Known as the ‘North Star State’ after its formal motto L’Étoile du Nord, Minnesota is the 12th largest state in the United States of America and is located in the Midwestern and northern region.
The 22nd most populous state in the nation, 60% of Minnesota’s population live in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul area, the former being the largest city in the state and the latter the state capital.
Though known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, Minnesota is home to 11,843 lakes, some of which are 10 acres in size or larger.
The ‘twin-cities- of Minnesota (Saint Paul and Minneapolis) are the epicenter of business, transportation, education, government, as well as an internationally acclaimed arts community.
People in Minnesota are generally warm and friendly and maintain a liberal political approach. The state is also home to the second largest open homosexual population in the United States.
A beautiful combination of nature and cultural eccentricities, Minnesota is a tourist’s paradise. Let us explore some of the hidden gems in Minnesota which you wouldn’t want to miss during your visit to the happy American state.
1. The Quietest Place on Earth, Minneapolis
Most of us have often wondered how would it be to find a place with absolute silence – where the only noise is that of your heartbeat. Wonder no more for the Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota not only claims to be the quietest place on earth but it is so as recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
An anechoic chamber with the ability to absorb 99.99% of the sound, the lab has been used by several manufacturers to test volume and sound quality of their products.
The maddening silence of the chambers only allows media personnel to enter, however, you could book a tour to visit the lab room during a supervised stay. Even then, you are allowed only to spend a short time inside as the website claims that the eerie silence in the chambers with no sound other than those that your body (heart, stomach, and lungs) make can drive a person to insanity.
So, a little slice of silence, anyone?
2. Devil’s Kettle, Grand Marais
The Brule River in Judge C.R. Magney State Park is bisected by a huge boulder. While the water that flows to the east falls 50 feet down a cliff and continues to meet with Lake Superiors, the stream that goes towards the west enters a hole in the cliff and disappears!
Quirkily called the Devil’s Kettle, the west stream of Brule River has long since baffled the residents of Minnesota and visitors from around the world.
Several attempts have been made to trace the water flow but all those experiments of dropping ping-pong balls and dye into the hole have been nothing but a waste.
However, in early 2017, a few researchers from the Department of Natural Resources of Minnesota have claimed to successfully solve the riddle. They claim to have determined that the water stream that flows into the ‘kettle’ apparently rekindled with the river a little farther downstream.
Is it true? Well, you would have to figure it out yourself.
3. Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station, Cloquet
A firm believer in the philosophy of Organic architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright was an illustrious American architect of his time. With several successful commercial and residential projects under his belt, Wright decided to build an entire city solely based on his design. The ‘Broadacre City’, as named by the architect, was intended to be constructed in Buffalo, New York.
A significant edifice to be erected within the perimeter of Wright’s utopian city was a gas station with an observation deck or a watchtower to be used by attendants to watch as several cars came and went.
Unfortunately, plans for the dream city could never be materialized, however, when Minnesota resident R.W. Lindholm, petroleum businessman, approached Lloyd for designing his house, the star artist managed to convince Lindholm to build a gas station identical with Wright’s idea of the one he had planned for Broadacre.
The Gas Station was successfully built and opened for operation in 1958, just a year before Wright passed away. Nonetheless, the futuristic station is still functional and managed by Lindholm’s grandson.
4. Museum of Quackery and Medical Frauds, Saint Paul
Ideally, the actual Museum of Quackery and Medical Frauds shut down in 2002, however, credit goes to Bob McCoy, a curator, and collector, and the Science Museum of Minnesota who managed to move the collection to the Science Museum under the category “Questionable Medical Devices.”
This compilation of bizarre medical inventions includes a foot-powered breast enlarger called the Allure Bust Enlarger, a shoe x-ray machine, a prostate warmer, and a mind reader that gauges your intelligence, morality, and personality by measuring the size of bumps on your head!
