Unless noted, all photos by Ella Cashman
It’s a constant struggle. You want to do something fun today… but you don’t want to spend money.
I faced this very dilemma last weekend when my friend of 22 years came to visit me. And maybe it’s just because we grew up together, but whenever we see each other, the inner kids in us come out. So, on a beautiful Saturday morning, we were in search of fun, free activities to channel our high energy and captivate our short attention spans.
It’s not surprising then that we ended up at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. I’d never been before, and I was worried that it was going to be a glorified petting zoo, but I was blown away by how much there was to do. True to advertising, it’s free—a reasonable donation of a few dollars is suggested to help care for the plants and animals, but everyone is welcome regardless. Some of my favorite enclosures were the polar bears, the puffins, and, of course, the tiger. Another aspect I didn’t anticipate was the gardens. From the Tropical Encounters to the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and the Ordway Japanese Garden, it was a feast for your eyes—absolutely beautiful and highly Instagramable. Like the savvy savers we are, we brought lunches with us and had a picnic in the enchanted garden overlooking the frog pond.
The gigantic blue rooster, “Hahn/Cock” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
My friend had never been to the iconic Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, so that had to be our next stop. I remember going to the sculpture garden as a kid and just being struck by how cool the art was. When we arrived, that childlike excitement I experienced so many years ago resurfaced. We cooled off in the spray of the “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” and we marveled at the majestic blue rooster. Hot tip: If you go after 5 p.m. on Thursdays, admission to the Walker Art Center is free.
The Weisman Art Museum
Speaking of art galleries, the Twin Cities have no shortage of free places to view art, two my favorites being the Weisman Art Museum and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. What I love about these two galleries is, not only do they house world-class art, but the buildings themselves are pieces of art. Oh, and did I mention they are free?
If you need something more hands-on, head over to The LEGO Store in the Mall of America. It’s a fact: You are never too old for LEGOs. Honestly, I could spend an hour just looking at all the models and displays and sticking my hands in bins of bricks.
Feeling adventurous? You literally have to descend a staircase into a gorge to get the best view of the 53-foot waterfall at Minnehaha Park. Besides the famous falls, the park has other great spaces to enjoy like picnic spots, open lawns for playing Frisbee, and additional hiking trails. Explore the wreckage at Mill Ruins Park and score a great view of the city skyline and St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge. Bonus: The bridge is a hotspot for dog walking—it’s like a puppy parade!
The view from the Guthrie’s Amber Room
Photo by Todd BuchANan
Can’t get enough of those views? Take a short walk up to the Guthrie Theater’s iconic overlook. Please note, this is another fantastic Instagram stop! And with the yellow tinted glass, you can go #nofilter.
After a fully packed weekend, we found ourselves at The Commons, a park adjacent to U.S. Bank Stadium and known as the downtown oasis. You can kick back and relax or play with the many lawn games scattered throughout the park, including bean bag toss and giant building blocks. The Commons has frequent programming and events, and it’s also a hot spot for food trucks.
There you have it! The best free kid-friendly activities in the Twin Cities that adults can get on board with, too. Not to mention, there are always markets and festivals happening in and around the city which are additional ways to spend a day, but not money. (Sign up for our weekly Best Bets newsletter if you want the events to come to you.)
Amid our busy everyday lives, sometimes it’s nice to just leave your wallet at home and be a kid for a day.
A parting shoot of the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden