The Ultimate 2017 To Do List
Illustration by John Johnston
From dogsled races and Polar Plunges to Grand Old Day and the Great River Shakespeare Festival, we've compiled a list of 100+ activities, 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—those Spoonbridge and Cherry selfies aren't going to snap themselves!
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. POND HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Through Jan. 15: Hit the MythBusters exhibit at MOA before it closes on the 15th. Based on the Discovery Channel’s hit TV show, it offers science geek chic with duct tape canoes and rain that…glows?
Jan. 21: Though the Red Hot Chili Peppers defined "alternative" rock in the 1990s, they went on to become one of the best-selling bands of all time. They'll play from 2016's The Getaway at Target Center. (If you were headbanding to Blood Sugar Sex Magik, you're too old to do so now.)
Jan. 26-Feb. 5: St. Paul Winter Carnival is the nation’s oldest and largest celebration of cold weather, launched back in 1886 as a response to a New York reporter who trashed the city as “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation” in winter. Though we haven’t seen an ice palace since 2004, there’s always the parade, ice sculpture carving, medallion hunt, and shenanigans of the Vulcans, a crew of red-clad mischief-makers who, according to lore, overthrow the King of the Winds to usher in spring.
Jan. 26-29: Even if you don’t know a hat trick from a stocking cap, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships at Lake Nokomis attracts some of the best amateur players in the country. Warm up with pancakes at the kitschy mod-diner Hot Plate across the street.
Jan. 28: The first and last word in ice fishing (they own the url icefishing.org) is the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, which boasts the largest ice-fishing contest prize in the world: $150,000 you can put toward a lakes-area cabin.
Jan. 28: Polar Plunge season—20 ice-bath events all over the state raise millions for the Special Olympics—kicks off in White Bear Lake. Every year more than 15,000 plungers brrring it on!
Jan. 28: A better idea than licking a flagpole: free scoops from Leo’s Malt Shop at Stillwater’s annual Winter Ice Cream Social.
Jan. 29: With 300-plus miles of mushing, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is the longest such race in the lower 48, as well as a qualifier for Alaska’s famed Iditarod. Fans can meet the teams before the race begins, at a gravel pit outside Two Harbors.
Seasonal: Three Rivers Parks offers some of the best sledding runs. Carver’s hill is longest (and they rent plastic toboggans), but French Regional is lit until 10 p.m. and has a paved walking path for trudging back up.
Seasonal: The free ice skating rink at Rice Park in downtown St. Paul is artificially chilled for days when the temp exceeds 32.
PHOTO BY ALMA GUZMAN / EXPLORE MINNESOTA
Feb. 2-12: During its 10-day Winter Festival, Ely is populated by intricate—and gigantic—snow sculptures that will put your backyard snowman to shame.
Feb. 3-4: If curling up with a hot cup of tea is your cup of tea, then Red Bull Crashed Ice is likely not. Extreme sports fans cheer on skaters who marry luge with hockey: flying some 40-miles-an-hour down an ice track outside the St. Paul Cathedral, taking hairpin turns, jumps, and checks from their competitors along the way.
Feb. 4: The Beer Dabbler Winter Festival: At MN’s largest outdoor beer festival (yes, it’s during winter), the Mighty Midway at the State Fairgrounds transforms into the ultimate taproom with samples from 150+ breweries, plus live local music.
Feb. 4-26: The Art Shanty Projects on White Bear Lake transforms MN’s iconic icehouses into venues to experience art instead of catch fish. Past favorites include shanties for sauna and karaoke, and one turned into a giant pinhole camera. This year’s shanties will allow visitors to strum a frozen harp (playable with mittens), get jiggy with the snow removal dance, and join an all-ages slumber party, complete with monsters under the bed.
Feb. 3-5: For three days, the City of Lakes Loppet (pronounced low-pit) turns Minneapolis into a mini-winter Olympics: There are cross country skiing, skijoring, and speed-skating races; a kubb tournament (the Swedish answer to bocce); snow sculpture contests; and ice biking. Saturday night is the enchanting Luminary Loppet, where thousands of twinkling luminaries, ice sculptures, and fire dancers light a path through Lake of the Isles for skiers, snowshoers, and walkers. In lieu of a gold medal, cocoa, s’mores, and beer await at the finish.
