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Hidden gems at the 5 best museums in Minnesota

For my Worth the Trip series on Twin Cities Live, I asked viewers to vote on the 5 best museums in Minnesota. The voting was extremely close. We are blessed to live in a rich cultural community.

I reached out to staff at all of the top 5 museums and asked them for the insider scoop on what they feel is underrated.

I presented my findings on KSTP’s Twin Cities Live.

Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM), Winona

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The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is along the banks of the Mississippi River in Winona.
  • MMAM is 2 hours southeast of Saint Paul
  • It opened in 2006 along the banks of the Mississippi River
  • Consists of 6 exhibits, all works of ‘great art inspired by water’
  • 3 of the 6 exhibits switch out about every 5 months
  • Permanently on display are two pieces by Picasso, a Georgia O’Keefe from 1922 in its original frame, a Monet and one of two paintings of Washington crossing the Delaware — the version at MMAM hung in the White House for 30 years
  • Grab a headset and go on a self-guided tour
  • Cost: $7 adults, $3 students; a $20 cap for families

Bell Museum, Saint Paul

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One of the incredible dioramas at the Bell Museum.
  • The new Bell Museum opened on the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota in July 2018; the approximately 92,000 square foot building cost around $79 million
  • The museum, which celebrates the state’s natural history, is operated by the University of Minnesota
  • The incredible dioramas visitors saw at the old Bell Museum are bigger and even more realistic
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This woolly mammoth is one the Bell’s largest dioramas.
  • Don’t miss the Bell’s first new diorama in over 60 years — a woolly mammoth surrounded by giant beavers and a glacier you can walk in. You can see it from outside the museum!
  • It is also home to Minnesota’s only planetarium
    • The day I visited, there were four shows to choose from; I saw “Minnesota in the Cosmos,” which was followed by a tour through the night sky
    • The Bell hosts day and night telescope observing programs on their roof
    • They also have Minnesota stargazing tips on their blog
  • If you visit with kids, make sure to visit the Touch & See Lab on the first floor, where you can hold a cockroach
  • Make sure you try mating with a sandhill crane in a virtual reality experience on the second floor
  • Cost for exhibits and planetarium: $17 adults, $14 seniors, $12 kids 3 to 21, kids 2 and under free
    • If you qualify for WIC, Social Security Disability Benefits, Free/Reduced Price School Meals, Section 8 or other assistance programs, admission is free and planetarium tickets are $4 for adults/seniors and $3 for kids. Learn more here.
    • Those who qualify for assistance programs can become members of the Bell Museum for $15 a year. That includes free admission to exhibits and $2 planetarium tickets. Learn more here.

Minnesota History Center, Saint Paul

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The Minnesota History Center.
  • Located right off of 94 and Kellogg Blvd in downtown Saint Paul
  • Now thru May 3, 2020: “First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom”
    • The interactive exhibit showcases the bands, the employees and changes of what currently is First Avenue in Minneapolis; the music venue celebrates 50 years on April 3, 2020
    • Fun fact: the stars on the outside of First Avenue weren’t added until 1990 — it was a promotional gimmick aligned with the opening of neighboring Target Center
    • On display: the infamous outfit worn by Prince in the 1984 movie, “Purple Rain”
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The First Avenue special exhibit includes the outfit worn by Prince in Purple Rain.
  • The Gale Family Library offers Minnesotans free access to Ancestry.com
    • You do not need to pay to access the library, located on the second floor
    • To use library resources, you must register with a photo ID on your first visit
    • In addition to free access to Ancestry.com, the Gale Family Library offers free access to Fold3, a military records database.
    • If you want to do a deeper genealogy search, you will find birth records, cemetery records, census records, death records, marriage records and more
    • You can also access newspapers.com, a full text search of the Minneapolis Tribune from 1867-2001 and (really cool) fire insurance maps for cities across Minnesota
    • The Gale Family Library is closed Sundays and Mondays
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You MUST go inside the Gale Family Library. They have free access to ancestry.com!
  • Cost to History Center exhibits: $12 adults, $10 seniors/veterans/active military/college students, $6 kids 5-17, kids 4 and under free
    • If you qualify for WIC, Social Security Disability Benefits, Free/Reduced Price School Meals, Section 8 or other assistance programs, admission is $4 for adults and free for kids 17 and under. Learn more here.
  • Admission to the History Center is free on Tuesdays from 3-8 p.m.

Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul

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A human heart on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
  • The Science Museum is downtown Saint Paul, right down the street from the History Center
  • It offers 3 floors packed with exhibits, ranging from the sports medicine to race
  • You will enter the exhibits on level 5. On that floor, make sure to visit:
    • The Augmented Reality Sandbox in the Mississippi River Gallery. You can use your hands to make it rain and create a watershed
    • Walk inside a tugboat, offering one of the best views of the Mississippi River and Harriet Island
  • Head down to level 4 for:
    • The Science Museum added a Wellness Room in the back of their race exhibit. It’s a quiet, private space where guests can nurse a child, pray, or take a break from the busy museum. It offers a lounge chair, a white noise machine and sensory-friendly toys. You do have to know it exists if you want it — it’s extremely tucked away
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The new Wellness Room at the Science Museum is tucked away.
  • On level 3:
    • Another tucked away hidden gem is the colony of dermestid beetles used by Science Museum curators to “clean” soft issue from their biological specimens. The beetles live in the Biology Lab, but you will be able to see them at work through a window.
    • Near the cafe is the Science Live stage show. Professional actors bring science to life through the magic of theater.
  • The Science Museum is home to the Omnitheater, offering movies on an IMAX screen. I saw “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition”, a CNN Films documentary about the first man to walk on the moon in 1969
  • The Science Museum offers Sensory Friendly Sundays, where they offer a lights up, sound down Omnitheater show, smaller crowds (they open early) and a designated quiet space to recharge. They occur the third Sunday of every month
  • Cost for exhibits and Omnitheater: $24.95 adults, $19.95 kids 4-12/seniors, kids 3 and under free
    • If you qualify for WIC, Social Security Disability Benefits, Free/Reduced Price School Meals, Section 8 or other assistance programs, admission is $5 for the Omnitheater and exhibits and $3 for only exhibits. Learn more here.
    • Students can get an Omnitheater and exhibits ticket for $12 on Fridays after 5 p.m. with a school ID

Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), Minneapolis

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The most beautiful museum in Minnesota: the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
  • Located just south of downtown Minneapolis
  • Admission is always free
  • Street parking is free and for me, was extremely easy to find
  • The museum is huge; make sure to grab a map
  • Mia staff say the best-kept secret is the Pacific Island Gallery (G256), which has some of the most evocative, spiritual art in the museum
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Grab a map and find this piece of jade in room G210.
  • The Jade Mountain Illustration the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavilion (G210) is the largest piece of jade carving outside China
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This view of downtown Minneapolis is on floor 3.
  • Head up to the third floor for a fantastic view of the Minneapolis skyline and a guide to each building
  • Mia offers free public tours Tuesdays-Sundays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 2 and 7 p.m.
  • The Agra Culture cafe offers happy hour with 50% off tap beer and house wine
  • Cash in from 2:30-4:30 Tuesday and Wednesday and 2:30-5:30 Thursday and Friday
  • Mia is open until 9 p.m. Friday nights, making for a great (and cheap) date night option
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Mia is open until 9 p.m. Fridays. A cheap and fun date night!

Check out my other roundups of what’s ‘Worth the Trip’

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