Hands-on exhibits in nationally acclaimed museums across the Twin Cities connect visitors to science, art and local history.
For history, head to the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, where the Mill City Museum features an eight-story glass elevator that shows every step of flour production, once a booming industry here. After your ride, the Baking Lab reveals the finished product, with cake demonstrations you can taste.
Minutes away from each other in St. Paul are the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minnesota Children’s Museum, which present creative and playful learning opportunities for kids and families. The Science Museum has hands-on experiments, like a tornado simulator and a wave machine, as well as dinosaur fossils to amaze the little ones. The Children’s Museum was renovated in 2017 to expand the amount of opportunities for kids, including a laser maze and a café.
For more science-centered learning, head to the Bakken Museum or the Bell Museum. The Bakken Museum has a unique focus on electricity and the STEM field and is housed in a historic mansion along Bde Maka Ska. The Bell Museum’s exhibits cover the STEM field, but its better-known features highlight the natural and environmental sciences in Minnesota. When it relocated to St. Paul and opened a new building in 2018, the museum brought over award-winning dioramas and added more, including one showcasing Minnesota during the Ice Age, woolly mammoth and all. Enjoy a starry, intergalactic show at the new planetarium, gaze out from the observation deck or explore the green roof and native gardens.
The University of Minnesota boasts a large art museum named after Minneapolis-reared art collector Frederick R. Weisman and designed by architect Frank Gehry. Marvel at the glittery silver loops on the outside of the building and look at inspiring contemporary and traditional art on the inside. For more contemporary flair, check out the Walker Art Center. With a clean and modern style, the Walker shows envelope-pushing forms of visual art, dance, music, theater, architecture and more. A new exhibition called “Five Ways In” highlights favorites from the museum’s radical collection; it will be on display until September 2021.
For the largest variety of art in the Twin Cities, check out the Minneapolis Institute of Art, fondly called Mia by locals. It has a permanent collection of over 89,000 objects and a variety of seasonal exhibitions. Admission is free, but you can always donate to support the arts.
The American Swedish Institute is a two-building campus dedicated to Swedish heritage. Tour the historic Turnblad Mansion, former home of Swedish immigrant and newspaper owner Swan Turnblad, to surround yourself with intricate woodwork and stone. Depending on what exhibit has come to the museum, you have a good chance of seeing Scandinavian-inspired art and history, spread among rooms in addition to the Nelson Cultural Center area. Check the calendar for events, too; the American Swedish Institute hosts some delicious happenings, like the Crayfish Party in August and Waffle Day in March.
The Museum of Russian Art is located in an old Spanish colonial church. Periodic events include watching the Nitka Russian folk group circle-dance in their bright, patterned costumes; sitting in on classical music performances of Russian composers; and learning about Russia’s rich arts and culture from the experts.
In St. Paul, the historic Landmark Center celebrates community history and cultural diversity through events, exhibits and performances. The Ramsey County Historical Society’s collections, in the Mary Livingston Griggs & Mary Griggs Burke Research Center, show the history of St. Paul and the county, and you can even go on a guided tour of the historic, pioneers-inspired Gibbs Farm just north of St. Paul, led by costumed interpreters.
The Minnesota History Center in St. Paul also brings local history to light, where exhibits are dedicated to Minnesota. The “First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom” exhibit, open through May 2020, explores the downtown club that has long led the Twin Cites’ music scene. You can also view the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections and get a stunning view of the Minnesota Capitol through a large picture window.
St. Paul has a host of other museums, too, including the Twin City Model Railroad Museum, with scaled reproductions of the Twin Cities’ railroad history; the Schubert Club, which, in addition to its historical exhibits, presents a variety of classical music recitals; and the Hmong Cultural Center, which is the only Minnesota nonprofit focused on teaching about Hmong culture through arts programming. To learn history outside of a museum setting, head to the James J. Hill House to see what once was the largest house in Minnesota, built for a railroad tycoon in the late 1800s. Guided tours through the stately home offer a peek into Victorian wealth and family traditions.