13 Overlooked Photo Ops in Minnesota

From Duluth to Waite Park to St. Paul, these are the iconic MN photo ops you might not know about

I came to college in Minnesota because I wanted to get out of good ol’ Wisconsin, fast. I wanted to experience something new, and I needed some skyscrapers nearby to accomplish that. Minnesota turned out to be the perfect place for me. I’m an artistic person, so I needed a state that could be just as colorful as me, and Minneapolis lived up to my expectations. I immediately found myself trying to capture as much of the city streets as I could on my tiny smartphone. I tried to absorb everything, and for a girl with dreams bigger than the city itself, that posed a challenge. As I ventured in and out of the city, I found that Minnesota had treasures scattered throughout. The wanderlust doesn’t stop at the city lines, and St. Cloud and Duluth offer some great photo ops, too.    

1. Aria Event Center

105 N. First St., Minneapolis

At the beginning of the year, I attended a fashion show at Aria Event Center called Fashionapolis. Located on First Street, this award-winning structure is in the Minneapolis North Loop. Not only did I get to walk my first red carpet while attending the fashion show, but I was able to witness the beauty inside Aria. It’s every Tumblr lover’s fantasy apartment. The combination of brick, greenery, and delicate chandeliers all conspire to create a beautiful, hipster aesthetic, and ancient gears and industrial equipment against modern, bright-colored accents provide a steampunk atmosphere. The decor plays on the way brights can harmonize with a dark atmosphere, which also gives it an emo vibe. Close to the front doors of Aria, there’s a wall completely made out of colored pieces of chopped wood. Obviously, my friend and I had to snag a picture. 

2. The Amber Box

818 S. Second St., Minneapolis

Minneapolis has its fair share of art scattered throughout its streets, but I have to say that the Amber Box room inside of the Guthrie Theater is one of the coolest places to take pictures. The Amber Box earned its name from the yellow windows that wrap around the room. Constructed by Jean Nouvel, he said his inspiration for the Amber Box came from his yellow-tinted ski goggles. He liked that the golden tint made the world seem as if it was sunny indefinitely, and enjoyed seeing the world infinitely “sparkle.” The Amber Box is open to the public, which allows for limitless picture possibilities. Let’s just say I wouldn’t mind living in a yellow world.


3. Hard Times Café

1821 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis

While having a Saw movie marathon with a friend at midnight, I decided I wanted coffee. Well, in St. Cloud, no coffee shop is open that late—so that took us to the Twin Cities. An hour’s drive later, I found myself at Hard Times Café, the most interesting cafe I’ve ever been thanks to its odd array of artwork. Pictures of birds with human faces covered the patterned walls of the building. Strangely, I didn’t find this aspect weird at 1:44 in the morning. Instead of judging the oddity before me, I took a bunch of artsy pictures of my caramel macchiato against the “bird woman” background to capture my 2 a.m. adventure. 

4. Graffiti Window

On a remote island amid the Mississippi River stands a shooting-range window that’s covered in graffiti, with a single opening that reveals the simple world on the other side of the busied wall. Located on Sportsman Island, which is part of the Beaver Islands in St. Cloud, this abandoned piece of art stands alone in a browning field while its vibrant colors distract onlookers from the dullness of the surrounding area. If you capture it right, the image turns out to be quite distorting, confusing the viewer on what exactly is real.  

Photo by tyler thomas

5. Highpoint Center for Printmaking

912 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

A simple coffee run turned into a night of art as my friend and I wandered the streets of Uptown, Minneapolis. Our travels took us to an art show, featuring prints. All the art for sale was created by students and local artists. The displayed prints came in different forms: some were abstract, impressionistic, minimalistic, or contemporary. One unique aspect of Highpoint Center is that all the art is not only showcased but also created there. A large printmaking studio sits in the middle of the facility, with huge windows so visitors can witness artists making the magic happen. It wasn’t long before I became disappointed due to the fact that my empty wallet prevented me from purchasing a print. I really wanted a piece of that night to bring home with me, but I guess I’ll have venture back.  

photo by victoria volkmann

6. Secret Room Behind Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Company

907 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis

Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Company may be the one of the hippest coffee shops in Minnesota, but the average person might not know that one of the best picture places in the city is tucked just behind the Spyhouse back door. An empty, windowed room is connected to Minneapolis’ most popular coffee hotspot. With walls for windows, and the city as its backdrop, the picture possibilities are endless. My friend found this place originally, and I fell in love with it immediately. It has earned its title as one of Minneapolis’s “hidden gems.” If you’re feeling adventurous, just head to the back of the coffee shop and go through the back door. It’s like Narnia!

photo by karlie ray

7. Black Coffee & Waffle Bar, Saint Paul

2180 Marshall Ave., St. Paul

Most everyone has heard of the Black Coffee and Waffle Bar in Minneapolis—and if you haven’t, you need to experience its pure waffle bliss. Many take an artsy picture in front of the black brick wall that displays the waffle bar logo. As Pinteresty as that photo wall is, it’s becoming overplayed. Get your waffles at the same establishment, but be more original. The Black Coffee and Waffle Bar in St. Paul is just as artsy but has a bohemian vibe. The St. Paul location’s dark oak tables, simple, single-bulb hanging lights, and strategically placed cacti create an airy, freeing atmosphere. I found it to be much more my speed. I felt like a classy brunch woman, “a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything.” It was great. Not to mention, I took cute pictures that could beat out the black brick wall any day. 

