Minneapolis isn't exactly a scenic wonderland. To the rest of the world, we're just the hub of another flyover state - and a frigid one, at that.
But our city has a lot to offer. Whether you grew up here or just relocated to our soon-to-be frozen tundra, you probably haven't seen all the sights. The Twin Cities always surprises with new gems and forgotten treasures.
No matter how cold it gets, trust me, these Minneapolis-area finds will make you want to rush out the door.
Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden
Putt your way through a life-sized chess board. Climb aboard a weathered old boat. And while you're tallying up the final score, stop and pet the friendly goats. (Yes, you read that right, goats.)
Can Can Wonderland
Judging by the name alone, you're in for a treat. And you really will feel like Alice descending into a rabbit hole. There's something here for everyone: a vintage arcade, mouth-watering eats, mind-blowing mini golf, creative cocktails, eccentric performances, spontaneous dance parties, live trivia, a photo booth and so much more.
The ambiance alone is worth the hassle of finding it. Hint: You'll feel like you're entering the bowels of an industrial complex - which, you are. The place occupies the basement of a manufacturing plant where tin cans once tumbled off the assembly line (hence the name). It's weird, funky, and, best of all, fun.
Mill Ruins Park
Where: Gateway District/Downtown East
Downtown Minneapolis is an eclectic blend of old and new, traditional and modern. Nowhere is that juxtaposition more evident than Mill Ruins Park. Sandwiched between the historic Stone Arch Bridge and the Guthrie Theater, this picturesque park was built amongst the ruins of old flour mills. It's a slice of the past in the heart of the city.
The Salt Cave
Forget nail salons. Forget spas. This fall, when you need some me-time, check out this salt cave. The salt is supposed to have therapeutic properties - not to mention a calming effect. You can even come in for a yoga class, guided meditation or massage. Sign me up!
Gopher Munitions Plant
It might look like the fading ruins of some lost civilization - or an extraterrestrial graveyard - but it's actually a former WWII munitions plant. It's a lonely, desolate place...and it likely won't be around for long. The vast acreage that surrounds the site is slated for development.
Wild Rumpus Book Store
Where: Linden Hills
Ever feel like reliving your childhood? This fantastical hideaway is the dream of every reader who's young at heart. It's also the dream of every animal lover. If you enjoy cozying up with a cat in your lap and a good book, you'll love it here.
The store is home to more than just literature. There's a menagerie of resident furry friends: cats, ferrets, doves, mice, a chicken and a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson. (While the cats are free to wander among the aisles, fortunately, the tarantula is not.)
Most people don't associate Minneapolis with gorgeous waterfalls. And, if they do, they think only of Minnehaha Falls - where you'll battle crowds year-round to capture the same photo as a million other Instagram users.
Make the trek to Fairy Falls, though, and you'll come away with a one-of-a-kind shot. Located off the beaten path in Stillwater, a half-hour drive east of Minneapolis, it's one of the Twin Cities' best-kept secrets. Just beware: it's hard to find, and it'll be a long, steep trek through mud and water to get to the prize.
Temple Of ECK
Is that an ancient Egyptian pyramid rising out of the prairie? Not quite... but it is a modern-day temple of Eckenar, a Dharma-esque new religious movement.
With its dazzling gilded sanctuary, it's well worth a pitstop if you're looking for something out of the ordinary. The building is open to the public for regularly scheduled tours. And a nature trail winds through the grounds - the perfect place for a contemplative stroll with your significant other.
Where: Falcon Heights
Have a hankering to see a life-size woolly mammoth up close? How about musk ox? Or a flock of sandhill cranes posed, life-like, against a stunning prairie backdrop?
Recently reopened (and revamped) at the U of M's St. Paul campus, the Bell Museum is an indoor refuge for exploring the wonders of wildlife, from butterflies to behemoths. Did I mention there's a planetarium, too? 'Nuff said.
Stillwater Ice Castle
Where: Lowell Park
I promise, this place does exist - but only during the winter months. When the temps plummet below zero, poof! This magical marvel springs up on the banks of the St. Croix River. With shimmering towers of icicles that mushroom into 20-foot-high walls, it's awe-inspiring in the daylight. But it's even better at night, when colorful lights illuminate the icy sheen with an other-worldly glow.
It's a spectacular spot for a romantic night out with your boyfriend. You can explore the nooks, caves and crannies, take a tandem ride through the ice-lined sledding track and share a hot cocoa in front of the fountain. Or grab a friend and strike your best Vogue pose for an Instagram photo that's sure to rack up the likes.
