Best of MN 2020: Things to Do

Drive-ins, sunflowers, biking, and more things that kept us from totally losing it this year
Vali-Hi Drive-In
Vali-Hi Drive-In

Photo by Michelle Hurley


In the era of social distancing, drive-in movie theaters have re-emerged as weekend saviors. The Sky-Vu in Warren dates to 1956, and its concessions—hot buttered popcorn, chili-cheese dogs—are as classic as the movies (Wizard of Oz, Grease). If 5.5 hours is too far to schlep, Starlite in Litchfield and Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo deliver equally nostalgic vibes.

Justice for George Floyd protesters gathered at the State Capitol
Justice for George Floyd protesters gathered at the State Capitol

Photo by Kristin Gantman


Life in Minnesota—and the U.S. at large—was looking to be a shut-in, closed-off affair in 2020. But a collective need to raise voices and challenge systems brought people together anyhow. A new era of protesting has not come without considerable hardship and friction, but it has brought important conversations to society’s forefront. The masked and marching spirit of protest has sparked art movements, the Bakers Against Racism bake sale, the grassroots boom of bedroom-based and nonprofit-launched crowdfunding campaigns, the vital urgency charging daily decisions, and the beginnings of what is hopefully a lasting wave of change.

Black Beach in Silver Bay by Sidney Kirchhof
Black Beach in Silver Bay

Sidney Kirchhof


Black Beach, on the shore of Lake Superior, is aptly named. It’s the only beach in the state that has black sand, a look usually reserved for volcanic Hawaii, Japan, or Iceland. Luckily, this oasis is much closer to home. It’s just outside of Silver Bay, about a 3-hour drive from the Twin Cities. The look is attributed to mining-industry taconite tailings from the mid-20th century that were dumped in the lake—a practice that is no longer legal—and then washed ashore, mixing with natural sand to create a beautiful dark gray shoreline.

St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail
St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail

Photo by BP Shoots

New Trail

High water prevented Stillwater’s historic lift bridge from reopening last year, but a pandemic? No problem. Shortly after Minnesota’s stay-at-home order expired, the newly completed St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail beckoned bikers, walkers, and runners alike to venture out again. Just shy of 5 miles, the loop traverses both the new and old bridge, with an obligatory selfie stop over the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line. Travel safely.

Event Pivot

Even a global pandemic couldn’t keep Minnesotans from their foods on a stick. Over the course of 13 days, 19,000 carloads of nostalgists drove through eerily pedestrian-free fairground streets for the first State Fair Food Parade. (And more rolled through for the sold-out, autumn-themed second run in October.) It featured more than a dozen of the fair’s most beloved vendors—including Pronto Pups, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, and the Dairy Goodness Bar. Sweet Martha’s heaped cookie buckets just as high as they always do. The “State Fair that wasn’t” also featured a handful of virtual competitions, including cookie decorating and crop art, as well as an online marketplace highlighting nearly 300 fair vendors and offering everything from pints of lingonberry ice cream to fair-trade handicrafts imported from Ghana.

Fish Sunflowers
Fish Sunflowers

Photo by Genevieve Jenkel

Photo Op

Fish Sunflowers’ gorgeous sunflower fields were the unlikely hero of our pandemic summer. The planting team opened 10 fields scattered throughout the northern Twin Cities metro area, urging visitors to share in the joy by posting their experiences on social media (which, oh, did they ever). The socially distant activity ran from July to a last hurrah in September.

Illustration by Lissette Lopez

Helping Hands

The North Star Health Collective took on the extremely busy summer of protest with resolve and focus. Formed in 2008, the street-medic organization works to ensure that demonstrations occur safely, and that health care services are available to participants.

Conceived by the organizers of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis in 2017, Black Visions Collective embodies the tireless fight to break down systems that have prevented—and continue to prevent—Black people from thriving and feeling safe. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, it has raised its national profile; raised up queer, immigrant, and transgender communities; and raised tens of millions of dollars to further its mission.

Since the start of the pandemic, Minnesota Central Kitchen, an initiative of the Second Harvest Heartland food-shelf organization, served hundreds of thousands of meals to the community by tapping rescued food and re-employing culinary teams in need of work.

Now in its 60th year, the nonprofit formerly known as Resource has been as vital as ever after Minneapolis’ uprisings. Under its current name, Avivo, the group has helmed urgent housing initiatives, including the sudden evacuation of more than 70 unsheltered people near Minneapolis’ packed Sabo Bridge encampment. As the organization says in its mission statement: “Everyone deserves the chance to live well and work well.”

Danger Boat Productions’ series of Let’s Get Uncomfortable workshops (both in-person and virtual) cracked open conversation and offered education about racism and anti-racism. The meetings were aimed at white people, led by a Minneapolis-based improv troupe that’s known for using unscripted comedy to prod folks into difficult, “thinky” topics. “They’ve been surprisingly (?) popular,” co-founder Tane Danger said in an email this past summer. “I’ve been really humbled and moved by what’s come out of these sessions already. People open up, including lots of people who admit this is their first time really ever grappling with their own feelings about race.”