this one-day trip is one that I would be happy to recreate over and over again.

How to spend a day in Memphis

memphis blues cafeWe had a quick overnight stay in Memphis, Tennessee a few months ago to attend a friend’s wedding. Even with a short turn-around, we managed to really enjoy the city.

Of course, Memphis is known for Graceland and Sun Studio, but we actually didn’t get to visit either–so we’ll definitely need to go back!

 

We crashed at the Peabody Hotel late on a Saturday night. It was definitely a step above our usual budget, but the experience was pretty well worth it. (OMG the duck shaped soap!) Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can still step into the lobby to see the Marching of the Ducks. Every day the ducks march down into the fountain at precisely 11AM — and at 5PM they return to their home on the roof. The first and second floor hallways surrounding the lobby are full of interesting history and memorabilia from the hotel’s long and lovely past, as well, so you can while away the time while you wait for the ducks to march.

Before leaving Memphis, we walked over to Beale Street to take in some of the blues history and vibe. Silky O’Sullivan’s was a great find. We visited in the early afternoon so it was pretty quiet, but I can imagine it being quite the nightlife spot after dark. They are known for their goats (which we did not see), and their outdoor courtyard which was full of ambiance. I was surprised and delighted to find Ella Fitzgerald’s signature at my feet…

We definitely missed A LOT by sticking around for only a few hours — on our next trip, I think we’ll be seeking out some Elvis and Blues destinations!

 

 

 

 

peabody hotel ducks silky o'sullivans ella fitzgerald beale street

A Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama is a hidden treasure.

I found out about it kind of by accident — The Hubs and I had two days

off in a row on the horizon, so I was planning a short get-away for us and researching Mississippi day trips. All these really cool places in Alabama started showing up in my search results, though, and there were two attractions I really wanted to see.

Huntsville just happened to be smack-dab in between them, and so it was a logical place to spend the night!

And now I can’t wait to go back. We barely scratched the surface of what there is to see there. Hopefully next time, we’ll be able to check out some of the more mainstream attractions like the Rocket Center and Monte Sano State Park.

As it is, we explored secret caves and canyons, visited a fun little brewery, and had a really great dinner all in under 24 hours!

From Southern Mississippi, it was a 4-5 hour drive which is probably about the farthest we would attempt for a weekend getaway. Starting from anywhere in Tennessee, Georgia, or the Florida panhandle would also probably be do-able on a 3-day weekend.

 

Our first stop was Dismals Canyon located 1.5 hours west of Huntsville.

 

Dismals Canyon, Phil Campbell, AL

It’s privately owned and the admission was a little steep at $12 per adult, but it is so well maintained, family friendly, and truly epic that we found it worthwhile.

After paying admission in their large gift shop/eatery and receiving your trail map, you descend stairs upon stairs down into the canyon. The stairs are actually pretty strenuous and may be unsuitable for those with certain health conditions, but aside from that it was a really low-key trail and many people had their kids and puppies in tow.

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The trail brings you past waterfalls and between looming mossy boulders that line a small stream and loops back, about 1.5 miles round trip. A map is provided that makes the trail seem kind of like a scavenger hunt for all their creative place markers and pieces of local trivia.

👌

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The canyon is otherworldly and a little eerie even in the daytime. They also do guided tours at night featuring a local glow-worm population!

 

Where to Eat, Where to Stay

From there, we ran up the road to Huntsville and found our motel for the evening. Knights Inn Huntsville was a great deal for us; I think only about $60 for the night, and it was clean and comfortable.

Dinner at Connors Steak and Seafood where the lights were low, the staff were awesome, and everything was delicious. I had grilled salmon and the hubs endorses their steak which was perfect with the Cigar Box Malbec.

We found breakfast the next morning at the Blue Plate Cafe, which had a fun, retro ambiance. I have never really understood the southern country fried steak thing, but I had a bite of Hubs’ here and it finally made sense — that crispy batter and perfectly seasoned gravy….Try the cheesy hash-browns, too.

 

Stephen’s Gap Cave

Our primary objective on this trip was to visit Stephen’s Gap.

It. Was. Amazing.

It also happens to be very accessible, even to the novice cave explorer with no gear. I’m going to write a separate post with all the details, but will leave you with this taste. (Update: here’s that post!)

#stephensgap #cave

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Brew Scene

Huntsville is a bit of a brewery hub, so we had to check it out. Our final stop before heading out of town was Below the Radar. Their website doesn’t seem to be working right now, but we were lured in by descriptions of some of their dark beers.

We tried a flight of six that piqued our interest. I don’t think we discovered any new favorites, but some of them were pretty unusual! The Gravel Road Saison tasted like candy. I had high hopes for the 300 Blackout Smoked Porter, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Huntsville! Recommended for the:

  • Outdoorsy
  • Craft Beer Enthusiasts
  • Budget Travelers