Ok folks it’s finally Spring, heck it’s down right Summer with the temps rising over the holiday weekend. If you’re like me, you want to take advantage of the nice weather and outdoor activities before we’re forced into early hibernation next winter. Too soon? I’ve been going down some serious rabbit holes lately about our country and the state of the world and decided I needed to lighten things a little bit. SO, what are people doing this summer? Festivals? Shows? Parks? Concerts? Fairs? I figured I’d try and find some cool things in the community that might be happening at an outdoor venue near you...maybe something off the beaten path (see what I did there?). So, after some research, social media inquiries and some discussions with friends…I found some fun summer alternatives to the usual pools and patios. *disclaimer, I’m still on the newer side of moving to the Twin Cities so if you already knew about any or all of these things, forgive my naiveté. Hopefully something on this list is new and inspiring to you.
Starting off with something I’m sure you all have heard of but it’s still worth mentioning because it’s free...and it’s everywhere, Music in the Parks has provided residents and families the opportunity to gather and enjoy local entertainment throughout the summer, I’ve only done this once but I packed a picnic and went with friends. It was lovely.
The Mill City Museum (a favorite Museum of mine and worth a visit in it’s own right), recently announced the lineup for its annual summer concert series, Mill City Live. Attendees will be able to enjoy outdoor concerts with local artists every Wednesday in August, starting at 6:00pm in the museum’s dramatic Ruin Courtyard. Who knew?
The Square Lake Film & Music Festival is a Minnesota premier independent and local film & music festival featuring live music performances and film viewing all held outdoors annually near Stillwater, Minnesota. Sometimes I forget about Stillwater, it’s only about a 25 minute drive but has fantastic food and drink and boundless activities year round. The summer calendar is stacked. (Also home to The Lift Bridge Brewery, grab a Farm Girl saison and stay awhile).
The West Bank neighborhood has been a haven for immigrants from all over the world and home to a thriving arts scene. I didn’t know you could actually take an official tour though! The West Bank walking tour, approximately a mile and a half long, visits some iconic watering holes and tour participants will hear from insiders that helped successfully resist urban renewal plans that threatened to destroy the character of the neighborhood. The legacy of welcoming newcomers and supporting the arts continues. Similarly, everyone is familiar with our very famous Walker Art Museum and Sculpture Garden, (Cherry and Spoon anyone?), but, did you know that just a little ways outside of the Cities The Franconia Sculpture Park is located in the scenic St. Croix River Valley. The Sculpture Park is a nonprofit arts organization operating a 43-acre outdoor sculpture park, active artist residency, and community arts programming. Check it out!
Like the aforementioned “music” The Movies in the Parks series, is a littler newer and was created to provide safe, fun and free entertainment to residents and park users. The movie series rotates daily among the neighborhood parks, and shows more than 60 movies with six different movie themes to choose from.
However, if you looking for straight up vintage summer film fun, Vali-Hi Drive-In is about as classic as you can find. The 50s-themed fun in the concessions area will make you feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of “American Graffiti.” The enormous screen waits until the sun goes down, so there is plenty of time to take advantage of the $1 hot dogs (every night), or set up a grill, kick back and do it tailgating style. Three movies are shown back to back, making it one of the best deals you’ll find. Stay for just one or all three! This is just plain awesome!.
It surprises many people that a professional theater company comprised of seasoned artists from all over the country draws thousands to this small Minnesotan town every summer, but once you visit, you’ll understand the magic of Winona. And although The Great River Shakespeare Festival performs inside (with air conditioning), they have plenty of free outdoor concerts and activities to partake in if you’d like to make a day of it. Speaking of the Bard, Shakespeare & Company is a classical repertory theatre performing at the Outdoor Theatre complex of Century College, West Campus where members of the community staff the company. The goal is to provide an environment where families can come and enjoy an informal picnic atmosphere and see performances of Shakespeare and other classical plays. If you plan ahead and miss the rush hour it’s a little closer than GRS and can definitely be done in an evening. Challenge your date night standards.
The St. Paul Saints are an American professional baseball team that play in lowertown Saint Paul. One of the winningest teams in Minnesota, some people come for the love of the game, but many come for the family friendly environment, crazy on field games and promotions, and of course the Saints highly regarded and award winning entertainment team. If you haven’t been to the new stadium, trust me it’s worth the trip. Go on a Friday night and you're guaranteed fireworks after the game. If you’re looking for a little more informal Sunday fun, The “G” stands for "goodtime!" I’m proud to be a part of the entertainment team and am now in my third season. The Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League (TCGSL) is celebrating its 40th season. I’ve played in this league but just found out it all started in 1979 with a friendly, competitive game between the Minneapolis police softball team and the state's first openly gay softball team. TCGSL affiliated teams travel from coast to coast to play in national tournaments, and even to participate in the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS). However you can usually find them playing multiple games on local fields on Sunday mornings and afternoons. They are committed to having fun, cultivating a culture of sportsmanship and supporting the LGBTA community.
Living in South Minneapolis I can regularly be seen walking around beautiful Lake Nokomis. Who doesn’t like a good hike around the lake. For a little change of scenery, Lebanon Hills Campground, Parks and Trails offers the best of both worlds—city close and country quiet. Just minutes from many popular Twin City destinations, this campground is surrounded by 2,000 acres of woods and lakes in beautiful Lebanon Hills Regional Park. If you more inclined towards water sports, Welch Mill offers twelve and five mile canoe and kayak trips for boaters of any experience level as well short or long tubing trips down the Cannon River. Shuttle service, life jackets, and paddles are included with all rentals and there is really NO better way to spend a hot lazy day. Stay hydrated, apply your sunscreen, and keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife.
Speaking of...trust me when I say, I’m a huge fan of both the Minnesota and Como Park Zoos (the later of which is free and is another go-to of mine), BUT I’ve been seeing a lot of other wildlife sanctuaries popping up on my FB news feed. There are wolves, among other animals, at The WildLife Science Center (WSC) and its mission is to serve as an educational resource by providing exposure to wild animals. In their mission they stress the importance of offering hands-on training to students, providing answers to questions on endangered species, and getting kids excited about science education. WSC is actively participating in the national and international efforts to conserve our natural resources. Honestly, I just want to play with the babies! A little further north, The National Eagle Center is a world-class interpretive center located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, MN, and works connecting people with eagles in nature, history, and cultures. They are home to non-releasable bald and golden eagles and you can experience these magnificent creatures up close...I might want to enjoy them from farther away. That’s up to you.
Oh my gosh you guys! There is a ton of things to do in our Cities and beyond during the summer. I honestly barely scratched the surface with these few examples, but if you’re like me, you’re always looking to try new things and explore. Thanks to all my Facebook friends and colleagues who helped with my research for this piece (you know who you are). It turns out that lots of people are looking for new things to do and it’s wonderful to get such excited feedback!
I’m excited to experience some more of our local culture and I hope you will to. Let me know if you end up trying any of these on the list, or send me your favorite place that I might have missed. I’m always up for a new adventure. So what are we waiting for!? Let’s all make like a “tree” and “leaf.”