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25 Best Things to Do in Rochester, Minnesota

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Rochester, Minnesota, may be famous as the home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, but it’s also a honey of a city. Minnesota’s third-largest city behind the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Rochester frequently rates highly in “best places to live” polls.

There’s a welcoming feel to the city – after all, this is Minnesota, State of Nice – and there’s a young, yet family-oriented, vibe. History buffs will enjoy Rochester’s fascinating landmarks and an exciting arts and entertainment scene. And with 100-plus parks and more than 85 miles of paved trails for a walk or bike ride, there’s plenty of outdoor fun, too. 

You won’t have to go far to reach the picturesque countryside, either. With scenic trails and opportunities for watersports on the Zumbro River, there’s plenty to do around Rochester for families with kids and tons of ways to explore the southeastern Minnesota landscapes.

Rochester also has good communication links. Rochester International Airport is only seven miles from downtown, with direct flights from Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver.

Whatever brings you to Rochester – Clinic, convention, or Minnesota mini-break – we’ll help you make the most of your time in the city. So a very warm welcome to our guide to all the fantastic places, activities, and hidden gems in Rochester, Minnesota.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Plummer Building
  • Activity for families – Quarry Hill Nature Center
  • Activity for kids – Silver Lake Park
  • Activity for history buffs – Mayowood Mansion
  • Free activity – Cascade Meadow Wetlands And Environmental Science Center
  • Best restaurant – Chester’s Kitchen & Bar
  • Place to stay – Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area

Things to Do in Rochester, Minnesota

1. Quarry Hill Nature Center

Quarry Hill Nature Center
Chris Pruitt / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Address: 701 Silver Creek Rd NE, Rochester, MN 55906

One of the best things for families in Rochester is to head out to Quarry Hill Nature Center. This is also one of Rochester’s great free attractions.

Here, you can get close to nature with many kid-friendly, hands-on experiences. Bring your camera face-to-face, as you’ll meet some Minnesota wildlife, including honeybees and a screech owl. 

There are free kids’ activity packs; you can borrow binoculars and maps. The center is based in 329-acre Quarry Hill Park, where you can explore the sandstone caves, go boating on the pond, or enjoy the eight miles of hiking trails.

As the name Quarry Hill Nature Center suggests, there’s also a quarry. Feel free to dig in the limestone for trilobites and other fossils – and if you find one, you can take it away, as long it’s no bigger than the palm of your hand.

See Related: Best Museums in Rochester, Minnesota

2. Douglas State Trail

Douglas Trail to Pine Island

What was once an abandoned railroad grade is now one of the coolest things to do in Rochester, especially if you’re a trail lover. For 12.5 miles, the Douglas State Trail meanders through beautiful rural landscapes of forestland and pastures from its start in northwestern Rochester.

It passes through its namesake, a town called Douglas, where there’s a car park and a restroom. You’ll end up in Pine Island, named after the grove of white pines there. Along the way, there’s plenty of welcome shade, and you may see gophers, partridge, and pheasant.

Hikers, bikers, wheelchair users, and inline skaters can use the paved track, while horseback riders and snowmobilers use the natural surface. If your vacation isn’t complete without tackling a good cycle trail, hire bikes at Silver Lake Rentals on Silver Lake Drive. 

See Related: Things to Do in Granite Falls, Minnesota

3. Silver Lake Park

Silver Lake Park Rochester
JDWLOO / TripAdvisor

Address: 840 7th ST NE, Rochester, MN 55906

If you’re looking for great outdoor things to do in Rochester without heading out of town, visit Silver Lake Park. You can run, stroll, or rollerblade along the 2-mile path that follows the Silver Lake shoreline. There are also opportunities to hire paddleboats or canoes to share the lake – actually a reservoir on the Zumbro River – with the many Canada geese.

You’ll also find a huge playground complex with an imaginative play area and the state’s first bicycle playground. Here, kids can practice on make-believe roads before tackling the bike trails and city streets of the real world.

