When it comes to summer travel, the best laid plans can give way to kids’ sport schedules, limited vacation days and family budgets. No matter what the reason is for keeping your suitcases unpacked, our sister publications throughout the Twin Cities offer ideas for family fun within a quick car ride away.
Gale Woods Farm
Taste rural life without having to drive too far from the Metro. Gale Woods Farm (Three Rivers Park District) is a can’t-miss. The regional park includes hiking and biking trails (through woods, pastures and prairie) a lake for fishing or paddling and a working farm. Visit the cows, pigs, chickens and sheep, take a stroll through the teaching garden or stop at the farm store to pick up some fresh produce, meat or cheese on your way home. You’ll also find yarn and other fiber products from the farm’s flock of fluffy sheep.
For a nearly perfect small-town shopping day, wander down Excelsior’s Water Street, the eminently Instagram-able main drag. There are indie boutiques aplenty, from The Golden Rule (featuring art, jewelry and more from local makers) to Pip & Pal (children’s apparel) to Ace General Store (men’s gear) to Excelsior Bay Books. Grab a cup of coffee and listen to live music at 318 Café, and perhaps snuggle in for a nightcap at the Rebel Room, a speakeasy-esque lounge paired with its sibling, Italian eatery Red Sauce Rebellion. At the end of the street, stop for a perfect view on the shore of Lake Minnetonka.
10,000 Lakes Concours d’Elegance
On July 28, Excelsior hosts the annual 10,000 Lakes Concours d’Elegance, a classic car show that’s turned into a family-friendly festival. Guests can check out antique vehicles and chat with their owners, many of whom dress in period-accurate attire and love to share their knowledge. The fest also includes food and beverage vendors, an area for kids’ activities, live music and other attractions, all on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.
Clifton E. French Regional Park
This park has enough for a complete staycation. Bring your boat or rent a paddleboat, row boat, kayak or canoe. Sailboat slips and canoe/kayak racks are also available to rent. Fish on Medicine Lake (there is an accessible fishing pier), bike on the 4.6 miles of trails that connect with Bassett Creek Regional Trails or go geocaching (equipment is available for free at the visitor center).
Blue Ox Log Rolling
Some travel experiences can be a leap of faith. This time, take small balanced steps and challenge yourself along the shores of Lake Auburn. Owner and lead instructor of Blue Ox Log Rolling, Sarah Beron, teaches people of all ages how to log roll for fun, exercise and sport. Summer sessions take place in the Beron’s backyard—the lake.
MN Landscape Arboretum
Visitors can find themselves deeply rooted along the bog walk or Green Heron Pond; cooled by the hidden waterfall; steeped in the Japanese Garden; challenged by the Maze Garden; and delighted by the too-many-to-count blooming gardens, a carefully curated gift shop and a stop-worthy restaurant. Need more? Visit the Learning Center, Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center and the Sculpture Garden.
Staring Lake Amphitheatre
Staring Lake serves as the backdrop to the park’s amphitheater. This year’s annual events feature the Starring at Staring and Kidstock Concert Series, an eight-week lineup of musical performances; The Eden Prairie Players present a summer musical in June; Minnesota Festival of Jazz on the Prairie showcases six area big bands in June in partnership with the Eden Prairie Noon Rotary, which feeds the crowd some napkin-worthy barbecue ribs; and on the first three Fridays in August, Movies in the Park begin with family friendly entertainment before the credits roll.
Come west, my friends, and tour the wineries of the county—Carver that is. Parley Lake Winery, Schram Vineyards Winery and Brewery, and The Winery at Sovereign Estate welcome visitors to tour and sample the fruits of their efforts. Whether your tastes span Minnesota wine, locally brewed beer, beautifully prepared food, local art (including July’s ArtStock at Parley), live music to more, you’ll be in your element at any of these sparkling venues.
Centennial Lakes Park
Rent a paddle boat, snap pictures near the sculptures, reel in the fish and, when the blazing summer sun turns to twinkling starry skies, catch an evening concert or movie. The 25-acre park features a 10-acre manmade lake spread out over three interconnected ponds, new ADA-compliant pedestrian bridges and a 1.5-mile paved walking path around the lakes.
Edina’s Pinstripes restaurant offers a sophisticated, adult-friendly version of the bowling-and-pizza joints of yore. The bistro’s food is fresh, from-scratch Italian-American (pizza, pasta, flatbreads and more), and there are plenty of activities to keep your whole family engaged between bites. Try one of the classic bowling lanes (with plush seating and lane-side food and beverage service) or indoor bocce. Before you leave, spend a few minutes on the gorgeous patio overlooking the park, warming up by a cozy fire.
White Bear Lake was already well-known as a summer retreat well over 100 years ago. Take in the regatta on Saturday mornings and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Watch from the lakeside, or rent a boat and follow the fun from the water. Boat rentals are available from Tally’s Dockside, Your Boat Club and other spots. Top off the day with an elegant dinner at Acqua Restaurant & Bar, or go casual with pizza from Donatelli’s and a stop at Cup and Cone—the classic White Bear spot for sundaes, malts and more.
Tamarack Nature Center
Spend a day at this 320-acre preserve in White Bear Township. Enjoy the beautiful hiking trails. Kids will love the Discovery Hollow Nature Play area—they can get down and dirty helping to garden, building tree forts, playing in the mud table and more. See turtles, frogs, snakes and more in the indoor Nature Center. Pack a picnic or stop at a nearby casual spots for lunch.
Minneapolis Day of Museum Fun
Try Skyline Mini-Golf on the Walker Art Center’s terraces. Play the 10 artist-designed holes May 16-Sept. 21, and enjoy spectacular views of Minneapolis. Visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, with its iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture—a local staple and a perfect Instagram backdrop!— and many new sculptures around the renovated area. Meander through the paths in the Walker’s Wurtele Upper Garden. Don’t forget to visit inside the Walker for more art!
Add the Mill City Museum to your tour. Built inside what was once the world’s largest flour mill, the museum has activities for all ages, including water and baking labs, a Flour Tower Elevator show and more. Nearby lunch choices include Zen Box Izakaya for Japanese comfort food; French Meadow Bakery & Café; or Spoonriver for locally sourced, organic fare, including vegan items.
Madison’s Place Playground Woodbury
Located as part of the HealthEast Sports Center complex, Madison’s Place is a 16,000-square-foot playground, whose hallmark is its inclusivity: It includes sun-shade-covered play decks, sensory play equipment and accessible activities for children, who use wheelchairs or have other special needs. (To beat the heat, check out the adjacent splash pad, too.)