These kinds of dubious devices were quite a rage at early 1900s State Fair. Claims that snake oils and pseudoscience gadgets could cure problems such as impotency were often made. However, unsupervised use of the items turned out to be dangerous for those who were manipulated into trying them.
The strange collection was all an effort of McCoy who spent his time gathering all these ‘questionable’ devices, and by the time he retired, McCoy donated approximately 325 such exhibits to the Science Museum of Minnesota.
5. Wabasha Street Caves, Saint Paul
Found opposite downtown Saint Paul, underneath a large plateau, the Wabasha Street caves, as they are known now, are natural caves which have been in use ever since the 1800s.
Before settlers, the caves were used by native tribes. In the 1840s, miners used the caves to extract nature silica which was then used for making glass. Later in the early 1900s, a French family started a mushroom farm in the Wabasha Street Caves and later turned them into a blind pig during the time of prohibition. This attracted a lot of illicit crowd and illegal business dealings. Reportedly, the caves were also a site of mob killing during that time.
Time passed by and the Caves turned into a popular discotheque in the 1970s. Though the disco is gone and so are all the mob stories, the Wabasha Street Caves are still functional as an event spot.
And, of course, given its dodgy history of unlawful dealing and murdered mobsters, the Caves are haunted!
6. Niagara Cave, Harmony
Nowhere near the world-famous Niagara Falls are the Niagara Caves in the town of Harmony, Minnesota. A geological formation and a wonderful one of its kind, the Niagara Cave is home to a 60-foot underground waterfall, ceiling as high as 100 feet, calcite flowstone, intriguing limestone formations, ancient fossils, and a wedding chapel for the adrenaline-junky couples!
The largest of its kind in the Midwest, Niagara Cave was reportedly found in 1924 when a farm owner stumbled upon the subversive chamber on a quest to find his three pigs who had escaped the farm and were found 75 feet underground. The cave was open to the public about 10 years later.
While the caves may be a few million years old, Niagara Cave’s fame is as recent as 2015 when it became the world’s first commercial cavern whose energy consumption was 100% based on solar energy and which generates approximately 45,000 KW of energy annually.
7. House of Balls, Minneapolis
Locally referred to as the Willy Wonka of the Twin-cities art, local sculptor Allen Christian began establishing the House of Balls around 28 years ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Inspired from his idea that everyone with a creative impulse must have the ‘balls’ to express it, House of Balls is open to the public, literally, meaning if Christian is home, you will find the front door of his house unlocked which is an invitation for you to enter his world and explore at your heart’s glory.
Items on exhibit at Christian’s House of Balls include but aren’t limited to sculptures made of piano parts, carved balls, heads made of reclaimed brushes, typewriter inwards, pistons, and of course bowling balls.
If you visit at an off-hour, don’t forget to leave your treaties at the intercom that issues looping audios from the House of Walls.
8. City Salvage, Minneapolis
Ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 19th and 20th century? Or, perhaps you dream about redecorating your living space in a retro theme? If you say yes to either of these thoughts, City Salvage is definitely the next stop on your route – it must be.
Tucked away on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, City Salvage is an antique shop which is architecturally focused on retaining the charm of the retro era. Fancy French doors, oak pulpit, wooden dog house, furniture, lightings, mantles, and antique bar supplies from the 19th and 20th century are expected to be found here. And, that’s not all. The list goes on and on.
The fascinating owners of the City Salvage are more than happy to indulge in a conversation regarding their less-than-usual passion for all things retro.
While at it, take some time to explore the neighborhood local boutique and gift shop, I Like You, and the striking vintage bar, Red Stag Supper Club.
9. Spam Museum, Austin
No, it isn’t a museum dedicated to those hundreds of emails we receive every day that get automatically sorted into our ‘Spam’ folder. Neither does it stand as a backronym for ‘Spiced Ham’ and ‘Spare Parts Animal Meat.’
