Reporting Amy Rea
By Amy C. Rea
If the budget—or schedule—isn’t allowing for foreign or cross-country travel this spring break or summer, maybe it’s time to look closer to home. Where to stay, what to do? Here are just a few suggestions that will have appeal for visitors of all ages.
It’s hard to imagine a more family friendly location than the Radisson in Bloomington, which is connected to the Water Park of America and located across the highway from the Mall of America. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to access the water park, but the convenience factor of staying at the Radisson is very attractive. It’s also important to note that hotel guests have higher priority, so if the park is busy, it may be closed to non-hotel guests. Attractions with the park encompass all ages and ability levels: there’s a lazy river, three body slides, two tube slides, and a 10-story family raft ride, as well as a play structure for young visitors and a FlowRider surf simulator.
When you need a break from water activities, head across the highway to the Mall of America that has hours and hours of family entertainment and dining.
Nickelodeon Universe is in the center of the Mall, with dozens of rides for all ages and thrill-seeking levels. There’s also mini golf, the Amazing Mirror Maze, the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, and—for the bravest—the A.C.E.S. Flight Simulator. American Girl has a store here, as does the Build-A-Bear Workshop and Lego franchises. The Mall also has 14 movie theaters, and kids love to eat at the Rainforest Café.
One of the best things about Minnesota is the sheer number of wonderful outdoor venues to enjoy, pretty much year-round. Close to the Twin Cities, people of all ages can enjoy a day at any one of these parks and exhibits.
Interstate State Park, which straddles the St. Croix River and belongs partially to Wisconsin, is a treasure trove of outdoor activity, only an hour from the Twin Cities. Kayak or canoe down the river; take a guided paddleboat tour; tackle some serious rock-climbing (permit required); and hike through the park’s unique glacier-formed bluffs and view the historic glacial potholes.
As long as you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the Franconia Sculpture Park on your way to or from Interstate State Park. Franconia’s park is a rural version of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, with the added bonus of often (during good weather) getting to watch sculptors at work, building new pieces.
Or you could go the other direction, taking a day’s drive down the southeast border of the state and visit any of the beautiful historic river towns, especially Wabasha and Winona. There’s something for everyone in these small towns, whether you’re a fan of antiquing or browsing other small boutiques, finding local diners and cafes, or just wandering through downtowns filled with historic architecture. Be sure to allow some time to visit these two spots:
Located right on the Mississippi, the National Eagle Center is part research facility, part education and viewing area. There are eagles that live in the Center, and the location makes it a prime spot during nesting and migration.
Also located right on the river is this lovely museum with an unexpectedly rich and diverse collection of marine-related art. On display are pieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Monet and O’Keeffe. The building itself is a joy to visit, with some galleries overlooking the river.
At both the National Eagle Center and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, there are boardwalks and trails running along the Mississippi to do some outdoor exploration after indoor learning and viewing.
Amy C. Rea lives with her family in the Twin Cities. She’s the author of Backroads & Byways of Minnesota and Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes: an Explorer’s Guide. She can also be found chatting about Minnesota travel topics.