Minneapolis Arts and Parks

Art and entertainment galore atop a wealth of natural amenities make Minneapolis a captivating place to play. Let's stroll through some of the galleries and green spaces of this charismatic city.

By: Carrie Hamblin

Photo By: Bill Hickey / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Jayme Halbritter for Minneapolis Institute of Art / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Gettyimages/Douglas Sacha

Photo By: Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Dan Norman Photography, Children's Theatre Company / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Courtesy of Paisley Park / NPG Records / Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Gene Pittman for The Walker Art Center / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Gettyimages/Education Images

Photo By: Krivit Photography / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Mike Krivit Photography / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Krivit Photography / Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Photo By: Courtesy of Visit Saint Paul

Minneapolis Murals and Public Art

Minneapolis absolutely abounds with creativity, with its theaters and venues, museums and art centers, regional and national fairs, craft shows and festivals. Find local talent reflected in craft and maker shops and the art and sculpture found on city streets and in public parks. There are dozens of murals around town (visit Meet Minneapolis for a highlight list), including two tributes to major local music legends: the five-story mural of Bob Dylan (5th Street and Hennepin Avenue) by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra and the one-story mural of Prince (26th Street and Hennepin Avenue) by Bloomington artist Rock “Cyfi” Martinez. The city has a great self-guided public art tour page.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA)

The world-class Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) boasts more than 90,000 works of art from six continents and spanning thousands of years, along with topical exhibitions and installations. Don't feel overwhelmed: MIA offers tours (guided and self-guided) as well as a do-not-miss list. On it? Doryphoros (120-50 BCE), a marble copy of the original lost Greek bronze statue; The Studio of Gratifying Discourse and its attached rock gardens, part of the museum's exhibit of Historic Chinese Residences; the Yoruba Shrine Head, among a showing of Africa's masks and objects; and such celebrated paintings as Rembrandt's Lucretia and MIA's Impressionist collection, including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin and Renoir. The museum offers regularly occurring art programs and classes for the public — kids and adults. General admission is free. Donations encouraged.

The Weisman Art Museum

The otherworldly steel-and-brick edifice across the Mississippi River from downtown is the Weisman Art Museum (WAM), designed by architect Frank Gehry of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao fame. This university-affiliated museum is located on the University of Minnesota campus but considers itself a teaching museum for everyone. Its permanent collection includes works of American modernism, ceramics, Mimbres pottery and Korean furniture, and WAM holds several special exhibitions, tours and events annually that the museum says places art "within relevant cultural, social and historical contexts." Fantastically free.

The Hennepin Theatre District

The Hennepin Theatre District is a downtown go-to for in-house entertainment: movies, concerts, comedy performances and (of course) theater, including traveling Broadway shows. Three century-old theaters lie along Hennepin Avenue. Head to the Orpheum Theatre — once owned by Bob Dylan and his brother — for your favorite musician or Broadway play. The Marx Brothers act was the first performance here in 1921. We visit the Pantages Theatre now for concerts, comedies and lectures, but it was originally a vaudeville house. Don't forget to look up: That beautiful stained-glass skylight is from a 1922 remodel. We'll enjoy some live comedy at the State Theatre; originally it was used as a cinema, boasting the largest movie screen west of the Mississippi. Its enormous neon marquee dates to the 1940s. Speaking of comedy, Brave New Workshop — the oldest comedy theater in the U.S. — also can be found on Hennepin Avenue.

… And More Theater

Minneapolis has a variety of neighborhood theaters, as well as the Guthrie Theater — a popular downtown venue offering contemporary and classic plays—and the Tony Award–winning Children's Theatre Company, with productions for young audiences at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Saint Paul has worthy contributions to make to Twin Cities' culture. The Penumbra Theatre is the only professional African-American theater in Minnesota, presenting award-winning works that highlight the African-American experience. The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is the place to enjoy the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, world music and dance recitals and the Minnesota Opera, one of the largest opera companies in the country. Saint Paul's beautiful Fitzgerald Theater (1910) and Palace Theatre (1916) were vaudeville and movie houses during their early histories and now host concerts, comedy performances and live recordings of popular shows and podcasts.

First Avenue and Paisley Park

Around the corner from the Hennepin Theatre District is the independent rock club First Avenue. This world-famous venue launched the stardom of many a local talent including The Replacements and Soul Asylum. Grammy Award–winning, multi-instrumentalist Prince played First Avenue regularly, and the venue served as the setting for his movie Purple Rain. Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis June 7, 1958, enjoyed a hugely successful music and performance art career and died on April 21, 2016. Paisley Park — the artist's private home, art workshop, music production studio and occasional film set and concert venue — is located in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen and is open for public tours. Visitors can marvel at such iconic Prince articles as his instruments and clothing as well as tour his production studios, where he recorded some of his most famous songs and albums. Tickets for Paisley Park are available online and in advance only.

