Saint Paul, Minnesota may be the smaller twin of the Twin Cities, but it has a whole lot of charm and plenty to do. Here’s some advice for planning a trip to Minnesota’s capital city.
Getting there and getting around.
From Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport, downtown Saint Paul is about a 10 minute Lyft or Uber ride away. You can take Metro Transit’s light rail (blue line to green line), but it would take you a really long time — like over an hour. It’s not worth it.
Once you’re in Saint Paul, Metro Transit’s green line can be really helpful. It runs from Union Depot in Lowertown all the way through Saint Paul into Minneapolis (it ends at Target Field on the west side of downtown Minneapolis). A non rush hour ride is only $2.
Metro Transit does operate a bus system, but you’re probably better off renting a car, especially if you want to explore the rest of the Twin Cities.
When to go.
Minnesota is cold about 9 months of the year.
So Saint Paul embraces it.
At the end of January, Saint Paul hosts a Winter Carnival. Every year, you can count on a big parade, ice sculptures and a snow park. The Winter Carnival has royalty and during some years, has built larger-than-life ice castles.
For multiple years, Saint Paul has also hosted Red Bull’s Crashed Ice, an extravagant course where professional dare devils go downhill skiing but on ice skates. It’s a spectacle.
I’m not a big fan of the cold and snow, but don’t automatically rule out a winter trip to Minnesota.
Now, there aren’t many places better than Minnesota in the summer. The sun stays up late and people know they need to embrace these summer nights. Downtown Saint Paul, in particular the area around Mears Park, has some great patios for dinner or a nightcap. Check out an evening baseball game at CHS Field since you’re in the neighborhood.
I recently stayed at the Covington Inn, a floating bed and breakfast on the Mississippi River. The tug boat was converted into four rooms and is a perfect spot for a romantic getaway. It’s docked on Harriet Island, which is across the river from downtown Saint Paul. If you stay at the Covington in the winter, you definitely will want a car as it’s a considerable walk from downtown.
If you’re looking for something more conventional, hotels around Kellogg and West 7th Street will get you close to many bars and restaurants.
What to do.
Outside of downtown, here are some neighborhoods worth checking out:
Grand Avenue is full of restaurants and shops. On the first Sunday of June, they host Grand Old Day, a one-day street festival that draws upwards of 250,000 people. When you’re on Grand Avenue, check out accessory company J.W. Hulme.
Cathedral Hill is the area behind the Cathedral of Saint Paul, just west of downtown. It’s home to Moscow on the Hill, a spot voted as having one of the best patios in Minnesota.
Some may consider it downtown, but the West 7th neighborhood is definitely worth visiting. Starting at the edge of downtown Saint Paul, West 7th is full of bars, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also home to Keg and Case West 7th Market, a collaboration of over two dozen Minnesota-based companies in an indoor market. It’s also home to In Bloom, an upscale restaurant without a conventional oven. Instead, they use wood fire to cook everything on their menu.
Sponsored content Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is a partner of Give Me The Mike
For Twin Cities residents who miss the now closed Holiday Lights in the Park at Lake Phalen in Saint Paul, I have an option you will love.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is a walk-though and drive-through display with more than 4 million lights. Right before Thanksgiving, I visited Somerset, Wisconsin, to see what they have in store for the 2019 holiday season.
Although you just read Somerset, Wisconsin, don’t let the distance stop you from attending. It took me only 40 minutes during rush hour to get to Somerset from Saint Paul, and on the way home, my drive to downtown Minneapolis was only 45 minutes. If you take Highway 36, it’s a breeze. Once you’re at Stillwater, it’s less than 20 minutes. If you’re familiar with Somerset, Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour sits on the site of Float Rite Park, along the banks of the Apple River.
Sam’s is open 7 nights a week from November 29th, 2019 through January 5th, 2020 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). On Monday and Tuesday nights, the half-mile route is drive-through only, giving people who may not want to or be able to walk through the display enjoy it. From Wednesday through Sunday, it is walk-through only and is closed off to cars. From my experience, it’s best as a walk-through experience, as there are a lot of photo opportunities along the route, including a large Christmas bulb you can stand inside.
In addition to the typical lit trees, there’s a great light display dedication to the armed forces along with first responders.
