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Minnesota Travel Tips

4.0 stars

Insider advice for your Minnesota vacation


NOFXmike
Cabela's hunting and fishing store, Owatonna, Minnesota 3 stars
Cabela’s sporting goods store is all about hunting and fishing. In fact, when it was built in 1998 it was the largest store of its kind in the world. Celebrities and even kings have come to the store to shop. I know this because my mom was working there part time when it opened and I know the king of Jordan as well as celebrities like Garth Brooks would come and take over the store.

Today, Owatonna’s Cabela’s store (which, by the way, is in Medford, not Owatonna, no matter what the city of Owatonna wants to claim) is still a huge hunting and fishing store and extremely impressive, but there are a few others that are bigger now.

Even if you’re not interested in buying anything remotely close to what you would expect from a store like this, do your self a favor and stop into Cabela’s just for a walk around the store. They have mounted animals of all sorts from most continents all around the store, large aquariums, and it’s great for kids too. It’s almost like going to a zoo, except they’re all dead so you can get quite close.


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NOFXmike
Gluek's restaurant and bar, Minneapolis 3 stars
Gluek’s restaurant and bar is a German restaurant that claims to be the oldest restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. It also happens to have some of the best beer in Minnesota. The food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the location is perfect. Where is it, you ask? It’s located nearly right across the street from the Target Center. That also means it could be a good place for a meal before heading over to First Avenue, the 7th street entry, or the Target Center itself. The bar itself is huge (read: extremely long), unlike anything in Germany, but the beer could be straight from Bavaria with its taste. Gluek’s brew their own beer in the German tradition, and I recommend their dark.

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NOFXmike
Nicollet Mall, shopping street, Minneapolis 1 stars
The Nicollet Mall is a shopping street downtown Minneapolis. Although they call it a mall, I wouldn’t consider it a mall, it is a shopping street. As with most major cities, Minneapolis has tried to keep a thriving shopping area downtown with all the big names, and Nicollet Mall is it. For tourists, I would give the Nicollet Mall a miss; there are bigger fish to fry. However, during the summer if you just want to wander around randomly shopping this isn’t that bad of an idea. I particularly like the multi-floor barnes and noble store on Nicollet Mall. However, if you really want to go shopping in Minneapolis, the suburbs are where you want to head over to. Just barely out of Minneapolis to the south there is the world-famous Mall of America.

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NOFXmike
The Triple Rock Social Club, a bar and music Venue downtown Minneapolis 5 stars
I absolutely love this place. As far as music venues are concerned in Minneapolis, this is a newcomer. It is own and run by the singer/guitarist of the Minneapolis punk band Dillinger Four, from Fat Wreck Chords. He bought the bar several years before it became a music venue. Before he bought it, it was called Blondie’s, and was completely different as far as, well, everything. Since it is owned by a guy in a punk band, you’ll notice the jukebox is full of punk music. You may also notice 40’s of colt 45 double malt served as if they were champagne bottles in buckets of ice for extremely cheap prices compared to neighboring bars (as long as you stick to brands like Colt 45 that is). The Triple Rock also has all kinds of odd beers as well, since although it has a certain “punk-ness”, it also has an upscale side to it as well, punks from the suburbs can’t necessarily afford to go to the Triple Rock very often.

Back to the music venue side, the sound is great, the entry prices are low, and any band that has played there prefers it to the much more established clubs across the river. The Triple Rock is right on Cedar Avenue


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NOFXmike
The 7th Street Entry, Music venue in Minneapolis 5 stars
The 7th Street Entry is the name of a music venue and bar on, you guessed it, 7th street in downtown Minneapolis. It is the smaller brother of the infamous First Avenue, with just as many famous performers having done the Entry before they made it big. In fact, everyone from Bob Dylan to the Smashing Pumpkins has performed at the 7th street entry. I highly recommend going to a show at the Entry even on a night were you’re unsure about the band, the place just has character. When you picture a dirty, dingy club where the band WILL be heckled if they mess anything up, this is it. The bar prices are a tad high, but as long as you go with quantity over quality and stick to beer of labels you would normally never touch, you will be fine!

