A Minnesotan’s guide to college basketball’s ultimate weekend

The best in college men’s basketball make their way to Minneapolis April 5-8, 2019. Like when Minnesota hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018, there is plenty to do. Here’s a guide of what you can discover.

IMG_2576

I explored the Tip-Off Tailgate and Final Four Fan Fest on Friday. Get my take here.

Know before you go:

  • The big name concerts at the Armory (Katy Perry, Jonas Brothers, Chainsmokers) are sold out. However, there are free outdoor concerts planned to take place on Nicollet Mall. Keep reading for details.
  • U.S. Bank Stadium is free to visit on Friday. You can watch teams practice and see everything all shiny.
  • All of the NCAA sanctioned events (aka U.S. Bank Stadium, the Armory, Nicollet Mall and the Convention Center) are all within a mile of each other. Park once and forget about your car once you are downtown. Downtown Minneapolis has 40,000 parking spots. Plus, unlike Super Bowl LII, the light rail will run on a regular schedule throughout the weekend.
  • If you want to reserve a parking spot, you can through a program called SpotHero. You can use it in Minneapolis year-round. I don’t recommend it — you aren’t necessarily saving money and you have to specifically find that one parking ramp when you get downtown.
  • Saturday update: the parking ramp across the street from my apartment was charging a $8 event rate. I’m 4 blocks from Tip-Off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall and 7 blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium. Not bad.
  • The NCAA has a decent (free) phone app that has details with all of the events they are planning. You can also use it to buy tickets to Fan Fest. It also has an interactive skyway map that’s definitely worth it. Here’s a link to download it.
  • Don’t want to walk? Buick is expected to take fans in their cars from their tents set up around downtown to an establishment or venue for free. The service will take place Friday thru Monday. The driver will not drop riders off at a private resident. Riders must be at least 9 years old or weigh 90 pounds. Cars will go between 5 to 7 miles from the tent to the final destination. As of April 1st, the times and location of operation were not made public.
  • If you end up taking a Lyft or Uber to get downtown, there will be specific points where you should have better luck meeting a driver.
    • LaSalle Avenue and 9th Street (near Nicollet Mall)
    • On 5th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets (near City Hall)
    • On 7th Street between Chicago Avenue and 10th Avenue (near U.S. Bank Stadium)
  • You will need a clear bag any just about every indoor event planned by the NCAA. That includes the games inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the Fan Fest at the Convention Center and the concerts in the Armory. Leave backpacks, purses larger than 5.5″ x 8.5″ and your State Fair fanny pack at home. Free clear bags will be handed out at hotels, at the Convention Center and U.S. Bank Stadium. They are also for sale at NCAA Final Four merchandise stands.
  • NCAA will have plenty of merchandise stores set up. The Minneapolis Convention Center will have a 7,700 square feet experience at its Fan Fest. There will be a retail store inside the Baker Center (8th Street and Marquette Avenue) and on Nicollet Mall between 9th and 10th Streets. There will also be official stores in over a dozen Twin Cities hotels.

Places you will want to visit:

  • ESPN is scheduled to broadcast outside on Nicollet Mall between 4th & 5th Streets at Xcel Energy Plaza (right off the light rail)
  • CBS Sports will broadcast inside the IDS Center Crystal Court

finnegans.png

  • FINNEGANS, located just 2 blocks from the Armory and 4 blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium, will be open from noon til midnight April 5-8. Their taproom is an official NCAA merchandise site and you can take a photo with a NCAA ladder and hoop right there. They are also teaming up with Pedal Pub to offer 90 minute runs around East Town Friday thru Monday. The cost is $39.

Related content:

Thursday, April 4

State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships

slam dunk target center.jpg

  • 8:00 p.m.
  • Target Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets: $15-38

Friday, April 5

Reese’s® Final Four Friday®

reeses final four.jpg

  • 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
  • Free and open to the public
  • Watch all four teams practice before Saturday’s semifinals
  • There is also an all-star game, which starts around 3:30 p.m.
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the Fan Fest at the Convention Center. View more here.

Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One

fan fest

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • Runs 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Friday
  • Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets: Capital One cardholders receive 2 free tickets; otherwise $10 adults, $5 military, $5 60+, $5 college students, kids 12 and under free
  • More than just basketball: participate in a home run derby and scale a rock climbing wall
  • Note: Capital One cardholders get special early access to the event on Saturday and Sunday
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside Fan Fest. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Tip-Off Tailgate

IMG_2547

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • 4:00 – 10:00 p.m. Friday
  • Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (8th to 12th Streets)
  • Includes a ferris wheel at Nicollet Mall & 10th Street. If you are a Capital One cardholder, show your card to get access to a priority lane

Take a photo with the NCAA Trophy

IMG_2551.jpeg

  • 12:00-2:00 p.m.
  • Target on Nicollet Mall (2nd floor)

AT&T Block Party

  • 7:00 p.m.
  • Armory, Minneapolis
  • This free concert, featuring The Chainsmokers, is sold out. Tickets were claimed weeks ago
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside the Armory. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Pizza Toss

pizza toss.png

  • 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
  • Kitchen in the Market, Minneapolis (it’s not downtown!)
  • Tickets: $85
  • Learn how to make pizza dough from scratch at home! You are provided all of the ingredients (after a glass of champagne) along with the instruction. Don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy your creation, too!

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Miami Heat

Prince_RockNRollIsAlive_7inch_pshot.jpg

  • 7:00 p.m.
  • Target Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets start at $17
  • All fans in attendance will receive an exclusive 7″ Prince vinyl (photo above)

Bret Michaels

  • 8:00 p.m.
  • Mystic Lake Showroom, Prior Lake
  • Tickets: $39 – 64

American Craft Show

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Sunday
  • Saint Paul RiverCentre
  • Tickets: $13
  • Meet and purchase goods from nearly 250 artists from around the country

Saturday, April 6

Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One

fan fest

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • Runs 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Saturday
  • Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets: Capital One cardholders receive 2 free tickets; otherwise $10 adults, $5 military, $5 60+, $5 college students, kids 12 and under free
  • More than just basketball: participate in a home run derby and scale a rock climbing wall
  • Note: Capital One cardholders get special early access to the event on Saturday; they can get in starting at 9:00 a.m.
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside the Armory. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to Fan Fest at the Convention Center and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Tip-Off Tailgate

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. Saturday
  • Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (8th to 12th Streets)
  • Includes a ferris wheel at Nicollet Mall & 10th Street. If you are a Capital One cardholder, show your card to get access to a priority lane
  • Pep rallies for the final four teams will be held at 2:30, 2:45, 3:00 and 3:15 p.m. Saturday
  • Viewing parties of the semifinal games will start at 5:00 p.m. Saturday

Semifinal: #5 Auburn vs #1 Virginia

  • 5:09 p.m.
  • U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

Semifinal: #3 Texas Tech vs #2 Michigan State

  • 7:49 p.m.
  • U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

The Eventual Four

  • 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.
  • Bauhaus Brew Labs, Minneapolis
  • The longer you stay, the better the deals! Bauhaus’ beers will battle each other throughout the evening, with discounts served on brews that advance

Red Green

  • 7:00 p.m.
  • The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University, Saint Paul
  • Tickets: $60

Leather & Laces Spring Edition

leather and laces.png

  • 9:30 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
  • Seven Steakhouse, Minneapolis
  • General admission tickets: $60
  • VIP tickets for $150 include premium bar, champagne, sushi and sweets
  • It’s by the same people who produced the Leather & Laces party that was in Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. They host this party annually for the Super Bowl at the Kentucky Derby
  • The radio ad for this party says this is the “1st annual” Leather & Laces Spring Edition party. First, nothing can be the “1st annual” if you’ve only done it once. It’s the inaugural. Second, ZERO information, besides how you can buy tickets, is available on their website. No list of celebrities you might brush shoulders with. I don’t do this often, but I’m going to say this is not worth your time or money.

American Craft Show

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Sunday
  • Saint Paul RiverCentre
  • Tickets: $13
  • Meet and purchase goods from nearly 250 artists from around the country

Jonas Brothers

  • 7:00 p.m.
  • Armory, Minneapolis
  • This free concert, featuring The Jonas Brothers, is sold out
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside the Armory. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Sunday, April 7

Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One

fan fest

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • Runs 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Sunday
  • Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets: Capital One cardholders receive 2 free tickets; otherwise $10 adults, $5 military, $5 60+, $5 college students, kids 12 and under free
  • More than just basketball: participate in a home run derby and scale a rock climbing wall
  • Note: Capital One cardholders get special early access to the event on Sunday; they can get in starting at 10:00 a.m.
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside Fan Fest. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Tip-Off Tailgate

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • 2:00 – 8:00 p.m. Sunday
  • Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (8th to 12th Streets)
  • Includes a ferris wheel at Nicollet Mall & 10th Street. If you are a Capital One cardholder, show your card to get access to a priority lane

Goldy’s Run

  • 8:00 a.m. Sunday
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • Join Goldy Gopher for a morning jog around Minneapolis — choose from a 10 mile and relay, 5k or kids gallop

Slay Day

  • 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • Surly Brewing, Minneapolis
  • Surly will release its kolsch-style ale, Heat Slayer
  • $15 will get you all the Heat Slayer you care to drink on their patio

Starch Madness

  • 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
  • Mill City Museum, Minneapolis
  • The final 2 cookies in Mill City Museum’s cookie bracket will be made and you get to eat the finalists

Ken Jeong

ken jeong.jpg

  • 8:00 p.m.
  • Mystic Lake Showroom, Prior Lake
  • Tickets: $29 – 55
  • It’s not downtown Minneapolis!