The half-mile light display is just the beginning at Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, there will be a Christmas Market with beverages, treats and gifts for sale. It has the vibe of an adorable European Christmas market. Make sure to pay a visit to the Knoke’s Chocolates booth.
There’s also a large restaurant where you can warm up. General Sam’s Bar & Grill will be open, serving food and drinks.
If you’re heading up there with a group, you have the option of renting out a heated cabin for the evening for $99. It includes a s’mores kit, a visit from Santa and a private home base for your group.
I would love to hear what you think of Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour! Comment below or post on my Facebook page.
Tickets: $10 ages 11-64, $8 ages 65 and better, $5 kids ages 4-10, free ages 3 and under
Half-price for members of the military (bring a military ID)
Cash, credit and debit cards are accepted
Monday – Tuesday are drive-through only
Wednesday – Sunday are walk-through only
Know before you go to Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour:
Wear snow boots and snow pants. You’ll be venturing into the snow to get the best photos. I went before snow fell and conquered some muddy spots along the dirt path.
No outside food or beverage is allowed.
If you’re coming from the Twin Cities, Highway 36 is definitely your best bet. You may want to look up the directions before you hop in the car, as Apple Maps had me a bit lost once I got into Somerset.
Dogs (on a leash) are allowed.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is the presenting sponsor of Give Me The Mike’s 2019 holiday light display guide. Click here for over 50 locations to view lights in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is home to more than 4 million Christmas lights! It’s located less than 20 minutes northeast of Stillwater in Somerset, Wisconsin. If you go on a Monday or Tuesday night, you are able to drive-through their display, making it more accessible for those who aren’t able to walk around the half-mile light tour. Between Wednesday and Sunday nights, Sam’s Christmas Village is closed off to vehicles and is a walk-through experience.
With 5 million lights, Bentleyville is America’s largest free walk-through lighting display
It’s located at Bayfront Festival Park, a 20-acre park located on the shores of Lake Superior
Complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn and roasted marshmallows are provided
Get your photo taken with reindeer
Kids 10 and under who visit Santa receive a knit hat
Bentleyville is an official collection site for the Salvation Army. Bring a non-perishable food item or new, unwrapped toy when you visit. Donations are distributed to Salvation Army Corps in Duluth, Cloquet, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, International Falls, and Superior, WI
You can drive through the park to enjoy the lights. Tune your car’s radio to 89.1 FM to hear synchronized music. The music is also broadcast throughout the park if you want to get out of your car to see things up close.
Everything is free! That includes wagon rides, free concessions, and free horse drawn carriage rides on December 14th and 21st. Donations are accepted.
Original location in Anoka, satellite location in Blaine
The original owner, Hans, passed away from cancer in 1997, just two months after being diagnosed
The bakery exchanged hands multiple times and eventually went into foreclosure
When the current owner, Kelly Olsen, bought it, it had sat vacant for 4 years. She says “everything needed help”.
The community rallied behind the new ownership to help Hans’ Bakery reopen in February 2014. The Food Network caught wind of the buzz and featured them before they opened. On their first day, they sold out of everything they had in the store.
The Texas Donuts are the size of your head. And they cost only $5.
The Beehive, and the smaller Beesting, are eye-catchers. The sweet dough pasty is filled with Bavarian cream, topped with candied almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. If you’re really hungry, order it as a cake.
There are 10 Information Booths strategically placed around the Minnesota State Fair. Fair officials tell me each booth will answer 1,200 to 1,500 questions per day. That’s up to 15,000 questions total and up to 180,000 questions over the 12 days of the State Fair.
That’s in addition to the 500 phone calls the State Fair will get each day during the Great Minnesota Get Together with questions. They also answer questions via email and on social media.
Here are answers to the top five questions asked by Fairgoers at Minnesota State Fair Information Booths:
1. Where can I rent a scooter?
There are five electric mobility scooter and wheelchair rental spots at the Fairgrounds, but if you know you need one, you can rent it before you even head out to the Fairgrounds.
The rentals are handled by HomeTown Mobility. You can call them at 877-928-5388 to reserve an electric scooter or a wheelchair for a full day rental.