Feb. 17: The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience at the Xcel Energy Center is the closest you can get to visiting Westeros and Essos, the fictional continents in the hit TV show, which will come to life through epic LED wall screens, 3D designs, and music from the show.
Feb. 23-26: It’s about a two and a half hour drive from the Twin Cities to Hayward, Wisconsin, but that’s nothing compared to the marathon that 12,000+ cross country skiers from around the world face during the American Birkebeiner, or Birkie, the largest such race in North America.
All month: Visit the Ice Castle, a fairytale come to life featuring ice-carved tunnels, fountains, slides, frozen thrones, towers, and magical lights. It takes 4,000 hours of manpower to create-and just a few days for Mother Nature to make it disappear.
Seasonal: Lutsen Mountains offers the steepest downhill skiing slopes in the state, plus MN’s only gondola.
National Eagle Center
Photo by Explore minnesota
All month: In March, hundreds of eagles nest along the St. Croix River. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha and drive the Great River Road.
Mar. 4: Why settle for the traditional toboggan when you and three of your dearest can ride a queen mattress down a snowy ski hill? Besides, it’s for a good cause: Bedrace for Bridging raises money for the largest furniture bank in the country.
Mar. 4-5: Before the Twins attempt a comeback, the Minnesota Monthly Food & Wine Show takes over the Metropolitan Club at Target Field, gathering hundreds of local and national winemakers, restaurants, craft brewers, and chefs giving out samples of the trendiest pours and bites in town. Bonus: The cheese display is practically the size of Wisconsin.
Mar. 10-11: The Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota’s most accessible program, Classical Connections, features Aaron Copland’s iconic Rodeo as well as an original work based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Mar. 14: Celebrate Pi(e) Day (or 3.14) with a slice from the state’s best: Salty Tart in Minneapolis, the Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan, Rustic Inn Cafe in Two Harbors, and Park Cafe in Braham—the self-proclaimed pie capital of the world and home to the annual Pie Day Festival (held the first Friday every August).
Mar. 17: St. Patrick’s Day is on a Friday this year, which means no holding back on the green beer and local 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey. The can’t-miss-event is the 51st St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. Paul, one of the longest running in the country. Then head to Shamrocks for the leprechaun look-alike contest, O’Garas for bagpipes and live music, or travel across the river to Kieran’s, the Local, and Keegan’s for more celebrations. Sláinte!
Mar. 11-19: Hey, lead foot: Put the pedal to the metal in a simulator at the Twin Cities Auto Show or take a real-life ride through Jeep’s obstacle course, gawk at the high-end luxury cars, and peruse the vintage beauties on the Classic Car Walk.
Nice Ride Bikes
Photo courtesy of nice ride minnesota
This month, Minneapolis’ 190 Nice Ride bike-sharing stations are back in business after a winter break. And the system’s expanding: Racks of the lime-colored bikes debuted in Rochester last summer.
Apr. 1: The Minnesota RollerGirls (think: rugby on roller skates) execute a fierce derby. Even the players’ names are intimidating: Killsey McMurder and Scarmen Hellectra to name a few. Watch them block and jam their way to victory during the final All-Star Bout of the season and get a black eye (done by a makeup artist) to support charity.
Apr. 3: Dust off the old Homer Hanky and put on a lucky ball cap for the Twins’ home opener at Target Field to summon a more exciting (and longer) season.
Apr. 15: Vinyl fans line up in the wee hours of the morning on April’s annual Record Store Day to rummage through bins of deeply discounted beats at local record stores. Many bring in donuts (for the early birds), food trucks, beer, and musicians—Fifth Element sustains live music for 36 hours straight.
Apr. 13-29: The 17-day MSP International Film Festival is the largest in the region (more than 250 films!) and one of the longest running in the nation highlighting films from 60+ countries—and you can always catch a lineup of flicks with MN ties. Conscious of spreading awareness of social issues, the festival expanded last year with the “Spotlight on the World, inFLUX” selection of films, focusing on the struggles and triumphs of immigrants and refugees.
Apr. 21: Mark the Purple One’s passing by touring Prince’s Paisley Park, visiting his star at First Avenue, or just “go crazy” by singing along in the car, windows down.
Seasonal: Stretch those hamstrings and go for a hike. The 3.5 mile journey up Eagle Mountain near Grand Marais is the highest peak in MN at 2,301 feet. Or, choose a portion of the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail for wilderness backpacking.
