Welcome to the vibrant heartbeat of the Midwest: Minneapolis, Minnesota. The BruinLife staff had the opportunity to journey beyond the sunny shores of California to attend the ACP College Media Workshop this summer. While our primary mission revolved around broadening our journalism horizons, we were equally thrilled to delve into the Twin Cities’ intriguing mosaic of culture, cuisine, and camaraderie. Minneapolis, paired with its sibling city, St. Paul, presents a dazzling panorama of sparkling lakes, burgeoning art districts, and a food scene that marries global flavors with comforting Midwestern classics.
Whether it’s cycling along the picturesque Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, soaking up the contemporary art scene, or sampling the delightful local cuisine, there’s something for everyone. So, if you ever find yourself in this midwestern metropolis, be it for a conference, work, or leisure, our guide aims to help you navigate the city’s unique offerings. Join us as we revisit our memorable Twin Cities adventure. Welcome to your guide to Minneapolis – UCLA BruinLife’s edition.
Mall of America:
Tucked in the heart of Bloomington, Minnesota, just a stone’s throw from Minneapolis, stands the remarkable feat of American consumer culture: The Mall of America. We ventured into this vast monument of retail, which remarkably covers 5.6 million square feet, housing more than 500 stores and a dizzying array of entertainment options.
The Mall of America is not just a shopping center; it’s a full-scale experience. There is an individual store for everything you can possibly think of: There is a store that is solely dedicated to crocheting yarn while “The Beef Jerky Experience” is dedicated to all things related to preserved game and unusual meats such as crocodile and shark. In addition, the mega-mall’s attractions extend beyond its restaurants and retail therapy, featuring a mini Legoland, an indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe, with thrilling rides that had even the bravest among us gripping our seats. The SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium was another captivating pit-stop, presenting an underwater tunnel experience teeming with exotic sea life.
While the sheer scale of the Mall of America can seem overwhelming, the helpful staff and easy-to-navigate map kiosks ensure a seamless and enjoyable visit. For us at BruinLife, the Mall of America was a delightful exploration into the heart of American consumer culture.
Audrey Im: Visiting this mall truly felt unreal because of just how many activities there were to do inside it. I definitely recommend riding at least some of the rides in the Nickelodeon amusement park, especially the Avatar skateboard one!
Justin Choo: We visited this landmark twice during our trip and we still weren’t able to explore the entire mall. Personally, nothing beats the free samples at the Beef Jerky Experience and the Bubly rest zone that accompanies the Bubly vending machines.
Katie Adamick: Visiting the mall with the editing team was one of the most memorable parts of the trip! From the Nickelodeon amusement park to the Beef Jerky Experience, we had so much fun exploring all of the unique attractions that the mall has to offer. As someone who loves knitting and crocheting, my favorite place that we visited was the Knit and Crochet Store, and it was so cool to see all of the projects that its customers were working on!
Washington Avenue Bridge
Connecting the East Bank and West Bank of the majestic Mississippi River, the Washington Avenue Bridge provides pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists a convenient route between the different areas of Minneapolis, accompanied by an incredible view of the city skyline. The Washington Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1965, in part to help connect the expanding campus of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
Iris Lim: Walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge every morning was the perfect way to start my day. The Mississippi River was a stunning sight at all hours of the day, and I found myself pausing to take photos every time I crossed the bridge.
From the bridge, visitors can see numerous landmarks in downtown Minneapolis, including the U.S. Bank Plaza, Capella Tower, and the Fifth Street Towers. Additionally, visitors are treated with a clear view of the vast Mississippi, surrounded by lush vegetation.
Beyond its functional use as a convenient route of transportation, the Washington Avenue Bridge is also an incredible destination for an evening walk to watch the sunset. As the sun descends to the horizon, a myriad of colors paint the sky and reflect into the river below.
Not only were the daytime views incredible, but some of our editors were also lucky enough to watch the nighttime Minneapolis Aquatennial fireworks show from the bridge! The Minneapolis Aquatennial is an annual celebration of the city’s history and its community’s civic pride, complete with events such as the Torchlight Parade and the Target Fireworks show. As recommended by multiple local residents, the Washington Avenue Bridge is an excellent vantage point to watch the Aquatennial fireworks show, should you find yourself in Minneapolis in late July!
Located in Minneapolis, Open Book is a center of learning, expression, inspiration, and an appreciation for literary arts. Open Book opened in 2000, with the goal of reinvigorating a community interest in literature and preserving a sustainable sanctuary for creative expression.
The center was initially started by the Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Editions, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Today, they share the space with FRGMNT Coffee, Mayfly Design, New Arab American Theater Works, the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, and The Doorway for Better Health.
As a nonprofit independent publisher, Milkweed Editions gives new writers an opportunity to debut their poetry, fiction, and nonfiction works. By giving more authors a platform to share their stories, Milkweed Editions seeks to promote diversity, inclusivity, and representation in the literary world. Located on the first floor of Open Book, you can find books from authors such as Parneshia Jones, Anosh Irani, and Erin Sharkey.
The Minnesota Center for Book Arts is a nonprofit center that highlights the intricacies of the book-making process, from bookbinding to letterpressing. MCBA also offers classes on paper marbling, papermaking, and other artistic skills related to book arts. On the first floor of Open Book, MCBA showcases its Paper is People display, which includes beautiful patterns and unique types of paper, forged from ancient techniques.
Located between Milkweed Editions and MCBA is FRGMNT Coffee, a relatively new establishment in the area. The coffee shop was established in 2019 in the North Loop in Minneapolis, with three more locations opening thereafter. This location in the Mill District partners with the Minnesota bakery Honey & Rye to stock baked goods (the blueberry scone is to die for), and they also sell their own FRGMNT Coffee merch. The coffee shop is the perfect place to stop by and read when you want a relaxing morning, or after visiting the bookstores it is conveniently located between.