In fact, Hormel Foods describe the Spam Museum on their website as a dedication to the delicious meat which was first created in 1937 at the Hormel Foods Corporation Plant. They emphasize that Spam is a significant part of the culture and is a current food item.
Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota has an extensive collection of memorabilia from World War II as well as a dedicated section to highlight the importance of meat as a diet and culture during the War.
Aside from the several food items on display, the museum also features different items made out of old Spam tins and boxes.
10. Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis
Designed by the world-renowned architectural genius, Frank Gehry, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, a striking construction made of steel and brick and located within the Minneapolis Campus of University of Minnesota, not only houses a huge collection of famous contemporary artwork by established artists of the time, but it also serves as a teaching museum for the University as well as the community.
Murals by artists such as Marsden Hartley and George O’Keeffe can be observed and studied at the museum. Over 20,000 pieces of modern as well vintage artwork including Korean furniture and Native American pottery can be found at the museum.
Often described as ‘crumpled tin can’ by lookers and passers-by, the Museum bears the abstract signature of Gehry – curving and angular brushed steel sheets and is dedicated to Frederick R. Weisman, a noted art collector who had a massive collection of artwork from all around the world.
11. Sidewalk Harp, Minneapolis
The brilliant craftsmanship of Jen Lewin, an architectural superstar known for her lively, interactive installations, created the Sidewalk Harp which can be found outside the Be The Match building in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Unlike any other easily-forgettable futuristic public art installation, the Sidewalk Harp is a 40-foot harp-like structure made from stainless steel in a wave which has motion-sensor enabled LED lights underneath it.
If you wave your hands beneath the glowing lights, the installation produces music. Every light has a different musical tone and you can either chose to pluck the strings individually or strum so they can all play together. Additionally, the LED lights change color (red, blue, purple, green, and white), each of which produce a distinct tone.
12. Ax-Man Surplus, Saint Paul
What does it take for a surplus store to share the block with a vape shop, a sex toy shop, and a dive bar, and yet emerge out to be the most sought-after joint among them all? A lot of ‘nothing’.
Ax-Man Surplus in Saint Paul, Minnesota is a whimsical world of racks and racks of items you don’t need but would definitely want. The entire store smells faintly of soldering iron residue – perhaps that’s how bad ideas smell when they are formed!
Even though the store is often rendered useless, it can prove to be a haven for crafters and hobbyists who like creating unusual, bizarre products out of junk.
Except for the Bobble head Jesus and the functioning iron lungs, everything else in the store is on sale, which means no two visits are ever going to be the same.
Need a rubber duck army? Or, an Erlenmeyer flask? How about a four-foot-long rubber band?
13. Birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saint Paul
Saint Paul in Minnesota is not only recognized because of its role as the state capital but, the city is also known as the birthplace of one of the greatest literary legends to have lived on Planet Earth – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Author of American classics such as This Side of Paradise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was born on the second floor of this usual, multi-storied Victorian apartment at 481 Laurel Avenue.
The residents had no idea who was born here and had lived here. As time went by, surrounding developments in the area left the building ignored and almost on the verge of being torn down. However, a group of locals made efforts to have the building restored in 1970.
The new tenant who moved into the same apartment had no idea of the significance his new abode held until admirers of the celebrated author started showing up to check the property. In 2004, added a plaque designating it an unofficial historical landmark.
14. World’s Largest Ball of Twine Rolled by One Man, Darwin
There may be larger twine balls than this in the world, but, this Twine Ball created by Francis Johnson, a Minnesota farmer, is undeniable the World’s largest of its kind rolled by one man.
An inspiration to many, Johnson stated rolling the ball in 1950 and continued until 1979. After 29 years of dedication and four-hour of daily toiling, the unable farmer gave us the one-of-a-kind twine ball, 12 feet in diameter and 17,400 lbs in weight. Johnson was a one-man army and an independent craftsman who even created his own tweezers to pull the yarn.
The encouragement behind the annual Twine Ball Festival, the structure was originally stored in an open-air shed on Johnson’s lawn but was moved to its current location after his demise.