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • 2:30 p.m.
  • Target Center, Minneapolis
  • You can get a free Metro Transit pass to the game by taking a short survey here

American Craft Show

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Sunday
  • Saint Paul RiverCentre
  • Tickets: $13
  • Meet and purchase goods from nearly 250 artists from around the country

Final Four Dribble

  • 2:00 p.m.
  • Minneapolis Convention Center
  • Registration is closed
  • 3,000 youth will dribble basketballs around Minneapolis

Capital One JamFest

  • 7:00 p.m.
  • Armory, Minneapolis
  • This free concert, featuring Katy Perry and Zedd, is sold out
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside the Armory. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Monday, April 8

Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One

fan fest

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • Runs 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Monday
  • Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis
  • Tickets: Capital One cardholders receive 2 free tickets; otherwise $10 adults, $5 military, $5 60+, $5 college students, kids 12 and under free
  • More than just basketball: participate in a home run derby and scale a rock climbing wall
  • Backpacks, purses and fanny packs are not allowed inside Fan Fest. Just like Vikings games, you can bring in a clear plastic bag no bigger than 12″ x 6″ x 12″, a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or a clutch purse no bigger than 5.5″ x 8.5″. The same bag policy applies to the concerts at the Armory and the festivities inside U.S. Bank Stadium. View more here.

Tip-Off Tailgate

  • Opens Friday, runs thru Monday
  • 4:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Monday
  • Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (8th to 12th Streets)
  • Includes a ferris wheel at Nicollet Mall & 10th Street. If you are a Capital One cardholder, show your card to get access to a priority lane
  • Free music performance by Fitz and the Tantrums at 6:00 p.m. Monday on the Wendy’s Main Stage at Nicollet Mall & 11th Street

National Championship Game

  • 8:00 p.m. Monday
  • U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

Final 4 Taproom Takeover

  • 4:30 p.m.
  • BlackStack Brewing, Saint Paul
  • Tickets: $35-82
  • “Top Chef” alum Justin Sutherland leads a crew of talent creating a full menu to nosh on while you watch the national championship

 

Advertisements

What you should know before visiting Minneapolis

This article was updated in May 2019 with current information.

Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota, often gets overlooked. It’s considered ‘flyover worthy’ by some and ‘too cold’ by others.

FullSizeRender 193.jpg
U.S. Bank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018 and NCAA’s Final Four in 2019.

Despite the stereotypes, the city won bids to host big events. U.S. Bank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII  in February 2018. ESPN’s X Games are repeatedly held in Minneapolis and the NCAA Final Four was here in April 2019. And you don’t get those big ticket events by just applying. You need to have culture.

As a native Minnesotan who has lived in Minneapolis proper for years, I have a list of tips you’ll want to know about the City of Lakes before you plan a trip.

It’s easy to get downtown Minneapolis from the airport.FullSizeRender 246.jpg

Your best and cheapest way to get from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown Minneapolis is by light rail. Operated by Metro Transit, light rail trains run frequently throughout the day and most of the night. Currently, peak time rides cost just $2.50 one way; $2.00 outside of rush hour. You’ll be able to catch the train from either Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 at MSP. If you’re heading downtown, you will take the blue line train northbound.

Since I first published this article in 2017, car sharing services like Lyft and Uber finally figured out how to get travelers to and from the airport. A $6 airport surcharge is now gone. The queue for drivers waiting to be matched is closer to the arrivals doors than it previously was. The airport is adding signage so you can get to the car sharing pickup zone faster (note: it is a bit of a walk). At the zone itself, they created ‘Door A’ and ‘Door B’ to help spread things out. Typically, a ride from the airport to downtown Minneapolis in a Lyft will set you back around $20-25. Since the drivers have to wait off-site, secure your ride BEFORE you get close to the pickup zone. I hit confirm when I walk out of the gate area.

Hotels are quickly popping up in downtown Minneapolis.

Thanks to the Super Bowl, Minneapolis saw a boom of new construction, especially when it comes to hotels. The Hilton Minneapolis is the largest hotel in Minnesota and in 2017, finished a complete renovation to their lobby, resulting in a much improved, more open concept, dragging it out of the early 1990s.

