The Ultimate 2018 To Do List
From dogsled races and polar plunges to Grand Old Day and the Great River Shakespeare Festival, we’ve compiled a list of 100+ shows, celebrations, and events to help you enjoy a year’s worth of Minnesota. Whether you’d rather raise a stein at New Ulm’s Oktoberfest or run the Twin Cities Marathon, we’ve got you covered. Start planning now!
Illustrations by Anne Lambelet
Red Bull Crashed Ice
The intense human-bobsled race is back at the capital for yet another speed run up and down icy slopes set under the Cathedral of St. Paul. Will new mayor Melvin Carter lace up his skates and give it a go, as Chris Coleman did in 2017? (Through 1/20)
Art Shanty Projects
On frozen Lake Harriet sits a whale-shaped icehouse that emanates long, searching calls. The “Lonely Whale” is part of this year’s Art Shanty Projects, where local artists turn our iconic fishing shacks into fantastical abodes, including “10,000 Lake Twister,” based on the limb-splayed spinner game; the “Tomb of the Unknown Minnow,” a makeshift mausoleum for those tiny creatures we sacrifice on fishing lines; and a shelter for a communal knitting project. (Through 2/11)
Winter Ice Cream Social
It’s all supply and demand: With below-freezing temps, ice cream from Leo’s Malt Shop goes for free during Stillwater’s annual Winter Ice Cream Social. As for the chili? There’s a nominal fee.
St. Paul Winter Carnival
A New York reporter arrived in St. Paul the winter of 1885 to give us his best Alexis de Tocqueville impression: The Midwest capital is “another Siberia,” he wrote, “unfit for human habitation.” Our comeback? To build the state’s first ice palace the next year, part of the premiere ice-sculpting, parade-hosting St. Paul Winter Carnival. Today, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest celebration of the season. St. Paul scrapped plans to build its first ice palace since 2004 this year, due to lack of funding, but you can depend on the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade to fill Rice Park with as much weirdness as ever: grown men in red capes and dorsal-finned caps portraying the mischievous, cold-averse Vulcans (fire gods, not Trekkies), who conscript bystanders into their ranks against the made-up King of Winds, Boreas. (Through 2/10)
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships at Lake Nokomis have drawn thousands of players from across the globe, competing for a prized golden shovel. It’s a low-key, big-talent tournament where the childlike joy of the sport comes first. (Through 1/28)
City Of Lakes Loppet
Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood becomes a ski-hissing, snowshoe-crunching, four-day hot spot for fire dancers, snow sculpture contests, and thousands of twinkling luminaries on Lake of the Isles—because the City of Lakes Loppet (pronounced low-pit, defined as a cross-country skiing event) is putting on a mini-winter Olympics. That means cross-country skiing, skijoring, and speed-skating races; a kubb tournament (the Swedish version of bocce); and ice biking. (Through 2/4)
Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza
Proof that Minnesota is the country’s ice-fishing capital is the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, the world’s largest charitable ice-fishing contest—with $150,000 in prizes.
Did the Youtube trend of filming yourself enduring sensational discomfort start with the Polar Plunge? The nationwide double-dog dare kicks off in Minnesota with hundreds dunking themselves into the chilling depths of White Bear Lake, preceding about 20 other ice baths across the state and raising money for Special Olympics Minnesota—more than $4 million last year.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon
Huskies scamper and humans mush for nearly 400 miles, from Duluth to the Canadian border and back, during the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon—the longest such race in the contiguous United States and a qualifier for Alaska’s 1,000-mile Iditarod competition. See for yourself at checkpoints along the way. (Through 1/31)
Minnesota Monthly’s Tacos & Tequila After Dark
The thick of winter calls for salsa dancing at the Marriot Hotel—plus spicy tacos from local vendors and premium tequila until midnight.
A decade ago, Ely called its 10-day fête of all things wintry—featuring broomball and giant snow sculptures—the Voyageur Winter Festival, referring to the northeastern town’s 19th-century French settlers. But the city has since gone with the less-fussy Winter Festival to include more of its population. Among its workshops, you can bake Slovenian pastries, weave Russian birch-bark baskets, sew beaver hats or mittens, and snowshoe to see the Hegman Lake pictographs, well-preserved examples of Native American rock art in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (Through 2/11)
Art When the Moon is Full: Winter Moon Wonderland
Under a full moon, a hike through the snow-covered woods of Silverwood Park ends with a warm fire, roasted marshmallows, and a class on making your own decorative frosted glassware.
Ice Bocce Tournament
On Girl Lake (just north of Woman Lake in northwest Minnesota), teams of four—some of them dressed as sharks, others wearing pig ears—slide stump-size pucks, shuffleboard-style, across patches of ice so they bump into one another à la billiard balls. The competition awards a trophy to the best sliders, and as for everyone else, there’s Patrick’s nearby for lunch specials and Bloody Marys.