15. Hidden Beach, Minneapolis
Located east of Cedar Lake, the Hidden Beach derives its name from the winding pathways that lead you to this secret Minneapolis treasure. Once an off-the-beaten-path getaway from people who wanted to spend some quality beach time away from the usual bustling beaches in the country, the beach has undergone several changes over the years.
Once regarded as the only nude beach in the Twin City region, Hidden Beach is still a favorite among the residents of the state. With a mixed crowd of reggae artists, skaters, families, and the twenty-somethings, the beach has its very own mud pit.
Hidden Beach offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere not only to human adults but also to kids and dogs.
16. Kensington Runestone, Alexandria
As the story goes, in 1898, Olof Ohman, a Swedish-American farmer, and his son stumbled upon a massive boulder while clearing away stumps on their property in a rural village in Minnesota. Closer observation of the rock and its inscriptions by the duo made them believe that the patterns resembled ancient Norse runes.
The father-son duo hauled the 200-pound slab of sandstone and took it to the nearby town of Kensington. Rumors were made that the rune-covered boulder was left by the Vikings from the 14th century.
Unfortunately, all such claims were proven wrong by experts and professors who not only found that the stone was only about 500 years old, but also that the inscriptions were inconsistent with the Norse language.
17. The Herbivorous Butcher, Minneapolis
In recent times, whether it is for health, ecological preservation, or animal welfare, the concept of veganism and vegetarianism has risen double-fold in the last few years. In fact, the number of vegans or vegetarians has increased dramatically from seven million in 2009 to 16 million in 2015, and this is just in the United States.
Even then, eating out and finding genuine eateries with food options for vegans and vegetarians can still prove a bit difficult. But not in Minneapolis.
Established in 2013, The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has a fascinating display of food items at the counter. Regular popular items in the restaurant menu include meatballs, salami, chicken, and summer sausages. But, there is one small twist – all the meat items at the eatery are actually meatless!
Owned by brother-sister duo Aubry Walch and Kale, the Herbivorous Butcher has quite a few unique vegan and vegetarian dishes to its visitors – the Huli Huli Hawaiian Ribs, the Sriracha Brat, and the Mexican Chorizo.
They even craft their own dairy-free cheese!
18. Split Rock Lighthouse, Two Harbors
The iconic lighthouse may no longer be functional today, however, when it was built in 1910, on a 130-foot wall on a Cliffside that overlooks Lake Superior, as a savior to the ships that sailed the surrounding waters.
The idea to construct the structure was conceptualized after the treacherous Mataafa storm resulted in 29 shipwrecks just five years before the lighthouse was erected. The historic building guided passing ships and kept them safe until its retirement in 1969.
Modern technology may have taken over the use of this significant lighthouse, but, the construction remains a popular attraction for visitors in and around the area.
To commemorate the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, Split Rock Lighthouse is lit for a day and night every year on 10th November. Attendees to the event can climb up the structure after dark and experience the nostalgia.
19. The Curator’s Office, Minneapolis
A setting and story so fake that it is almost real!
Barton Kestle, the first custodian of contemporary art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, inexplicably disappeared during his train ride to Washington D.C. After a while, the museum decided to renovate the compound which also included restricting Kestle’s office.
While at it, construction workers tore apart a wall and were baffled to see the art curator’s hidden office with all his belongings exactly where he left them before his disappearance. The curators understood the importance of such a significant discovery and decided to keep the office as is.
The frozen-in-time office space features minute details of Kestle’s life such as his rain boots, Polaroid cameras, an art deco tea trolley, and drawers full of personal and official documents.
Except that Barton Kestle is imaginary and the whole thing is fake!
20. Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox, Bemidji
Perhaps the second-most photographed statues in the United States of America (as per Kodak), Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox were crafted by Jim Payton and Cyril Dickinson in 1937 to serve as the mascots for a lumberjack-themed winter festival.