Festival of Nations
Photo courtesy of Explore minnesota
May 4-7: Circumnavigate the globe without a passport by attending the Festival of Nations in the Saint Paul RiverCentre. It’s the longest running multicultural fest in the Midwest, highlighting more than 100 diverse groups. Shop the Bazaar, catch a performance, and sample worldly cuisine (Palestinian fare is the newest addition).
May 6: We don’t necessarily recommend entering the jalapeño-eating contest, as the low-rider cars, mariachi bands, tacos, and El Grito (expressions of joy) contest make the Cinco de Mayo Festival in St. Paul plenty hot.
May 7: Stop waiting for a basket to show up at your front door. Get out to the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s annual MayDay Parade, which embraces the start of spring in extravagant counterculture fashion: tall bikes, giant marionettes, drum lines, canoe rides, the occasional kale bikini, and the awakening Tree of Life Ceremony.
May 13-14: Get growing at the Auxiliary Spring Plant Sale at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum—the largest in the state, and the most popular for its hard-to-find varieties and University of Minnesota introductions such as the Silver Brocade sun perennial and a selection of grape vines.
May 13-14: Meat and beer—it's a beautiful combination. At the Minnesota Monthly GrillFest, sample local brews and bites, and learn how to get that perfect smoky flavor from a “Grillologist.”
May 18-19: Two Saturday Night Live alums reunite on stage at the Orpheum Theatre in Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. Their lightning wit and admirable roasts mingle with their best personal show biz tales. Plus: Steve Martin plays banjo.
May 19-21: Located in Northeast Minneapolis, Art-a-Whirl is the largest open art studio tour in the country—more than 600 artists display their work throughout studios, art galleries, homes, and businesses. Many local clothing and product brands also host pop-ups. Download the Art-a-Whirl app to navigate the sea of creations, and when you purchase a piece of original art, be sure to wear the “I Bought Art” sticker to display your support. Plus, you’ll get special discounts at some of the surrounding businesses.
Seasonal: If you haven’t yet experienced “City by Nature” (the Minneapolis tagline), rent a kayak or canoe at Lake Calhoun (Bde Maka Ska), or try out the new Paddle Share program along the Mississippi River.
All month: Minnesota Museums Month brings discounts and special events to some 500 museums statewide. Check out the recent reopening of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Previous exhibits have been retired (goodbye, beloved ant hill) to make room for the “Scramble” four-story climber, ninja-training course, carpet skate park, and more.
Photo by Max Haynes
This month: After nearly two years of renovations, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopens this month-let the Spoonbridge and Cherry selfies resume!
June 4: Grand Old Day lives up to its namesake: It’s the largest single-day festival in the Midwest. Think of it as your warm up for the State Fair. Thirty blocks along Grand Avenue in St. Paul are split into four districts: entertainment, sports & wellness, arts & culture, and family fun. Pro tip: Park at the University of St. Thomas ramp and catch the shuttle bus along Summit Avenue.
June 10: Stay up past bedtime for Northern Spark, the only all-night arts festival in the Midwest. Wander through blocked-off streets and under bridges to interact with temporary installations and performers portraying the event’s theme, “Climate Chaos | Climate Rising.” Plan an itinerary of events you want to see, or walk aimlessly—art is at every corner in the Mill District. New in 2017: projects scattered along the Green Line Light Rail between Minneapolis and St. Paul (ridership is free for the night).
June 17: Duluth’s biggest tourist event each year is Grandma’s Marathon, named after the lakeside restaurant near the eminent Lift Bridge where runners cross the finish line.
June 21-July 30: All of Winona’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players during the annual Great River Shakespeare Festival, drawing theatergoers from all over the Midwest. In addition to performances of Shakespeare’s classics, the city hosts free outdoor concerts on the weekends.
June 22-24: For three days, Mears Park is the heart of downtown St. Paul’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, bringing in both local and national jazz musicians showing off their soulful tunes.
June 23-25: As an ode to the giant lumberjack whose footprints stamped out MN’s 10,000+ lakes, Akeley hosts the annual Paul Bunyan Days with a bevy of traditional small town events (fishing contests, tractor pull, turtle races, ice cream social) and photo ops with the famous kneeling Paul Bunyan statue.
