P.S. from MPLS
When Paul and I first started our grand nomadic adventure, there were only two cities on our “definitely” list: Portland and Denver. We had enough prior experience and affinity to these two places, to know they were likely front-runners for a potential future home. And they did not disappoint: we had a fantastic month in both, which we tried to capture here and here.
What we did not know, was where we would go after Denver. We debated several appealing options. In August, we knew we wanted to keep the nomadic journey going, and we loved the idea of going all the way from the west coast to the east coast as part of that journey. A city that kept resurfacing in our discussions was one that neither of us had ever been to: Minneapolis.
I have to admit: I knew embarrassingly little about Minneapolis. And what I did know was basically limited to its brutal winter (in 1885, a journalist described Minnesota as “another Siberia — unfit for human habitation”). MPLS was the city that, when I lived for two years in Chicago, Chicagoans pointed to to make themselves feel better about their own winters. Also, isn’t Minnesota super white everywhere, and isn’t the Minnesota diet so bland that it makes English food seem exciting? (spoiler alert: no, and no)
Yet, we continued to hear glowing reviews about the Twin Cities. People who had lived there raved about its beautiful lakes, LGBTQ+ friendly environment, excellent biking infrastructure, rich musical history (Prince, Bob Dylan, among many others), and vibrant culture. All things we like! A lot! And the more we researched the place, the more it seemed in line with what we value in a city. (Learning about the Jucy Lucy burgers — patties stuffed with hot, melted cheese — certainly didn’t hurt either.) So in August, we booked an Airbnb by Uptown in Minneapolis.
Here we are, a month of stay in Minneapolis later, and all we can say is that MPLS is, well, a total gem of a city. Of course, we acknowledge that we were only there in the gorgeous Midwest autumn, and left before the infamous winter arrived, which gave us a rather incomplete picture. (Although, we did watch Fargo while we were there, so we obviously know everything there is to know about Minnesota winters now. Obviously.) Nonetheless, we were impressed at every turn. Below, we attempt to capture our experience living in Minneapolis for a month. Similar to our PDX and DEN blog posts, Paul and I each wrote some questions and shared them with one another ahead of time, answered them live during our drive out of the Twin Cities, and then I edited the transcript into the below. The questions:
- Describe Minneapolis in 3 adjectives. Why those adjectives?
- From what we’ve heard, Minneapolis tries to lean into its winter. If we lived here longer term, what winter activity / hobby would you pick up?
- We experienced several modes of transportation here. What was your favorite 1-hour journey, across all those modes of transportation?
- What was one unexpected way in which Minneapolis was similar to another city you’ve lived in?
- How has this whole trip changed the way you think about what you value or need in a place to live?
- Our five favorite restaurants in Minneapolis!
P.S. for both Portland and Denver, we included the question, “If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the city, what would it be?” We decided to leave that question out for this blog post, because unsurprisingly, both Paul’s and my answer were about the winter. AKA, make it sunnier and less cold. We didn’t experience the Minnesota winter ourselves, but heard enough locals talk about how bad it is to believe that it is probably truly quite bad. I will say, though, that clearly not all Minnesotans hate their winter. Here’s the rock band The Shackletons, in their song “Minnesota Girl”:
It’s now thirty below
And I can’t feel my toes
Damn, it’s great to be home.
Q1. Describe Minneapolis in 3 adjectives. Why those adjectives?
Paul: Okay, my three are colorful, hearty, and undeterred.
Colorful: Minneapolis in the autumn time is super, super beautiful. The whole Midwest area is just full of wonderful oranges, yellows, and reds from the leaves changing. There’s also a lot of purple because Minneapolis, and Minnesota general, love their Vikings. And also, one thing I think both of us were struck by, is how colorful the people and how diverse the population of Minneapolis and its surrounding cities are. I think it was a thing that we were a bit surprised by, and it was really cool. There’s tons of Hmong folks, and African immigrants, and Scandinavians and Germans, and Native Americans.