There’s also a seasonal outdoor pool, a skatepark, and picnic tables. Everything you could want if you’re looking for things to do or traveling with kids. And it’s all just a mile from the Mayo Clinic campus and all the downtown hotels.

See Related: Things to Do in Minnesota & Places to Visit

4. Cooke Park

The River running through Cooke Park.

Address: 722 7th Street NW, Rochester, MN 55901

Cooke Park (or is it Cook Park? The locals haven’t actually made up their minds) is an urban park perfect for family fun. There are swings and slides as well as a baseball field, pickleball courts, and a horseshoe pit. And – oh so handy for family outings – there are restrooms and picnic areas. 

If you’re someone who appreciates good coffee and you don’t want to picnic, call the Old Abe Coffee Co, just behind the pickleball courts. Here you’ll find vegan snacks and treats, as well as jazzy small-batch boutique donuts. And the decor is as colorful as the donuts!

See Related: Things to Do in Duluth, Minnesota

5. Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center

Cascade Meadow Wetlands And Environmental Science Center
Saint Mary’s University-Rochester at Cascade Meadow / Facebook

Address: 2900 19th St NW, Rochester, MN 55901

Minnesota is well known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes – see its car license plates. You can discover more about Minnesota’s famous moistness at the wonderful Cascade Meadows Wetlands & Environmental Science Center, another of the many free attractions in Rochester.

The center’s 100-acre wetland trail system sits alongside pretty Cascade Creek. Here you’ll see interpretive signs to help you to identify the wildlife you’ll find along the way. There are also interactive sections and information about safeguarding the precious wetland environment.

Parking is free, and the center’s open every day during daylight hours. And a few miles south of Cascade Lake is the Charles E. Gagnon Museum and Sculpture Garden. Guided tours are available for those interested in seeing more lovely works by the creator of Rochester Peace Plaza’s stunning fountain.

See Related: Things to Do in St. Paul, Minnesota

6. Downtown Peace Plaza

Downtown Peace Plaza

Address: Peace Plaza, Rochester, MN 55902

Make sure to experience Peace Plaza, a lively public space in downtown Rochester’s heart. If you’re visiting the city with kids, they’ll love scrambling through the Os of the giant red DOWNTOWN sign and splashing through the water scrim next to the striking “doves of peace” fountain.

Try to visit at night, when the fountain and the nearby Chateau Theater signs are illuminated. The plaza is also close to the eateries and galleries of 1st and 2nd avenues and a stone’s throw from the 3-star Rochester Marriott Mayo Clinic Area hotel. You’re also on the spot for The Galleria at University Square, a bijou upscale shopping mall.

One typically Minnesotan feature of downtown Rochester is its handy network of skywalks connecting all the major buildings. Here, the temperature stays at a balmy 68ºF all year round, even when it’s below zero outside – a not-infrequent occurrence during winter.

For a larger-scale shopping experience, visit Apache Mall, a few miles southwest. There are over 80 stores, and you’re handy for the highly-rated Homes2Suites by Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area.

See Related: Top Restaurants in Rochester, Minnesota

7. Mayowood Mansion

The front entrance of Mayowood Mansion.

Address: 3720 Mayowood Road SW, Rochester, MN 55902

History buffs and art lovers won’t want to miss Mayowood Mansion, a National Historic Landmark and the opulent former home of Dr. Charles Mayo, a co-founder of the Mayo Clinic. Dating from 1911, the 48-room is packed with high-end souvenirs from the family’s many trips abroad.

So you’ll see a doorframe from a castle in Germany, a Louis XV desk, Chippendale chairs, Limoges china, and Waterford Crystal chandeliers. There’s also a fan that belonged to Empress Josephine. 

You can visit the house and its beautiful flower gardens on a guided tour. And try to join one of the December tours when the house showcases fabulous Christmas decorations.

See Related: Best Lakes in Minnesota (Ranked!)

