5 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before Your First Semester

by Cindy Baldhoff

The beginning of a school year is filled with activity and anticipation. In addition to gearing up for the adventure of college itself, there are many other things for students to do — such as furnishing your new surroundings and learning more about the city you’re going to call home. It’s no different for University of Minnesota students, who will quickly find that the campus is filled with many opportunities for fun.

That’s why it can be helpful to arrive in the Twin Cities before the school year begins and learn more about what this area has to offer.

“The sheer size of Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding metro area means there is a lot to explore, see, and do,” says Aubrey Shield, associate editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine. She suggests new students give themselves an extra week before classes to discover their new stomping grounds.

“Knowing the greater community in which you live can make you feel more at home overall,” she says. “Plus, you can use that time to figure out where you like to go out to eat, which coffee shops to study in, where to buy groceries, and where to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Minnesota.”

Here are some insider’s tips for students looking to find their happy place in the Twin Cities.


Yes, great food and a student’s budget can coexist. Nowhere is that more evident than along the Central Avenue business district in northeast Minneapolis. “There are several amazing, inexpensive ethnic restaurants in this part of the city. They’re all delicious and easy on the bank account,” says Shield. Among her recommendations?

Kristen Montag, senior PR and communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, adds that there are many economical options on and around campus.

“The Dinkytown neighborhood is filled with options that are student-friendly. Spots like Al’s Breakfast are hits with students and non-students alike, and there are many terrific ethnic options.”

Study Spots

Eventually, every student wants to find a quiet study spot, no matter how study-friendly your apartment may be. For that, Shield recommends Anelace Coffee. “It’s nice and quiet, and other customers will be working on their computers.” In other words, it’s more caffeinated library and less Starbucks.

Outdoor Fun

Just south of downtown Minneapolis is the Chain of Likes Regional Park, which offers miles of trails for running, walking, and biking. Montag points out that Minneapolis has been voted the country’s top park system for five years running, “so running, biking, walking, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding are all popular here.”

With more than 200 miles of trails in the area, there are virtually no limits to where students can explore the city. “The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway is a 52-mile route around the city, great for biking on Nice Ride MN bike share program bikes if you don’t have your own two wheels,” says Montag.

Live Music

The Minneapolis music scene is legendary, and that makes First Avenue & 7th St Entry “an absolute must,” according to Shield. The venue, known as Prince’s favorite place to perform, was the main backdrop in his film “Purple Rain.” Today, it boasts a lineup that ranges from local acts to national headliners. With shows every night of the week, it’s one of the city’s most vibrant venues. And, because of its great location in downtown Minneapolis, it also promotes the discovery of lively, inventive restaurants, such as The Depot, Rock Bottom Brewery, O’Donovan’s, and Kieran’s Irish Pub to name a few.

Out and About

If you’re looking for something truly out of the ordinary, then head to Betty Danger’s Country Club, a kitschy restaurant in northeast Minneapolis. Like all good country clubs, this one offers golf, but it’s of the miniature variety. You will definitely want to hop on the Danger Wheel, a bright pink “vertical revolving patio” that most people would call a Ferris wheel; guests here just call it fun.

“Farmer’s markets are fun for everyone, too. Try the Mill City Farmer’s Market on the riverfront on Saturdays for great shopping and food, as well as entertainment,” Montag suggests.

Of course, in addition to exploring your new city, you also want to make sure you get your apartment in order. CORT Furniture Rental in the Twin Cities is there to help you make the most of your off-campus environment.