Hearty: I think there’s a reputation that the Midwest is a real meat-and-potatoes kind of culture, and I think that’s right. There’s a lot of, you know, really full and robust meals, like burgers and meats. And I think it’s a common sight in Minneapolis to see just, like, a giant Nordic man chugging a beer and shouting Skol! Skol! Skol! — which I think is maybe the full, physical manifestation of heartiness?
Undeterred: People in Minnesota have to put up with some of the coldest winter months of anybody in the country, but the Twin Cities still seemingly have a very strong and robust outdoor culture. So even though we didn’t really feel the brunt of the coldness ourselves (I think the coldest it ever got when we were here was low 40s), you get the sense that people will still just go out skiing or biking or just like be out in the elements and nothing’s really going to stop them.
And then there’s “undeterred” from a football standpoint too, right? Like the Vikings are a team that has pretty much always been a disappointment. They kind of notoriously missed some really clutch field goals and have not ever won a championship. And for how much heartbreak they give the local population, people are still really, really into the Vikings. It’s kind of like the Cleveland Browns, that just has this hardcore loyal fan base in spite of all the the lack of success they’ve had historically.
Annie: So true! Okay, I know it sounds really sad to be living in one of the coldest places possible in the country and watching your football team consistently suck, but actually, it’s still a lot of fun. I think that’s exactly your point. People are so loyal, and the energy is fantastic even if the team disappoints, which is really cool. I do think people give Kirk Cousins way more sh*t than he deserves, though. The man puts everything on the line every game. (P.S. after we left Minneapolis, Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the season, which we are honestly pretty bummed about. Hope you have a speedy recovery, Kirk! We know you’re reading this blog post!)
All right, my three adjectives are: scenic, high value (not really an adjective I guess), and diverse. Actually a lot of overlap to yours in concept.
Scenic: I was really pleasantly surprised by how beautiful Minneapolis and its surrounding areas are. Minnesota is known as the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” so I think we knew before coming here that there was gonna be lakes, and I talked previously about how much I love water. So in theory, I sort of knew that it was gonna have some good nature, but I think since we’ve gotten here, we’ve been just really impressed. Like all the gorgeous nature, lakes certainly but also the Mississippi River running through the middle of the city, the fall foliage as you talked about. We were also able to drive out to pick apples and that was gorgeous too. We went to Wisconsin for a weekend and that, too, was beautiful. There’s just so much that’s so, so scenic. And the city has done a great job making it easier for people to take advantage of that by having, I think, probably the best biking infrastructure that I’ve seen of any city. Which I think is saying a lot because both Portland and Denver are ranked very high when it comes to biking infrastructure, but I think Minneapolis has been even better. We’ve also heard people talk about the city doing a great job plowing snow so that people can enjoy the outdoors even in the depth of winter.
High value: Minneapolis has amazing restaurants, coffeeshops, breweries, bars, cultural amenities, theaters, a huge university… there’s so much to do here, and at relatively affordable prices. I will say that eating out didn’t feel much cheaper, but we saw such great value when it comes to housing. Looking up houses for sale, as well as what rental prices might look like, was absolutely mind-blowing for someone who lived for so long in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were a couple of six-bedroom duplexes around us, in really good neighborhoods, that were listed at less than half the price it would cost to buy a two-bedroom in the Bay Area. That’s just amazing. Like, we can have all this for… an obscenely lower price than the Bay Area, even quite a bit lower than Denver and Portland?
Diverse: You touched on this too. I think both of us were surprised by the ethnic diversity here. Obviously places like California are incredibly diverse too, more diverse than here in many ways, but I think here, we were exposed to a lot of racial and ethnic groups that we have not historically had this much exposure to. To your point: African immigrants, Hmong immigrants, Scandinavians. There’s also really interesting diversity in season, certainly — the city has the full range of seasons. It’s hot in the summer and really, really cold in the winter. And then I think there’s more political diversity as well. Minneapolis itself is a pretty progressive city, but Minnesota as a state has been a bit of a purple state, so I think you get slightly broader diversity when it comes to political viewpoints and beliefs. I personally find that really interesting.