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NOFXmike
Target Center 2 stars
The Target Center is a basketball stadium and concert venue downtown Minneapolis. Since it was built as a basketball stadium and not a concert venue as far as the design, the sound leaves much to be desired. However, it is very easy to get to, with lots of parking ramps in the area and one even connected by a catwalk over the street. The cheapest option is usually one block up on 7th Street, above the “City Center Shopping Center.” From there, you can take a catwalk over to the building with the hard rock café, and then you just have to cross the street to the Target Center. I recommend this route as you won’t freeze to death, and it’s the cheapest and closest as far as parking.

After whatever event it is you went to, there is an Irish bar across the street, or of course there is First Avenue dance club if you want to get your drink on.


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NOFXmike
First Avenue, Dance club and Music Venue, Minneapolis 5 stars
First Avenue is a dance club and music venue which is an absolute landmark in Minneapolis. Literally every band who is anywhere has played First Avenue, in fact, most started out playing the side room, the 7th street entry, and then graduated to First Avenue. You might recognize the stage and interior from 1984’s Purple Rain. That was back when Prince owned the place, I’ve never seen the movie so I’m not sure how much it shows, but I know some of it was filmed at First Avenue.

If you want to go dancing or if you want to see a live band in Minneapolis, First Avenue is one of many clubs, but it has the most history and is right up there with CBGB’s as far as legendary status. I’ve had many a great time at First Avenue and although it’s not the greatest sound, it is still good, and although the bathrooms reek, well, that’s how a club should be, and although the drinks are overpriced, every bar downtown has that problem. I love First Avenue for all its faults, it is the club to beat.

It's located at the corner of 1st avenue and 7th street, directly across the street from the Target Center and the Hard Rock Cafe


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NOFXmike
Sugar Loaf, Winona, Minnesota 2 stars
Sugar Loaf is the name of an odd rock formation above the city of Winona, Minnesota. It was a result of quarrying in the 1880’s. Today the people of Winona see it as a landmark and is a quite popular place to hike up to if you are feeling adventurous. Although it is not very easy to get to, there are two main ways. You can hike up from the base, which is the hard route, or you can take the back way, parking in a residential area about half way up. The back way is by far the easiest, but by no means a simple hike for most people. If you have the proper equipment (I mean ropes and whatnot…) you can also climb to the very top of the Sugar Loaf, but I would only recommend that if you really do have the proper equipment. The views are already good at its base, overlooking the Mississippi River.


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NOFXmike
Garvin Heights, Winona, Minnesota 4 stars
Garvin Heights is a lookout point above the city of Winona. The best part about Garvin Heights, in my opinion, is unlike the other lookout points in the Winona area; you can drive nearly right up to it! OK, there is a 2 minute walk from the parking lot to where you will want to take your photos or have sex or whatever you intend to do up there, but it is very accessible to all. In fact, I’ve had biology class trips up there, I’ve brought parents there, and I’ve brought girl friends. All have loved it, because the views of the Mississippi river are stunning. Also, from Garvin’s vantage point you can see the various work that has been done to the Mississippi river since the 1930’s.

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NOFXmike
Brothers, a bar in Winona, MN 2 stars
Brothers is a college bar downtown Winona which caters to more or less the same clientele as all of the other downtown college bars in town. The bar itself is usually one of bars that people hop into for one drink and then move on as it is nearly right next to stingers, and across the street from Schydes drinksandwhatnot (yes, that is their proper name). Drink specials, like that of other local college bars are extremely good, although not typically quite as cheap as neighboring Stingers. Brothers has MUCH better bathrooms than their neighboring bars, however. Actually, I would say that is the best part about Brothers, their bathrooms. You may have to visit them if you go there.

