Here in Minnesota, we like to think of the coming months as the "quality of life" time of year. But it's also a "quantity of life," as we cram the calendar with cookouts, fun and festivals. And visitors.
Friends and relatives who wouldn't dream of setting foot in the Twin Cities between November and May suddenly are streaming here like Swedes in the 1800s. Entertaining them becomes our responsibility, but entertaining ourselves in the process becomes a real challenge after the umpteenth loop around the Chain of Lakes. Even a trek to our newest treasure, Target Field, means having to watch the Twins play. Here's a novel idea: Take your guests where you would want to go, not the usual places you think they might want to go, such as the Mall of America, the zoos, the "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture. We've come up with five specialized tours full of unusual, unknown and surprising destinations for your guests -- and you.
Here are memorable landmarks from our mother lode of musical talent:
Obvious, yes, but too important to miss. Walk around the outside to read the painted stars, and check out the photos in the Depot area (701 1st Av. N., Mpls.).
The house where the Replacements posed for the "Let It Be" cover (2215 Bryant Av. S., Mpls.) isn't far from their favorite hangout, the CC Club (2600 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.).
Paisley Park, where Prince recorded and partied like it was 1999, is a decaying non-beauty, except for the mosque that he built there (7801 Audubon Rd., Chanhassen).
The Hold Steady has created an interactive Google map that highlights locales in Craig Finn songs, with links to more info (www.startribune.com/a410).
There's lots of Atmosphere here. Also recordings, clothing and specialty items for all the acts in the Twin Cities' vibrant hip-hop scene (2411 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.).
These works of art and architecture are sublime, ridiculous and in between, but all too rarely seen:
BIG STONE MINI-GOLF
Sculptures by Bruce Stillman, Heidi Hoy and others provide backdrops and obstacles on this striking mini-golf course (7100 County Rd. 110 W., Mound).
JAMES J. HILL REFERENCE LIBRARY
The exterior is impressive, and the interior stunning in this gem designed by architect Electus Litchfield. Beaux Art, indeed (80 W. 4th St., St. Paul).
NORTH ST. PAUL SNOWMAN
The world's largest stucco snowman used to be a conspicuous landmark, but a highway remodeling has obscured the decidedly Minnesotan icon (Hwy. 36 and Margaret St., North St. Paul).
There are 11 images of Minnesota flora and fauna, including loons and wild rice, along Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall between 4th & 13th Streets -- on manhole covers. Scavenger hunt, anyone? And in St. Paul neighborhoods, many sidewalks are festooned with verse, written by winners of an annual poetry contest and placed in newly paved surfaces. So keep an eye out, or find the spots on a map at www.startribune.com/a442.
Rumor has it that this Cathedral Hill mansion was the home of an undertaker seeking free advertising. Look for a coffin, or reasonable facsimile thereof, atop the roof (465 Summit Av., St. Paul).
There are no lights or cameras but still some action at these Twin Cities spots where films have been shot:
While many of the landmarks from the Coen brothers' beloved "Fargo" have been torn down, the parking ramp where Steve Buscemi bloodily collects his ransom money is next to the Minneapolis Club (8th Street and 3rd Avenue S., Mpls.). Coen fans will have better luck with sites from "A Serious Man," including B'Nai Emet Synagogue (3115 Ottawa Av. S., St. Louis Park) and Meshbesher & Spence law offices (1616 Park Av. S., Mpls.).
Mickey's Diner (36 W. 7th St., St. Paul) has played cameos in many films, including "Jingle All the Way," "The Mighty Ducks" and "A Prairie Home Companion."
The IDS Crystal Court (8th Street and Nicollet Mall) appears in the Prince film "Purple Rain," as well as the opening credits to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Speaking of good ol' Mare, visitors of a certain age wouldn't mind cruising past her iconic house from the classic CBS sitcom (2104 Kenwood Pkwy., Mpls.). Warning: It has been painted brown.
The deflated Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (between 4th and 5th Streets at Chicago Avenue S., Mpls.) was all puffed up and ready for action when they shot scenes for "Little Big League."
The indie pic "Factotum," starring Matt Dillon as a Charles Bukowski-like barfly, shot seedy scenes in downtown Minneapolis at Augie's Bar (424 Hennepin Av. S.), and the Fairmont Hotel (9 S. 9th St.), as well as at Palmer's Bar (500 Cedar Av. S.) on the West Bank.