8. Plummer Building

Plummer Building Bell Tower

Address: 100 2nd St SW, Rochester, MN 55902

Part of the Mayo heritage, the glorious Art Deco Plummer Building is another National Historic Landmark named for Henry S. Plummer, M.D. This talented physician didn’t just establish data management processes still used at the Mayo Clinic. He also planned this historic site, designing it to be efficient and beautiful.

So look out for the massive, 4,000-pound bronze doors that stay symbolically open except to commemorate solemn events. Another sensational feature is the terracotta-adorned bell tower, home to one of the complete carillons of bells in America – 56, to be precise. 

Hearing a carillon concert will be one of the highlights of your Rochester trip – the bells ring every weekday at 4:45 pm. Officially, the best place to hear them is 500 feet downwind. If you’re not sure which way the wind’s blowing, a seat by the Boy with a Dolphin statue on 2nd Street is as good a place as any. 

9. Plummer House

Plummer House exterior

Address: 1091 Plummer Ln SW, Rochester, MN 55902

Dr. Plummer also planned his own home, and visiting here is one of the best things to do in Rochester if you appreciate architecture and design. Dr. Plummer’s keen interest in innovation shows in the early 20th-century security system, intercom, and garage door openers, among other ingenious features.

The Plummer House, which still contains all the original furniture, has five stories and 49 rooms and is in the English Tudor style. It’s open every Wednesday, noon-6 pm, June through August. 

You can also roam through the grounds daily unless they’re used for private events. There’s a beautiful formal garden, a fountain, and a bird trail to enjoy, as well as a glimpse of the estate’s medieval-looking water tower. 

10. Mayo Civic Center

Front of Mayo Civic Center

Address: 30 Civic Center Dr SE, Rochester, MN 55904

Mayo Civic Center is Rochester’s beating heart regarding the arts and entertainment.  It’s also a world-class convention center. If you’re traveling for business to Rochester, chances are your event will be at Mayo Civic Center.

This is the home of Rochester Civic Theatre, and major sports events, ballets, and concerts are also hosted here. The good news is the house has no bad seats, and the acoustics are state-of-the-art. Right next door is the pleasant 11-acre Mayo Park overlooking a bend in the Zumbro River.

Check the Civic Center schedule to see if you can catch your favorite comedian or band while you’re in town. The closest hotel is the highly-rated Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area. For more options, check out these best hotels in Rochester, Minnesota.

See Related: Reasons to See the Duluth Fall Colors

11. Rochester Art Center

Rochester Art Center
Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons, GFDL 1.2

Address: 30 Civic Center Dr SE (Street Level) Suite 120Rochester, MN 55904

You’ll find the boxy building that houses Rochester Art Center next door to the Mayo Civic Center. This is the home of contemporary art in Rochester, featuring a regularly-changing display of multicultural multimedia art by nationally renowned and local artists.

Come here for some funky and thought-provoking art. You can also get creative at one of the art center’s many Open Studio sessions. You can meet other artists and experiment with different media, all for an inexpensive entry fee.

There’s parking at the ramp opposite the Civic Center. The closest eateries are CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar and Cafe Steam Double Tree coffee shop, both less than a five-minute walk away.

12. Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial

Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial

Address: 300 7th St SW, Rochester, MN 55902

A visit to the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial is something to do in Rochester if you want to get a sense of local history. This beautiful park honors the sacrifices made by the brave men and women from southern Minnesota in the armed forces, past and present.

Take a quiet moment to scan the Wall of Remembrance and enjoy the sculptures. Visits and parking are free, and you’ll come away knowing some of the stories of those who put their lives on the line for freedom. This moving and well-maintained memorial is only a half-mile from the Mayo Clinic Area.

You might want to consider a guided tour with the Rochester Trolley & Tour Company. Their 90-minute History Tour takes in Soldiers Field as well as numerous other Rochester landmarks – a great way to get to know the city.

