Minnesota may not be the first destination that comes to mind for a family vacation, but we promise it’s a hidden gem for foodies, outdoor families, and art-lovers alike. Many families head to Minneapolis to experience a laid-back Midwest vacation. Or, to explore the great outdoors with all the amenities of a major metropolitan area. Minneapolis and St. Paul, often called the “Twin Cities”, are the largest cities in Minnesota, with St. Paul serving as its capital. Located side by side, it’s easy to stay in one and play in both! With major highways leading into the area, as well as a large airport, it’s easy to get here. From museums to lakes to amusement parks and more, you’ll find plenty to love on your next family vacation to Minneapolis with kids! Here are 18 Amazing Things to Do in Minneapolis Families Will Love, plus hotel and restaurant recommendations.
Note: Before you go, know that you will likely need to rent a car while you are exploring the Twin Cities with kids. While public transportation does exist, it is limited to the areas around the Mall of America and the downtown areas. A car will allow you more flexibility in exploring the local area, as well as fun attractions outside of the major metropolitan areas.
Visit One the Many Local Lakes
Minnesota is the home of 10,000 lakes. As such, one of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids is to explore one of the local lakes! There are a few to choose from in the Twin Cities too. Firstly, Bde Maka Ska is one of the most iconic urban lakes to visit in Minneapolis with kids. With 3-miles of paved paths around the lake, it’s ideal for walking or renting bikes. Plus, there are kayak and paddleboard rentals offered on-site from Wheel Fun Rentals. Nearby, Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis are also great options for family-friendly things to do in Minneapolis. Both offer gorgeous lake views, on-site playgrounds, and more. Finally, if you want to get out of the city a bit, you can explore Lake Minnetonka. Several cities, including Wayzata, Minnetonka, and Excelsior offer access to Lake Minnetonka, as well as posh dining and kid-friendly activities.
With several state parks, hiking trails, and natural lands, one of the best things to do in Minnesota with kids is to go hiking. In fact, Minneapolis is often ranked as one of the best city park systems in the United States. Minneapolis and St. Paul both offer quality hiking options for families. In Minneapolis, consider Winchell Trail or Mississippi Gorge Regional Park. Then, in St. Paul, Hidden Falls Regional Park and Crosby Farm Regional Park offer scenic hikes, ideal for families. At Hidden Falls Regional Park, challenge kids to find the hidden falls, they’re not labeled (Pro Tip: it’s just past the large buildings when you enter the park, below the road you drove in on). Just south of Minneapolis, Woodlake Nature Center (Richfield), Lebanon Hills Regional Park (Apple Valley), and Hyland Lake Park Reserve (Bloomington) also offer fantastic kid-friendly hiking in the Twin Cities.
Explore Minnehaha Regional Park
Minnehaha Regional Park is another fantastic location for hiking in Minneapolis with kids. Its unique urban waterfall, lush gardens, and on-site dining require a section all its own! As one of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids, you’ll want to set aside a full morning or afternoon here. Upon arrival, check out the urban waterfall, Minnehaha Falls. Start at the top and look down into the falls. Then, descend one of the two staircases that go to the bottom. This stunning waterfall is sure to delight your kids! Let them pass sticks under the bridge below the falls – whose stick will win? Be sure to snap a few family photos with the falls in the background. Afterward, wander the hiking trails along the river, searching for sticks, squirrels, and other local flora and fauna. Finally, splurge on cycle or surrey bike rental from Wheel Fun Rentals.
The nearby dining options make picnicking near Minnehaha Falls one of the best kid-friendly things to do in Minneapolis. Grab lunch to-go from the nearby Dairy Queen. Or, indulge in some scrumptious seafood and craft cocktails from Sea Salt Eatery (open seasonally). Shrimp, catfish, clams, and other seafood will delight palates of all ages (specific kid’s options available). Ending or starting with lunch at the Minnehaha Regional Park is sure to impress everyone in your group!