Half-Time Rec (1013 Front Av., St. Paul) is one spot where Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were "Grumpy Old Men."
Have a visitor who likes to read? Book these capital sites in St. Paul:
John Sandford's popular St. Paul-set thrillers feature homicide detective Lucas Davenport. In "Invisible Prey," he kills a lunatic on the 160-foot High Bridge (Smith Avenue, spanning the Mississippi River).
F. Scott Fitzgerald finished "This Side of Paradise," his first novel, at his parents' home (599 Summit Av.) after Zelda temporarily dumped him. He hung out at W.A. Frost's (374 Selby Av.), not yet a full bar and restaurant, but a pharmacy.
Before he became a famous photographer and writer, Gordon Parks lived in a house on Old Rondo Avenue (now 702 Concordia Av.).
Playwright August Wilson wrote "Jitney" in less than two weeks while sitting in bars in his neighborhood, Cathedral Hill (between Dale Street and John Ireland Blvd., south of I-94).
Now that you're in the mood for a good read, stop by Garrison Keillor's store, Common Good Books (165 N. Western Av.), where the motto is, "Live local; read large."
As best we can tell, you won't find anything like these anywhere but in the Twin Cities:
It's the first -- and still the only -- sake brewpub outside Japan (2940 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.). Kampai!
MILL CITY MUSEUM
A museum about flour. Really. Not for the gluten-free crowd (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls.).
DONNY DIRK'S ZOMBIE DEN
This undead bar bills itself as "a rest stop for the wicked on the way to Hell" (2027 N. 2nd St., Mpls.).
Here’s minutiae for sights that visitors, and locals, inevitably ask about:
Prospect Park’s “Witch’s Hat” was built on the city’s highest point as a water tower and bandstand. Musicians had such a hard time carrying instruments up the spiral staircase that the first concert was the only one (55 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls.).
In 1986, a Black Forest Inn customer shot holes in a life-sized 1963 Richard Avedon photo of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The holes are still there (1 E. 26th St., Mpls.).
Built in the early 1940s, the Grain Belt sign on Nicollet Island remains dark because of the potential cost of lighting more than 1,000 incandescent lamps and 800 feet of neon tube (4 Island Av. W., Mpls.).
“Minne” the Lake Creature is the long-necked Loch Ness monster twin that is moved to different locales among the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Nokomis from summer to summer. Minne, who has taken up residence in Brownie Lake (just north of Cedar Lake) this season, is actually a sculpture by artist Cameron Gainer but looks real from a distance.
In Minnesota? Really?
Not what visitors would expect to find here:
The Twin Cities once were populated primarily by Scandinavians and Germans. But the culturally specific foods and crafts at Midtown Global Market (920 E. Lake St., Mpls.) and Hmongtown Marketplace (217 Como Av. at N. Marion St., St. Paul) make it clear that variety truly is the spice of life.
Tiny Tim spent his final years in the Twin Cities and died while performing at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. His remains are interred at Lakewood Cemetery’s Mausoleum (3600 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.). You can tiptoe through some amazing tombstones there, as well.
Yes, we grow grapes in the North, and they are quite tasty when fermented. St. Croix Vineyards makes more than a dozen wines (don’t miss the La Crescent) and has pretty vineyards, to boot (6428 Manning Av., Stillwater).
The Smitten Kitten (3010 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.) is an enlightened, sex-positive love-toy store that women enjoy as much, if not more, than men do. Where are we, San Francisco?
OK/not OK to laugh at
OK: The Mary Tyler Moore statue tossing a hat in the air in front of Macy’s on Nicollet Mall, and those garish “Peanuts” statues all over town. Not OK: The elegant F. Scott Fitzgerald statue in St. Paul’s Rice Park.
OK: The homely Target Center in Minneapolis. (We don’t have the heart to pick on the Metrodome; it’s convalescing.) Not OK: Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, one of the nation’s more attractive and well-designed arenas.
OK: That lovely, flat-voweled Minnesota accent. Not OK: When the accent is being demonstrated by Gov. Mark Dayton.
OK: The outré exteriors of art museums the Walker and the Weisman. Not OK: Crop art. What’s not to revere about a portrait of Prince made from seeds and corn kernels?
OK: Minnesota nice when it’s passive-aggressive. Not OK: Minnesota nice when it’s sincere.