13. Assisi Heights

Assisi Heighs exterior

Address: 1001 14th St NW, Rochester, MN 55901

One of the more spiritual activities in Rochester is a visit to Assisi Heights, a center and residence for the Sisters of St. Francis. The magnificent and serene convent buildings, which enjoy breathtaking city views, contain some stunning mosaics and stained glass windows.

Stay up to date on tour details – walk-ins aren’t possible as this is a working convent. There’s also a program of free outdoor activities relating to mindfulness and the environment – see the convent’s events page. And for a great Rochester souvenir, pick up some Assisi Heights Honey from the gift shop every day from 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm.

14. LTS Brewing Company

LTS Brewing glass of beer

Address: 2001 32nd Ave NW, Rochester, MN 55901

Life’s Too Short – so says the LTS Brewing Company. It puts this principle into practice by creating a happy place for the whole family.

Not only is there an exciting range of ales and hard seltzers, but there are also some fabulous home-crafted sodas. Try honey lemonade or the LTS take on Harry Potter’s favorite, Butterbeer. 

Even the family pet is catered for, with a weekly meet-and-greet for dogs. Other events include trivia sessions, plant swaps, and open mic nights. If you’re staying at the 3-star Staybridge Suites Rochester or the 2-star Sleep & Suites West, you’re less than a fifteen-minute walk away.

15. Little Thistle Brewing

Beer garden at Little Thistle Brewery, Rochester, Minnesota

Address: 2031 14th St NW, Rochester, MN 55901

Half an hour’s stroll southwest from LTS (or an easy five-minute drive for the designated driver!) is the Little Thistle Brewing Co. The welcoming taproom and beer garden are also handy for hikers and bikers on the Douglas State Trail. 

On offer is a range of invitingly named ales, from the S’mores chocolate stout to the Man, It’s a Hot One Mexican lager. Look out for the regular visits from the 2 Cavemen Grillin BBQ food truck. 

And if you’re interested in Amish crafts – Rochester is close to several Amish communities. Little Thistle is a two-minute drive from QW Furniture, which features Amish brands.

See Related: Best Breweries in St. Paul, Minnesota

16. Terza

Terza restaurant interior in Rochester
Terza/ Terza

Address: 30 3rd St SE, Rochester, MN 55904

For lovingly-crafted Italian cuisine, as well as a small but exciting range of cocktails, try Terza. Just a few minutes walk from both the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Civic Center, the restaurant prides itself on authentic recipes, good-quality ingredients, and attentive service.

One popular dish is the vegetarian lasagne, to which carnivores are welcome to add meatballs or chicken. Another big hit is the house polenta. For a beer before or afterward, hop across Historic 3rd Street to the Tap House craft beer bar. 

See Related: Best Breweries in Wisconsin

17. Chester’s Kitchen & Bar

Entrance to Chester's Kitchen + Bar

Address: Shops At University Square, 111 Broadway Ave S #108, Rochester, MN 55904

If you’re after homegrown cuisine, head to Chester’s Kitchen & Bar. The brunch, lunch, and dinner menus include many American classics, from Cowboy Burgers to Steak Cobb Salad. And if you’ve never tried the Minnesota state fish, now’s the time, with a plate of Walleye Cake Benedict.

Chester’s is accessible from the sidewalk or the skywalk and is midway between the Mayo Clinic and the Civic Center. It’s just steps from the Peace Plaza and the historic Kahler Grand Hotel. For the ultimate in Rochester hospitality – plus a domed rooftop pool – try The Towers, located in the Kahler Grand’s top two stories.

18. Sekapp Orchard

Sekapp Orchard apple sculpture, pumpkins, and wagon.
Sekapp Orchard / Facebook

Address: 3415 College View Road E, Rochester, MN 55904

The picturesque farming country surrounding Rochester is a great place to be in the fall, especially if you want to pick apples or pumpkins. You won’t have to go far out of town to do both at Sekapp Orchard, where you can also buy home-produced jams, jellies, and honey.

