Once upon a time, in order to find fun things to do around the Twin Cities, I would frequent the library, explore guidebooks and newspapers, and sometimes just get lucky. While I love the ease of the internet, I still love to pick these books up at the library periodically.
Nothing quite compares to the joy of reading guidebooks – especially with kids. There is just something magical about sitting together on the couch, flipping through the full color pages and picking our next activity. When you own the guide, you can even use it like a checklist and a journal, working your way down the list, writing notes, and maybe even tucking memorabilia into the pages. (If you choose to borrow the book from the library, you might want to pick up a journal or photo album for this purpose.)
From the quirky to the classic, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite guides to the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota.
Notes: The downside to travel books is that they can get outdated pretty quickly. We recommend verifying information before heading out on your adventure. I like a few of these books enough to keep them on my shelf despite inaccuracies.This article contains Amazon affiliate links. FFTC receives a small commission on purchases. These guidebooks are all available through Twin Cities libraries, and we recommend starting there before purchasing the books you like best.
Our Favorite Twin Cities Guidebooks
Like any bucket lists of this type, this is one person’s list. While it is unlikely you’ll want to do all of these things with your family, it is a good primer of the Twin Cities experience. This is a great book to pick up if you are new to the metro area and want to dive right in. After you’ve tackled what interests you off of this list, you’ll probably have a list of your own.
A Rustling of Wings: An Angelic Guide to the Twin Cities by Joan Nyberg
This is one of the quirkier books on this list and it comes with a few cautions. It’s over 25 years old and it would be difficult to verify without just setting out on a wing and a prayer (sorry bad pun), making it a bit of a treasure hunt. Finally, some of these locations just aren’t going to interest kids. How many stain glass depictions of angels could anyone get excited about? You may want to pick a category that suits your family (ie. just the outside angels, just museum angels or just statues?). I’d definitely bring along a camera for a photo journal of this tour.
Published in 1994. Almost 30 years old, but churches and museums tend to be slow to change.
Dad’s Eye View: 52 Family Adventures in the Twin Cities by Michael Hartford.
We love this book because it is both family- and Twin-Cities-centric. It is divided by season, so the reader can pick the best times for each adventures. Although most of us aren’t able to go on an adventure every weekend, this book is written so you could do one activity a week for a year. It could easily be stretched over a few years.
Explore Twin Cities Outdoors: Hiking, Biking, & More by Kate Havelin
Because we NEED to get outdoors when we can in Minnesota, this little pocket books is an essential take-along guide to 20 of the top outdoor locations.
Published in 2018. This is one of the newer guidebooks on our list, plus outdoor locations tend to be more stable than indoor locations. The Minnehaha Falls aren’t going anywhere soon.
Exploring the Twin Cities with Children by Elizabeth S. French
First published in the 1970s, this is the definitive guidebook to family fun in the Twin Cities. It is an exhaustive list of family fun. This is one of the guidebooks that I recommend for every Minnesota parent’s bookshelf. However, unless you are looking for a historical guide, make sure you pick up the 9th Edition. It appears to be the most recent edition. This book is so packed with information, that there are no photos, so this book is more for parents than kids.
9th Edition Published in 2012. Even this edition is a bit outdated (ie. Childish Films is now a part of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival and no longer a free library event; also Fossil Hunting is no longer permitted at Lilydale).
This is not the first guidebook to public art in the Twin Cities, and the City of Minneapolis even offers an interactive online map, but I like the way this book is divided into manageable walking and driving tours. This seems like a great way to start introducing loud, hyper kids to art.
Published in 2010. It would be hard to verify that all the art is still in place these -years later, but it doesn’t seem as much of a gamble when the main activity is taking a scenic walk.
Walking Twin Cities by Holly Day & Sherman Wick
With 35 tours that you can walk at your own pace, you would have to be die-hard walkers to get through this whole book in a year, but if you did one a month, you could finish in just under three years. It would be nice if this book came with the ability to download the individual tours to your phone.
Published in 2013.
Our Favorite Greater Minnesota Guidebooks
This is more of a directory than a guide. To be honest, there is nothing in this book that I wouldn’t Google first. However, I’ve included it because I know a couple of instances where this would have come in handy in our glove compartment when we were out of range of decent internet service.
Published in 2016.
Grandparents Minnesota Style: Places to Go And Wisdom to Share by Mike Link and Kate Crowley.
Although this book is geared toward grandparents, it could be used by parents, too. The guide has over 75 ideas for activities for grandparents to do with their grandchildren, from places to visit, to special events, to anytime activities like ice cream cones. The best part of this book is the “Bonding and bridging” suggestions for each activity, which explores ways you can bridge generational divides while having fun together.
Published in 2014, this book sticks to classics, so I didn’t see much that was outdated.
Hiking Minnesota with Kids by Mary M. Bauer
Okay, this is a must have book if you like hiking and have kids. Each hiking trail suggestion includes a scavenger hunt, trivia and some more things to do in the area. The book even comes with a Kids Trail Log, that they can check off as they hike each trail and find the scavenger hunt items.
Published in 2006, its possible that some of the scavenger hunt items may be outdated, but trails are pretty timeless.
Minnesota Must-See for Families: An A to Z List by Christie Gove-Berg.
This book is great because its created to be written in, with a checklist in the front and questions to answer about your visit on each page. This is a book that kids will love to fill out. The downside of this book is that there isn’t a lot to explore in the Twin Cities and because these places are mainly out state, we don’t keep updated information on them either. This book is definitely for the Twin Cities family that likes road trips.
Published in 2015, it seems to be mostly accurate.
Minnesota Open House: A Guide to Historic House Museums by Krista Finstad Hanson
If you’ve ever wanted to tour all the old historic houses in the Twin Cities, this book is for you. While the book covers the whole state, it is divided by region, including a metro region. Each entry gives an historical overview and often suggests best times to visit. This may be a great tour for families with 6th Graders, as that is the year we study state history in Minnesota. (P.S. Look for a 6th Grade Minnesota History Pass from the MNHS. It doesn’t get the whole family in free, but it does cover your 6th grader’s admission)
Published in 2007. I didn’t see any inaccuracies. Old houses aren’t likely to go anywhere.
One More If You Can Find It:
Minnesota Free: The State’s Best No-Charge Attractions by Jim Morse
I was sad when Hennepin County Library removed this book from their collection and excited when I found a copy at a thrift store. You won’t find it on Amazon, but Ramsey County Library still carries it. Being 20 years old, it is definitely outdated, but not a bad starting point for looking for free activities. I hold onto it for its descriptions of historically and architecturally interesting buildings in Downtown Minneapolis. I keep hoping to someday take a skyway tour of all these beautiful old buildings.