Super Bowl LII
Whether you’re renting out, staying in, or going for the JT concert alone, the Super Bowl marks the crowning moment of Minneapolis’ decade-in-the-works U.S. Bank Stadium. (For more on all things Super Bowl, see p. 23.)
Dinosaur Zoo Live
In this theatrical romp through pre-historic Australia at the Ordway, puppeteers maneuver giant dinosaur replicas designed by paleontologists to show kids exactly who ran this joint 65 million years ago.
Kevin Kling & Friends: “The Love Show”
Valentine’s Day is for both the romantics and the cynics among us, who might at least agree that storyteller Kevin Kling, known for NPR’s All Things Considered, speaks from the heart when he hosts his annual show about love at St. Kate’s O’Shaughnessy, this year’s hearkening back to ’80s camp classic TV show The Love Boat.
The MN Twins: Bly and Rowan Pope
Minneapolis museums house two iconic works of photorealism—Chuck Close’s huge self-portrait at the Walker and another of a guy named Frank at Mia. Countless strokes of acrylic paint painstakingly render a close-up of the subject with uncanny, photo-like accuracy. Now, St. Paul-based twin brothers Bly and Rowan Pope have their first museum show at Mia, featuring photorealistic works done in graphite that took thousands of hours to complete. Bly focuses on portraiture and nature, sketching ordinary people and overlooked sights, while Rowan draws narrative scenes depicting humanity in near-obsessive detail. (Through 10/28)
Ballet Minnesota: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
Nearly everyone has heard Beethoven’s last symphony, among the most performed in the world—but have you seen it danced? The Cowles Center presents this choreographer’s take on four movements, including a dramatic peek into the personal history surrounding the composer’s dedication to an “immortal beloved,” all the way up to the finale, “Ode to Joy.” (Through 2/24)
The Beer Dabbler
Of course Minnesota’s largest outdoor beer festival takes place in winter. The Mighty Midway at the State Fairgrounds becomes a big, brisk taproom sampling more than 150 breweries and hosting live local music.
Dates to be Determined…
Stillwater Ice Castle
The tremendous, icicle-formed, vaguely gothic castle—with tunnels, archways, ice slides, water fountains, and 20-foot walls—returns to Stillwater, a reason to celebrate for those bemoaning the reversal of this year’s promised reappearance of the St. Paul ice palace.
Pink Floyd’s The Wall: A Rock Ballet
The Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota debuts an all-new work: a full-length “rock ballet” of Pink Floyd’s dystopian concept album The Wall. Playing off the band’s history of political needling, the show at the Cowles Center fits ’80s prog-rock to contemporary events and social fears. (Through 3/3)
Bock is a strong German lager, and there are seven glasses of it hidden throughout Flandrau State Park, next to the August Schell Brewing Company. If the deliberately unhelpful clues frustrate you, you can at least count on a couple “human St. Bernards” to arrive with kegs of bock on their backs, quenching roamers’ thirst the same way those stalwart dogs supposedly did for stranded avalanche victims in the Swiss Alps. For those not up to the task, brats, beer, and live music wait in the brewery.
Minnesota Monthly’s Food & Wine Show
During the Twin Cities’ most delicious weekend, hundreds of local and national winemakers, craft brewers, and chefs give out samples of our best pours and bites
at Target Field. (Through 3/4)
Bedrace for Bridging
Sailing down Buck Hill atop a mattress might sound like an irresponsible way to use what could have been someone’s bed, but riding these inflatable mattresses like toboggans in fact raises money for the largest furniture bank in the country.
Twin Cities Auto Show
At the Minneapolis Convention Center, Luxury Lane displays upscale models—including Cadillacs, Mercedes, and Aston Martins—for this year’s show of near-unattainable swank. A driving simulator lets you virtually test some of the rides, or you can experience a real-life “off-road adrenaline rush” by tackling Jeep’s indoor obstacle course. (Through 3/18)
Members of a Zimbabwean American family living in a Minneapolis suburb clash over questions of assimilation when daughter Tendikayi announces that she wants to observe a Zimbabwean wedding tradition before marrying Chris, her white fiancé from Minnetonka. After premiering on the East Coast in 2015, this funny, probing work—written by Macalaster College alum and Walking Dead actress Danai Gurira—finally comes to Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater. (Through 4/14)
Pi(e) Day (3.141592653, etc., etc.) honors the infinite numerical series along with the circular baked good. Celebrate at favorite Minnesota eateries, such as Salty Tart in Minneapolis, the Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan, Rustic Inn Cafe in Two Harbors, and Park Cafe in Braham—the “Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota,” where the annual Pie Day Festival, on the first Friday of August, features pie art, folk music, pie eating contests, and not a whole lot of math.