The Twin Cities harbors the largest Hmong-American community in the country, and a few of us were lucky enough to visit the Hmongtown Marketplace in Saint Paul. The marketplace comprised of two main indoor market areas, as well as an outdoor area selling plants and fresh produce. Though we were not allowed to take photos inside, the indoor market was filled with several stalls selling cultural clothes, Hmong cuisine and Hmong-language books, among other products. The marketplace is a good place to stop by to see more of the local community that lives within these cities; most stalls take cash only, so make sure to bring some with you when you visit!
The Hmongtown Marketplace was a great opportunity to witness one of the rich cultural communities within Minnesota. Finding unique products and supporting small Hmong businesses was a great way to make the most of our time in the city.
Katie: Visiting the Hmongtown Marketplace was an incredible experience, as it gave us the opportunity to appreciate and learn more about one of the most prominent cultural communities in the Twin Cities area.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Spanning an impressive 11 acres of land, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden features a grand display of large-scale sculptural art and lush greenery. The garden is open all year round from 6 am to midnight, making it an easy destination to add to your itinerary.
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is part of the Walker Art Center, located close to downtown Minneapolis. The garden was first opened in 1988, designed to encourage visitors to appreciate and interact with the eclectic art pieces. Some notable exhibits include the Spoonbridge and Cherry Sculpture, the Hanh/Cock Sculpture, and La Soledad Sculpture. Additionally, the Arikidea Sculpture features a swing for visitors to climb on, which makes the garden more fun for children!
Iris: We visited the sculpture garden at night, but the large art pieces were well-lit and stood out against the city skyline behind it. If looking to take photos, however, I would recommend walking around the garden before sunset, in order to fully capture the details of the art.
Audrey: The Sculpture Garden is quite pretty at night, but I do wonder what it would’ve looked like in the daytime! It’s a nice spot to visit to appreciate some art and also enjoy the scenery that Minneapolis offers.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities was established in 1851 as the first of the University of Minnesota campuses. The school itself is composed of three campuses: two in Minneapolis on the East and West Banks, and one in Saint Paul. Even if you are not a prospective student, the unique architecture of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities makes it a great destination for visitors. Notable buildings include Eddy Hall and Pillsbury Hall, which have historical architectural features such as intricate brickwork designs and large pillars.
Iris: The University of Minnesota’s campus was perfect for walking around and taking in the views—both natural and urban.
Audrey: I really loved how wide and walkable and green this area was!
7 Corners Coffee
7 Corners Coffee has a location about a 10-minute walk from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. Offering freshly-brewed coffee and delicious baked goods, this coffee shop offers a bright, spacious place for college students and other locals to hang out or study at. The coffee shop also features some local small businesses and their jewelry products near their entrance, and they have a cute discount offer on your drink if you wear overalls to the store on Tuesdays — because even though Mondays usually suck, “overall” Tuesdays aren’t too bad.
What if you walked into a fraternity house at UCLA and instead of what you might’ve been expecting inside, there was a coffee shop? That’s the reality of Bordertown Coffee, a coffee shop in Dinkytown that used to be a fraternity house. Established in 2004, Bordertown partners with a local roaster in Saint Paul to bring their customers the most decadent drinks possible. The store also has a good selection of baked goods for people to pair with their coffee (Audrey highly recommends the chocolate chip rosemary muffin). The interior is cozy and welcoming, with a wide-open seating area and a library room that people can reserve online for groups of 4 or more.
Canada has Tim Horton’s, the American Southwest has Dutch Bros, and Minnesota has Caribou Coffee! More common on city blocks than Starbucks, Caribou Coffee is a regional coffee chain located primarily in the Midwest. It first opened in Edina, Minnesota in 1992, and it now has over 300 locations in Minnesota alone! After multiple visits to different locations across Minneapolis, our editing team found the chain’s beverages to be absolutely delicious! A unique aspect of its menu that has contributed to its popularity is that the chain does not charge extra for non-dairy milk substitutes, making it more accessible for those with dietary restrictions. So, if you’re in need of a refreshing beverage while waiting for your flight at the airport, sightseeing in downtown Minneapolis, or exploring the Mall of America, we’d highly recommend stopping at your nearest Caribou Coffee!
Los Ocampo Restaurant & Bar
Patrick Shao: A small and local Mexican restaurant served an array of dishes, along with homemade desserts and quickly crafted beverages. I ordered multiple virgin mojitos, my usual go to with non-alcoholic drinks, which remained my favorite from the restaurant that night. Presentation and price were great, but the quality of the food remained just a little above mediocre.
Daisy Perez: Apart from MInneapolis’s urban landscape, the natural surroundings of the city were truly breathtaking. My favorite spot in particular was a waterfall located at the center of Minnehaha Park where we had to take a set of stairs and walk on a few rocks to sit right at the bottom of the waterfall. I highly recommend visiting the spacious park to enjoy a nice walk, have a picnic, or enjoy a seafood dinner at the restaurant inside the recreational area.
Guavas Cuban Cafe
Amidst the bustling streets of Minneapolis lies a culinary gem that transports its patrons straight to the heart of Havana: Guavas Cuban Cafe. Located at 5607 Chicago Avenue, this restaurant stands as a testament to the vibrant and rich flavors of Cuban cuisine.
The moment you step into Guavas, the intoxicating aroma of traditional Cuban dishes greets you, promising a meal to remember. Be it the tender Ropa Vieja, the flavorful Moros y Cristianos, or the classic Cubano sandwich, the menu showcases the depth and diversity of the island’s palate. With each bite, one can taste the intricacies and passion that go into the preparation.