Q2. From what we’ve heard, Minneapolis tries to lean into its winter (it holds winter festivals, ice sculpting contests, etc to encourage people to still go outside even in the depth of winter). If we lived here longer term, what winter activity / hobby would you pick up?
Annie: Um, I don’t know what to call this activity, but I’ll describe it as elaborate snow creature building. Which is like, you know how people build snowmen, but I think we can build anything with snow technically. I’d like to get real good at building the best snowmen and snowwomen known to humanity. And the best little snow-children. That sounds weird. But also, snow foxes. Snow rabbits. Snow candy corn. All kinds of fun snow creatures.
I’m just imagining that if we lived in Minneapolis long-term, we would hopefully have a nice front yard or backyard that gets completely covered in snow in the winter. There would just be a lot of material, and canvas, for me to engage with my newfound hobby of building snow creatures.
Paul: I love this. You’d be like the local forest ranger of your snow critters.
For me, I would want to get into cross-country skiing, which is apparently also called Nordic skiing. It seems like a great way to get around. Minneapolis is pretty flat, so there’s not as many opportunities for downhill skiing or snowboarding which I’ve had more experience with. I’ve never been very good at cross-country skiing. But it was pretty cool, when we were on a lot of the bike paths (Minneapolis has some excellent, wide greenways around the city that are great for biking), we also saw people do other fun stuff like practice cross-country skiing! Like they were on long skates, with ski poles. You get the sense that in the winter time, there’s a lot of options for being able to do that, the lakes all freeze over and there’s of course so many lakes across the city and across Minnesota. It seems like it’d be a great opportunity to get out. It’s both practical, you can actually go places with cross-country skiing, but also it’s a great way to stay in shape and stay warm.
So, I think cross country skiing would be pretty cool and then, you know, obviously you’re gonna need all those supplies for the snow critters that you want to create. So I can go forage, you know, acorns or carrots for your snowman’s nose or something.
Q3. We experienced several modes of transportation here — biking, walking, hiking, driving, Lyfting. What was your favorite 1-hour journey, across all those modes of transportation?
Paul: I think my favorite was the day we went about 45 minutes out of town to the apple orchard by Buffalo, MN, to go apple picking. The orchard itself was really nice. There was also a pumpkin patch, with real pumpkins growing out of the ground. There was this yellow wooded forest, that if you close your eyes and picture autumn, that is exactly the kind of forest that you would picture. Leaves crunching underneath our feet as we were walking through. A wagon giving people hayrides. Chickens running around, and cute little baby goats. It all felt sort of romantic, and for me, it gave me the nostalgia of fall. I haven’t really had a real fall for a while, so that was super, super cool.
Annie: I very much loved that journey as well. The one hour journey I ended up picking is our bike ride around the Chain of Lakes, which our Airbnb was really close to. It’s this area with a bunch of large lakes all very close to each other. The city has created incredible biking and walking infrastructure around that entire area, to make it really easy for you to enjoy those lakes. One thing I haven’t seen in a lot of other places that Minneapolis does around the Chain of Lakes, is they have separate lanes for people who are walking and people who are biking, which is really great. Whatever activity you’re doing, you’ve got a lot of space to do it, you’re not competing with a ton of people going at very different speeds. The lakes, and the infrastructure, are just all so beautiful.
Q4. What was one unexpected way in which Minneapolis was similar to another city you’ve lived in?
Annie: I would have to go with how similar it feels to Portland when it comes to accessibility. In both Minneapolis and Portland, it feels like you can get to so much of the city within 20, maybe 30, minutes of biking, and obviously less if you drive. Partly for that reason, they both feel like sizable cities with a lot going on but also still on the smaller side, compared to obviously LA, New York, etc, but even Denver to some extent. I love that about them. What about you?
Paul: Interesting. Yeah, I felt that too. I felt like there were a lot of similarities between Minneapolis and Portland: bikeability, outdoor culture. I think we even heard some people refer to Minneapolis as “mini Portland.”
