Southern Minnesota is one of the cool places you’ll pass when going on a typical trip through the American Midwest.
Art, food, beer, professional sports teams, live music, hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, caves, limestone bluffs, rivers, and beautiful nature trails are some reasons why Southeastern Minnesota is one of the most popular United States holiday destinations.
Amazing things to do in Southern Minnesota include a visit to the Museum of Medical Quackery and Fraud, a walk through the majestic Niagra Caves – or even a shopping trip to the internationally famous Mall of America.
Looking for more things to do in Southeastern and Southern Minnesota? Well, with so much to see and do, you’ll need several days to make it through the trip. Here’s a guide to the different Southern Minnesota attractions you’ll find on the way.
Led by expert local guides, this tour will take you on a captivating journey through Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Tour at one of the seven hills of Saint Paul, then head over to the State Capitol before weaving your way back into downtown. Along the way we’ll learn about the rich history of these great cities, stop for a coffee at a fantastic local establishment, and finish with a beer for the road.
Take a private tour of Minneapolis and St. Paul and see the best of both cities. This three-hour tour will take you to sixteen different sites, including the Mill District, State Capitol, University of Minnesota, and the Sculpture Garden. You'll learn about the local history, art, and culture from your knowledgeable guide while sipping on bottled water. This is the perfect way to get a comprehensive view of both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Travel back in time and explore the rich history of Minneapolis through its bars and breweries on this one-of-a-kind walking tour. Your knowledgeable local guide will take you to four of the city's most beloved watering holes, regaling you with stories of temperance groups, alcohol smuggling, and the golden age of drinking in Minneapolis. You'll also have the chance to enjoy a delicious top-shelf drink at each stop.
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An Introduction to Southern Minnesota
Southern Minnesota is one of the most picture-perfect stretches of the United States Midwest. Southeastern Minnesota tourism estimates that several million people trek through the Midwest on vacation each year – and so should you!
The things to see in southern Minnesota also include great restaurants, historical museums, rivers and caves, and nature conservation parks if you want to see nature from a few feet away.
Great accommodation is available either at or close to most of the attractions listed here. Travel can be kept affordable with local car rental or taxi companies. Here’s your guide to going through Southern Minnesota and what there is to see.
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The Best Things to do in Southern Minnesota
1. Niagra Cave
Niagra Cave is one of the best Southern Minnesota things to do if you are any kind of nature lover or hiking enthusiast. It’s one of the largest natural caves in the United States and receives thousands of visitors every year.
Admission gets you through the door. Special bookings apply if you’d like to see shows or guided tours. Photography is allowed, so you get to take as many pictures as you like.
Accommodation can be found around the Niagra Cave area in case you’d like to stay somewhere before going on to the next stop on your trip.
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2. Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument is one of several monuments littered throughout the American Midwest. While it’s not usually the first place you think of as a holiday destination, this National Monument is one of the best Southern MN vacation spots of all.
Quiet and serene, Pipestone National Monument offers a closer look at the monument for a fee and is one of the most relaxed tours you can choose. It’s an easy hike and could be one of the best things to do in Southeastern Minnesota this weekend.
Affordable accommodation is available a stone’s throw from Pipestone National Monument if you’d like to stay before your trip continues.
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3. Forestville Mystery Cave State Park
Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is one of the best among Minnesota’s state parks, located right in the heart of Southern Minnesota.
It’s one of the first places to visit if you would like an experience that brings you right up to nature – where you can follow one of their hiking trails, take a guided tour of the park or just soak in the incredible atmosphere.
It’s absolutely breathtaking, to say the least.
Admission fees are under $20, and cheaper for kids. Plan for at least 1 to 2 hours here. It’s the type of place you’ll want to stay at for just five more minutes!
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4. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is a rare find along the Southeastern Minnesota stretch, and a must-visit for kids and adults alike. More than 500 different species of wildlife are represented right here at one of the most beautifully manicured and popular parks in Saint Paul MN.
While the traditional idea of going to the zoo isn’t as popular as it used to be, Como Park is more than your average zoo.
Como Park focuses on conservation and education, and the fair treatment of all the animals in their care is guaranteed.
Educational talks, trails, and seminars provide extra education about the animals you’ll see here, and it’s not just for younger visitors: there’s plenty for adults to explore.
Stop by the gift shop, or experience any of the small restaurants that can be found not too far from here.
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5. Quarry Hill Nature Center
Quarry Hill Nature Center is one of the many caves you will drive past while you make your way through Southern Minnesota. It’s rated as one of the best nature-themed stops in the area, and definitely worth at least several hours of your time.
Quarry Hill is located at 701 Silver Creek Road Northeast in Rochester and describes a huge 329-acre stretch of beautiful nature. Visitors will definitely want to stop and see the cave, where guided tours can give you a closer view of the best parts.
But Quarry Hill Nature Center is also so much more than something pretty to look at – there are several great activities. Skiing is available during certain times of the year. Skiing lessons are presented by the Center if you are still finding your snow feet. Educational talks for younger visitors are presented at the Children’s Pond and are best booked in advance.
While you’re here check out downtown Rochester, as it’s one of the most charming small towns in Southeast Minnesota.
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6. The National Eagle Center
How often do you get to go straight up to bald eagles? I’ll wager it’s not often. The National Eagle Center is one of the best southern MN attractions for anyone who loves to get up close and personal with nature while they learn something about the topic at hand, perhaps even with a bird in hand!