For something more boutique, look at the Hewing Hotel, which opened late 2016. The former warehouse in the North Loop neighborhood has completely unique rooms with vibes of “the north.” From the patterns on the wallpaper to what you’ll find in the mini-fridge, the Hewing lives Minnesota luxury.

Like the Hewing, the Hotel Ivy is on the more luxurious end and gets high remarks.

I’ve had good luck at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, located just a block off of Nicollet Mall. Their rates are cheaper.

If you’re coming to town for something at the Minneapolis Convention Center, consider the Hilton, the Hyatt Regency or Hotel Ivy, as they’re all attached to the hotel by skyway (keep reading for more on these sidewalks in the sky).

Minneapolis and Saint Paul aren’t conjoined twins.

Saint Paul, Minnesota’s capital city, is separated from Minneapolis by the Mississippi River. However, if you’re planning a trip from downtown to downtown, it’s not a simple walk across a bridge. There’s a 12 mile trip by car, and a light rail trip will take over 45 minutes. However, don’t let that stop you from taking a trip over to the Capital city.

Never pay more than $6 for parking downtown Minneapolis weeknights or weekends.

I repeat this message to people who live in the Twin Cities, too. There’s a huge scam when it comes to what is being charged for parking downtown Minneapolis. If you’re headed downtown after 4:00 p.m. on a weekday or on a weekend, please don’t pay more than $6 to park. Seriously. You’ll frequently see event rates for $10 or $12. The $6 after 4:00 p.m. and all day weekend lots are located near 8th Street and LaSalle Avenue. Another ramp, attached to the Crown Plaza Hotel at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, charged me $4 when I headed downtown for a Sunday evening dinner, and there happened to be a concert that evening at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Be on high alert with meters. Minneapolis meters run by zone. On one side of a street, meters might have a two hour limit, and on the other side, you can park there for eight hours. Some end at 6:00 p.m., others go until 10:00 p.m. If you are within a mile or so of U.S. Bank Stadium, you’ll hit meters following event parking rates. Right before I found that ramp for $4, I was at a meter asking me to pay $25 to park on the street.

Summers are epic. And in the best way possible.

FullSizeRender 168

Mid-June to Labor Day is the perfect time to visit Minneapolis. The Twin Cities, along with surrounding suburbs, plan a plethora of outdoor events. A big highlight is the Minnesota State Fair, a 12 day event ending on Labor Day.

FullSizeRender 162
Just a small dose of food from the Minnesota State Fair.

If you like to bike or run, check out The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have their own routes, which take you along the river and through parks. (The Minneapolis route is much more established, so start there). Trails are well-marked, too.

And you can’t forget Minnesota is the “land of 10,000 lakes” (actually, there are 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres). Minneapolis is home to many lakes featuring beautiful views of the downtown skyline. Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) in the Uptown neighborhood is your best bet for time on the water, sunbathing, hammock-lounging and people watching.

Skyways are a blessing and a curse.

If you’re walking around on street level in downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul and notice it’s a ghost town, look up. Both cities feature miles of skyways which shield Minnesotans from rain, snow and more importantly, cold. There’s another world on the skyway level, including businesses with second level locations you wouldn’t see from the outside (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc).

I love the skyways because they are a great way for downtown workers to leave their winter coats at their desks and walk three buildings over to get lunch. The biggest issue I have is that they’re not visitor-friendly, especially on the weekends. Downtown Minneapolis doesn’t regulate the skyways; the individual building owners do. The effect: they don’t have consistent hours — some don’t even open on Sundays. If you stay near the Convention Center, you’re fine, but don’t venture further north of the IDS Center.

During the 2016 Vikings season, the Minnesota Vikings and downtown businesses created a route spanning the skyways across downtown. The problem: not all the business owners caught that memo, meaning locked doors and a waste of time. I still don’t recommend the Vikings’ skyway route on game day as they haven’t figured it out.

Some Minneapolis business owners and citizens are calling for the end of the skyway. They claim it makes downtown look less populated. I’m not calling for their end, but they definitely need some regulation.

Looking for something to do when you’re in Minneapolis? Check out what’s happening at these venues:

Looking for a place to eat? Here are my best bets:

$$$ — make reservations for all these spots

$$ and $

If you need to plan a dinner in a private setting at a restaurant, check out my guide.

If you are planning a trip to both Twin Cities, get my guide on what you should know before visiting Saint Paul.

You’ll want to talk like a Minnesotan, and I don’t mean sounding like a character in Fargo. Get a list of Minnesota lingo here.

FullSizeRender 215.jpg