June 24-25: During the largest free LGBT celebration in the country, Twin Cities Pride goers paint the town red (and orange, yellow, green...) with a rainbow of colors that represents achievements made in equality. The festival exudes an open and vibrant atmosphere with highlights including the parade, the rainbow run in Boom Island Park, the concert in Loring Park, and a family picnic.
June 25: The easiest way to sample the Twin Cities’ best moveable feasts at once is at the Uptown Food Truck Festival, the largest in MN with about 65 vehicles.
Seasonal: Fresh-picked strawberries from a small, local farm tend to be tastier than the supermarket sort. Favorite pick-your-own spots include Berry Hill Farm in Anoka, Emma Krumbee’s in Belle Plaine, and Pine Tree in White Bear Lake.
Lake Phalen Dragon Festival
Photo courtesy of explore minnesota
June 30-July 8: Somali Week marks the country’s independence from European colonialism in 1960. The celebration attracts visitors from across the nation and is the largest Somali gathering in MN—camel rides, spoken-word poetry and dance, Somali art, traditional food (including sambusas, a fried triangular pastry stuffed with spiced veggies and/or meat), and soccer games.
July 4: On the Fourth of July, our many lakes and rivers act as the perfect backdrop for viewing fireworks. Watch the light show at Minneapolis’ Red, White, and Boom! over the Mississippi riverfront, at Lowell Park in Stillwater over the St. Croix River, in Excelsior over Lake Minnetonka, or in White Bear Lake over its namesake.
July 7-8: Alt-rock music is worshiped on three stages outside the Basilica of Saint Mary during the annual Basilica Block Party.
July 8-9: The annual Lake Phalen Dragon Festival highlights diverse Asian Pacific cultures with a dragon dance parade, dragon boat races, martial arts demonstrations, authentic cuisine, and plenty of musical and dance performances.
July 13-16: We’re flipping out about ESPN’s X Games at U.S. Bank Stadium—daredevils on skateboards, motorbikes, and more, perform big tricks, flying and spinning through the air, as they compete for the gold.
July 19-22: Minneapolis Aquatennial is the city’s official civic celebration with four days of events including a blood drive, tennis classic, River Rats water skiing show, food festival, Zumba, and one of the country’s largest firework displays.
July 22: 89.3 The Current’s biggest event of the year, Rock the Garden, returns to its home at the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Seasonal: There are 177 farmers markets in the state-a fourfold increase in the last 15 years. There’s never been a better time to eat your local veggies (and fruit, and meat, and honey...). Look here for a market near you.
Ongoing: 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 street, marching bands, ribbon aerialists, a petting zoo, dance lessons, and plenty of live music and cultural showcases (including last year’s “HOMELAND: Native Artists Create on the Ave” projects).
Photo courtesy of explore minnesota
Aug. 4-6: The Uptown Art Fair is the largest in MN. In addition to perusing the work of some 340 artists from around the world, enjoy live music, an outdoor movie, and culinary arts competition.
Aug. 3-13: Minnesota Fringe Festival is like an art crawl, but for theater. It’s a great place for performers to take risks—most of the 170 productions could be considered a tad eccentric. Last year’s new ticketing model of day and weekend passes made it possible to see multiple shows at a deeper discount. Pro tip: Some venues have limited seating, so get there early.
Aug. 12-13: Located in the very tip of MN’s arrowhead, Grand Portage National Monument annually celebrates Rendezvous Days, the time of year when voyageurs arrived to the area to deliver furs and rest (the final part of their journey included carrying multiple 90-pound bales of fur along the 8.5 mile portage). The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa holds a traditional powwow, re-enactors play historical games, a 1700s fur trade depot is on display, plus hands-on workshops, live music, and dances.
Aug. 20: Japan’s annual Obon holiday is commemorated at Como Park Conservatory’s Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival. Per Japanese culture, families pay respects to ancestral spirits by lighting lanterns to symbolically guide the souls home. Entertainment includes taiko drumming groups, koto, martial arts, Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), origami demonstrations, Japanese food, and the main lantern lighting event at dusk.
Aug. 24-Sep. 4: Put on your walking shoes and stretchy pants: the Minnesota State Fair starts today!
Aug. 25-26: Barnseville is renowned for its potato production and honors the spud each year during its Potato Days Festival, which includes mashed potato sculpting, the Miss Tator Tot Pageant, potato sack fashion, potato car races, and, of course, all the starch you can eat.