The scooters are available for half day and full day rentals. They are first come, first served.
Full day: $65
Half day: $45 (from 7 am – 3 pm or 3 – 11 pm)
In addition to mobility scooters, you can rent wheelchairs, wagons for kiddos, single and double strollers.
All day prices:
Single stroller: $15
Double stroller: $17
For more information about mobility on the Fairgrounds, click here.
2. Where is an ATM?
There are ATMs scattered about the Fairgrounds. To find the one closest to you, look on a map — they’re marked with a $.
Note that a $3 convenience fee is charged to all ATM transactions on the Fairgrounds. That’s in addition to any fee your banking institution may charge. Bottom line: bring plenty of cash.
There is a Bremer Bank at Visitors Plaza located at the middle of the Fairgrounds. It’s open from 7 am to 4 pm.
Sure, they’re marked on a map, but not all bathrooms are created equal.
In my opinion, the best bathrooms at the State Fair:
North: near the North End along Murphy Avenue
South: next to the International Bazaar
East: just south of the Kidway on Cooper Street
West: At the west end of the West End Market along Dan Patch Avenue
5. Where can I get breakfast?
The days of the dining halls at the State Fair have dwindled down immensely.
The Hamline Dining Hall is still going strong. When I asked the Minnesota State Fair’s Media Relations team what their favorite foods are, they mentioned the gluten-free muffins are top notch. Get their full list of hidden gem foods by clicking here. The Hamline Church Dining Hall in on Dan Patch Avenue between Underwood & Cooper.
Another food on that list is the Peg Muffin, available at The Peg, the State Fair’s only full service restaurant. The Peg Muffin is a sandwich with fried egg, sausage, tomato and cheese. The Peg is on the outside of the Agriculture Horticulture Building across from the International Bazaar.
The Minnesota State Fair’s website is a must-visit before you head out to the Great Minnesota Get Together. Watch my segment on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to learn about State Fair Bingo cards and how to create a custom list of what you want to see and eat at the Fair.
When you look at gross sales per day, you could say the Minnesota State Fair is the biggest restaurant in the world. In 2017, they brought in over $51 million in food and beverage sales in 12 days. In comparison, Tao in Las Vegas brings in $42 million in sales over an entire year.
Attendance during the State Fair is big, too. In 2019, over 2.1 million people walked onto the Fairgrounds, making it the most attended in the Fair’s history. Six daily attendance records were set.
I have worked at the State Fair for more than 15 years. Each year, I’m there at least 10 days. I have attended the Great Minnesota Get Together every year since 1990. I have seen (and eaten) a lot.
Don’t park at the Fairgrounds. It’s $15 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is the cost of an admission ticket (the cost of three Pronto Pups). Oh, and it’s cash only for parking. My best bet: use the park free, ride free service overseen by Metro Transit. To avoid being crammed on a Metro Transit bus with a bunch of people for 45 minutes, park at a park and ride site near the Fairgrounds. I really like the station on the University of Minnesota campus. The bus takes the U of M Transitway, which goes directly from the Fairgrounds to your car on a road not open to the public, making for a quick trip. See the full list of free park and ride spots here. The U of M lot is #14 on the map. Note that many of the lots fill up quickly; the State Fair does a great job updating which lots are full on their social media channels.
Take a photo of your group when you get inside the Fairgrounds. The Fair is massive. Some days, nearly a quarter-million people come through the gates. It can be easy to lose your little ones. Take a picture of those tiny Fairgoers right when you get in the gates. You’ll be able to show the photo to police and will know exactly what they’re wearing. Information booths also have free wristbands kids can wear so they can reunite with you quickly in case they get lost.
Don’t pay for water. Backpacks, bags and coolers are allowed on the Fairgrounds, meaning you can pack water, pop and snacks for the kiddos. Just know that you’ll have to carry around whatever you bring with you — the Fair doesn’t have lockers or a bag check. You won’t be able to bring a cooler with you to a show at the Grandstand. No outside alcohol is allowed onto the Fairgrounds.