Anyways, it’s not my favorite choice in Winona, but if you’re bar hopping, you’ll probably want to stop at Brothers as well.


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NOFXmike
Fountain Lake, Albert Lea, MN 3 stars
Fountain Lake is one of my favorite lakes anywhere. It is not the cleanest of lakes as it is right downtown and it has a major algae problem, but for boating or water skiing it is a wonderful lake. The fishing is not that great, but is the best in town. The beach is the best in town as well, but I would recommend going to the city pool instead as I mentioned the lake is not the cleanest. I would say the best part of the lake isn’t even being on the lake itself, it’s the drive around the lake. If you have time, even if you’re only in Albert Lea for a day, I would recommend driving around Fountain Lake. Much of the drive is on a small road where you drive very slowly, but that allows you to take it all in. Overall, I love Albert Lea Lake, but it is not for fisherman or people who love the beach.

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NOFXmike
Albert Lea Lake, Albert Lea, MN 1 stars
Albert Lea Lake is not the cleanest lake in Minnesota. Albert Lea Lake is not the best fishing in Minnesota (due to it not being clean). However, Albert Lea Lake is a nice pretty lake for a boat ride. The lake is located just downstream of the old Wilson’s packinghouse where for many years any waste from the plant was just dumped down stream and into the lake. Therefore, if you’re tempted and you see some kids swimming near the old landings for example, try to restrain yourself, there are much better swimming areas nearby. In fact, the other lake in Albert Lea, Fountain Lake, is much cleaner and kid friendly.

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NOFXmike
The Minnesota Zoo 5 stars
The Minnesota Zoo is possibly the best zoo I’ve ever been to. To put this in perspective, I’ve been to the Milwaukee Zoo, Komo Zoo (also in Minnesota), Munich Zoo (Germany), and Neumünster Zoo (Germany).

It is, by far, the most animal-friendly zoo that I have been to, meaning they make great efforts to insure that the animals are in as close to their natural habitat as possible. You won’t see monkey’s hanging on bars here. Whether you want to see tigers, dolphins, komodo dragons, wolverines, beavers, sharks, or grizzly bears, the Minnesota Zoo is probably a great day out for you in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.


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NOFXmike
Stingers, Bar in Winona, MN 3 stars
Stinger's is a college bar in every respect. If you’re spending a night in Winona and want to really get out and party, this is a good place to start. The beer is ridiculously cheap, the liquor is ridiculously cheap, the girls are ridiculously cheap, and the bathrooms are ridiculously disgusting. The jukebox usually has mostly pop or rock. The bar is nearly always packed between 11pm and 1am. Before that it’s usually at least half empty. I find the place a bit disgusting at times (especially as I said above, with the bathrooms, but also the floor anywhere…), but usually a good time. You can play pool or darts at Stingers as well, but it can be difficult with how busy it is there.

This bar used to be known as Bull's Eye, not much has changed to be honest.


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NOFXmike
Camp Maiden Rock East, Camping in Minnesota 3 stars
Camp Maiden Rock is near the town of Morristown, MN. The next decent size town is Faribault, which is something like 20 minutes away. Camp Maiden Rock offers mini golf, canoe rental for the very slow river that runs along it, bike rental, walking/biking trails in the woods, and a pool. I love this campground as the pool is nice, canoeing is cheap, and it’s reasonably priced. Also, it’s enough off the beaten path that you probably won’t meet many other non-Minnesotans while you’re there, which is a good feeling if you’re a tourist.

I’ve stayed at Camp Maiden Rock East many times and would recommend it to about anyone who enjoys camping. If you visit, say Mike in Munich said hello!