Aug. 25-26: It’s been 10 years since the cutest couple in country music, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, has shared the stage in MN (they’ve been married for 20!). They’re back at the Xcel Energy Center for the Soul 2 Soul tour to perform their top hits and swoon-worthy ballads such as the duet “It’s Your Love.”
May 27-Labor Day: You have until the end of the month to visit Australia’s takeover of the Minnesota Zoo for its “Kangaroo Crossing” exhibit. Bring your best mate for encounters with kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and other native species.
Carlos Creek Winery’s annual Grape Stomp in Alexandria
Photo by Explore Minnesota
This month, Minneapolis and St. Paul both host bike tours throughout the cities, showcasing some of the best views on wheels, and without car traffic. Choose between three route lengths (spanning 15 to 47 miles), and take advantage of the tasty rest stops along the way in St. Paul, and don’t miss the post-ride after party in Minneapolis.
Sep. 1-3: Feel like a kid again at Chef Camp, held at Camp Miller in Sturgeon Lake. The weekend camp for adults features cooking classes taught by pro chefs (including JD Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat & Fish) and classic outdoor activities such as archery, canoeing, and foraging.
Sep. 4: Labor Day: Relax at your cabin (or solicit an invite to someone else’s).
Sep. 7-10: The Defeat of Jesse James Days, held annually the weekend after Labor Day, pays homage to the Bank Raid of 1876 when tiny Northfield defied Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang by thwarting their attempt to rob the town. The First National Bank turns into an Old West scene with re-enactments, along with a rodeo, car show, and other entertainment.
Sep. 15-17: Carlos Creek Winery’s annual Grape Stomp in Alexandria is the best known in the state—more than 300 teams stop on 10,000+ pounds of grapes. Costume contests include themes such as MN Viking fan, Lucy look-alike, and “Trash Your Toga.” Free shuttles run from the event to the town’s hotels, so you can drink plenty of wine (and Schell’s brews for non vinos).
Sep. 16-Oct. 15: The Jungle Theater’s most shocking work of the year is perhaps The Nether: a daring and experimental sci-fi piece portraying a battle between technology and human desire. Things get complicated when a detective uncovers a disturbing brand of online entertainment.
Weekends Aug. 19-Oct. 1: The Renaissance Festival is the only time of year when you’ll be referred to as “mah lady” or “mah lord” upon receiving a giant turkey leg. The amount of entertainment is staggering: comedic performances (the Puke & Snot show is a classic), live jousting, fencing, elephant rides, knife throwing, archery, mead, meat pies…and the experience feels even more authentic when sporting a girdle and tights.
Seasonal: Take a road trip to gaze at the fall colors. Two classic routes: Drive along the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, moving southeast from Belle Plain through Ortonville. Make a pit stop at River Rock Coffee Shop in St. Peter, Minneopa State Park in Mankato (waterfalls!), and the Glockenspiel in New Ulm. Or, head southeast on Highway 61 following the Mississippi. Make a pit stop at Frontenac State Park to bird watch, then cross the river at Wabasha and head back on the Wisconsin side for new scenery. (Check out more fall drives here.)
Seasonal: ’Tis the season for apple picking at local apple orchards. Head to Aamodt’s in Stillwater, Minnetonka Orchard in Minnetrista, Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings, and Sweetland Orchard in Webster, to name a few faves.
Twin Cities Marathon
Photo by Competitive Image
All month: Go to a haunted house. Scream Town in Chaska is one of the largest, with multiple attractions on site. One night each year is the “lights out” event when the entire property gets darker and scarier. Pro tip: Get discounts by going early in the month. (Discover more haunted houses here.)
All month: Find your perfect pumpkin. Pinehaven Farm in Wyoming, MN. has 25 acres of pumpkins and kids’ activities, and at night transforms into a playground for nightmarish creatures that star in the Dead End Hayride and haunted house cornfield.
Oct. 1: 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 11 miles of scenic water routes along the Mississippi and around the Chain of Lakes. It ends with a downhill view of the Capitol—and a nap.
Oct. 6-7 and 13-14: Fill your stein at New Ulm’s Oktoberfest, modeled after the celebration in Munich, Germany, with entertainment and events happening throughout the entire town. Dance the polka, drink beer from Schell’s Brewery, take a trolley ride, visit authentic specialty shops, take tours of local museums, and more, all while the 45-foot Glockenspiel chimes throughout.