The National Eagle Center is one of the top conservation centers for eagle health in the whole of the United States. For visitors, this means that the National Eagle Center is where you’ll find talks and up-close experiences with these great creatures.
It’s one of the best Southern Minnesota things to do, and you can’t afford to miss a stop at the National Eagle Center at least once in your life.
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7. The Minneapolis Institute of Art
Yes, we know that Minneapolis is not the most Southern city of Minnesota but it is technically in the Southern half of the state… The city of Minneapolis is an art Nirvana; you’ve got the Weisman Art Museum, the Walker Arts Center, and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Among these giants is The Minneapolis Institute of Art, located at 2400 Third Avenue in South Minneapolis. The Institute is one of the most well-known art galleries in the world, and can’t be missed on the way through if you are any kind of art lover, or even if you aren’t – it is a simply incredible art museum that covers a huge array of styles and topics.
It’s one of the best places to take pictures in Minneapolis given the aesthetic and the park across the street with skyline views. A collection of more than 80,000 unique objects are housed in this grand old building. A small inside gift store offers posters, prints, and other cool stuff you might want to take home to remember your visit.
Books are also available for purchase if you find that a specific collection grabs your interest and you want to learn more information.
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8. The Mall of America
The Mall of America is internationally famous as one of the largest by-area retail complexes in the United States and the largest mall in the States. Located in Bloomington, right next to MSP International Airport, it’s one of the most popular Southeast Minnesota attractions for tourists and local visitors who would like to get their retail therapy sessions on the road.
There are more than 500 different stores to explore once you’re inside the greatest mall in all the land. That’s shoes, clothing, food, electronics, art, furniture, and gaming, if you can add it to your wishlist, you’ll probably find it here.
It’s like a huge, physical Amazon store where you can buy anything you can name. Expect to do a lot of walking as you make your way through the aisles and from store to store. While it’s not a hiking trail, it can start to feel like one after about an hour’s worth of walking back and forth.
Good thing there’s a huge food court to explore and several great restaurants to fuel up at! Not only that, there’s an indoor theme park in the form of Nickelodeon Universe, the SeaLife Aquarium, the Crayola Experience, and a water park for kids’ activities, as well as hotels right outside for overnight trips.
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9. The Museum of Quackery & Medical Fraud
The Museum of Quackery & Medical Fraud is an odd attraction at best, but also happens to be one of the top Southern Minnesota tourist attractions – and will always continue to draw a crowd thanks to the incredible amount of strange items you’ll find here.
Atlas Obscura lists this as a top travel destination, and we’d have to agree! The Museum of Quackery & Medical Fraud is where you’ll see a medical history of the bizarre, from false claims to snake oils through the ages.
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10. The Spam Museum
If you thought that the Museum of Medical Quackery & Fraud was going to be the strangest local attraction on this list, then you might have to think again! Southern Minnesota is also home to the great Spam Museum in Austin, MN.
It’s the only place in the world other than the state of Hawaii where Spam is loved exactly this much. Not the dreaded e-mails you have to clear out every so often, but the squidgy pink foodstuff typically found in cans.
Follow Spam from its invention through to its modern enjoyment, with resources and selected recipes on display.
Strange? Yes. Worthwhile? Also yes. It’s definitely one of the most fun and unique things to do outside the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but you’ll want to visit a restaurant once you’re done. Check out these other best museums in Minnesota if you love learning about art and history in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
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11. Four Daughters Vineyard, Winery & Restaurant
Four Daughters Vineyard, Winery & Restaurant is located outside of the big cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Spring Valley, at 78757 MN-16.
Opening hours are later in the day from 11 am. With bookings, you can experience an incredible one-of-a-kind wine-tasting experience in their tasting room, or stay longer and sample some of what the excellent in-house restaurant has to offer.
A restaurant that served beers and other refreshments are also available on the menu if you are not a traditional wine drinker. The food is top-rated, and alternative options are available if you are gluten intolerant or vegan for example.
While it’s small, that’s exactly what counts when it’s that “small towns” atmosphere that matters.
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12. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located at 9700 170th Street (East) and was first opened to the public in the year 1945. It’s one of the most incredible forests that you can find in the area, and one of the best hiking trails in the entire Upper Midwest.
The park’s trails line More than 11 miles of the forest, and that’s not all. If you would like to spend some more time in the forest, camping options are available at different price points.
There’s a visitor center in the Forest if you would like to know more about the beautiful environment around you.
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13. Orfield Labs Quiet Chamber
The Orfield Labs Quiet Chamber is located in Minneapolis, at 2709 East 25th Street. It used to be named the quietest place on Earth according to the Guinness Book of Records, although its spot has since been overtaken.
There are many serious scientific reasons why the Quiet Chamber exists: research is one of them. But let’s be honest, a completely soundproof chamber is also a lot of fun.
Visits to the Quiet Chamber run into the expensive side, up to $125 per person a visit, but it’s totally worth it for the experience. Just don’t stay inside too long; the lack of sound apparently sends people barmy if they’re in one of these chambers for too long!
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14. Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station
The Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station is important because it is a poignant landmark that is part of the country’s history, and quite unlike any other gas station you might see across the United States: yes, it’s literally a one-of-a-kind piece of historic architecture.
Also called the R.W. Lindholm Service Station, it was designed by one of the most prolific architects in the States, and as far as gas stations go, it’s a damned quirky stop on any Southern Minnesota road trip. Plus, it’s free!