If you have to buy water, don’t pay too much. Prices for bottled water can vary greatly on the Fairgrounds. The Coca-Cola booths are one of the worst spots to get hydrated. Please don’t pay more than $1.75 for 20 oz. Check out this article for spots you should circle on your map if you need H2O. Remember you can bring a water bottle on the Fairgrounds and water bottle filling stations are scattered about. I’m serious about this one. A great food vendor (they shall not be named) is charging nearly $4 for a 20 oz bottle of Dasani. It’s robbery.
Speaking of beverages, start studying what you will drink. A list of the specialty beverages served only at the Fair is available online. The brochure will also be available in print form at information booths (you may have to ask for it, as it’s not always sitting on the counter).
Don’t get stuck in the Food Building. The Food Building is one of the most congested places on the Fairgrounds. It’s also one of the most delicious. Two of my top 10 Fair foods come from that one spot. But don’t get stuck in the hot, sweaty mess. Check out my video tutorial on Food Building shortcuts which are rarely used.
One of the best parts of the Great Minnesota Get Together is the people watching. Photo courtesy: Minnesota State Fair
Enjoy the people watching. All walks of life make their way to the Fairgrounds, and State Fair officials embrace that, offering a State Fair bingo card that’s free to download. The State Fair does not offer prizes for completed bingos.
If it’s your first time at the Minnesota State Fair, I recommend using this guide to make sure you taste the most iconic foods at the Great Minnesota Get Together.
Click here to see a feed with all of my Minnesota State Fair advice.
The 2020 Minnesota State Fair runs August 27th thru September 7th.
Breakfast becomes a passionate subject for many people. And for good reason.
For starters, it’s the most meaningful meal of the day. You need fuel to be productive.
It’s food people love, too: omelets, pancakes, French toast, hash browns.
Sitting down for breakfast is also the chance to connect with the people who mean a lot to you. Time and time again you hear about the senior mens’ groups who have coffee and chat about current events and what’s going on in their neighborhood. I’m guessing many of you reading this have a breakfast tradition you remember from when you were a kid, whether it be at home or at a restaurant on a weekend morning. Breakfast is more than food. It nourishes the soul.
I asked my Facebook fans, along with Twin Cities Live viewers, to tell me their favorite spot to get breakfast in Minnesota. Hundreds of entries came in. I visited the top five restaurants to meet with the owners and learn what you should order when you stop by.
I appeared on Twin Cities Live to share the top five spots:
Linda Frigaard and Linda Grady have been friends since third grade. A divorce kickstarted Linda Grady to call Linda Frigaard, who worked in the restaurant industry, to help her achieve a dream: to open a restaurant.
The two opened Lindas’ Cafe on August 1st, 2006 in a strip mall off of I-94 in Rogers. The space used to be a video store.
You will find four generations working at Lindas’ Cafe. Linda Frigaard’s father is there, along with her daughter and grandchild.
Their skillets are the number one menu item. The Ranch Skillet, with eggs, green peppers, onion, cheese and meat, along with the Log Cabin Skillet, smothered in sausage country gravy and a country fried steak, are the most popular.
The Lindas tell me they’ll go through nearly 225,000 eggs a year. If you’re a fan of wild rice soup, get the Minnesota omelet — it has the soup inside.
The pancake is worth ordering. The recipe belongs to the cook’s great great grandmother. The owners mentioned that customers drove from Edina to Rogers to get their pancakes. That’s nearly 60 miles roundtrip.
You don’t want to miss the Lindas’ Stuffed. I’m calling it a homemade take on the McDonald’s McGriddle. It’s two slices of French toast stuffed with Swiss cheese with your choice of ham or sausage. Pour some syrup on it and you got yourself a quality, homemade McGriddle without the guilt.
Lindas’ Cafe is not big — it’s only 88 seats. Make sure your whole party is there if you want to get seated.
Their entire menu, which does include broasted chicken and other lunch items, is available for take out.
3 metro locations, including the location I attended: 2700 39th Avenue NE, Saint Anthony Village 55421
Jeff Nat, whose nickname was Fat Nat while playing hockey, started Fat Nat’s Eggs in 2002.
Jeff, who loves to cook, wanted to run restaurant like his grandma’s house with quality ingredients.
The original location in New Hope had 35 seats when it first opened. Today, it has more than 100. It previously was a Chinese restaurant.