A new exhibit at Mia sees Syrian artist and MCAD grad Essma Imady using installation to mull over the refugee experience, homing in on the conflicts immigrant parents navigate when passing on their native heritage to their children. (Through 6/24)
NCAA Women’s Frozen Four
Last year, the U of M women’s hockey team narrowly missed going head-to-head against Wisconsin for the championship title. With luck, you’ll get to cheer them on through the final four games at the university’s Ridder Arena this year. (Through 3/18)
St. Patrick’s Day
Indulge in Irish Coffee Stouts from Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewery and 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, developed in Minnesota, before hitting up the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. Paul, among the longest running in the country. Then stop by the leprechaun lookalike contest at Shamrocks pub and head to O’Gara’s for live bagpipes—or hop the river to Kieran’s, the Local, or Keegan’s in Minneapolis. Sláinte!
Broadway’s not dead: This song-and-dance story of a drag queen who shakes up a small English town hit the stage five years ago, with a songbook by ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. In a season at the Ordway that has included Annie, this musical celebrates a different sort of hard-knock life—plus fabulous footwear. (Through 4/8)
Twins Home Opener
During a final wild-card Twins game last year, Minnesotans collectively held their breath, hoping that the team might advance into the playoffs, before resigning yet again to post-season disappointment. Embrace the aphorism “There’s always next year” by showing your support at the Twins home opener at Target Field.
NCAA Men’s Frozen Four
The college men’s hockey finals come to the Xcel Center in St. Paul. The University of Minnesota-Duluth came close to winning it all last year. Let’s hope playing at home stirs up enough pride to take the trophy. (Through 4/7)
The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain
The Hawaiian mini-guitar does indeed have its own unit of British disciples. Since the ’80s, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has performed uniquely sunny versions of songs that range the gamut—from Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” to Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” David Bowie was a fan. Hear why as they take the stage at St. John’s University.
Roy Wilkins Auditorium might lack the acoustics to house a good concert, but it’s the perfect venue for the Minnesota RollerGirls, jamming and J-blocking one another on roller skates. Minnesota’s All-Star team ranks 10th in North America, making this final bout of the season worth that black eye (applied to your face by a makeup artist for charity).
MSP International Film Festival
Screening more than 350 films, the 17-day MSP International Film Festival is the largest in the region and one of the longest running in the country. It’s tough to know where to start, with filmmakers from more than 70 countries showing films across the metro—including children’s movies at St. Anthony Main Theatre and music videos at the Soap Factory. But you might try close to home: There’s always a lineup of local films at the nearly 40-year-old event, called the “Minnesota Made” series. (Through 4/28)
Record Store Day
The first Record Store Day took place 10 years ago, as the term “hipster” slid into public consciousness. Lumberjack-chic Minnesota, of course, observes all the rituals: parking lots cordoned off for local musicians to perform while bespectacled, plaid-shirted types rummage through bins of discounted vinyl at any one of the Twin Cities’ slew of record stores—surfacing only for food-truck fare, donuts, and beer.
The World Circus Fair
The annual spring show by St. Paul’s purveyor of the acrobatic, clowning arts—the more-than-20-year-old Circus Juventas—highlights students of the circus craft, this year celebrating the quarter-millennium history of athletic showmanship and daring entertainment under the Big Top in St. Paul’s Highland Park. (Through 5/5)
Body, the Shrine
Since the late ’70s, the Ramaswamy family has built an internationally recognized institution of classical Indian dance here in Minneapolis. They maintain the integrity of a centuries-old tradition while reaching audiences across the globe, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Ragamala Dance Company, directors Ranee Ramaswamy and daughter Aparna premiere a show linking the personal and the ancestral at the Cowles Center. (Through 4/28)
Festival of Nations
The Festival of Nations reminds us of Minnesota’s immigrant legacy—sharing good-hearted pride across cultures in the St. Paul Rivercentre as part of the longest-running multicultural fest in the Midwest. More than 90 ethnic groups contribute to a diverse bazaar, traditional performances, and samples of global cuisine. (Through 5/6)
Cinco de Mayo Festival
Flip the stereotype that a Minnesotan palate finds ketchup spicy and enter the jalapeño-eating contest at St. Paul’s Cinco de Mayo Festival on the West Side—where low-rider cars, a parade, and mariachi bands celebrate the state’s Hispanic heritage. In an “El Grito” contest, participants compete to most volubly demonstrate excitement. (Again, flip that stereotype.)
Minnesota Monthly’s Grillfest
Award-winning burgers and brand-new beers make the Minnesota Monthly GrillFest a flavorful entry point into summer at CHS Field. Restaurants compete for best burger, and “grillologists” demonstrate the best techniques for achieving a smoky savor. (Through 5/6)
Compared to Europeans, people don’t really celebrate MayDay in the states. (Would you trust a mysterious gift basket that showed up, untagged, on your doorstep?) So, when the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre holds its annual MayDay Parade, the strange, eldritch celebration unfolds like a brand-new holiday—with drum lines, canoe rides, larger-than-life marionettes, and people riding vertiginously tall bikes, dressed in vivid colors and fey masks. Plus: There’s the moment-of-awakening Tree of Life Ceremony, when a big red boat, shaped like a dragon, crosses the lake in Powderhorn Park as the sun crests.
