We are blessed to live in a rich cultural community. There are so many great places capturing our heritage.
The voting to come up with the top 5 museums in Minnesota was extremely close. Votes came in through my Facebook page, on my Twitter, and from viewers of KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live.
I reached out to staff at all of the top vote getters and asked them for the insider scoop on what they feel is underrated.
I presented my findings on Twin Cities Live.
800 Riverview Drive, Winona 55987
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is 2 hours southeast of Saint Paul. It opened in 2006 along the banks of the Mississippi River.
MMAM consists of 6 exhibits, all works of ‘great art inspired by water’.
Three of the six 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. Admission is $1 the second Saturday of every month. Interpreters are available that day as well to make sure the museum is accessible to all.
2088 Larpenteur Avenue W, Saint Paul 55113
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. 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!
The Bell 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.
345 W Kellogg Boulevard, Saint Paul 55102
The Minnesota History Center is located right off of 94 and Kellogg Blvd in downtown Saint Paul.
When I attended, it was hosting, “First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom”. The interactive exhibit showcased the bands, the employees and changes of what currently is First Avenue in Minneapolis. The music venue celebrated 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.
Elsewhere, the Gale Family Library offers Minnesotans free access to Ancestry.com. Learn more here. 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.
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 pm.
120 W Kellogg Boulevard, Saint Paul 55102
The Science Museum of Minnesota 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.
On level 4, 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.
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 shows, 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.
2400 Third Avenue S, Minneapolis 55404
Mia is located just south of downtown Minneapolis and admission is always free. Street parking is free as well, and for me, it was extremely easy to find.
The museum is huge. Make sure you 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. The Jade Mountain Illustration the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavilion (G210) is the largest piece of jade carving outside China.
Head up to the third floor for a fantastic view of the Minneapolis skyline and a history to each building you see.
Mia offers free public tours Tuesdays-Sundays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 2 and 7 pm. The Agra Culture cafe offers happy hour with 50% off tap beer and house wine. Cash in from 2:30-4:30 pm Tuesday and Wednesday and 2:30-5:30 pm Thursday and Friday.
Mia is open until 9 pm Friday nights, making for a great (and cheap) date night option.
Did you enjoy this roundup of the best museums in Minnesota? Check out my other Best of Minnesota Guides
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- 20 Mexican restaurants in Minnesota worth the trip
- The best ice cream shops in Minnesota
- The best restaurant, brewery and winery patios in Minnesota
- 17 best restaurants for breakfast in Minnesota
- 5 best bakeries in Minnesota
- 5 best holiday light displays in Minnesota
- 5 best coffee shops in Minnesota
- 5 best pizzerias in Minnesota
- 7 top spots for a margarita in the Twin Cities
- 5 best restaurants for fried fish in Minnesota
- 17 favorite bookstores in the Twin Cities
- 4 places serving the best Broasted chicken in Minnesota
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