If getting out of town isn't an option this summer, try treating Minneapolis and St. Paul like the tourism destinations they are and go exploring with the help of professionals, staycation style. These tours could be just what you need to look at the metropolis you call home with fresh eyes. Here's how to learn, eat, drink, float and ride your way through the Twin Cities — just like a tourist.
Minnesota Historical Society
A full docket of history-focused tours takes you behind the scenes. On the Hennepin Island Hydropower Tour, peer inside Xcel Energy's hydroelectric plant to learn how Minneapolis owes its formation to St. Anthony Falls, which powered the city's earliest sawmills and flour mills, and later became a source of electricity.
Other historic tours by the society stroll past the mansions of Summit Avenue in St. Paul (weekly), illuminate a murder mystery at Fort Snelling (July 2), delve into Minneapolis' railroad history (monthly, next up July 2), and get to know diverse Cedar-Riverside (monthly, next up June 27).
More learning tours:
On the West Bank of the Mississippi River, the National Park Service leads daily tours out onto the walls of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. Free. nps.gov/miss
Every day, there are guided tours of the newly renovated Minnesota State Capitol, marble dome and all. Construction-permitting, you can even get onto the roof. Free. mnhs.org/capitol/activities/tours
Advocacy group Preserve Minneapolis hosts occasional guided tours of Minneapolis neighborhoods. Coming up: Go behind the scenes of the Basilica of St. Mary (July 11); learn about black history on 38th Street (July 25); peek inside Uptown's historic movie theaters (Aug. 26). $10. preserveminneapolis.org
The St. Paul Gangster Tour kicks off at the Wabasha Street Caves and visits gangster haunts and hideouts by bus throughout the city. Actors play the roles of some famous mobsters. Weekends, $27. wabashastreetcaves.com
Taste Twin Cities
Minneapolis' skyways might not seem like a culinary hotspot, but the weekly Heart of Minneapolis tour reveals the history baked into these eateries. Knowledgeable guides touch on everything from architecture and craft brewing to mob ties at a seemingly innocent candy shop. (In winter, the tour is led via skyway.) Food stops include Rockbottom Brewery, Candyland and Angel Food Bakery, among others. If you just rush in and out of the city for work, this is a chance to take a surprisingly illuminating bite of old Minneapolis. There also are tours of downtown St. Paul, the Minneapolis riverfront, and chocolate- or pizza-themed tours.
More food tours:
Twin Cities Food Tours offers a stroll around northeast Minneapolis, with stops at Kramarczuk's Deli, Gorkha Palace and Punch Pizza, among others. Thu.-Sat., $48. Another of their tours visits St. Paul's Cathedral Hill, stopping at Moscow on the Hill and Red Cow. Saturdays, $55. twincitiesfoodtours.com
This Thu.-Sun. bus tour rotates through the breweries of the Twin Cities. Ask all your beer-making questions at the first stop, northeast Minneapolis' new 56 Brewing taproom, then visit three more breweries (the lineup changes every day). The 45-minute stops give you time for plentiful samples, and maybe a round of Jenga. Most of the big-name breweries are on the roster, but the tour offers a chance to try some lesser-known, or newer taprooms, like Utepils and HeadFlyer. Electric trolleys (made from salvaged Tesla parts) will debut in July.
More drink tours:
The Minnesota Historical Society hosts a monthly St. Paul Brewing History bus tour, with stops at the Schmidt Brewery Complex, Flat Earth Brewing and Summit Brewing. Next up July 8. $50. Another monthly tour this summer, Bars, Bootleggers and Booze, examines Minnesota's drinking history with visits to distilleries and cocktail bars. Next up July 1, $50. mnhs.org
Get Knit Events has occasional social events that incorporate drinking, such as a St. Croix River canoe trip with stops at wineries (later this summer) and a bus tour of Central Minnesota's breweries (June 24 and Aug. 19). Prices vary. getknitevents.com
Bitter Minnesota hits up three different craft breweries by bus daily. $75. bitterminnesotabrewerytours.com. When fall comes, Taste Twin Cities kicks off its weekend winery tours. Sample from the vineyards around Lake Waconia or through the St. Croix River Valley. (Select weekends starting in September.) $85. bitterminnesotabrewerytours.com
With a river slicing through the Twin Cities and lakes in every neighborhood, there are plenty of public cruises, but most tend toward drinks or dinner affairs. For a more serious float, consider the Paddleford's 90-minute afternoon cruises on the St. Paul portion of the Mississippi, which includes a short, recorded history lesson on some of the city's sights, industries and settlements. (Some of the recording is done in a Mark Twain-style accent, so expect to hear all about the "Mississeppeh Rivah.") Sightseeing tours are offered twice daily, $18. The company also runs margarita cruises, sunset dinners and other themed meals, $30-$50. riverrides.com
More water tours:
The captain of the Lady of the Lake narrates two-hour cruises on Lake Minnetonka, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, plus holidays, $14. ladyofthelakecruise.com
Above the Falls Sports puts people on the river and lets them do the work themselves. Their kayak tours slink down the Mississippi from Coon Rapids to Minneapolis, glide down to Minnehaha Falls, or paddle around the landmarks above St. Anthony Falls. $45-$95. abovethefallssports.com
Minnesota Adventure Co. also offers kayak tours. Try the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnehaha Creek or the St. Croix River's Hudson Bay at sunset. $60. minnesotaadventureco.com
Minneapolis By Bike
Health-conscious travelers (or those wanting to cover lots of ground) can roll their way through Minneapolis. A quickie City Loop tour hits the highlights of downtown Minneapolis and the Mill City area in less than two hours. (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, $40.) Those with more time can cover the same ground but make food and touring stops on the Historic Tour (Monday, Thursday, Sunday, $50). On Saturdays in the summer, take the Greenway on your way between two markets to pick up fresh food ($50), or visit three taprooms on two wheels ($65). minneapolisbybike.com
More tours on wheels:
Zoom around on the Magical History Tour, a daily Segway tour along Minneapolis' waterfront. Or roll through the North Loop, St. Paul's Cathedral Hill or Lowertown. $90. humanonastick.com
For a good old-fashioned bus tour, Gray Line will shuttle you around Minneapolis and St. Paul, from the Sculpture Garden to the Capitol. Mon.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., $38. grayline.com/tours/minneapolis