One similarity that I found a bit surprising, was how Minneapolis actually reminded me of Los Angeles in some interesting ways. Right near our Airbnb, there was this coffeeshop slash record store slash film development center. Like all in one location. That felt like it could have been on Sunset Boulevard. It felt right out of Silver Lake, like the total creative hipster vibe. Of course dressed more warmly than typical Southern California folks, but the vibes were strikingly similar to me. In the same way, there’s a pretty strong creative community in Minneapolis that reminded me of living in LA. Big music scene and strong theater scene in Minneapolis and obviously, you know, a lot of aspiring actors in Los Angeles too. So a lot of creative folks in both cities, and also the semi hipsterness. There’s a lot of dive bars that feel like could very much be in Echo Park, and remind me of parts of East LA that I’m very fond of.
Q5. Minneapolis was such a surprise of a gem. It was not originally on our list at all. And we had a great time in Wisconsin and places just outside MPLS too. How has this whole trip (not just Minneapolis, but all the cities) changed the way you think about what you value or need in a place to live?
Paul: Yeah, I feel like this is such a a big question that we have been and should be constantly thinking about.
Being exposed to a lot of different cities has really, I think, shone a spotlight on what’s unique and what’s not. Every city that we’ve gone to has actually had really good food, really cool parts of town, and some super walkable neighborhoods. Something that I thought was maybe unique to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, etc — for example good food, or awesome parks — seems to actually exist in a lot of cities.
That has illustrated to me that, almost more important than which city you are in, which neighborhood in the city you’re in probably actually has a greater influence on how much enjoyment you’re getting. I think different cities are maybe going to have different scale and quantity of cool things, like Portland maybe has like 100 awesome restaurants that you could eat at, and maybe another city would only have like 50. But unless you’re eating out every single night or something, I don’t know if that ultimately is a thing that’s gonna define your experience with the city. It’s much more important to live in a neighborhood that matches your preferences.
And then, a component that you realize can’t be easily replicated in different cities, is community and the the people that you’re surrounded by. In Minneapolis I got to go out one night for drinks with a friend of a friend who’s lived in the Twin Cities for a while (hey Nick, if you’re reading this, what’s up?), and that was super cool. But real community is so hard to create in a month’s time. So that’s still kind of an unknown for us for all the cities on our trip. It’s also really made me feel just how important friends and family are — you know, people you can just be comforted around, and how much that really contributes to my well-being. All the cities we’ve been to have checked the boxes in terms of having really tasty foods, walkable neighborhoods, etc. But something we can’t really get a good sense of in a month, is are the people here our kinds of people? It’s also just made me miss community. Miss my friends, miss my family.
Annie: Yeah, that’s such a good point. Community has been one of our biggest criteria on this trip, yet it’s so hard to assess in any deep way in a month’s time. In a month we’re not exactly going to be, like, joining clubs or whatever to make friends, and we’re probably not gonna be regulars at any one place because we want to try a lot of different places. Except for the CC Club, which you went to four times and I went to three times during our month in Minneapolis, because it’s just the best dive bar ever?
All right, so for this question, I wrote down a few things. First, I think most of the criteria that we had going into this still feel important: walkability, bikeability, access to nature, progressive values… all those things still feel important and I think we’ve been able to live in places that meet those criteria and we’ve really enjoyed those aspects of it.
I think one thing that’s unexpected for me, that’s changed my views a bit, is that a lot more places than I thought are really cool? I think there’s sometimes this view that suburbs are boring, and only cities are cool, and to have the things we want, we have to live in a big-ish city. And I think this trip has made me question that to some extent.