Fans of my Facebook page say the New Hope location is best, although the menu is consistent at all three restaurants.
They expanded to Brooklyn Park in 2007 and opened a Saint Anthony Village restaurant in 2012. Jeff’s wife, Lisa, tells me another location could be in the cards.
Fat Nat’s Eggs is a family affair. Jeff, Lisa, and their sons, Michael and David, run the restaurants.
The number one selling menu item is the Eggs Bacon Avocado Benedict, served on a toasted English muffin with a slice of tomato, bacon and an (AMAZING) spicy avocado verde. If you like spicy, you must order something with the avocado verde.
All of the salsas Fat Nat’s Eggs serves are made in-house. They have green chili, which you will find in New Mexico cuisine.
If you’re looking for an omelet, the owners say a hidden gem is the Jacob’s Omelette with carnitas, black beans, salsa verde, pepper jack cheese and homemade salsa on top.
Don’t pass up on the warm fruit fritter, which are made by Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery in Bloomington.
Fat Nat’s Eggs has counter seating at all three locations.
It gets busy, especially on the weekends. Owner Lisa says for the shortest wait time, come before 9:00 am or after 12:30 pm.
4 metro locations, including the location I attended:
1661 County Road B2 West, Roseville 55113
I need to be honest: before my first trip to The Original Pancake House, I wasn’t thrilled about eating there, mostly because it’s a chain. But after learning their story, it’s definitely worthy of this list.
The four Minnesota locations are franchisees of the national The Original Pancake House brand. The locations in Edina, Eden Prairie, Roseville and Burnsville have the same owner, however, each location has a totally different look and each location has a different menu.
The Edina location is the original in the Twin Cities, opening in 1977. They started by serving pancakes in the morning, closing for a couple hours, then serving pizza for dinner. You won’t be able to miss the huge chandelier inside.
Eden Prairie opened in 2007 with a traditional restaurant vibe.
Roseville opened in 2013 and is very contemporary, having gone through a remodel in 2018.
The newest location in Burnsville has a Scandinavian feel.
None of their kitchen have microwaves.
Their most popular item is the 49er Flapjack, a thin pancake. The Potato Pancake and Buckwheat Pancakes are top-sellers, too.
A hidden gem are the Breakfast Ribs, which is like thick cut bacon.
On a busy day, one location will serve up 1,400 orders of bacon.
The hash browns at OPH are epic.
I heard this from multiple people: The Original Pancake House does an extremely good job accommodating those with food allergies. Gluten-free food comes out on yellow plates and there’s no extra charge. Our gluten-full table tried a gluten-free peach crepe, and it was really good. They also can accommodate those who are dairy-free and who have soy or egg allergies.
The coffee mugs are made by a potter from Saint Paul. Some of the other OPH locations from around the nation have started to use her mugs as well. You are able to purchase them, too.
R.J. Riches Family Restaurant in Mounds View originally was a Country Kitchen back in the 1970s. The owners who took over that space were named Royce and Janice (RJ) and they wanted to make ‘Riches’ — hence the name R.J. Riches. The current owners have operated the restaurant since 1992.
You need to watch other people’s food come out before you place your order. Food comes in HUGE portions. The chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes are not only the size of dinner plates, they’re also extremely thick. Think of it more like a cake than a pancake. You don’t need more than one for your table.
The number one menu item is the Country Fried Steak, which was really good. A thick gravy didn’t sit too heavy.
The second most popular menu item is my favorite. The Gyro Omelet was epic. First, it’s huge — it could be two, maybe three meals. It’s four eggs, with hash browns, cheese, and gyro meat inside. It’s served with Tzatziki sauce, too.
Owner Barb tells me that a lot of people overpass their Spicy Chicken Omelet, which has deep-fried, spicy chicken.
The restaurant isn’t huge, with only 120 seats. On a busy weekend day, you may have to wait 45 to 60 minutes to get a table. They’re the busiest between 8:30 am – 1:00 pm.
In addition to breakfast, R.J. Riches is open for dinner, serving all-you-can-eat meals.
Note that R.J. Riches is not set up for large parties. I would recommend that you keep your group to four or less (or be willing to split yourselves up). Most of the restaurant is booths.