Pro Tip: Paid street parking and a paid parking lot flank the park, but you can find free street parking past the Dairy Queen along Nawadaha Blvd., in the neighborhood.
Wander Around the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Located about 40-minutes from Minneapolis, in the town of Chaska, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is next on our list of family-friendly things to do near Minneapolis. Managed by the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers a lovely afternoon of exploring immaculate grounds and lush gardens. Kids will love seeking out the various gardens on the ground and selecting their favorite. Will they choose the Chinese Garden, the Hosta Garden, or the Rose Garden? Afterward, head to the Learning Center, which offers a “Please Touch” greenhouse. Kids will delight in getting a little dirty as they learn about all the flowers they’ve seen. Be sure to visit the Farm at the Arb too, where kids can learn all about Minnesota’s agricultural history and current crops. You can even watch honey bee hives in action at the farm! Finally, guided tours, a gift shop, and on-site dining are also available.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check the activities calendar for a full list of incredible things to do in Minnesota with kids.
Take Your Picture with the Iconic Spoon and Cherry
One of the most iconic things to do is visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Here, explore the grounds of one of the best Minneapolis activities with kids! Firstly, take your family picture in front of the infamous Spoon and Cherry – one of the most recognizable sights in Minneapolis. Afterward, challenge your kids to find their favorite statue. Will it be the huge blue rooster, the wind chime tree, or the hare jumping over the bell? Use the self-guided tour sheet to help you find all of the on-site sculptures and art installations. Families will also find benches throughout the grounds to rest and reflect upon the art. Interested in seeing more art? Head inside the nearby Walker Art Center, another of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids. Budding artists will love meandering the galleries in search of famous artists and new ones to adore.
Play at a Local Park or Playground
Local playgrounds offer exciting Minneapolis activities with kids. And, the area has plenty to choose from! In Minneapolis, you’re never more than about 4 blocks from a green space, making Minnesota one of the most family-friendly cities in the United States. Plus, playgrounds are a great place to get local tips and restaurant recommendations. Outdoor playgrounds like North Loop Playground, Lake Nokomis Triangle Park, and Bassetts Creek Playground offer great locations for playing. Then, if you’re staying near the Mall of America, Running Park offers a lovely pond, play structures for toddlers and older kids, a zip-line, and ample green space to play. Finally, just south of Minneapolis, in Bloomington, Hyland Play Area is a thrilling chutes and ladders playground that kids will adore. If you’re looking for low-key things to do in the Twin Cities with kids, visiting a local playground is sure to provide an afternoon of fun!
In addition, you can head to the local indoor playground on rainy days or to escape the heat. Edinborough Park, located in Edina, features a kid’s gym with many fun toys and scooters, and a multi-story climbing structure. On-site lockers and snacks are also available.
Meet Animals at the Zoo
The Twin Cities also boast two fantastic zoos! One of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. This free zoo offers exciting animals like orangutans, giraffes, polar bears, and gorillas (donations are accepted and encouraged). There is also a lush conservatory to explore, offering a great indoor activity for rainy days. Find everything from a room full of curated bonsai trees to an orchid house to a unique sunken garden. Then, Como Town is a children’s amusement park that flanks one side of the park. Here, kids can delight in over 15 thrilling rides. Outside, you can also ride the on-site carousel and explore several gardens. Finally, a gift shop and dining options are also available at Como Park.
Then, the Minnesota Zoo is one of the best things to do in Minnesota with kids! With both indoor and outdoor exhibits, you can spend a full day exploring the Minnesota Zoo with kids. Inside, find two aquariums, a touch tank, penguins, several bird species, and a trial specifically designed to highlight Minnesota wildlife like cougars and beavers. Outside, find a splash pad and insect-inspired playground to let your kids run wild. Be sure to pack your swimsuits on warm weather days! Along the trails, you’ll also encounter bison, farm animals, camels, tigers, and more! Then, be sure to take a ride or two on the wildlife carousel. Kids will delight in finding and riding their favorite creatures. Finally, a gift shop, as well as indoor and outdoor dining is available at the Minnesota Zoo (outdoor dining includes local craft beers).