Loring Pasta Bar
An oldie-but-a-goodie, this Dinkeytown mainstay is in a realm of its own. Step inside under the 1950s "Drug Store" lettering, and you're entering another era. Beyond just a historic building (Bob Dylan once lived here!), the Loring is a restaurant, bar, nightclub, concert venue, dance hall (with twice-weekly salsa nights) and event center.
The ambiance is difficult to pin down. Look up, and you'll think you're in the vaulted loft of an old industrial warehouse. Look around, and you'll find yourself in a medieval Bavarian castle, a midwestern Moulin Rouge, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and a Prohibition-era speakeasy right out of The Great Gatsby. Oh - and when it's time to touch up your lipstick, you'll get to experience what I can guarantee are the most amazing bathrooms you've ever seen.
Abandoned Insane Asylum
Technically, it's called the Anoka State Hospital, but that sounds a lot less exciting than an abandoned insane asylum. A century ago, it housed hundreds of tormented souls who endured electroshock, straight jackets and restraints.
Dozens of those patients are buried on-site. So it's no surprise that ghost stories and spooky sightings abound. You can't get into the asylum (or the maze of tunnels that run beneath the complex), but you can meander along the Rum River Trail that runs right by it... if you dare.
Lake Harriet Bandshell
Where: Southwest Minneapolis
When you wish upon a star, and your Prince Charming is waiting for you, and all your dreams come true, and.... okay, so it's not the Cinderella Castle. But when you're a 3-hour, $300 flight from both Disneys, it'll do.
So when you need an excuse to turn off Netflix and get off the couch, go explore the bandshell and surrounding activities. Bring your bike and hit the trails. Or catch a concert, grab a bite to eat at the Bread and Pickle pavilion, and pause to envy the fleet of yachts and catamarans anchored offshore.
Minnehaha Falls In The Winter
Yes, it's iconic. Yes, it's always crowded. And yes, it's not exactly a hidden gem. But it's certainly out of this world - especially in the winter, when the falls freeze into an icy curtain.
When you need an uplifting sight to brighten your day during the long, dark cold, you can't go wrong here. Just make sure you bundle up!
Walker Art Center
Where: Lowry Hill
If you're looking for surreal, Walker won't disappoint. It specializes in the surreal. From an upside-down palm tree hanging from the ceiling to a ten-foot "scare-eye" bird-deterrent balloon, the exhibits are sure to make you go, "hmmmm."
You don't have to "get" everything to enjoy the experience. (Just don't admit that to your roommate who's majoring in Fine Arts with a concentration in avant-garde sculpture.) You'd be hard-pressed to find a better collection of modern art within a thousand miles.
Where: Uptown (East Harriet)
You probably don't have a suburban cemetery on your bucket list, but if you're looking for somewhere serene to kill some time (pardon the puns), this is your spot. It's quiet. Reflective. Peaceful. Exactly what a cemetery should be - for the living and the dead.
Demings Heights Elfhouse
Where: Deming Heights Park, NE Minneapolis
Another entry in the "let loose your inner child" category, this charming little treehouse captures the imaginations of young and old alike. Nobody knows how it got there or who maintains it. (Perhaps a local version of Leslie Knope?)
Bring your dog, bring your roommate, bring your girlfriend - and, if you're feeling generous, stash a keepsake for the next eager visitors to find.
Weisman Art Museum
Where: U of M Campus, East Bank
Chances are, if you've lived in Minneapolis for more than a minute, you know about this place. But that doesn't make it any less alien-looking. Perched on the East Bank, this architectural eye-catcher seems like something straight out of Star Wars.
And with the sun glinting on its tin turrets, it's sure to make you look twice - even if you've already seen it a thousand times.
This place might not look like much. But what's remarkable is how it sounds. The anechoic (read: "echoless") chamber in this South Minneapolis research facility has twice earned the Guinness Book of World Records for being the quietest indoor space on earth.
For some, that might sound like a vacation from the stress and noise of daily life. For others, it sounds like something out of a horror movie. Either way, it's worth checking out.
Where: Minneapolis and Saint Paul
Given our long, brutal winters, we Minnesotans spend a lot of time indoors. And that's evident in not only our state's most famous indoor landmark - the Mall of America - but also our two vast skyway systems.
These labyrinths are full of unexpected twists and beautiful turns. Just don't get lost in the 11-plus miles of walkways.
Ramsey County Courthouse
Where: St. Paul
Pictures don't do this place justice. (No pun intended.) Dark, foreboding, intimidating - it's everything a courthouse should be. And the focal point is a three-story-high onyx statue that looks like the distant cousin of the Easter Island maoi.
When you step into the atrium and look up at the mirrored ceiling, it's hard not to be awed. And all that gold and marble make for a fantastic photo op.