Rich in history and surrounded by two rivers, naturally there are some great things to do in St. Paul, Minnesota. St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota and is a spaciously laid out city that’s built on terraces that formed above the mighty Mississippi River.
The city got its start in 1807 as a military post located at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Before long, the area became a major fur-trading center and a popular stop for riverboats.
As you can imagine, St. Paul has countless tourist attractions and fun things to do for families. From a children’s museum to an amazing zoo, from brewing your own beer to finding inner peace in a Chinese garden, there’s something for everyone in St. Paul. Let’s dive in and explore all of the great things to do in St. Paul, Minnesota.
1. Visit the Gorgeous State Capitol Buildings
The Minnesota State Capitol Building serves as the office space for the Governor of Minnesota and several other state officials. There are several collections displayed, including photo galleries, collections and libraries, and the Quadriga sculpture.
The capitol building has the world’s second-largest self-supported marble dome. You can take a free guided tour of the building.
2. Venture Undernealt the Capitol to a Restored German Cafe
Underneath the Minnesota Capitol building, there is a restored German dining hall called Rathskeller Cafe that is 115 years old. The tradition of the Rathskeller was brought to the U.S. by German immigrants to Minnesota, and the cafe was recently restored.
Note that the cafe is only open during legislative sessions.
3. Learn Some Crazy Medical History at the Museum of Quackery and Frauds
The Museum of Quackery and Medical Frauds is a type of museum within a museum because it’s located inside the Science Museum of Minnesota. Some of the crazy exhibits include a special machine that supposedly gauges personality by measuring the bumps on a person’s head.
The phrenology machine still functions, so you can actually get your own dose of medical quackery while at the museum.
You can also see soap products and glasses that were designed to help with weight loss. This museum is the world’s largest display of this type of stuff and is one of the best things to do in St. Paul, Minnesota.
4. Brew Some Beer at the Vine Park Brewing Co.
Visitors to the Vine Park Brewing Co. can brew their own craft beers. The company doesn’t cook up its own in-house craft beers. Instead, they rent out the mixers and fermenting machines to patrons, who can tape into the expertise of the owners to create their own root beer, wine, and beer.
After the beer has fermented (it takes about two weeks), customers return to the company to bottle up and enjoy their own hand-crafted beers.
5. Learn About Electricity and Dinosaurs at the Science Museum of Minnesota
The spacious Science Museum of Minnesota overlooks the Mississippi River. This museum offers a hands-on approach to learning about science and it was founded in 1907.
At the museum, you can find several different permanent and temporary exhibitions and collections, including a science education center for the public and an Imax Convertible Dome Omnitheater.
Another thing you can do at the Science Museum is learn more about mathematical sciences and the human body.
6. Take in the Beauty of the Cathedral of Saint Paul
Arguably the most famous structure and attraction in Saint Paul, Minnesota is the Cathedral of St. Paul. The gorgeous architecture of the cathedral attracts visitors from all over the world and the dome is made from copper.
In the cathedral, you can see artistically backlit figurative decorated glass, marble sculptures, and more. The cathedral combines elements of the Baroque, the Beaux-Arts, and the Gothic, and the interior even has an incredible bronze baldachin, along with several chapels.
7. Discover Lost Objects
In Saint Paul, you can see a huge assortment of unusual lost objects, including furniture, art, and other curiosities. The Center for Lost Objects is a gallery and open art studio that doubles as a curiosity shop. Because the center has tons of oddball items and unusual collectibles, it’s very popular with DIY enthusiasts and creatives.
Also, the center frequently hosts shops that feature pieces from local makers, artists, and collectors. Moreover, you can even take art classes at the center.
8. Unravel U.S. History at Fort Snelling
During your visit to Fort Snelling, you can see one of the oldest forts in the U.S. Situated along the southern banks of the Mississippi River, the fort was raised in the early part of the 1800s.
The site was later used to train Union troops for fighting in the Civil War. During World War II, the fort was a language learning center for soldiers and spies who were headed to the Pacific theatre.
Kids who visit the fort will enjoy the reenactments and period costumes that are on display.
To learn more about Fort Snelling, check out Fort Snelling: An Important Point of Minnesota History.
The James J. Hill House is sometimes called “Minnesota’s Downton Abbey.” The largest home in Saint Paul is 36,000 square feet of grandeur that was built for the family of James J. Hill, a railroad titan.
The house staff offers guided tours, where you can learn about Hill’s influence on the area, as well as learn more about his servants, family, and famous guests.
The house is full of authentic details like stained glass, hand-carved woodwork, and chandeliers. With 22 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, 16 chandeliers, a 100-feet-long reception hall, and skylit art galleries, this house has things most of us have never seen before.
Special events include an annual Holidays on the Hill, where you can experience Christmas as it was in 1910. Children can take singing and etiquette lessons.
10. Landmark Center
At Saint Paul’s Landmark Center, you can tour an old post office and visit a history center. Various cultural events take place at the center, from plays, music, public forums, and exhibitions.
Landmark Center also has permanent art exhibits, as well as rotating temporary exhibits. On the second floor, you can visit the Schubert Club Music Museum, a 4500-square-foot museum where you can discover, explore, and create music with instruments from all over the world.
11. Take the Kids to the Minnesota Children’s Museum
The Minnesota Children’s Museum opened in 1982, and since then, the museum has been contributing to the cognitive growth of children who visit. Forbes has rated the Minnesota Children’s Museum as one of the finest in the U.S.