Pro Tip: If you have a local zoo membership, check to see if the Minnesota Zoo offers reciprocity or reduced admission.
Visit a Kid-Friendly Museum
Next on our list of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids is to visit a kid-friendly museum. If your kids enjoy museums, you’ll find three great options specifically designed for them in mind. Firstly, one of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is to explore the Science Museum of Minnesota. Here, let science-minded kids explore to their heart’s content. Exhibits include a dinosaur and fossil gallery, a human body gallery, and an exhibit specific to the Mississippi River. Then, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, also located in St. Paul, offers the youngest in your party a chance to run and play all day. There are three floors of exciting spaces to explore, including exhibits featuring opportunities to get creative through art, build with imagination, and splash in the water tables. Both museums offer an on-site gift shop and dining options.
Finally, The Works Museum, located just south of Minneapolis in Bloomington, is an interactive museum focused on engineering and technology. Find exhibits that encourage creativity through coding, building, and feats of engineering. Kids will love these hands-on opportunities to engage their imagination and build their investigative skills. While there is no cafe on-site, vending machines and a space to eat are available downstairs.
Gain Knowledge at One of the Many Local Museums
In addition to children’s museums, the Twin Cities also offers a variety of other interesting museums. Spend an exciting day of learning at the Mill City Museum, one of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids. This museum offers a unique tour where families can learn about one of the area’s first industries, flour milling, inside a moving elevator! At the top, enjoy gorgeous views of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. Be sure to check out the Baking Lab, they often have fresh cookies or bread to try. Then, the Bakken Museum is newly renovated and gives families a unique perspective on electricity and electromagnetism, from Frankenstein’s Laboratory to Ben Franklin. The Bakken Museum is also located on the edge of Lake Bde Maka Ska. After exploring the depths of the museum, head outdoors for a bit of fresh air along the lake.
Managed by the University of Minnesota, the Bell Museum is one of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids. This natural history museum and planetarium takes you from deep inside the human brain to the starry cosmos. Kids will also adore meandering through their famous wildlife dioramas. Then, the Touch & See Lab is ideal for anyone looking to get their hands on 10,000-year-old fossils, living plants and animals, and more! Additionally, St. Paul is also home to the Minnesota History Center. Here, kids will have the opportunity to explore exhibits about local indigenous communities and weather, climb through a model grain elevator, and learn about extraordinary Minnesota women who changed history.
Soak Up Some History at Fort Snelling
Certainly, one of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is to soak up some history at Fort Snelling. Nestled along the river on Dakota land, known as Bdote, this National Historic Landmark provides families a chance to learn about the fort’s military history, local indigenous tribes, historic trade routes, and more. With a grounds pass, your family can go inside the walls of the historic fort and the museum store (restrooms too). Group tours are also available (book in advance of your visit). After exploring the historic grounds, head down to Fort Snelling State Park. Take the Pike Island Loop and you can hike between the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. A playground, swimming beach, fishing pier, and picnic areas are also available within Fort Snelling State Park, making it one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids!
Cheer on the Home Team
The Twin Cities has no shortage of sporting events for those looking to catch a game. In fact, attending a sporting event is one of the top family-friendly things to do in Minneapolis! Because the Twin Cities has teams in all major sports, you can catch a game no matter the season. Cheer on the home team, or plan your visit to coincide with your preferred team! Professional sports in Minneapolis and St. Paul includes the Vikings (American football), Twins (baseball), Timberwolves (basketball), Minnesota United FC (soccer/futbol), and the Wild (hockey). The Minnesota Lynx, a WNBA team, also calls Minneapolis home. Each sports arena also offers its own family-friendly foods, games, and entertainment. Don’t forget to get your picture taken with the mascot!