The city’s largest fresh produce grower, the orchard also offers wagon rides and a corn maze. And at Graham Park, a few miles down the road, you’ll find growers-only produce at Rochester Farmers Market every summer Wednesday and Saturday. 

You can’t miss a unique Rochester landmark – the Ear of Corn Water Tower. This bit of quirky Americana is 23 feet, 2 feet shorter than the world’s biggest corn cob statue (found in Olivia, Ohio, since you asked). At 151 feet up, though, it’s certainly the highest. Go Rochester!

19. Rochesterfest

rochesterfest
Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons, GFDL 1.2

Address: Soldiers Field Dr SW, Rochester, MN 55902

Rochesterfest is a sunny celebration of Rochester culture. Every June, the city organizes a week of family-friendly fun, and joining in is a great way to tap into the Rochester community.

As well as a festival-long treasure hunt, there are your favorite street food stalls, kids’ art sessions, golf shoot-outs, dinky dog races, and a beer garden. There’s also a live entertainment program with all kinds of music on offer, afternoon and evening.

Most events occur near Soldiers Field Park’s swimming pool and tennis courts. If you come with kids, they’ll enjoy the Field of Fun adventure playground nearby.

The culminating event is the grand parade featuring 80 or more units. This starts just south of the park and is less than 15 minutes from downtown. If you buy the special Rochesterfest Button, you can score some bargains at various Rochester outlets.

See Related: Things to Do in Grand Marais, Minnesota

20. Olmsted County Fair

Petting a goat at the Olmsted County Fair.

Address: 1403 3rd Ave SE, Rochester, MN 55904

A good old traditional fair, Olmsted County Fair is a great place to experience the best of rural southeast Minnesota. Usually held in late July, the fair celebrates local livestock (2,000+ animals!), farm produce, flowers, and crafts, and there are plenty of friendly rivalries.

There are tons to see and do, too; as well as the carnival rides, there’s bull riding, motocross, and a demolition derby. And if you’re a fan of classic fairground food – funnel cake, cheese curds, corn dogs – you’ll be well catered for.

To find out more about Olmsted County, find time to visit the History Center, run by Olmsted County Historical Society, at 1195 W Circle Drive. A good source of Rochester-themed souvenirs, this is where to discover what makes Med City, as the city is often known, tick.

21. Thursdays Downtown

Thursdays Downtown
Thursdays Downtown / Facebook

Locations: 1st Avenue Southwest, 3rd Street Southwest, and Peace Plaza

If you’re wondering what to do in Rochester any summer Thursday, head downtown. Thanks to the Thursdays Downtown festival, the streets around Peace Plaza have a buzzing party atmosphere, with free live music and a fabulous arts-and-crafts market.

Dozens of great food stalls offer every kind of treat, from gyros to gelato to giant cookies. Bringing a picnic blanket’s a great way to hook up with friends and family. The fun starts at 11 am and goes through till 8:30 at night.

22. Heritage House Victorian Museum

Heritage House Victorian Museum in Rochester, Minnesota
Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Address: 225 1st Ave NW, Rochester, MN 55901

Handily located in the heart of town – in Central Park, in fact – you’ll find one of the city’s hidden historical gems. This is Heritage House Victorian Museum, an 1875 Italianate-style house that was once the home of a middle-class Rochester family.

The house is now a museum offering a fascinating glimpse into life in the late 1800s. You’ll see the historically authentic decor, plenty of period Victorian features, and curiosities – look out for the fainting couch and the vintage corncob-shaped cornbread pans.  

The house itself has an extraordinary history. Unlike many Rochester buildings, it survived the devastating tornado of 1883. Then, under threat of demolition in 1972, it was rescued and moved to Central Park. Tours of the house run Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the summer and last about 30 minutes.