St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour
The St. Croix Valley is a veritable pottery Mecca, in part thanks to Warren Mackenzie, the Stillwater-based potter and University of Minnesota teacher often credited with bringing Japanese style to the state. This self-guided tour through Shafer, Taylors Falls, Harris, and other southeastern cities introduces travelers to up to 50 potters from around the country, who peddle their handmade wares in residents’ rural studios—everything from one-of-a-kind functional items to decoratively glazed objets d’art. (Through 5/13)
Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon
Both Garrison Keillor and trail running are patches on the quilt of Minnesota—but they don’t share stitching; they’re not even on the same side. (It’s hard to imagine those red shoes going much faster than a shuffle.) Still, even Keillor commented that the Lake Wobegon Trail, named after his fictional, prototypical Minnesota town, traipses along the “ordinary beauty” of farmland and meadow, threading through small towns and making this Boston-qualifying marathon a picturesque run along what used to be a railroad corridor, from Holdingford to St. Joseph.
Auxiliary Spring Plant Sale
The University of Minnesota has gone a long way introducing plants suitable to the state’s sometimes-frigid hospitality. Some of its new plant breeds appear at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Auxiliary Spring Plant Sale, the largest plant sale in the state and the one place where you can track down hard-to-find perennials and other rare varieties.
Trendy, artsy Northeast Minneapolis literally opens its doors to the largest free-range art-studio tour in the country—with more than 600 artists showcasing their work from the shelves of their studios, galleries, homes, and businesses. The Art-A-Whirl app helps you navigate more than 50 locations, where you can’t shy away from impulse purchases. Chat up artists and don an “I Bought Art” sticker to show your support for the local scene. (Look for discounts from area businesses popping up along the streets.) (Through 5/20)
“Eagles Over the Water”
Our state bird might be the loon, but wildlife programs across the state have made it a refuge for the national avian icon, too. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum feels the love in a show featuring 50 works of art—along with various historical ephemera—inspired by the majestic raptor, including artists John J. Audubon and Andy Warhol. (Through 10/14)
Grand Old Day
For one day, Grand Avenue in St. Paul floods with ice cream–licking, beer-drinking, concert-going folks in a big street-festival preamble to the State Fair: Grand Old Day, the Midwest’s largest single-day fest.
The small town of Perham, southeast of Detroit Lakes, has held an annual turtle race for almost 40 years now. Racers gather turtles mid-circle and, when the whistle blows, bang buckets on the ground to get their reptiles lumbering toward the outer ring (if they move at all). If you really, really like turtles, Nisswa and Longville have their own weekly turtle races throughout the summer.(Through 6/17)
St. Paul and Minneapolis
As the only arts festival in the Midwest that goes all night, Northern Spark creates a dreamlike atmosphere where artists have built glowing, immersive outdoor installations. The event closes streets to traffic so you and your friends can wander beneath the bridges of St. Paul’s Mill District and in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, interacting with temporary sculptures and performers along the Green Line. Plan an itinerary of what to see, or just walk; there’s art around every bend. (Through 6/16)
Rock the Garden
The Current’s biggest draw of the year returns to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden for a rocking weekend of music. Last year, local and national musicians drew more than 11,000. (Through 6/17)
Duluth’s biggest annual tourist event, Grandma’s Marathon, got its name from the lakeside restaurant near the Lift Bridge, where runners cross the finish line. Grandma’s Restaurant was the first and only sponsor when the race kicked off in 1977, with 150 runners. Today, it attracts more than 18,000 for all race events.
Twin Cities Jazz Festival
For three days, Mears Park becomes the anguished, soulful heart of downtown St. Paul’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, where local and national jazz musicians share their stories through our most American art form. (Through 6/23)
Great River Shakespeare Festival
All Winona’s a stage, and the men and women merely players during the Great River Shakespeare Festival, where theatergoers from all over the Midwest come to see the bard’s classics—plus the free outdoor concerts the city hosts on the weekends. (Through 8/5)
Paul Bunyan Days
To honor the giant lumberjack whose footprints, filled with water, created our 10,000 lakes, Akeley hosts the annual Paul Bunyan Days, with traditional small-town events (such as fishing contests, tractor pulls, turtle races, and an ice cream social) and photo ops beside the beloved Paul Bunyan statue, who kneels down for your selfie. (Through 6/24)
Twin Cities Pride
Twin Cities Pride goers course down Hennepin Avenue to Loring Park in a rainbow of colors representing achievements made in equality. The festival welcomes all stripes to events across the Twin Cities, with highlights including the Rainbow Run 5K, local performers in Loring Park, and a family picnic. (Through 6/25)
Uptown Food Truck Festival
From barbecue to sushi to cookie dough, Twin Cities food trucks have been up to some interesting flavors. The best place to catch these roving feasts is at the Uptown Food Truck Festival, the largest in Minnesota with about 65 vehicles.