Get Your Thrills at Valleyfair Amusement Park
Valleyfair Amusement Park is one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids! This thrilling amusement park is ideal for a day filled with family fun. Those with littles in tow can head straight for the kid’s rides (36 inches minimum), most featuring a Peanuts theme (think Charlie Brown and Linus). Older kids (42 inches minimum), will delight in racing along with roller coasters like the Wild Thing, Corkscrew, and the High Roller. Or, enjoy rides meant for the whole family, like the carousel or bumper cars. Then, spend hot summer days at Soak City. In this area, find water slides, a wave pool, and a splash station. Families will find rest areas and dining throughout Valleyfair. Frugal families can also keep a cooler in the car for lunch. There are tables located outside Valleyfair and reentry is possible (with a ticket and hand stamp).
Note: Valley Fair is also one of the best things to do in Minnesota with kids during the fall season when it converts to the Great Pumpkin Fest by day, and ValleyScare by night!
Enjoy a Play or Stage Production
Theatrical kids will adore the Children’s Theatre Company. Known for adapting children’s classics into stage productions for the whole family, this theater is one of the most unique things to do in Minnesota with kids. In fact, the Children’s Theatre Company is the largest theater for young people in the United States. Then, attending a production at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities. Offering everything from Broadway musicals to orchestral performances, a show here is sure to be a treat for the whole family! Then, located in downtown Minneapolis, the Orpheum Theatre is another great option for attending an instrumental concert or stage production. One of four theaters managed by the Hennepin Theatre Trust, families should also review the event’s pages for the Pantages Theatre, the State Theatre, and the Shubert Theatre.
Get Whimsical at Can Can Wonderland
One of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is to have some quirky fun at Can Can Wonderland. Nestled in the industrial area of St. Paul, Can Can Wonderland offers a day of fun for families. Firstly, embrace your inner child as you play vintage arcade games. Offering everything from ping pong to pinball, parents will embrace nostalgia as they play games from their childhood, as well as updated versions. Afterward, play a round or two of mini-golf. Each green features eclectic art installations that are sure to inspire and delight. In fact, Can Can Wonderland has been awarded the best mini golf in the Twin Cities! Finally, be sure to stay for a boozy milkshake, craft beers, and pizza for the kids. The whimsy of Can Can Wonderland certainly continues into their concessions, as well, featuring everything from cereal malts to mini donuts.
Shop and More at the Mall of America
Perhaps the most well-known sight in the Twin Cities, the Mall of America is also one of the most family-friendly things to do near Minneapolis. Shopping is only the beginning at the Mall of America – and there is a lot of that! If you’re not interested in shopping, check out one of the many on-site attractions. Firstly, one of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids is Nickelodeon Universe. This thrilling indoor amusement park with Nickelodeon-themed rides is ideal for little daredevils. Or, check out the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, featuring coral caves, an underwater tunnel, and a giant rainforest. Those with littles will adore getting creative at Crayola Experience. Here, they can color, play, create their own crayon, and do other vibrant activities. Interested in a little putt putt? Try your swing at Moose Mountain Adventure Golf. The Mall of America is great for a rainy day!
Did you know the first indoor shopping mall in the United States is located in the Twin Cities? The Southdale Center in Edina is still operational and is another great location to do a little shopping in the area.
Pro Tip: If you’re in town to focus your fun at the Mall of America, stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge Water Park for an extra fun Minnesota vacation with kids!
Take a Day Trip
While exploring Minneapolis with kids, it is very easy to take a day-trip out of town. You will be near several cute small towns worth visiting. So with extra time in the Twin Cities, check out one of these beautiful nearby cities!
