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Best Places to Live

Minnesotans often claim superior quality of life as compensation for six-month-long winters. But it also happens to be true: By any non-meteorological measure, the Twin Cities are hot. The metro boasts 30 Fortune 500 companies, a thriving arts scene, numerous colleges and universities, and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. Plus, lots of great places to live. Here we spotlight the communities acknowledged to be supremely livable, as well as some of our lesser-known gems.

Best Places to Live
Photo by peter and maria hoey (Illustration)

(page 1 of 5)


Bryn Mawr

2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $345,000**
GREEN SPACE: 650 acres of parks, lakes, and trails

If you like biking to work, hiking urban trails, living within shouting distance of the city lakes, check out the more affordable side of Minneapolis’s Calhoun Isles neighborhood. Tucked between Glenwood to the north and Cedar Lake to the south on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis, Bryn Mawr is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and so charmingly burnished by its residents that Cottage Living magazine named it one of the top 10 “cottage communities” nationwide a couple years ago.

Composed (naturally) of cottages, mostly pre­–World War II bungalows and Tudors, plus a smattering of 1½-story post-war homes—nearly uniformly encircled by tidy yards and gardens tended to a fare-thee-well—Bryn Mawr bills itself as a neighborhood within a park. Rightfully so: It’s literally surrounded by Theodore Wirth Park, Bassett Creek Park, Bryn Mawr Meadows, and Kenwood Park.

Bisected by Interstate 394, the area still manages to hold onto a small-town esprit de corps that’s as unexpected as it is appealing. The activist Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association sponsors events such as the annual “Festival of Garage Sales,” wherein hundreds of residents reserve a springtime weekend to hawk used stuff, drawing bargain hunters by the thousands to the neighborhood. Every-other-year garden tours show off the neighborhood’s loveliest yards and raise money to beautify “Downtown Bryn Mawr,” the intersection of Penn Avenue and Cedar Lake Road. The diminutive business district includes quirkily outstanding home-accessories shops Nola Home and Cockadoodle Doo. With downtown Minneapolis roughly three minutes away by car and St. Louis Park’s new West End five minutes in the opposite direction, shopping, dining, and entertainment is never far.


Downtown/ North Loop

2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $291,100**

There are few better ’hoods than the North Loop for thirtysomething Power Singles (high income, highly educated), Ramen Metros (urban singles sans high incomes), or downsizing baby boomers. Homes run to lofty open spaces in renovated warehouses with concrete floors and exposed brick. From its gritty industrial past, the North Loop has morphed into a residential neighborhood with the city’s hottest nightclub scene.

Residents walk to work (through skyways come winter) or just settle in with laptops at any one of a half-dozen independent coffee joints in the neighborhood. Corner Coffee offers lattes and a lot more, including an annual “lunch is on us” that served 700 last year. On the patio at Cuzzy’s Bar in dog-friendly North Loop, everybody will know your name (or at least your dog’s name). Great dining abounds—Sapor Café/Bar, Toast Wine Bar & Cafe, Be’Wiched Deli, and Bar La Grassa, to name a few. Groceries? Minneapolis Farmers’ Market in the summer and Lunds just across the river all year round. Then there’s the new kid in the neighborhood: Target Field, which now dominates the skyline and is guaranteed to increase community cachet, and probably property values as well.


Prospect Park

2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $257,200**

As neighborhood lore has it, Bob Dylan immortalized Prospect Park’s distinctive “Witch’s Hat” in “All Along the Watchtower,” a landmark clearly visible from his Dinkytown digs. You’ve no doubt seen it, too, from Interstate 94 or University Avenue, even if you’ve never troubled to explore the neighborhood’s winding, tree-lined streets. It’s worth a detour—if for no other reason than the area claims the largest percentage of architect-designed homes in Minneapolis, including one by Frank Lloyd Wright. No two houses are alike, with early modernist homes and a few 1880s Victorians sprinkled in among gracious brick, stucco, and vine-covered residences that date to the first half of the 20th century.

The neighborhood truly is—in that overworked real-estate agent’s phrase—a hidden gem. Wedged between the University of Minnesota and the Mississippi River, its quiet streets and shady dignity seems worlds removed from the urban hustle just a stone’s throw away. Even so, Prospect Park is a diverse and politically active area. From Tower Hill Park on University Avenue to the river, residents are mostly homeowners and retired empty nesters. A rich blend of rental properties among the single-family homes, as well as student housing, attracts a demographically and ethnically diverse mix.

