Spring break is the perfect time to venture out and explore your own city, especially for families with children who are literally climbing the walls. Cabin fever is real, y’all. But if your kids are anything like mine, (aka writer’s kids) once you get them out into the world they stand off to the side, overwhelmed by the chaos and sensory overload of popular children’s destinations like the zoo and the science museum. Think mini-Amelies but with tumbleweed hair and worse clothes. Instead of trying to fit them into the Crayola Experience mold, we’ve found a number of alternative—and usually much cheaper—Minneapolis and St. Paul outings to suit our imaginative introverts.
- Bell Museum
When the Children’s Museum is overrun, head to the gorgeous new location for Minnesota’s natural history museum and planetarium to explore the earth and beyond. The museum showcases world renowned wildlife dioramas and the unique Touch and See Lab especially suited to tactile learners. The planetarium’s daily schedule of shows offers a variety of programs to suit every age and interest.
- Red Balloon Bookshop
I take my kids to a lot of bookstores around town, but they’re most excited when we visit the children’s bookstores. The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul offers a fantastic local selection, story time, summer camps, and a robust lineup of author visits. Don’t miss the clearance section in the basement before you walk the two blocks for a Grand Ole Creamery cone.
- Wild Rumpus Books
Across the river, a miniature door-in-door welcomes young customers through their very own entrance at Wild Rumpus Books. My kids are fascinated by the menagerie of creatures who call Wild Rumpus home—cats, birds, fish, even a chinchilla. The store buys used books, making it a great opportunity for the kids to go through their shelves at home first and earn their own money to buy new selections. They also offer a sensory friendly story time, perfect for those who need a less chaotic atmosphere.
- Como Park Conservatory
Most Twin Cities families are familiar with the Como Park Zoo, free and open to the public every day of the year, but the neighboring conservatory is an overlooked gem. The lush indoor space is green year-round, featuring a fern room, palm dome, and a fairytale sunken garden. I have my kids make a list of the number of food-producing plants growing in the Tropical Encounters trail – exotic fruits and spices can be found around every corner. For kids with extra energy to burn, the surrounding outdoor park trails stretch for miles and offer a number of perfect spring picnic spots.
- Minneapolis Institute of Art
Most families venturing to MIA take a hard left at the entrance and head straight for the attached Children’s Theatre, but they’re missing an extraordinary exhibition of art in the Twin Cities. Bring sketchbooks for the kids and have them choose their favorite sculpture or painting to draw (with lead or colored pencils only, no pens allowed), then talk about their interpretations over a treat in the cafe. The permanent collections are free for all visitors, but I give the kids a few dollars to donate. It sets up good habits to support art in their lives.
- Parade Ice Garden
It may be spring, but there’s always ice to be found in Minnesota. Ice skating is available year-round at a number of rinks in the Twin Cities, and open skate sessions usually cost only a few dollars for admission and skate rental. This is a perfect spring activity for my crowd-averse kids, as most people are craving outdoor activities this time of year and, for extra insurance of having the ice (mostly) to ourselves, I choose a rink where the surrounding schools are in session.
- Circus Juventas
Creativity doesn’t have to be quiet and shy. Show your kids what daring looks like with some truly extraordinary entertainment at Circus Juventas. Ever wonder where the Cirque du Soleil performers trained? Circus school, naturally. The Circus Juventas spring shows are a little shorter than their summer extravaganzas and feature the younger performers who are still learning. Don’t be surprised if the kids want to sign up for summer camps afterward.
- Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
To really run off that spring energy, we head to the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum and explore over 1,100 acres of ever-changing plant life. The kids can bring cameras to practice their photography skills or go on a nature inspired scavenger hunt throughout the grounds. The Arboretum doesn’t charge admission for anyone under sixteen.
- Franconia Sculpture Park
View this post on Instagram
“What art can do for a community is incredible.” — Public Artist Mark di Suvero * A recent article on @hyperallergic discusses Mark di Suvero's beginnings in public art. Check out the inspiring article, then come to Franconia Sculpture Park to visit two of this world famous sculptor's pieces up close and personal, Gorky's Pillow and Johnny Appleseed (pictured here)! #markdisuvero * Check out the article here: https://hyperallergic.com/480932/why-mark-di-suvero-chose-public-art/
On the opposite side of the Twin Cities from the Arboretum is
an entirely different sort of park. Franconia is a 43-acre outdoor sculpture exhibit that provides residencies to forty different artists every year as well as programming for the whole community. Marvel at a mountain made out of boomboxes. Climb a labyrinth of mirrored cubes. There’s no limit to the imagination on display. Best of all, Franconia is free and open 365 days a year.
- The Café Meow
For my kids, no city tour is complete without a visit to Minnesota’s only cat café. Café Meow offers hour long time slots in the cat room (or fifteen-minute slots during happy hour) and you can bring your beverages in with you. The ten to fifteen cats at the café are all available for adoption, and information is posted about each available cat on the wall. My kids like to match all the cats to their posters, which can be a challenge, as there are plenty of places for furtive felines to hide.
Bio: Mindy Mejia’s internationally acclaimed heartland noir thrillers have been translated into over twenty languages. She’s the author of THE DRAGON KEEPER and EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, which was a People’s Best New Books Pick and listed in The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries. Her latest novel, the Barry Award nominated LEAVE NO TRACE, is on sale now. A graduate of the Hamline University MFA program, she lives and works in the Twin Cities. You can find out more at MindyMejia.com.