Fourth of July
On the Fourth of July, our lakes light up under geese-clearing fireworks. Favorite metro displays include Minneapolis’ Red, White, and Boom! show over the Mississippi; Stillwater’s bursting in Lowell Park over the St. Croix River; Excelsior, over Lake Minnetonka; and White Bear Lake, over its namesake.v
Lake Phalen Dragon Festival
The annual gathering highlights diverse Asian Pacific cultures in Lake Phalen Park with a dragon dance parade, dragon boat races, martial arts demonstrations, authentic cuisine, and traditional music. (Through 7/8)
Events during the city’s “Best Days of Summer” official civic celebration span four days and include a tennis classic, a water skiing show, a food festival, Zumba, and one of the country’s biggest firework displays. (Through 7/21)
The nation’s raddest tournament returns after its first run at U.S. Bank Stadium last year. Bikers and skateboarders again flip and squeal up and along halfpipes in the new arena. (Through 7/22)
Bavarian Blast Festival
New Ulm’s biggest summer party takes its cue from the town’s Bavarian roots, with laughably German competitions such as a contest to see who can hold out a stein brimming with beer the longest; a shovel-sauerkraut-into-your-mouth showdown; and a race of kegs nudged round hay bales with wooden sticks. (Through 7/22)
Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival
The Twin Cities’ satellite indie music factory, Duluth, puts on a festival in Bayfront Park marinated in enough island vibes to bridge the land of 10,000 lakes and the land of springs.
Lynx Host All-Star Game
The newly renovated Target Center hosts the WNBA All-Star game, and the distinction is long overdue. The title-holding Lynx sent four players to the tournament last summer and boast some of the most avid, stadium-filling fans in the game.
Vintage Band Festival
Brass musicians from across the country—and as far away as Germany—shoulder tubas and lubricate trombones for a one-day sprint through 10 concerts in Northfield’s community spaces, playing to the city’s 19th-century history, as heard in the old-timey tunes and seen in the Civil War–era dress—women done up in full, feathers-on-top antebellum regalia.
Dates to be Determined…
St. Paul and Minneapolis
Somali Week marks the African country’s independence from European colonialism in 1960. The metro-wide celebration attracts diverse visitors from across the nation and is the largest Somali gathering in Minnesota—with camel rides, spoken-word poetry, Somali art, dance, traditional food (including sambusas, fried triangular pastries stuffed with spiced veggies and/or meat), and soccer games.
Minneapolis closes a section of road for each of its eight Open Streets events, allowing a safe space to walk, bike, and roll, while connecting with neighbors and community businesses. Find a troupe of tap dancers, intricate chalk designs speckled throughout the streets, marching bands, ribbon aerialists, a petting zoo, dance lessons, and plenty of live music and cultural showcases.
Basilica Block Party
The Basilica of Saint Mary becomes an altar to alt-rock, as tens of thousands pour in to hear musicians officiate from three stages outside the country’s first basilica, proceeds benefiting the church’s outreach program.
Minnesota Monthly’s Fine Spirits Classic
Mixologists and distillers combine forces for cocktails at Minnesota Orchestra Hall, at your best shot of the year to sample new brands and learn party-perfect recipes (with sister events in St. Cloud in April and Rochester in October).
Minnesota Fringe Festival
Why “fringe”? Because performance artists get to stage about 160 productions of risky material, scattered throughout the metro. Performances have ranged from politically inspired improv to Buffy the Bedbug Slayer. (Through 8/12)
Uptown Art Fair
The largest art fair in Minnesota is also outside. Peruse works by some 350 artists before taking in live music, an outdoor movie, and a culinary arts competition. (Through 8/5)
Midwest Home Luxury Home Tour
Houses worth more than $1 million open their doors so you can take inspiration from the latest trends in home design. (Through 8/19)
Located on the tip of Minnesota’s arrowhead, Grand Portage National Monument celebrates Rendezvous Days, the time of year when fur traders would arrive to do business. The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa holds a traditional powwow, and a 1700s-style fur-trading post sets up for faux-haggling. (Through 8/12)
Minnesota’s Ren Fest, among the country’s oldest, appeals to many: those who lust after a joust’s damn-serious chivalry; those who prefer tights; and those who take any excuse to double-fist a giant pickle and turkey leg. This year is the second-to-last before the Dark Ages romp finds a new location, so take it in: elephant rides, weiner dog races, knife throwing, and comedic performances (the Puke & Snot show having gone splash-happy on its waterside stage for years). (Through 9/30)
Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival
Como Park Conservatory’s Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival draws on Japan’s Obon holiday, when families guide ancestral spirits home by lighting lanterns. Stay for taiko drumming, martial arts, and Japanese flower arranging.