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NOFXmike
After Midnight, bar in Owatonna, MN 2 stars
After Midnight is one of the liveliest bars in Owatonna, MN. The main clientele are in their twenties and thirties and like rock or metal music. The near by bar called “The Office bar” used to have nearly the same clientele, but decided to change things a couple years ago and with that change they lost most of their customers. After Midnight became the new bar of choice for this clientele, though it looks like a dive to me. The drink prices are rather high for a dive bar, but it is right downtown near “the strip” in Owatonna, so it might be that is the reason they can justify it. Another reason they can justify it is that there really isn’t a cheap bar anywhere in the conservative fairly well off city that is Owatonna.

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NOFXmike
Casa Zamora, Restaurant in Albert Lea, MN 4 stars
Casa Zamora is a family owned small Mexican restaurant in Albert Lea, MN. Aside from the restaurant itself, Casa Zamora also operates a very popular stand at the Freeborn County fair, if you happen to be in the area in early August. The food is freshly made real Mexican and you can get anything from very bland to very spicy, but the emphasis here is freshly made, good service, and if you want you can order in Spanish.

I eat tons of Mexican food when I’m back home in the states, this is my favorite Mexican place in Albert Lea. Although I usually don’t go for tacos at most Mexican restaurants, at Casa Zamora I recommend three or four soft shell tacos with everything, extra hot.


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NOFXmike
Valley Fair Amusement park, Shakopee, MN 5 stars
ValleyFair is an amusement park in the same vein as Six Flags. In fact, it's the largest amusement park in the upper midwest. It's hard to decide which I like best, personally, Six Flags or Valleyfair...I've been to both about equally.

This is the type of place I would recommend for families if they're in the area and are looking for a fun day of rides, but it's also something I'd recommend for adults. If you love rollercoasters, even more so.

Valleyfair has several top-notch rollercoasters including the short-but-darn-fast-and-twisting "corksrew", the old-timer straight forward up-and-down ride "high roller" or maybe the "wild thing" with the longest stretch of negative-G track in the world.

Valleyfair also has a waterpark section, so bring your swimming suit, on a hot day the waterpark is much-loved!


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NOFXmike
Winona Disc Golf courses, Winona, Minnesota 4 stars
Winona disc golf courses, unlike a lot in the state, are used every day that it's possible to play, by hundreds of college students and other random residents. So much so, in fact, that a second course has been installed by St. Mary's University.

The first course in Winona is in a park next to the hospital on lake Winona. If you're driving into town from I-90, make a left hand turn just after the hospital, on the opposite side of the street as the Target.

The course itself is not too challenging, but quite relaxing with little chance of losing your discs. However, certainly on a couple holes there is a chance that if you're very impressive you can send your disc into the lake. Take note: you do NOT want to dive in and get it from this lake, you are also not supposed to eat ANYTHING that comes from the lake, it is not safe.
This course can also be quite windy with the wind coming directly off the lake.

As far as scenery, the course is excellent, being in the Mississippi valley with large bluffs on all sides.

The second course, on the St. Mary's University grounds, was set up in the last year and I have not yet been able to do a few rounds so I can't really comment, but it should be easy to find if you go to St. Mary's campus (just off of highway 14)


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NOFXmike
Winona, MN 5 stars
I'll write more about attractions, restaurants, and such about winona later, but I'd like to start off with just pointing out the city in the first place.

Winona is called "the island city" because it sorta is an island, but not really. Let me explain: Winona is located right on the Mississippi river about 1.5 hours south of St. Paul. The main channel of the Mississippi river used to flow on the west side of the city. During the 1930's, the lock and dam system made the river more navigatable for shipping, but it also moved the main channel to the opposite side of town. So where the main channel of the Mississippi used to be, now you have a few lakes and parks. So although it may have been an island at one time, now it's clearly connected by land to Minnesota, but certainly from above you can clearly see where the river once was. For a look at this, I recommend going up to the top of one of the many nearby bluffs.

The city is a college town with two main universities located there, Winona State University and St. Mary's.
The total year-round population is over 45,000. With students it is substantially more.


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