Nearby Dinkytown, Stadium Village, University Avenue, and Midway businesses ensure shopping, dining, and drinking venues galore. The neighborhood’s own Signature Café, a tiny eatery hidden away on a sedate, tree-lined street, overflows with neighborly ambiance and good eats.



2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $344,600**
SCHOOLS: Top props in the city

 Just south of trendy (and more expensive) Linden Hills is Fulton, a community with its own special charms. Bordered by Minnehaha Creek, 47th Street, and France and Penn avenues, and snuggled up to Lake Harriet’s southwest corner, Fulton’s amenities draw families looking for an in-the-city neighborhood with gracious livability. Schools are another major attraction: Lake Harriet Community School provides an intimate setting for kindergarten through second grade at its Lower Campus at 40th and Chowen; grades 3–8 are at the Upper Campus at 49th and Vincent. Nearby Southwest High School earns kudos in academics, arts, and sports, and is one of a handful of city schools that placed on Newsweek’s 2009 list of top American public schools (#231, which is more impressive than it looks, considering this list ranks only the top 5 percent of public schools). 

Fulton’s well-seasoned housing stock, built mostly in the ’20s and ’30s, is a pleasing mixture of Craftsman bungalows, 4-Squares, Dutch Colonials, and even a smattering of Spanish Revivals close to Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet. Most homes are meticulously maintained and many have been (or are in the process of being) remodeled with such 21st-century amenities as gourmet kitchens, mudrooms, and owners’ suites.

Lake Harriet, Minnehaha Creek, and Pershing Park provide plenty of green space, though Fulton’s pleasant residential streets are themselves park-like in summer. Regular commercial intersections—50th and France, 44th and France, Linden Hills, and 50th and Penn—frame the neighborhood, keeping retail, restaurants, and services handy, yet unobtrusive. Delightful local cafés include Broders’ Pasta Bar and Cavé Vin. At the center of Fulton, at 50th and Xerxes, is a treasure trove of quaint shops. That’s where you’ll find Michael’s Lamp Studio (and a huge selection of lamps), Gallery 360 (artwork and jewelry), Hunt & Gather (antiques), and Xylos (fine, custom wood furniture and accessories).



2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $225,000**
SECRET CHARM: Sunset view over Lake Hiawatha
HIPSTER INDEX: 10, especially for cyclists

If you fancy living in the city and within a long slice of a golf course, put Nokomis’s Ericsson neighborhood on your radar. Lake Hiawatha and its surrounding park, a 241-acre recreation area that offers swimming and cross-country skiing, is one of only a handful of 18-hole golf courses in the city limits.

Bordered by East 42nd Street, East Minnehaha Parkway, and Cedar and Hiawatha avenues, Ericsson features lovely walks and biking paths. Ride along the parkway to Minnehaha Falls, just across Hiawatha Avenue, or mosey up the hill at the southeast corner of Hiawatha Park for a great sunset view. The homes here are solid citizens, mostly pre-1940, single-family residences that pay homage to an era defined by Craftsman quality. The handy retail area along Cedar includes Hudson’s Ace Hardware store—where that mysterious piece of a 70-year-old faucet is no mystery to the guys who work there—and newcomer Angry Catfish Coffee and Bike Shop—where hipster cyclists and coffee snobs meet. Dining runs to comfort food and neighborhood pubs. But that can be outstanding: Colossal Café, home of the famous Flapper pancake, and A Baker’s Wife’s Pastry Shop. Just down the block, Buster’s on 28th serves up a good selection of local microbrews, along with excellent eats. If an ice cream is more to your liking of a summer evening, stop in at Grand Ole Creamery on 47th and Cedar for a decadent scoop of Black Hills Gold in a handmade, hand-rolled, malted waffle cone.

Thanks to the Hiawatha line, easy public transportation is now a hallmark of Ericsson. Downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America, and the airport are each roughly 15 minutes from the 46th Street LRT station.


Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Apr 14, 2010 09:12 am
 Posted by  bpalton

I want in!

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