Oct. 14: Bookworms inch through the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for the Twin Cities Book Festival—the largest literary fair of the year featuring more than 100 publishers, magazines, bookstores, and authors attracting readers of all ages and genres. Find local literary events throughout the year by visiting raintaxi.com.
Oct. 14: The Zombie Pub Crawl holds a Guinness record for “the largest gathering of people dressed as zombies.” Join the herd of gory undead at bars and venues in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District for Schell’s “Brain Belt” beer and live music. (Date subject to change.)
Oct. 14-15: The Stillwater Harvest Fest is home to some GIANT pumpkins during its annual weigh-off competition. In 2015, they briefly held the North American record with a 2,185 pounder. The weekend ends with a crane dropping—and obliterating—the giant squashes.
Oct. 28: The Halloween Capital of the World is right in MN—at least, that’s Anoka’s claim after hosting the alleged first celebration in 1920. In any case, Anoka’s Halloween parade is the best in the state. Each of the 200 kid-friendly floats (no overly spooky themes or blood allowed) and marching bands get in the ghostly spirit to entertain an estimated 40,000 attendees (that’s half of the suburb’s population!).
Seasonal: Learn about the spine-chilling history and take a tour of these favorite real life post-mortal dwellings: Mia, Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul, downtown Pipestone’s historic ghost walk, and the Landmark Center’s gangster tours. If you’re really brave, book a room at MN’s most haunted site, the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre.
A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie
Photo by Dan Norman Photography
All month: If you’re feeling anxious about serving the perfect meal for the upcoming holiday, learn from the pros by taking a Thanksgiving dinner cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill or Kitchen Window.
Volunteer: Put a little more give in your Thanksgiving by making a donation to a food shelf or volunteering for food-based nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, Feed My Starving Children, or Open Arms of Minnesota.
End of Nov.-Dec.: Now in its 43rd year, the Guthrie’s production of A Christmas Carol is the definition of tradition.
Nov. 24: Shop ’til you drop…or go for a walk! The last two years, the MN State Parks have made it a tradition to waive the fees of admittance to its 67 state parks, encouraging Minnesotans to skip Black Friday and instead explore the outdoors (as a bonus, work off calories from yesterday’s feast).
Nov. 25: Small Business Saturday is less about discounts and more about connecting with neighborhood businesses—and picking up a few gifts, of course. The Minneapolis Craft Market has gathered local makers at Social Cider Werks the last few years, and holds holiday markets at breweries throughout the season.
Nov. 24-26: Excelsior Christkindlsmarkt celebrates the Advent season as the Germans did more than 400 years ago with a traditional open air market, offering German eats (sausages, strudel, chocolates) and gifts (pottery, lanterns, original art). The parade is a big draw, as well as the kids’ activities at KinderWorld, the North Pole Trolley, and the Biergarten at the Excelsior Brewing Company. (Dates subject to change.)
Ongoing: Get a stiff drink at a local craft distillery and see how they make their spirits. Tattersall, Du Nord, and Norseman in Minneapolis are among the top Twin Cities picks, while J. Carver in Waconia, Vikre in Duluth, and Loon Liquors in Northfield are worth the trip.
Photo by Kristopher Grunert
Various dates: You can wait for Santa’s sleigh to come to town, or you can view the festive lights display on the 14-car Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, rolling into towns throughout MN (2016 included 20 stops, covering towns from Hastings to Detroit Lakes). The event is also a chance for families to donate to local food banks and catch a musical performance.
Various dates: The Union Depot in St. Paul transforms into a hub for the holidays with a tree-lighting ceremony, European Christmas Market, holiday movie nights, a holiday bake sale, and train rides with Santa on the North Pole Express.
All month: Amazingly, the Bentleyville Tour of Lights got its start in a Cloquet resident’s yard, which received 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 holiday cheer, plus a 12-story Christmas tree. Nearby, Glensheen Mansion’s 39 rooms are decorated with hundreds of feet of garland and Christmas trees for the season, hot cocoa is served, and elves are hidden for kids to find.
Various dates: Langston Hughes’s Black Nativity at Penumbra Theatre is grounded in gospel, returning each holiday season with incredible vocal and dance performances. It’s a powerful, moving Christmas tradition.
All month: The holiday flower show at Como Zoo’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is a warm refuge covered in vibrant red poinsettias and other inviting colors.