Seasonal Events, Minneapolis
Being a biggish city, Minneapolis has been home to many famous people but one of our most-loved denizens has never been seen - although we know where he lives. Along the walking path on the south shore of Lake Harriet, an elf named Thom has spent every summer since 1995 in his cabin the base of an ash tree. Self described as "taller than my younger brother and shorter than my older brother”, he and his wife and daughter reside behind the tiny door adorned with a lion’s head knocker.
How do we know this? Because children have been leaving mr. little guy, as he’s more commonly called, notes ever since that diminutive door first appeared, and he answers every single one; some 1,500-2,000 of them every season. Crayon-scrawled letters of greeting, of pint-sized curiosity, hopes, dreams and troubles - he says there are "many that can break even the strongest elf’s heart” - are responded to by name in wee envelopes, and typed in lower-case script as capitals are much too large for our elf. Replies are usually deposited behind the door but he'll post by mail as well if you include an address.
Grateful tots leave him gifts of toys, coins, stickers, drawings and other trinkets, and big people care for him as well. A small garden of lovingly tended flowers surrounds his doorstep, and the People For Parks charity contributed a (micro, of course) grant awhile back to have the tree inoculated against dreaded Emerald Ash Borers so that his cottage will be safe and sound for many summers to come. The city even proclaimed his birthday - August 15th - as Lake Harriet Elf Day in 2014.
During the colder months, Thom returns to his castle in the East but you’ll find him on holiday here in Minneapolis between Memorial Day and Labor Day so come and say hello. He’s often out fishing for minnows so it may take a few days for your note to be returned - he responds to friends of any age - but it will be, and signed, as always, “I believe in you.”
This is a weekend tradition for many Twin Cities locals! The Minneapolis Farmers Market on North Lyndale has been around since the 1800's but 'only' in its current location since 1937. Three open-air sheds house over 200 vendors of gorgeous produce, flowers, meats, fish and other good stuff. Across the street is the Minnesota Farmers Market Annex - a privately owned operation that's not part of the larger market but adds to the amount of variety that's available to browse. The differences between the two will be obvious: one is heavier on produce, and the other leans to wearables, imports, accessories and the like.
The larger market is open every day but I recommend this for a weekend when all of the vendors are there. During peak produce months the market draws 25,000 visitors every weekend so the earlier, the better! Die-hards arrive, market bags in hand, at the crack of dawn for first go at the goods and closest parking spots. Grab a cup of coffee and a warm pastry from one of the booths and wander the blooms, fruits and vegetables, local honey, roasted nuts, breads, tie-dyed shirts, Indian shawls, Mexican pottery, leather goods, preserves, spices, fruits, jerkies, cheeses and more. Live music, master-gardener talks or cooking demos might be on that day's calendar as well.
The market is open from mid-April to mid-November, 6:00 AM - 1:00 PM. The Annex opens around the end of April, from 6:30 AM - 1:30 PM, and closing time in the fall may depend on weather so check the website. Parking is free but will be a fight for a spot unless you're there very early or closer to closing. This is an inexpensive, fun morning for all two-legged family members but the 4-legged variety has to stay home - sorry. It's probably not a good place for those Humvee-sized strollers either as crowded aisles can get pretty tight.
Both websites have excellent directions and maps for getting there, parking, vendor lists, entertainment schedules and even a few recipes!
Every Christmas season the downtown Macy's has a holiday display for the tots in their 8th floor auditorium. Watch Santa's elves get ready for the big day with multiple vignettes and fun animatronics, and visit the Man In Red to make sure he knows you've been nice this year! The display itself is free - although there is a puppet show next door that requires tickets, and of course there is a gift shop too. Best times to avoid the lines is during the weekdays or first thing in the morning on weekends. This thing has been around for 50 years and is a tradition with Minneapolis families.
See the website for events at Macy's, although this one won't show up on their calendar until late in the fall.
Huzzah! We probably do the fest every 3-4 years and it's always a good time just hanging out with the wenches, rat catchers, lords, ladies and fooles on a sunny fall weekend. Ours is on every list of top U.S. Ren fairs, and it's also the 2nd oldest, an autumn tradition since 1971. Tickets are a bit pricey, the grounds can be really muddy after a heavy rain, and the bees (everywhere in early fall) are a damned nuisance but a few mugs of ale and a side-splitting session with Puke and Snot and you're good to go.
Your ticket gets you in the gate and covers most of the entertainment (stage shows, strolling acts, jousting, etc.) Every weekend has a different theme and some special performances/activities. Mostly, you come just to eat, drink and make merrie. And shop the arts and crafts booths. And eat. And drink. And make merrie some more. There are some games and children's activities (more on this in a separate tip) which involve few extra farthings but not many.
Crowds are mixed - families, seniors, young professionals, groupies in full Ren regalia; etc. - and certain of the stage shows may not be suitable for young ears but just like Shrek, most of the bawdier lines go right over the little darlings' heads. Don't worry, Mom, they'll warn you in advance if the content is truly R-rated.
Favorite performers: Puke and Snot (see pictures) and Zilch the Tory Steller; hilarious and wickedly bawdy.
Recommended buys: perfume from The Alchemist; fairy wings and for tiny girls; wooden swords for small boys; Bathtub Boats for tub lovers of all ages; hand-thrown or pewter-crafted ale steins/mugs for the big fellers.
