See This, Skip That: Minneapolis

This city is steeped in cultural activities and a buzzing culinary haven.

Feb. 8, 2014— -- Minneapolis may be the largest city in Minnesota, but it’s got plenty of small-town charm. It’s pedestrian-friendly, steeped in cultural activities and a buzzing culinary haven. Water also plays a prominent role here, with a myriad of lakes and creeks, and the mighty Mississippi River that rumbles through town. Whether it is business or pleasure that brings you, here are some of our favorite things to do.

Visit the Park, Skip the RiverMinnesota Landscape Arboretum is no ordinary park. This natural wonderland stretches 1,100 acres and features 32 specialty gardens that house more than 5,000 plant varieties. You’ll find tree and shrub collections here, too, and you’ll get to see a variety of native northern animals in their natural habitats. Original artwork is on display in the new Sculpture Garden. Worried about getting around this vast natural preserve? Don’t worry; the new visitor circulation tour carts will whisk you around the property and make multiple stops. And winter means the cross-country trails are open for all to use; what’s more, entrance to the arboretum is free in January.

Hit the Spa, GentlemenWho said brow tinting was just for women? Men’s Spa doesn’t mince words: they cater to men and all their grooming needs. Located in the Mill City district, their menu of men’s services runs the gamut, from massages to facials to waxing. Dry skin? The antioxidant blast will revive it. On the go? A 30-minute full body massage will only cost you $45. Prefer smooth? Ask about the Guy-zilian. The Men’s Spa has a wide range of hair services, too, and offers professional styling consultation.

Play Artist, Skip the MuseumRather than just admire art, why not become an artist yourself? Malcolm Potek, who’s been a celebrated glass artist for more than 20 years, runs Potekglass, where artists of all skill levels come to learn the fascinating techniques of using the flame to manipulate glass into beautiful shapes. There are thee beginner courses, including the Kiln Mosaic class, where students learn to cut patterns out of sheet glass and combine them inside a kiln to make pendants and tiles. Classes last about three hours and include all the materials you’ll need. Potekglass also features a shop – everything from original works to used-glass blowing equipment for sale – and features regular artist exhibits and lectures.

Ride a Bike, Skip the CabOver just the past couple of years, Minneapolis has doubled the miles of on-street bikeways throughout the city. In fact, a concerted push to promote biking as a healthy and cost-effective way to get around has helped make this one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country. Nice Ride Minnesota is a non-profit group that runs a public bike-sharing program, allowing anyone to borrow a bike when they need one and simply return it to any other station in the system. Residents have to register for a yearly membership, but visitors can take advantage of their 24-hour subscriptions; just $6 gets you bike access and you pay trip fees based on how long you ride between returns (rides that last 30 minutes or less are free).

Shop Midtown, Skip the MallTo be frank, the Shopping Mall of America makes judicious spending a favorite pastime for many visitors here; what is one of the largest malls in the entire country is in nearby Bloomington and an easy trip via light rail. But if it’s shopping to satiate your hunger that you’re into, even neophyte foodies will savor a visit to Midtown Global Market, an expansive marketplace inside a restored historic building that allows local farmers and purveyors to feature their wares and consumers to feed the senses. You’ll find fresh fare restaurants, specialty grocers and gift boutiques here, as well as gift items from around the world. Check out the all-year events calendar for rotating cultural programs and events. Parking is free for two hours with validation. Keep in mind that there are a variety of farmers markets throughout the city, including the weekly one run by the University of Minnesota, which features uber-local vendors who’ve traveled 2-1/2 miles or less to sell their fruits and vegetables.

Dine at Pacna, Taste HistoryThe food scene is thriving in Minneapolis these days, and awesome restaurants abound. But make time for at least one meal at Pacna on Main, which dubs itself a historic dining saloon. Located along cobblestoned Main Street and overlooking the Mississippi River, this is the oldest restaurant in Minneapolis, dating back to 1890. The décor inside this historic building features the original brick walls and the lunch and dinner menus feature classic sandwiches, pasta and meat dishes and a bevy of craft brews.

All Aboard, Hit the RinkThe Depot dates back to the turn of the 20th century – a historic downtown train shed that’s now become one of the hottest skating venues in the country. Open on specific days of the week throughout the year, it features a professional ice venue with floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of the city skyline. It’s part of a seven-block community development project that was completed in 2001 that also includes an indoor water park, a museum and several hotels and restaurants. By the way, the last train left the depot back in 1971.

Visit the Museum, See the WorldMinneapolis is home to a wonderful array of art, cultural and space museums. And a handful offer one-of-a-kind peeks at inspiration with an international twist. The Museum of Russian Art touts itself as the only museum of its kind in all of North America, featuring works rarely displayed anywhere else. There are multi-level galleries inside this renovated historic building that feature artwork and artifacts that depict everything from Russian traditions to former Russian dynasties. The American Swedish Institute, meanwhile, explored Nordic cultures that are well-rooted throughout the Midwest; exhibitions are housed inside the historic (and castle-like) Turnblad Mansion on Park Avenue.

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Minneapolis at