I mean, there are certainly boring suburbs, that are not walkable, not bikeable, not diverse. However, I think on this trip, we’ve also been to quite a few “suburbs” that were really, really cool and actually meet a lot of our criteria. We stayed one night in Shorewood — just outside Milwaukee — with my friends Amanda and Alex. Big shoutout to them, and their son Oliver, who were so kind to host us and even give us a tour of Milwaukee! Shorewood is technically a suburb, but their house was less than a 10 minute walk to this really vibrant commercial strip that has a bunch of restaurants, coffeeshops, bars, an Orange Theory, a grocery store, a flower shop, a haircutting place. Basically everything you would need is very walkable actually. So it’s really cool by itself and also very close to Milwaukee, so if there’s something that only the “city” has, you can still access it fairly easily.
I also got to spend one evening in Stillwater, just outside St. Paul, to get dinner with a coworker. And I definitely previously thought it was a boring, sleepy suburb. But the place we got dinner was in their historic waterfront area, and it was so vibrant, so walkable, right by the St. Croix River, and they’ve done a lot to set up the area so people can enjoy the river. And if you want to go to a play or something that’s only in Minneapolis, it’s not that far by car.
So, suddenly, the places that might fit our criteria have expanded a ton, right? It’s not just the cities themselves. Some smaller suburbs or towns near cities might fit our criteria too. Like, should we consider not only Denver, but also Fort Collins? Of course what’s funny about this being a new revelation is that we literally lived in Oakland, and I had lived in Berkeley previously, and both of them are arguably in exactly this category: “suburbs” that people don’t talk as much about, but that are very cool, walkable, bikeable places themselves, with easy access to the “city.” Some of these suburbs can be cheaper and safer, might have better school districts, etc. So it just opens up a lot of new places that I didn’t really give a fair shot of consideration to before.
And finally… our five favorite restaurants in Minneapolis (with one that’s technically in St. Paul) — jointly decided!
In no particular order:
- Owamni by The Sioux Chef: Beautiful restaurant featuring indigenous food and using only native North American agricultural products (so no beef, dairy, cane sugar, etc). Their sweet potato dish is a must-try: it’s an enormous mountain of slightly-spicy, unforgettable goodness.
- Matt’s Bar: One of the two places in MPLS (the other one being the 5–8 Club) to claim to have invented the Jucy Lucy burger. We went to and liked both places. 5–8 Club is a bigger, brighter, more modern place with a larger menu (including a few creative Jucy Lucy variations). Matt’s Bar is a small, crowded, old-school dive bar whose food menu pretty much consists of just the original Jucy Lucy and fries, which made for a more unique (even if less comfortable) experience in our opinion. Also Barack Obama decided to eat at Matt’s Bar, and we’re not about to argue with Obama.
- Sooki & Mimi: Korean-Mexican fusion. I didn’t even know mushroom tacos could be good, but they are so, so so good here. Pricey for the quantity but absolutely worth it for the quality. They also have a somewhat hidden, underground speakeasy that’s open on weekends, with fantastic cocktails and vibes.
- Spoon & Stable: Fancier restaurant in a former horse stable (hence the name). We had oysters, duck, and scallops, and every dish was so satisfying.
- La Grolla (St. Paul): Small-ish Italian place that was absolutely poppin’ on a Saturday night (we had to wait over 30 minutes beyond our reservation time). Some of the very best fresh pastas we’ve ever had, in a dimly-lit romantic setting.
- [Joint honorable mention] Taste of East African: That this place has an unclaimed Yelp page, no working website, but a 4.8 Google user review should give you a good picture of the type of joint it is: ultra casual, family run, unassuming, and delicious. They serve authentic East African dishes in huge portions and great prices. I’ve not eaten rice with raisins on top very often, and now I want to put raisins on my rice all the time?
- [Paul’s honorable mention] moto-i: Hip Japanese restaurant that also brews their own sake and shows sumo wrestling matches on their TVs (and organizes fantasy sumo leagues, which I am SO tempted to partake in). We loved their house-made steam buns and delicious sake drinks.
- [Annie’s honorable mention] French Meadow: Spacious bakery and brunch spot near the Uptown neighborhood. Nothing too fancy, but won me over with their relaxing interior, bottomless coffee, and excellent French-inspired breakfast dishes.