Things to do in Downtown Minneapolis – a Biking Tour and a Walking Tour

categories: USA Travel

I was in Minneapolis for the TBEX North America convention. While the conference was held at the lovely Radisson Blu Hotel (see reviews) out at the Mall of America, I came in a couple of days early and used one of those days to explore downtown Minneapolis on both a biking tour and a walking tour.

The Foshay Tower Minneapolis

The W Minneapolis Bike Tours

I stayed the night at the W Hotel in Minneapolis’s Foshay Tower (see reviews) as they had invited me to experience their new bike tours of the city. Apparently no one told the W that I have really never been cool enough to stay at their hotel, and I did not try and correct the impression.

The new bike tours will be led by David Cronin who manages both the Foshay and nearby Le Meridien Chambers. An avid biker, he bikes to work in Minneapolis year-round, in the winter on a fat tire bike that can handle the snow. Cronin told us that the W is known for music (everywhere), design and fashion, but is adding a new focus which is fuel. That is to say, they are adding activities such as this bike tour that will refuel their guests.

W Minneapolis Bike Tour

Biking Tour of Minneapolis

Minneapolis, as it turns out, is a great city for biking. Cronin picks a route that is a good fit for the fitness level and interests of the guests involved. In our case, we biked across the new downtown pedestrian mall through Loring Park and out to the Greenway. The Greenway is a 5.5 miles long rails-to-trails bike path that traverses the city. It is plowed in the winter, lit at night, and open 24/7. We took the Greenway out to Lake Calhoun and biked around the lake. While the lake and the bike paths were not as green as they will get in the middle of Summer, it was a great break from downtown to be able to quickly get on a bike and get out to someplace as beautiful as one of Minnesota’s many lakes. It helps that the bikes are all new and in great shape so it was easy for me to keep up with Cronin who, granted, brought his slowest fat tire bike.

I should say that if you get a chance to bike with a bunch of travel bloggers, beware because they can be dangerous as they are as concerned with getting the right photo or video on their selfie stick as they are with watching where they are going.

Dessert at Manny's Steakhouse

We ate lunch at Manny’s Steakhouse which is on the 1st floor of the W. It was great but I am not under any impression that an 11-mile bike ride made up for the calories we consumed in dessert alone.

The Fit Tourist Walking Tour

Walking Tour of Minneapolis

On the same afternoon, I met up with the Heart of the City Walking tour with the Fit Tourist (see reviews). This 3-hour walking tour took us through historic buildings (like the Foshay), some of the downtown sports venues, to the Warehouse district, the Theatre district and then back along the elevated indoor walkways of the Skyway to and through some of the skyscrapers of the area.

We learned that Minneapolis got its start in lumber with its “endless” supply of trees in Minnesota (spoiler, they weren’t endless) and with the milling of grain from the Great Plains for the likes of companies like General Mills and Pillsbury. The Lumber Exchange is one of the Romanesque Revival style buildings leftover from that age as is the City Hall.

Mural of Bob Dylan

With its unusually large number of theaters, the Hennepin Theatre District has been called Broadway on the Mississippi (at least by me). Minneapolis so loves its theatre that when the block that held the Shubert Theatre was scheduled for demolition, the entire stone building was moved down the street 3 blocks. Talk about taking your show on the road.

The now thriving warehouse district is only what was leftover when they ran out of money to tear down block after block of warehouses in town. How many cities that had the funds and now regret that they lost what Minneapolis has.

The new downtown ballpark for the Twins is right next to the stadium where the Timberwolves play. I assume most people know that Minneapolis had a basketball team before that moved to LA where its name Lakers makes no sense at all. Both venues are right by a new sports medicine complex for the world-famous Mayo Clinic.

First Avenue Nightclub Stars Minneapolis

We stopped by the First Avenue nightclub where Prince got his start. The theatre has a star on the wall for him as for many acts that have played there. Better not be a one-hit wonder though as they periodically repaint the building and some groups quietly lose their stars in the process.

We broke for cookies at the Angel Food Bakery (see reviews) started by the pastry chef for next door Hell’s Kitchen restaurant (see reviews). I ate dinner with a friend at Hell’s Kitchen the night before. The food was good and with prices no higher than a chain restaurant, I was surprised by the live music from a Jazz Trio.

The Rand Tower

Back at the Foshay, we entered the labyrinth that is the Skyway. The Skyway connects 8 miles of downtown so that you don’t have to go outside in the cold winter months. We looped back through the Art Deco Rand Tower that was built by a flyer who was in the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI who decorated the building with symbols of flight.

Crystal Court of the IDS Tower

The large atrium, the Crystal Court, of the IDS Tower is the largest of the indoor spaces we saw. It has its own waterfall that looks a bit like a leaky roof. That is only fitting as the building surpassed the Foshay building as the tallest building in town. The Wells Fargo building has a free small museum of the Hitoshi of the Wells Fargo wagon, but it was closed on Sunday.

Minneapolis City Hall

We ended at the City Hall. When it was built people wondered why it was so big (they used to rent out the first floor for horse stables and to chicken farmers) and why it was built in the middle of nowhere. The city has long since caught up with it and has now overflown its walls with city offices.

The W Hotel Downtown Minneapolis

A group of invited bloggers met the night before in the Prohibition bar on the 27th story of the Foshay. The 27th story was originally Wilbur Foshay’s private, full-floor retreat in the tower that bears his name. It is cool in a Roaring 20s kind of way.

Foshay made his fortune buying utilities in the midwest. When he opened the tower he commissioned John Philip Sousa to write the “Foshay Tower Washington Memorial March” for the lavish occasion that featured fireworks, dancing girls, and religious services. He even gave complimentary gold watches to special guests who attended the festivities.

The 3-day event ended September 1, 1929, shortly before the stock market crash that ruined the builder. He was found guilty of running a pyramid scheme and sentenced to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Ironically the W which opened in 2008 has had many more years to enjoy the property than its namesake builder. The Foshay Tower was the tallest building in town for 43 years.

I met up with two friends who live in Minneapolis while I was in town and both of these tours remind me that locals are justifiably proud of their city. Although with my thin California blood, I may still limit my visits to spring, summer, and fall.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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