A version of this article first appeared in the 2023 Ultimate Travel Guide.
St. Paul simply sparkles in the winter.
“We like to say no one does winter like St. Paul,” says Chelsea Fey, marketing and partnership director at Visit Saint Paul.
On the west end of downtown St. Paul, Rice Park glitters during the holidays with bright bulbs draped in the trees and a massive evergreen brought in and lighted for the season. With the shiny glass of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on one side and the fairytale castle-like Landmark Center on another, it’s all twinkling charm. After the holidays end, St. Paul continues to showcase its charms with the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the oldest winter festival in the United States.
The activities kick off at the end of January for its 138th year in 2024. Parades, ice carvings, snow sculptures, a jigsaw puzzle contest, and royalty crownings are all part of what’s dubbed the “Coolest Celebration on Earth.” Most of the events are around downtown St. Paul, with the snow sculptures and a snow-block maze at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
The Winter Carnival started with a big old “Oh, yeah?” As the story goes, East Coast newspaper reporters visited Minnesota in the fall of 1885 and declared the state “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.”
“Oh, yeah?” A group of St. Paul business owners decided they would showcase the season with a festival. And, except for a few years during World War II and some COVID-19 changes in 2021, the snow—er, show—goes on.
Over the decades, the Carnival has featured some elaborate ice palaces, but they’ve become too expensive to create and insure in recent years. The St. Paul Winter Carnival runs from the final weekend of January through the first weekend of February.
For a close-your-eyes, breathe-deep-and-pretend-it’s-spring moment, visit the holiday flower show at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. Poinsettias are the star of the flower show, and there’s also an orchid show during Carnival. The holiday show is followed by a winter flower show from mid-January through March.
Here’s a taste of some of the places to eat in St. Paul.
Warm up with Hispanic flavors on St. Paul’s West Side. Two longtime favorites are Boca Chica and Burrito Mercado. Or, closer to downtown, check out the new Apostle Supper Club near the Xcel Energy Center, with funky retro vibes and a tiki bar. Momento Restaurant + Bar, Herbie’s on the Park, and the Loon Cafe are a few other tasty options. In Lowertown, eats from fancy to casual are at St. Dinette, Big River Pizza, Bulldog, and Buttered Tin.
There are worthwhile eats all up and down University Avenue. Up the hill from downtown, Selby Avenue is becoming a foodie stop with tasty fried chicken at Revival, Italian fare at La Grolla, Filipino flavors at Kalsada, and classics at W.A. Frost and Company, the Gnome Craft Pub, Handsome Hog, and Moscow on the Hill.
On West Seventh, St. Paulites have dined at stalwarts like Mancini’s for steaks and DeGidio’s for Italian or a killer cheeseburger for decades. Patrick McGovern’s Pub is known for roasting several turkeys every day, and Cossetta’s Market and Pizzeria has sandwiches, salads, and slices on the main floor—along with its pasticceria and the upscale Louis restaurant upstairs.
If it’s a beer you crave, breweries are thriving in St. Paul. Saint Paul Brewing (in the old Hamm’s Brewery building), Bad Weather, Waldmann Brewery, and MetroNome are just a few near the heart of the city. Many have outdoor firepits and seating for year-round fun.