The Minnesota State Fair
You know it as Minnesota’s summer inguldence. Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar knows it as the 12 days it makes bank, dredging upwards of $4 million from the sea of Minnesotans who wash into the St. Paul Fairgrounds to haul away buckets of chocolate-chip cookies. See also: deep-fried everything (candy bars, avocadoes); musical headliners (Journey, Aretha Franklin); and farm animals (pigs, chickens). (Through 9/3)
Kräftskiva (Crayfish Party)
August is crayfish month in Sweden—and the American Swedish Institute has made it so here, too. Brined and served cold, 150 pounds of crayfish come with cone-shaped hats and Scandinavian folk music.
Potato Days Festival
Top-tier potato producer Barnseville hosts mashed potato sculpting, the Miss Tator Tot Pageant, and potato car races. (Through 8/25)
Gull Lake Classic Boat Show
Some of the rarest, highest-quality wooden boats get an annual airing outside Bar Harbor Supper Club, where you’ll find free rides and a complimentary breakfast for all participants. (Through 8/26)
Twin Cities chefs in the north woods’ Camp Miller teach amateur gourmets how best to cook fish outdoors, use mushroom-harvested yeast, and other tent-side tips. (Through 9/2)
Dates to Be Determined…
Under the “World’s Largest Loon” statue, a loon egg hunt takes place, plus a contest to best imitate the plaintive state bird, and another for most artful beard.
Celebrate Minnesota’s growing Indian population at the St. Paul Capitol Grounds—sprawling with a bazaar of traditional clothes and accessories, Twin Cities Indian cuisine pop-ups, and classical dance by local troupes.
American Pottery Festival
It’s not called the “American Pottery Festival” for nothing. The Northern Clay Center helps maintain Minnesota’s national pottery reputation, and this annual fundraiser brings potters from across the country to Minneapolis for demonstrations, panels, and a showcase of one-of-a-kind ceramic wares. (Through 9/9)
The Defeat of Jesse James Days
On the weekend after every Labor Day, the famous attempt at a bank raid that clamored through Northfield in 1876—back when the tiny town defied notorious bandit Jesse James and his gang—gets its romantic reenactment outside the First National Bank, as the downtown transforms into Old West pageantry, featuring a rodeo, a car show, and other entertainment. (Through 9/10)
While some of the pumpkins at this family-friendly event compete for heft, others take to wheels, squaring off in a derby—just a couple of the forms the iconic squash takes at Wabasha-Kellogg High School’s annual fall gathering, in addition to artful carvings and a Cinderella-style carriage. Scarecrow-dressing contests, a hay maze, and other kids’ games balance out the free concerts and pub crawl for adults. (Through 10/27)
Siah Armajani: Follow This Line
If you’ve ever crossed the huge steel bridge that connects the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to Loring Park—the bridge inscribed length-wise with poetry about the confluence of metal and air over the I-94 freeway—then you already know the work of Minnesota public artist Siah Armajani. He’s been here since 1960, when he fled the anti-democratic regime in Iran. Now, the Walker Art Center puts on the first retrospective spanning seven decades of his studio work. You can follow his life’s through-line across multiple media, from installation to painstaking calligraphy.
Carlos Creek Winery’s annual Grape Stomp is the best-known in the state—with more than 300 teams stamping their soles into more than 10,000 pounds of grapes. Costume contests unveil fun themes, including Viking fan, Lucy lookalike, and “Trash Your Toga,” where stompers get Bacchanalian in Ancient Greek getups. Free shuttles run from the event to the town’s hotels, so you can drink plenty of wine (though none you’ve put your feet in) or Schell’s brews (for those of hoppier palates). (Through 9/16)
Dates to Be Determined…
Graywolf Literary Salon
Graywolf Press, the Minneapolis indie non-profit publisher that’s helped bring talent to the state since the ’70s, holds its annual literary salon, when writers and publishers from across the country profess their love for Minnesota—with center stage reserved for the thriving local literary scene, featuring virtuoso local wordsmiths.
In the late ’70s, a Burnsville fire equipment collector began showing his collection to curious kids in town, polished off with a quick parade down Nicollet Avenue. In the ’80s, the idea of a fire muster, based on the New England civic competitions that drag out team-building fire-fighting exercises for public engagement, kicked off and developed into the live concerts, fire engine parades, equipment demonstrations, and beer tasting of today.
Arab Film Festival
Since 2003, this lineup of narrowly distributed films has tapped stories from here and abroad that dig into the Arab experience—whether it’s a documentary about an Egyptian mother raising her kids and making ends meet on the streets of Cairo or a goofy sex comedy about modern romance in Lebanon—with post-screening director Q+As and a roster of films by up-and-coming Minnesota filmmakers, primarily showing at St. Anthony Main Theatre.
The German immigrant origins of Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm have helped make the town’s Oktoberfest the state’s best, modeled after the celebration in Munich, Germany, and featuring entertainment throughout downtown—such as polka dancing, local museum tours, a trolley ride threading along authentic specialty shops, and more beneath the cheery chiming of a 45-foot Glockenspiel. (Through 10/13)
Twin Cities Marathon
St. Paul and Minneapolis
The Twin Cities Marathon is one of the top 10 in the U.S. and has been dubbed “the most beautiful urban marathon in America” for its more than 10 miles of scenic water routes along the Mississippi and around the Chain of Lakes. Covering the breadth of what makes Minnesota scenic, it ends with a downhill view of the Capitol.
Twin Cities Book Festival
The Minnesota State Fairgrounds fill with escapists and pedants for the Twin Cities Book Festival—the largest literary fair in the Upper Midwest, featuring more than 100 publishers, magazines, bookstores, and authors, who aim at all ages and write in all genres. (Through 10/13)
South Central MN Studio Artour
Farmington, Northfield, and Faribault
Its strange portmanteau of “art” and “tour” aside, the South Central MN Studio ArTour is a welcoming showcase of the artists who have made the middle of the state a creative destination for potters, painters, crafters, welders, glass blowers, woodcarvers, and others opening their studio doors to any looking to tell a local story with their vases, jewelry, and décor. (Through 10/14)
Zombie Pub Crawl
The Zombie Pub Crawl holds a Guinness record for “largest gathering of people dressed as zombies.” Pool into the uncanny valley at bars and venues in the sectioned-off blocks of Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, imbibing Schell’s novelty “Brain Belt” beer, swarming live performances, competing for best undead groan, and just nonchalantly decomposing for a people-watching experience like no other.
The Stillwater Harvest Fest
Taking in some truly rotund pumpkins during its annual weigh-off competition, the Stillwater Harvest Fest in 2015 briefly clocked the North American record with a 2,185 pounder. The weekend closes as a crane drops the gargantuan squashes into smithereens of slimy seeds. (Through 10/14)
Twin Cities Tap Festival
For years, the Twin Cities have magnetized dancers, thanks in part to the bevy of local dance studios, many of them teaching tap. They trot out classes and performances in time to metallic-toed guests clattering in from across the country during this celebration of an American vernacular form as old as it is alive and ever-changing. (Through 10/21)
Grand Day Parade
The Halloween Capitol of the World is right here in Minnesota. At least, that’s Anoka’s claim after hosting the alleged first celebration in 1920. In any case, Anoka’s Halloween parade is the biggest in the state. Each of the 200 kid-friendly floats (no overly horrific themes or blood allowed) and marching bands gets in the spooky-lite spirit for 40,000-some attendees (half the suburb’s population).
Dates to be Determined…
Among the high-intensity scare attractions in Minnesota, Scream Town in Chaska is one of the largest and highest rated, with multiple attractions on its cornfield- and forest-adjacent property. A “lights out” event one night a year plunges those 30-some acres into darkness. Pro tip: Get discounts by going early in the month.
Timberwolves First Game
Basketball legend Kevin Garnett was back, and then he was gone again, in a two-year deal that felt nostalgic and brief. The Timberwolves are still shaking things up. Invest in optimism; check out the first home game at Target Center.
MN Wild First Home Game
Minnesota Wild players flaunt new wheat-striped uniforms at the Xcel Energy Center.
Fish House Parade
The day after Thanksgiving, the denizens of the 2,000-person fishing town of Aitkin dress up their ice-fishing shacks in holiday cheer. It’s part of a tradition that started as a joke exchanged between a couple of civic-minded regulars in a coffee shop. Festively adorned fishing shelters have since trundled down Main Street every year for decades, with parade marshals ranging from Vikings to local politicians. The 60 or so floats have included puns about the shacks’ resemblance to outhouses and a bunch of “Grumpy Old Women” in a hot tub. Pro tip: Bring a lawn chair.
State Parks Free Admission Day
Justification for Black Friday: You get all that exercise from racing through the aisles and elbowing other shoppers. Reversal of that justification: Since 2015, the Minnesota State Parks have made it a tradition to waive admission fees to its 67 state parks, encouraging Minnesotans to trade in the mall for the outdoors.
Small Business Saturday
Minnesota nurtures its small businesses: Many civic groups celebrate grassroots entrepreneurs, and the Minneapolis Craft Market’s annual get-together of area artisans at Sociable Cider Werks—on the day after shopping’s apocalyptic free-for-all—nudges attention away from bargain hunting and toward meeting your neighborhood’s entrepreneurs. Look for holiday markets springing up at breweries throughout the season, as well.
Dates to be Determined…
The 11-year-old holiday market in Excelsior emulates Germany’s 700-year-old fest, where you can eat roasted almonds on a trolley ride with Santa or hole yourself away with a strudel and gluhwein—a warm, mulled red wine—amid a bazaar of quaint, hand-crafted gift options. Plus, there’s the German lantern parade, kids’ activities at KinderWorld, and the Biergarten at the Excelsior Brewing Company.