23. Maple Valley Golf and Country Club 

Maple Valley Golf and Country Club sign
Maple Valley Golf and Country Club  / Maple Valley Golf and Country Club

Address: 8600 Maple ValleI Road SE, Rochester, MN 55904

Visitors to Maple Valley Golf and Country Club come for the views as much as for the sport. This stunningly picturesque course, surely one of the state’s most photographed, is hugged by the Root River and the forest-fringed limestone cliffs of southeastern Minnesota’s dramatic Bluff Country.

The country club is open to the public from 7 am till sunset, with left- and right-handed clubs and buggies available for rent. Putting green’s a practice, and you can enjoy drinks and snacks in the clubhouse. 

If you fancy a round of golf but don’t want to make the 15-mile journey out of town, try the public course in Soldiers Field. Here, you’ll find tree-lined fairways on both sides of the Zumbro River. You’ll also be handy for the fast-food restaurants on Broadway Ave South.

24. Salem Glen Winery

Sunset view at Salem Glen Winery in  Rochester
Salem Glen Winery  / Facebook

Address: 5211 60th Ave SW, Rochester, MN 55902

If you’ve never tasted wine from grapes robust enough to withstand the challenging Minnesota winters, visit Salem Glen Vineyard and Winery, located ten miles southeast of central Rochester.

Working with scientists from the University of Minnesota, the winery has developed top-quality, cold-hardy grapes into some distinctive but rather delicious wines.

This family-owned boutique winery started operation in 2006 on the site of an old farm close to the Zumbro River. It offers tasting tours Thursday-Sunday when you can sample the wines while enjoying views of the five-acre vineyard and the nearby rolling hills.

You can even tuck into some cheese or chocolate tidbits.  And why not come away with some of their small-batch wines or perhaps a bottle or two of craft cider from the winery’s orchards?

See Related: Day Trips from Rochester

25. Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo

Aerial view of Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo
Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo / olmstedcounty.gov

Address: 5731 County Rd 105 NW, Byron, MN 55920

Animal lovers should not miss what’s sometimes described as the Rochester area’s best-kept secret. This is Oxbow Park’s Zollman Zoo, an animal sanctuary providing a refuge for rescue animals, including bison, elk, lynx, and eagles. The zoo, about eight miles northwest of Rochester, is free to visit, but donations help keep it running. 

On top of that, Oxbow Park’s 634 acres offer a great range of outdoor activities all year long. After hiking the 8+ miles of trails, you can have a BBQ at one of the fully equipped picnic areas or pitch your tent in the campground. 

There’s a playground and even wagons for toting weary kids. And if you come in winter, you can go cross-country skiing or hire snowshoes. With any luck, some of the animals won’t be in hibernation!

FAQs

What are the top tourist attractions in Rochester?

There are loads of exciting things to do in Rochester, Minnesota. Check out the city’s rich history at the Mayowood Mansion, the Plummer Building, and the Plummer House. For a picturesque and educational outdoor attraction, visit Quarry Hill Nature Centre.

Downtown Rochester is a lively place to shop and eat, with Historic 3rd Street being the place to go for nightlife. And if you’re looking for a quiet moment in a hectic world, visit the beautiful Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial.

Are there any exciting events or festivals happening in Rochester?

Rochester has a pretty full social diary! First, the Mayo Civic Center runs a full program of events all year round – check out the Rochester Civic Theatre schedule.

In June, there are eight days of community-based fun at Rochesterfest. Then there’s the week-long excitement of the Olmsted County Fair in July. And look out for Thursdays Downtown, a once-a-week street festival all summer.

What family-friendly activities are available in Rochester?

Kids love fossil hunting and getting up close and personal with the animals at Quarry Hill Nature Centre. Silver Lake Park is stuffed with kid-friendly activities and fun things to do. Another great adventure playground is the Field of Fun next to Soldiers Field.

In addition, there are plenty of easy biking and hiking trails in and around Rochester. For example, a 2-mile loop around Soldiers Field is just right for burning off that excess energy.

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