Just 30-minutes east of Minneapolis, Stilwater, Minnesota, is a quaint little town along the St. Croix River. With views of the river, and across to Wisconsin, you can’t beat this charming town. Get your bearings by exploring the historic downtown area or by taking the historic 45-minute narrated Stillwater Trolley. Then, take the footbridge across to Wisconsin. Kids will adore knowing they were in two states on one short walk! If you have littles in tow, head to the Teddy Bear Park for a real treat! This playground has giant teddies waiting to greet you, as well as picnic tables and other playground features. Offering everything from authentic paddlewheel riverboat tours to gondola rides, families will love spending a day in Stillwater. Finally, your family can also explore the great outdoors in Stillwater by foot, bike, pontoon, or horseback.
Located 45-minutes south of Minneapolis, Northfield, Minnesota is a darling town nestled along the Cannon River. While in town, meander the historic downtown area and along the river. Grab a bagel and coffee from Tandem Bagels or ice cream from Hogan Brothers. Then, head to Cowling Arboretum. Offering over 850-acres of preserved natural lands, it’s a beautiful place for a quick hike. The lower arb offers more rustic trails, while the upper arb has paved paths ideal for tiny trekkers. While in town, you can also visit the nearby alpaca farm, blueberry farm, or Japanese Garden. No matter what you choose to fill your day, Northfield offers a variety of activities for outdoor families, as well as those looking for a little boutique shopping. Northfield is also home to two colleges, Carleton College and St. Olaf College.
Just over an hour from Minneapolis, Red Wing, Minnesota is ideal for those looking to escape the city for a bit and take in sweeping views atop the local bluffs. Families will find ample hiking and biking trails here, including a few that climb the scenic bluffs. In fact, Frontenac State Park is just 15-minutes from Red Wing. With sweeping views of the Mississippi River and ideal opportunities for bird watching (like bald eagles), it’s a great hike for families! In town, do a little shopping at the iconic Red Wing Shoes, or the Scandinavian-inspired UFFDA Shop. Finally, don’t miss the Red Wing Marine Museum. Here, families can learn about the robust history of the Red Wing Motor Company. Plus, entrance is free.
Pro Tip: If you’re taking the Amtrak to Minneapolis/St. Paul, there is a stop in Red Wing too, which may offer an easier on/off than St. Paul might for those traveling with small children or grandparents.
Then, less than 30-minutes from Minneapolis, Excelsior, Minnesota offers a posh lakeside escape. Filled with boutique shops and restaurants, families will find a lot to love about this charming town nestled on Lake Minnetonka. Firstly, kids will delight in the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. Then, grab an ice cream cone from Licks Unlimited, an Excelsior staple since 1984. With ice cream in hand, walk down to the water. Here, you can stroll along Lake Minnetonka. Past the bandshell, you’ll find a fantastic playground along the water. Pack your bathing suits so that kids can wade in the water near the playground. Afterward, dine with a view at Maynards, offering a variety of burgers, fish, and other American fare (kids menu available too). The Coalition and Lago Tacos also offer great spots for a family-friendly meal to end the day.
Hang Out at a Kid-Friendly Brewery
The Twin Cities is known for its craft breweries. In some parts of the city, it seems there is one around every corner! Parents looking to indulge in a local favorite can also find family-friendly options! Firstly, Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul is a great pick because it offers a dedicated kid’s area with books, toys, and a small table. While there is no food service, they often have food trucks on the property. Then, Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis offers indoor and patio seating, as well as a fully-stocked juice box stash for the kids. Plus, there are games for the whole family to play (note, minors under the age of 21 are not allowed in the brewery after 9:00 pm)! Finally, The Freehouse offers food and kid’s activities, in addition to craft brews. Sit inside or on the patio, kids and parents alike will dine happily here!
Eat the Legendary Juicy Lucy
Minnesota is well-known for its delectable fare, including everything from tater-tot hot dish to fried everything at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the Minnesota State Fair. Possibly the most iconic of Minnesota foods is the Juicy Lucy. In fact, did you know that Time Magazine called the Juicy Lucy one of the most “influential burgers” of all time? This cheese-stuffed patty is a must-eat when exploring Minneapolis with kids. Two restaurants claim to be the originators of this quintessential Minnesota treat. First, Matt’s Bar and Grill is a Minnesota landmark and has been feeding locals since the 1950s. This cash-only bar and grill is sure to please those in need of a mouth-watering meal. Then, the 5-8 Club also claims a stake in the creation of this tasty burger. With four locations in the Twin Cities, you’ll find one near you when visiting the Twin Cities with kids.