College students put down their pencils and their beers as a parade marches through Mankato, illuminated by 1.5 million flashing LED lights. On the sidelines, reindeer (surprisingly short) stand around while a 5K winds through Sibley Park. And ice sculptors craft frozen blocks into tremendous works of art near the skating rink, where folks can bundle up in the warming house.
A Christmas Carol
Coming up on nearly half a century of tradition, the Guthrie’s take on Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is the theater’s most widely known show, whether it’s hanging onto old standbys—as with actor Nat Fuller, who has played nearly every male part and reprised the role of Scrooge many times—or, say, introducing fresh-faced 10-year-old Sophie Jones to the role of Tiny Tim last year.
Lake Superior Storm Festival
More than 40 years ago this month, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald famously sank on Lake Superior. The intimidating so-called “Gales of November” inspire this Grand Marais fest, where a storm-gear fashion show, painting classes, shipwreck stories, and the wave dash—which means, as it sounds, that you rush through the tide of Superior before warming up beside a beach fire—display a certain hardbitten pride (from a respectful distance) in the month’s choppy throes.
The village of gingerbread houses inspired by Twin Cities architecture has risen in the Norway House for four years now, featuring everything from a frosted Minneapolis City Hall to a toasted Mill City Museum. It strikes the same tinny notes of holiday absurdity that Macy’s Santaland used to—before the department store’s closing shuttered the decades-old North Pole walk-through. With local bakers of all skill levels contributing, this showcase arrives with a greater sense of community spirit.
Dates to be Determined…
Glensheen Mansion Christmas Tours
In the early 20th century, Duluth’s Gilded Age Congdon family—a wealthy iron-mining dynasty—cataloged its members’ lives a bit like the Kardashians, although with letters and diary entries instead of Instagram. Caretakers have kept artifacts in nearly untouched condition, and around this time of year, the house gets the full candlelit Christmas treatment. The mansion’s 39 rooms are decorated with hundreds of feet of garland, and trees rise in abundant splendor for the season. Hot cocoa is served, and elves are hidden for kids to find.
Small white tents in Loring Park sell roasted nuts, mini donuts, sausages—along with artisanal soaps, socks, woodwork, and woolen winter wear—while ice skating and movies keep the kids engaged.
Bentleyville Tour of Lights
Somehow, the Bentleyville Tour of Lights got its start in a small-town resident’s yard, which drew about 35,000 visitors in its first two years. Now in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park, it’s considered America’s “largest free walk-through lighting display,” with more than 20 acres of impressively tangled, artfully arranged holiday lights, plus a 12-story Christmas tree.
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
There’s a holiday feeling unmatched in the incandescent lighting display that rockets across the country on the side of the 14-car Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. It rolls into towns throughout Minnesota (typically making about 20 stops, covering towns from Hastings to Detroit Lakes). Spectators get the chance to donate to local food banks and catch a musical performance when one of the box cars unfolds into a makeshift stage.
Union Depot Holiday Events
The holiday season is all about transforming spaces, and so the Union Depot in St. Paul transforms into a hub for a tree-lighting ceremony, a European Christmas Market, holiday movie nights, a holiday bake sale, and train rides with Santa on the North Pole Express.
Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity at Penumbra Theatre spotlights stellar gospel vocal performers, plus a full choir. It’s become an enlivening, spine-tingling local Christmas tradition.
Holiday Flower Show
The holiday flower show at Como Park’s Marjorie Mcneely Conservatory is a warm refuge covered in vibrant poinsettias.
St. Olaf Christmas Festival
About 500 student vocalists and orchestral musicians sing and play together, elevating holiday classics at St. Olaf College. It’s one of the oldest musical Christmas celebrations in the country.
Concordia Christmas Concert
Moorhead and Minneapolis
It’s Minnesota’s most-attended Christmas concert: Concordia College’s 350 student vocalists take the stage of both the auditorium of the Moorhead Campus and Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall for a performance of holiday songs old and new that you can also catch on the radio.
Ogle residential light displays from inside a warm trolley full of holiday music and done up in festive garlands as it rolls through the Rochester metro area.
British Arrow Awards
Great Britain’s best “telly adverts” screen at the Walker Art Center—awarded for ingenuity in cinematic brevity, even if these feel less like commercials and more like super-short films.
Freewheel Winterbike Expo
From trend to mainstay, fat bikes trace their origins to Minnesota, where an innovative Bloomington bike manufacturer and the state’s enterprising bike culture took on the bulbous-wheeled beauties for their grace on the snow. This expo on the Greenway brings together producers andpedalers alike.
St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show
At the Rivercentre, all the best ways to spice up your ice-fishing staycation: from speed-drilling augers to underwater cameras to digital fish finders.