Inspired by the legendary folk hero, Paul Bunyan, a lumberjack who was the subject of several North American tales, written and oral, the structures stand tall along the shores of stunning Bemidji Lake.
Paul and Babe have attracted tourists to this quaint lake town for several decades and were also featured in the Life magazine. Originally, a temporary installation, the popularity of this structure made them permanent residents in the town. They have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988.
21. Glensheen Historic Estate, Duluth
Created by Chester A. Congdon in 1905, the Glensheen Historic Estate is regarded as an ultimate architectural beauty of the early 20th century.
Adorned with rare and exquisite structures such as a fireplace built of rare red marble from Africa and a green dining room with tiles from a manufacturer that no longer exists, the Estate architectural beauty was soon overpowered by a double homicide that attracts most of the estate’s visitors.
In 1977, Congdon’s only surviving daughter, Elisabeth Congdon was choked to death with a satin pillow, and her nurse, Velma Pietila was hit to death by a candelabra. Elisabeth was 83 and partially immobile at the time of her death.
Rumors have it that it was her adoptive daughter, who were to inherit everything if Elisabeth died, and her husband who planned and executed the gruesome murders.
22. World’s Largest Crow, Belgrade
Built in 1988 and erected atop a cement pedestal at the Belgrade Centennial Memorial Park, the structure is meant to commemorate the state’s 100-year anniversary. At 18-feet tall, it is undoubtedly the world’s largest crow to date.
It may seem strange to honor a state centennial like this, but, there is a backstory, and it does not have anything to do with the word. The bird statue is located near the Crow River which submerges in the Crow Lake, and all of these sites derive their name from Chief Little Crow, a Sioux warrior.
The base beneath the structures pedestal houses a tiny museum for visitors who would be interested to know more about the celebration that took place on the state’s anniversary.
23. Greyhound Bus Museum, Hibbing
Now considered as one of the topmost bus operators in the country, Greyhound was initially started by Carl Eric Wickman who used his seven-seater automobile to take miners from Hibbing to the neighboring town of Alice. The business expanded rapidly and began connecting various cities in America.
In 1961, a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders were bombarded, and, thus, Greyhound became a symbol of Civil Rights Movement.
The Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, as opposed to what you may assume, was a dedication of Gene Nicolelli, a Minnesotan who acknowledged the company’s significance to his little town and wanted to honor it by creating a museum as a show of respect. Nicolelli stumbled upon the abandoned bus station and was immediately moved by it.
After 20 years of trying to get funding for his dream project, he finally gave shape to his ideas.
24. The Lost 40, Northome
Minnesota was one of the leading producers of timber in the United States in the late 1800s. Consequently, less than 2% of forest in the state today can be considered virgin or “old growth”. There is, however, a patch of 144 acres of forest land with Chippewa National Forest that have never been touched!
Known as the lost 40, the marked land includes 20 acres of spruce-fir forest and 30 acres of white pine and red pine forest. Some of these trees are over 100 feet tall and have been in existence since forever.
An honest mistake, a group of loggers in 1882 were made to believe that the entire area is underwater. This mapping error led them and several others after them to never look for the area.
The Lost 40 still remains untouched and the forest section, still thriving wonderfully, remains one of its kind in the world.
25. Big Ole, Alexandria
The fame of Big Ole derives its origin in another popular story around the town of Alexandria. In 1898, Olof Ohman and his son claimed to have a 200-pound slab, which as they and many others claim was a runestone left by the Vikings. Even though the claims were proven wrong by 1910, the stories and legends comprising Vikings lurked around the area for much longer.
As a result, when the Thor-like 28-feet tall structure was brought to the town of Alexandria after its successful run at the New York World Fair, Big Ole, with his Viking-like dressing style and a big shield, was welcomed with open arms.
Today, Big Ole stands face to face with Runestone Museum and continues to honor the town’s (alleged) Viking history.