Best place to return to nature: Picnicking and hiking the trails in 193-acre Minnehaha Park (612-230-6400) is a low-key way to spend an afternoon. The 53-foot-high Minnehaha Falls pours over limestone bluffs, surrounded by thick forest. There's also a 1893 Chicago World's Fair statue of the fictional character Hiawatha and his love, Minnehaha, in honor of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 19th-century epic, "The Song of Hiawatha." The poem, loosely based on Native American history and legends, immortalized the beauty of the falls as well as the Minnesota forests.
Best history lesson: Not many museums are situated on sites that exploded once and caught fire twice. The Mill City Museum (612-341-7555), built on the ruins of the 19th-century Washburn A. Mill, tells the story of milling and Minneapolis with interactive exhibits and oral histories. At peak production, the mill ground enough flour each day to make 12 million loaves of bread. (All that flour dust was highly explosive; thus the site's colorful past.)
Best art museums: In a town with nearly 60 museums, several stand-out. Just at the edge of downtown, the Walker Art Center (shown right middle, 612-375-7600) showcases contemporary artists in visual, performing, and media arts. Across the street, wander through 40 outdoor artworks at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a nice place for a photo op on a sunny afternoon. Across town overlooking the Mississippi River, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (612-625-9494) houses a significant early-20th-century American collection. Check out the untitled "chicken painting" near the entrance, in which Minnesota-born artist Doug Argue offers a dizzying perspective down the seemingly endless aisle of a chicken barn.
Best live theater: Founded in 1963, the Guthrie Theater (612-377-2224) has three stages, offering venues for a variety of audience sizes and productions. The theater's deep blue metal exterior and cantilevered lobby, which extends nine stories toward the river, are worth a visit even if you aren't seeing a show. The lobby is open daily to the public, but it's most spectacular after dark when views of city landmarks are framed by strategically placed windows. This fall, performances include classics such as Jane Eyre, gems by Noel Coward, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of King Lear and Chekhov's The Seagull.
Quick tip:To explore the city sans auto, hop the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, a 12-mile ride from the Warehouse District downtown to the Mall of America in Bloomington, with stops at major shopping and tourist areas. Round-trip fare is $2 during rush hour, less during off times.
Where to Stay
Best luxury hotel: Located in the heart of downtown, Graves/601 Hotel (866-523-1100), has a chic, boutique feel. Service is top-notch, while glass-etched headboards, fluffy duvets, and a pillow "menu" contribute to the luxurious feel.
Best art experience: Adventurous travelers and art lovers will be dazzled by Chambers (877-767-6990). Its minimalist design is the backdrop for 250 pieces of contemporary art, collected by the hotel's owner, Ralph Burnet.
Best views: The Nicollet Island Inn (612-331-1800) offers the intimacy of a traditional inn with just 24 cozy rooms, located on an island in the middle of the Mississippi. Check into room 309 for views of the river, or 203 for sparkling night views of the city.