Minneapolis location, photo by grace sautner

St. Paul Location, Photo by Parker Hunstiger

8. Vikre Distillery

525 S. Lake Ave., Duluth

Located right next to the scenic Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Vikre Distillery is a beautiful place, stumbled upon by one of my adventurous friends. The establishment is best known for its craft alcohol. Many people visit Duluth to experience the beauty of nature, but you shouldn’t overlook the artistic buildings scattered throughout the picturesque scenery downtown. The distillery’s vintage-looking brick against the industrialized metal bridge provides a hard and soft contrast that’s perfect for photo practice.

photo by tyler thomas

9. Giant Stairs in Minneapolis

One below-freezing night in Minneapolis, my girlfriends and I decided it would be a good idea to wander the city streets. With the naive notion that “when you’re in the city, things just happen,” we wanted to tough the night out. After almost getting hit by a train, crashing my car, and turning down a one-way street, my friends and I stumbled upon these giant stairs located in the middle of towering skyscrapers. It was almost Christmas, so the stairs were illuminated by the twinkled lights atop the trees standing along the stairwell. Upon this discovery, we needed to take a unique city picture to commemorate our very cold nightlife experience. The stairs reminded me of the red stairs located in New York City’s Times Square. The design was similar, but the stairs were concrete and people weren’t crowding around to take pictures. Even though this staircase is located in downtown Minneapolis, people underestimate the artistic potential of it. With the stubs of skyscrapers lingering in the background, the Minneapolis staircase is a kooky spot from which to capture the city.   

photo by claire breitenbach

10. Xcentric Goods

3252 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

While strolling the streets of Uptown, I came across an old White Castle building. Thinking that I could grab a quick bite to eat, I found that the wafting smell of fast food was replaced with the scent of dust and wood. What was once part of the White Castle fast food chain is now a small store called Xcentric Goods. This historic White Castle No. 8 building has been transformed into a vintage and antique business. How could a person not snag a pic in front of this iconic building? I’ve seen some interesting, artistically designed buildings while in Minneapolis, but this ironic little remnant has won me over.

Earl leatherberry/Flickr

11. Gold Medal Flour Sign

700 W. River Pkwy., Minneapolis

The Gold Medal Flour sign atop the historic Washburn Crosby Milling Complex is not only iconic but a great place to showcase your photography skills. As you drive into the city, the Gold Medal Flour sign rises prominently in the sky, hearkening back to the late 19th century, the days of Minneapolis’ award-winning flour production. Made of steel frames and galvanized iron, this sign has old-time charm, and I’m even planning to have my next photoshoot there.

photo by eric burling

12. Quarry Park and Nature Reserve

1802 County Rd. 137, Waite Park

When I got shipped off to college, my mom told me one thing. She said, “Don’t go to the quarries in St. Cloud; it’s too dangerous.” So, as any teenager would do, I went to the quarries for a swim with a group of friends. Besides the fact that I spent most of my time cliff jumping and swimming in a bottomless pit, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the rocky interior of the St. Cloud quarry. The turquoise water and the chiseled rock spiking out everywhere captured the dangerously alluring aspects of the sinkhole. As the life-threatening activities at the quarry literally took my breath away, the view did, too. Sadly, I’ve only had time to pay the quarries a single visit, but when Minnesota’s winter ends (so approximately at the end of May) I will definitely be going back to snag more images of its incredible views. 

photo by summer white

Minneapolis Sewer Drain Covers

During my 1 a.m. adventure to the cities for coffee two weeks into college, I found the Minneapolis manhole covers unusually creative. Of course, to be artsy, I took a picture with my converses on one of them. But after some internet digging, I found that, on 6th and 7th Streets, the manhole covers were designed by 12 artists from the 1980s and ’90s. These works used to be among the city’s most recognized pieces of art but over time have blended into the city, long forgotten. The cover that I took a picture of has a sailboat on it, and other covers display a grill top, a splattered water design, a woven pattern of fruit and oats, a cartoon character displaying the “mini-apple” logo, and a cover that has an X in the middle that provides the latitude and longitude of the exact location of the manhole cover. Fascinating that a sewer cover I happened to stand on one night in the city had such an interesting past.