Some time ago, a young visitor to the Minneapolis Central Library, in town for a few months but low on funds asked me for my recommendations for the best free places to go in the metro. I listed off a few of my favorites, but I had to think for awhile. Do you remember a few years ago when the local metro libraries unveiled the Museum Adventure Pass program? I recall having a lot of fun with that, as, courtesy of MELSA, the regional library system, libraries offered brochures with cool checklists for planning your exploration of local museums and other attractions, which, if you were lucky, you could visit for free. Sadly, the program was discontinued but I still receive periodic questions about it, so people definitely remember it fondly. I certainly do. Now, when someone asks me what are some free places to go and things to do in the Twin Cities, I have to think about it. Here are so of my favorites!
Music: A new thing I discovered recently, the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown, presents most of its roster of local and visiting bands, from a variety of musical backgrounds, free of cover. I saw a show a few weeks ago and was pretty impressed. The food and drink are not too badly priced, so this is a great place for the visiting student’s budget to see some unique and up and coming sounds. The atmosphere in the cavernous space, especially the basement restrooms, is worth checking out, too. I’ll definitely be back, and I’m a little depressed now I never went back in my U of M days. Here is their calendar.
Museums: Some of the Twin Cities most awesome art museums are always free, at least for their permanent collections. The most prominent, and my favorite museum, is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a place you can definitely become lost in for a whole day. Celebrating it’s hundredth anniversary this year, they have a lot of stuff planned. Even without the awesome special exhibits they continually have coming through, there is enough in the collections to keep you coming back for years, especially with the shifting exhibitions showcasing various themes. Another fun thing they offer is tours, with the Book Tours being my favorites, a great idea for book clubs. Each month, the museum choose several books for adults and children and makes a special tour based on its themes and period. A few years ago, I took on based on the Picture of Dorian Gray, and it was extremely thought provoking and a great companion for the novel.
Also, the University of Minnesota’s art museum, the Weisman, in its idosincratic metallic walls, is also always free, all the time. Perfect for college students to take a break between classes, as I often did. There are also always new things being showcased here, too.
Over in downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Museum of American Art is another great place to check out. Hidden away in a downtown office building, MMoAA has a lot of great local flavor. The other year, I saw their awesome exhibit on zines and DIY printing, and it inspired me to start up some of my own, as well. It’s been some time since I last visited, so I’m planning a trip to check out their speical exhibit this season, celebrating Summertime.
Also, museums like the Walker Art Center and the Bell Museum of Natural History offer free days as well, Thursday nights and Saturday mornings in the case of the Walker, Sundays in the case of the Bell Museum. Check it out!
Parks: Of course, there are loads of great parks to enjoy the weather and the glories of nature, both in the Twin Cities and in the suburbs. These just may be the crown jewels of the Twin Cities. Now that spring is turning into summer, the best months to enjoy them are coming, so take advantage while you can. Of course, I’m partial to September and October, but those go so quick!
Theodore Wirth Park, as I explored last month, is one such great place offering plenty of hiking, biking, and picnicking opportunities, such as the mysterious Quaking Bog, which seems amazingly wild to be so close to downtown. That is just one of many of Minneapolis’ well known nature oases; Minnehaha Park and its breathtaking falls, Mill Ruins Park with its legacies of Minneapolis past, and of course the iconic Lake Calhoun, to name just a few, all offer places where you can relax, maybe go swimming, or just do some people watching. Over in St. Paul, there is the incredible Indian Mounds Park, showcasing some of the last surviving archaeological relics of the great Hopewell Culture which lived in the region for millennia. Some of the mounds are thousands of years old, as ancient as many relics in Europe. With its great view of downtown St. Paul and on clear days downtown Minneapolis, it is definitely a place to check out.
The Three Rivers Park district, across suburban Hennepin, Scott, and Carver counties, also offer a lot of awesome opportunities for adventure. Referring to the Mississippi, the Minnesota, and the Crow rivers, the various parks in the system offer a lot of stuff to do, such as I explored in one of my first entries last year. Camping at Baker Park (for just $15 a night), kayaking, biking, hiking, winter activities, disc golf, I have yet to experience everything they have.
Of course, one has to mention Como Park and its Zoo and Conservatory as well, which remain free to the public; I always enjoying visiting the Conservatory and Japanese Gardens, both in the summer and in the dead of winter. I’d recommend it to families as well as those who just like experience tropical conditions and verdant greenery in January.
Libraries: Can’t not mention the area libraries, which offer almost all of their services free; check out the metro alliance of area library systems, MELSA, which has oft updated lists of programs offered throughout, such as the Bookawocky summer reading program, in which kids can participate to score free books. Makes me nostalgic.
Events: Finally, there are a host of awesome free events, artistic and entertaining, that occur throughout the year, including tonight’s much anticipated annual Northern Spark, as I wrote about last year. Northern Spark 2015 is promising a new cavalcade of innovative, intriguing, mysterious events, taking advantage of the beauty of the urban space at night. Throughout the wee hours, downtown Minneapolis and the University district will be transformed into a venue of diverse adventures and surreal sights. The prominent band Cloud Cult will be playing the Convention Center, Mill City Museum will have live opera, and the Mill Ruin Parks will host the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s really cool sounding interactive maze, among many other wonders. I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. I urge everyone to take the chance to visit; it’s worth being a little tired tomorrow! It’s looking like a good time!
Other free events to keep on the calendar are the Ice Shanty projects in the winter, this summer’s Floating Library, and the Art Car Parade; I’m sure I’m neglecting a lot of them, but I’ll report on them later! I’m sure I’m neglecting a lot of stuff, that perhaps further explorations will unearth.