Popular activities at the museum include Shipwreck Adventures and Storyland which are fun things to do in St. Paul for kids of all ages.
12. Explore the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
If you’re looking for an amazing free attraction in Saint Paul, you don’t want to miss the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. The zoo has man-made replicas of lots of different wild animals, from fiberglass giraffe replicas to bronze gorilla statues.
At the zoo, you can see animals like the arctic fox, bison, cougars, giraffes, a green anaconda, seals, kudus, lemurs, lions, penguins, polar bears, sloths, snow leopards, wolves, and more.
While there, you can also enjoy the variety of gardens where unique things are grown year-round in half an acre. Gardens include the Centennial Garden, a special bonsai collection, the Enchanted Garden, the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden, Minnesota and Circle Gardens, a sunken garden, and more.
13. Walk Through the Wabasha Street Caves
Next on our list of best things to do in St. Paul is a walk through the Wabasha Street Caves. If you’re looking for a tour of a place that has been home to gangsters, a speakeasy, mushrooms, and a disco, you don’t want to miss the Wabasha Street Caves.
The caves were formed beneath a large plateau near downtown Saint Paul and were once homes to indigenous tribes in the area.
It was a French family in the early part of the 1900s who planted a mushroom farm inside the caves. The same family later turned the caves into a speakeasy during Prohibition. There was even reportedly a mob killing in the caves. In the 1970s, the caves became a disco.
14. See the F. Scott Fitzgerald House
Sometimes it’s fun to visit a place where greatness occurred. In 1918, F. Scott Fitzgerald was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in Montgomery, Alabama. He met and fell in love with a young woman named Zelda Sayre. He didn’t win her heart at first, however, so he moved back in with his parents in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
His parents were living at 599 Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, and it’s in that house that Fitzgerald wrote “This Side of Paradise.” It’s well-known that he would take smoke breaks on the third-floor balcony overlooking the street. The home is a registered National Historic Landmark.
15. Discover Wild Animals at the Minnesota Zoo
A short drive from St. Paul you can discover the Minnesota Zoo. Located on 485 acres, the Minnesota Zoo is home to animals like lynxes, raccoons, gibbons, kangaroos, red pandas, and more.
You can also see hundreds of different types of exotic animals, including the Amur tiger, African penguin, Asian wild horse, brown bears, flamingo, grizzly bear, and more.
Seasonal events are always happening at the zoo, including a Jack-O-Lantern spectacular around Halloween and Nature Illuminated, which is a light spectacular.
If you’re looking for unique things to do at the Minnesota Zoo, discover 20 Things To Do At The Minnesota Zoo You Didn’t Know About.
16. Check Out a Quirky Basement Bowling Alley
Inside a dive bar called The Nook in Saint Paul is a basement bowling alley that’s decorated with about $16,000 in $1 dollar bills. People who visit the basement can decorate their own dollar bills with Sharpies that are provided and pin them to the walls and ceiling with toothpicks.
Inside the vintage basement bowling alley is an old train car. While you’re there, be sure to try The Nook’s famous Juicy Lucy hamburger.
17. Learn History at the Minnesota History Center
The Minnesota History Center is located at the heart of St. Paul and just a little bit away from the state’s Capitol buildings. At the center, you can see artifacts that date back to the Ojibwe and Hmongs, important peoples in the history of the state of Minnesota.
18. Tour an Ancient Norwegian Church
The Old Muskego Church was built in 1844 before Minnesota was even an American state. When it was constructed, the Old Muskego Church was one of the area’s first churches, and it was built by settlers from Norway.
The old wooden church was moved to a new home on a Lutheran campus in recent years, and it’s still maintained as a protected historic site that is continually restored. The church can be rented for weddings and similar functions and it ensures the legacy of Minnesota’s early Norwegian settlers.
19. Find Peace and Tranquility at the St. Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden
East Saint Paul has the largest population of Hmong Chinese immigrants of any American city. The St. Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden was built to promote understanding of the ancestral and cultural connection between Chinese immigrants in the city and the Hmong people in Changsha, Saint Paul’s sister city.
Inside the friendship garden, you will be able to see Xiang Jiang Pavilion, a three-story replica of a Chinese pavilion called the Aiwan Pavilion. The garden also features a bridge, an arch, and the Hmong Cultural Plaza. In the plaza, it’s not unusual to see young people making music and practicing martial arts.
20. Read the Unique Messages at the Story Stones
Last but not least on our list of best things to do in St. Paul gives a salute to our soldiers. At the Minnesota Military Family Tribute, there are 87 huge stones (one stone to represent every county in Minnesota) that have messages from soldiers who were deployed or in active service.
Some of the poignant and even humorous messages date as far back as the Civil War, while others are more recent. You can see the Story Stones at Saint Paul’s Capitol Mall.
Time to Discover the Fun Things to Do in St. Paul
Now that you know all that St. Paul has to offer, what are you waiting for? Enjoy your visit to St. Paul!
Still looking for more fun adventures? Then checkout all the great things to do in the Twin Cities!
Looking for some warm weather recommendations? Discover spring and summer in Minnesota for best destinations, travel recommendations, small (and big!) town events, and more!
Looking for more autumnal activities? Then visit our Minnesota Fall page to find inspiration for sweater weather fun!
- About the Author
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.