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What Are the Top Experiences?

Cultural events overload:  Museums? Check. Two of the best include the world-class modern art museum the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Theatre? Check. The Hennepin Avenue Theatre District offers Broadway shows in addition to the esteemed productions the Guthrie Theater puts on. Music? Check. The Cities draw national acts and gave plenty of musicians their start (Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Bob Dylan, to name a few). Sports? Check. For now, the Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota Gophers football teams and the Minnesota Twins baseball team all share the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (900 S. 5th St., Minneapolis 612/332-0386 www.msfc.com). The Minnesota Wild hockey team plays in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center (317 Washington St., St. Paul 651/989-5151 www.xcelenergycenter.com) and the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team plays at the Target Center (600 1st Ave. N, Minneapolis 612/673-1600 www.targetcenter.com).

Shop till you drop:  The Mall of America is ground zero for shoppers visiting the Twin Cities. Appropriately nicknamed the Megamall, it has more than 500 stores, an aquarium, and amusement park. To experience more local flavor, venture beyond the mall to some of the Cities' best neighborhood boutiques. Unique shops dot Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis' Uptown area, southwest of the city's downtown. Grand Avenue in St. Paul is home to several one-of-a-kind shops, particularly the strip between Dale Street and Lexington Avenue. Still looking for more? Consider the neighborhoods of Highland Park and St. Anthony Park in St. Paul and the Warehouse District and North Loop in Minneapolis.

Exploring outdoors:  Perhaps given the cold winter temperatures, Minnesotans cherish the all-too-brief outdoor summer weather even more than their Midwest counterparts. Take a summers day stroll through Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Picnic near Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park or nosh some tasty fish tacos at the Park's inexpensive restaurant Sea Salt Eatery (4825 Minnehaha Ave., 612/721-8990, www.seasalteatery.com). End the day walking around Lake Calhoun with Minneapolis locals. The summer also brings various street fairs and local farmers' markets. August offers two of the best outdoor festivals, the Uptown Art Fair and the Minnesota State Fair.

Architectural wonders:  The Twin Cities offers several architectural must-sees, both modern and historical. Whereas St. Paul is Romanesque sandstone mansions and the iconic Cathedral of St. Paul, Minneapolis is through and through modern with a smattering of the historic preserved. The architectural biggies of Minneapolis have received national coverage, bringing a sense of pride to the locals. To cover your bases, check out the IDS Center, Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Central Library and Weisman Art Museum.

Local food:  The Twin Cities' restaurant scene has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks in part to several nationally recognized chefs who are challenging the local palate with culinary wonders. Two celebrity chefs with culinary outfits in Minneapolis include Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 in the Walker Art Center and Jean Georges Vongerichten's Chambers Kitchen in the Chambers boutique hotel. The growing immigrant population has introduced ethnic food to the Twin Cities' cuisine; head to 17-block Eat Street (Nicollet Ave. from Grant to 29 St.) for the best slice of authenticity.

History 101:  Interested in learning more about the mighty Mississippi River and the two towns linked by it? Start with Historic Fort Snelling, a living-history park with 1820s fort life reenactments. Also check out the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. The kid-friendly center houses Minnesota-related exhibits in addition to a research library and museum store. The Mill City Museum (704 S. 2nd St., 612/341-7555, www.millcitymuseum.org) provides a good overview of the proud past of a productive milling town.

Strange but True

In the late 1990s Minnesotans elected Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura, a one-time pro-wrestler from the Independence Party of Minnesota.

Minnesota has two towering Paul Bunyan statues (in Bemidji and Brainerd) that claim the rightful birthplace of the fictional lumberjack and his blue ox.

Minnesota's slogan "Land of Ten Thousand Lakes" isn't quite accurate. At last count, the state had more than 11,800 lakes (10 acres or larger) according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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