Weekends from mid-August through last weekend in September.
Hours 9 AM - 7 PM. Tickets are a few dollars cheaper if purchased in advance. They also offer a Feast of Fantasy dinner, Pub Crawl and others special events for an additional fee: Reservations mandatory; check the website. Free parking (in grassy fields; be prepared to walk) and I'll strongly recommend getting there at the opening hour so you're not stuck way out in the back 40.
Tip: The faire grounds are in the far southwest suburbs so closest hotels would be in Shakopee, Chaska, Eden Prairie or Chanhassen.
Cities Sports Connection is the best place to start to play some co-ed sports like soccer, softball, volleyball, etc. Other than that, if you are down by the U of M, I'd look at Dinkeytown as your best place for college aged people, and uptown for post college.
Oh - buy a bike, and go to Hoigaards or Finn-Sisu to buy cross country skis and learn how to ski if you don't know how. There are plenty of clubs. There are lots of bike trails, and well over 125km of ski trails in the Twin Cities.
This is my very favorite of our summer festivals. Stone Arch Festival of the Arts is an annual 2-day event in June (Father's Day weekend) that's located on the riverfront in the St. Anthony Main district. This is walking distance across the river - via the historic Stone Arch Bridge - from downtown. The event includes live music, food, beer and wine gardens, an antique car show and works from around 250 artists. They do a nice job of selecting quality craftspeople so the jewelry, paintings, photography, ceramics and such is generally really good - not a lot of junk.
The other plus is the location: stretched along a nice green section of the river with fantastic views of the downtown skyline. There is a stretch of restaurants with outdoor patios along the street side, and you are only a couple of blocks from the bars and restaurants of the Northeast Minneapolis' Old St. Anthony Area on East Hennepin. The festival site also includes a section of Water Power Park, which is right on St. Anthony Falls. See the website for dates, hours, parking and other good stuff. Entrance and entertainment is free.
Related tips to this area (under my Minneapolis pages):
Off the Beaten Path: Nicollet Island, and One Great Walk on the Riverfront
Nightlife: Best Pubcrawl without a Car
Things to do: Historic Riverfront, and St. Anthony Main
This is Minneapolis' biggest and best of the summer art fairs. It's been an institution since 1964 and the primary revenue-raiser for civic projects in the Uptown community. With around 450 exhibitors, it's an art-lover's heaven encompassing every medium you can think of - clay, paint, metal, fiber, wood, film and more. What you won't find is a crocheted cover for your toaster. Nope. This is a carefully juried exhibition/sale and one of the top ten fine art festivals in the US.
Even if you can't afford that drop-dead gorgeous raku vase, it's fun just to cruise the booths and drool. There are also vendors for food and drink, some free sampling, and Uptown bars, coffeeshops and restaurants are just steps away.
It's FREE, usually the first weekend in August (Fri - Sun) and an outdoor event so it can be VERY hot and VERY crowded (attendance runs around 300,000). Bring sunsceen and wear cool, comfortable clothes! Try to be there first thing in the morning, even before opening hours, for best parking (side street or maybe the Calhoun Square ramp) and avoiding the worst of the masses. This is also not a good event for kids so give it a skip if you have wee ones along - they'd be bored and unhappy.
Midwest Mountaineering is the coolest place to buy your climbing/backpacking/kayaking gear in the Twin Cities. Twice every year (late in April and early November) they hold their Outdoor Expo. It's a terrific sale (and I mean terrific) and there are all sorts of exhibits from preservation groups, camp food producers, new products and big names in the best gear (Suunto, Bell Canoes, etc.)
Last year I went every day Thursday through Sunday. I saw slide shows from NOLS and treks to Patagonia. I bought some now beloved gear too. EVERYONE will be there! It's like VT--even when I'm not travelling, I can dream!
Today I'll go to the canoe and kayak demo then I'll go to the store for the Preferred Customer Sale for some kayak accessories. It's time for a new boat! And I've got a new car so I'll be getting a roofrack to carry it all home! I'll go Saturday too. And maybe Sunday....
Once a year from about Aug 20 to Labor Day, the Minnesota State fair takes place at the fairgrounds straddling Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's renowned (perhaps infamous) for the wide selection of food.....most of it being on a stick. Some of it is over the top (ie deep fried candy bars, on a stick) but others are really pretty good. It's a good place to people watch, nightly entertainment is available, and there's also a mini-amusement park set up as well.
Where else can you see a life-sized sculpture of a person made out of butter???
Ahhh...nothing says "summer" like visiting the farmer's market in Minneapolis. It occurs on the weekends until about 1pm. There you can sample the area's vegetables, fruits, fresh flowers, eat roasted corn on the cob, hot grilled bratwurst, and sip freshly squeezed lemonade.
The Gasthaus is a german restaraunt in northeast Minneapolis. Three times a year they place a big tent out in their parking lot, add a polka band, some sausage, struedel, a beer truck with real german beer, and then fill it up with people of all ages.
Each event corresponds to a german fest, so there's SpringFest, SummerFest, and OctoberFest. The night revolves around beer, toasts, the kaiser, singing, dancing, apple liquor, and more beer. You can't lose when the door prizes are glasses of beer, and the big prize is the boot.
A Yearly event in August & September. Everyone is dressed in period costumes & are very much in character. The comedy team of 'Puke & Snott' are a yearly favorite. The also have jousting tournaments...a fun different thing to do