The Walker Art Center

Multidisciplinary could be the Walker Art Center's middle name — known not just for visual arts, but for dance and music performances, theater productions and film screenings. Its world-renowned Walker Performing Arts program has supported and promoted the genre with recitals, commissions and residencies since 1960. The Walker has a largely contemporary focus but is diverse in its collection and exhibitions, including both new and established artists from around the globe working in many themes and mediums. Free Thursday evenings and first Saturdays, and free admission for young people (ages 0 to 18) and active military every day.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Across the street from the Walker Art Center you can spend a couple of enjoyable hours strolling the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It’s the prodigious result of a collaboration between the Walker and the city's park department, planting the Walker's famous sculpture collection across a dozen acres of parkland. The Garden is populated with works by numerous heavy hitters: Roy Lichtenstein, Sol LeWitt, Isamu Noguchi, Judith Shea, George Segal, Katharina Fritsch and more. Perhaps the most famous work in the ensemble — both as an icon of the city and the first commission for the Garden — is the fountain-sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry by the husband-and-wife team Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. The 40+ sculptures can be viewed for free from 6 a.m. to midnight every day of the year.

Minneapolis Greenery

Let's stay outside now to pay homage to some amazing natural facts about Minneapolis. Did you know there are 180 parks in the city, with 96 percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park, or that there are 30 farmers markets scattered around town? The City of Lakes gets it moniker from more than a dozen lakes within its limits, not to mention one magnificent waterfall and one little old river, the mighty Mississippi. This town sure knows how to show off all this natural splendor too, with the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway — the nation's longest continuous urban parkway system running 52 miles around the city, with bicycle and pedestrian trails weaving past its notable lakes and through its major parks. Visit the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board website for all Minneapolis has to offer by way of neighborhood and regional parks, trails and greenways, sanctuaries and gardens. We will highlight a few of the most popular stops next.

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park

First stop: Chain of Lakes, the most popular park destination in Minneapolis. This 1,500-acre park surrounding Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet has many miles of biking, cross-country skiing and pedestrian trails, an off-leash dog park, picnic areas, soccer and baseball fields, courts and rinks, a band shell with free music and movies and a couple of in-park restaurants. Several great beaches line the five lakes that offer the opportunity for whichever water recreation strikes your fancy. Need we go on? Okay. Amazing gardens, a bird sanctuary … let's put it this way: Seven million visitors are exhaustively entertained at Chain of Lakes every year. How 'bout them "Mini-apples"?

Minnehaha Regional Park

Another of Minneapolis's most popular parks and one of its oldest is Minnehaha Regional Park, only a couple minutes' walk from HGTV Urban Oasis 2019. Gracing the grounds is some wonderful public art, including Ed Archie Noisecat's bronze-and-copper sculpture, Chief Little Crow Mask, and Jacob Fjelde's sculpture Hiawatha and Minnehaha, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem entitled The Song of Hiawatha. The park is home to miles of trails, three gardens, a disc golf course, a kids' wading pool, a park restaurant with great seafood and a band shell used for concerts and events. A local favorite feature is the 6-acre off-leash dog park, and the natural jewel in Minnehaha's crown is Minnehaha Falls — a spectacular 53-foot waterfall surrounded by several trails (some easy, some adventurous) from which to admire the splendor or get your shot.

Theodore Wirth Regional Park

Located on 740 acres, Theodore Wirth is the largest park in Minneapolis, encompassing two golf courses, a lake and miles of trails to explore. Golfing, fishing, boating and hiking are all on offer for fair weather, but the park is equally enjoyed in winter by fat-tire bike, sled, snow tube, snowboard, cross-country skis and snowshoes. The Loppet Foundation is an avalanche of opportunity for winter recreators, offering clinics, classes and camps for adults and kids.

Festivities

As you may have noted, Minneapolis residents are not fair-weather adventurers. And there is no shortage of motivation to be outdoors in the winter. Boost up your body temperature with some fierce ice hockey at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, or strap on the skis (or harness the dog, or jump on the bike) for the City of Lakes Loppet — a multiday cross-country skiing and winter sports competition and festival. For those of us who want more gentle recreation, there's the Winter Kite Festival on Lake Harriet, and Saint Paul hosts the annual 17-day Winter Carnival, featuring a snow park, an outdoor beer fest and — that perfect marriage of art and natureice carving! If you're a winter hibernator, don't worry. There are scores of creative events year-round, including a dozen art festivals, the Minnesota Fringe Festival and Twin Cities collaborations like the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Suffice it say, Minneapolis is sure to entertain, inside and out-of-doors. Visit City Pages for its great calendar and Meet Minneapolis for its summary list of the big events by season.