Finally, the Blue Door Pub, offering five locations (including the airport), offers a whimsical play on the Juicy Lucy. Here, you can enjoy a menu filled with tasty creations including everything from a variety of cheeses to peanut butter to ghost peppers and fried avocado. Don’t miss their signature tater-tots!
Where to Eat in Minneapolis with Kids
One of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids is to eat! With a growing foodie culture reputation, Minneapolis has a variety of restaurants and foods to choose from when visiting. Downtown, consider Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Trieste Cafe, or the Hen House Eatery for breakfast. For an upscale dining experience, consider Spoon and Stable, Demi, or Alma. Outside of the downtown area, families will also love Brasa Premium Rotisserie (located in Minneapolis and St. Paul), offering home-style, shared southern comfort food. Then, George and the Dragon, Broders’ Pasta Bar (or their next-door Cucina), and Hola Arepa are also local favorites. Rainy day? Head to Sovereign Grounds, a local cafe with great coffee drinks and lunch fare with an indoor play area for kids (best for kids under 5).
Then, in St. Paul, consider the Afro Deli & Grill, offering scrumptious East African food near the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Downtown, try Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza, or Kincaid’s Fish, Chop & Steakhouse. If you’re exploring the area along Grand Avenue (great for shopping!), eat at Colossal Cafe, Punch Pizza Grand Avenue, or Cafe Latte. With so many options to choose from, you really can’t go wrong eating in the Twin Cities with kids!
Where to Stay in Minneapolis with Kids
In Minneapolis, there are two main hotel centers, one near the Mall of America and one downtown. Depending on which Minneapolis activities with kids you plan to do, you’ll want to center your stay nearest your preferred itinerary sights. Near the Mall of America, consider the Great Wolf Lodge Water Park | Minnesota for endless family fun. With an indoor water park, kid’s events on-site, and quick access to the Mall of America, the Great Wolf Lodge can’t be beaten. However, if you want even closer access to the Mall of America, consider the JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America or the Radisson Blu Mall of America. Downtown, consider Hotel Ivy, a Luxury Collection Hotel, newly renovated and part of the Minneapolis skyway system. Then, the Loews Minneapolis Hotel and Canopy by Hilton Minneapolis Mill District are also great options nearby all the downtown amenities.
If you want St. Paul to be your home base, consider the Residence Inn by Marriott St. Paul Downtown offering studio and one-bedroom suites with indoor pool access. For something scenic along Lake Minnetonka (15-20 minutes from downtown in a beautiful area), families can also consider Hotel Landing in Wayzata.
With so many amazing things to do in Minneapolis with kids, you’ll never hear I’m bored on this family trip! Fill your days with everything from outdoor adventures to giant art installations to historic tours. When considering your next family vacation, don’t overlook this incredible Midwest state. It has everything you need for a fantastic family vacation at your fingertips, whether you want to rent bikes for a scenic ride along the lakes, shop until you drop at the Mall of America, or meander art galleries. Happy Travels!
Thank You to Our Community!
A special thank you to the Families Who Love To Travel Facebook community who generously shared their travel advice and top picks for this list of 18 Amazing Things to Do in Minneapolis Families Will Love We could not have compiled such a thoughtful and helpful list without their dedication to our community. Families Who Love To Travel is a group of amazing families who love exploring through travel. For more family vacation recommendations and inspiration, be sure to join us on Facebook at Families Who Love To Travel. We’re a community of experienced traveling families who love adventure and seeing the world with kids. Plus, follow us on Instagram (@families.love.travel) to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the things to do in Minneapolis with kids on this list may have reduced services or may temporarily close at times. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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