Exploring Minnesota: Saint Paul and the East Metro

Nestled in a bend in the Mississippi River, Saint Paul, Minnesota, has long been a cultural crossroads as a trading and transportation center and as the capital of Minnesota.

Today it is a quiet multicultural city of museums, parks, colleges, and great food from around the world.

Exploring Saint Paul

For a rather quiet place, Saint Paul offers a wealth of art, culture, intellectual, and dining opportunities. There are also inviting parks, well-preserved historic buildings, and a growing craft beer industry. With a diverse population that includes large Mexican-American, Hmong, and Somali communities, it’s easy to experience several cultures in a single day!

Downtown, Lowertown, and the State Capitol

Landmark Center St Paul MN ExplorationVacationnetSitting along the banks of the Mississippi River, downtown Saint Paul has a lot to offer visitors. The city’s business district is located in the center of downtown, but there is a lot more than business happening here. This is the city’s cultural heart, with a variety of museums, theaters, parks, and historical buildings.

Just beyond the business district, Lowertown is becoming the hip place to live in Saint Paul, with new bars and restaurants popping up everywhere. The farmers market has been here for decades, but the nearby CHS Field (home of the Saints baseball team) is brand new, and Union Depot was only recently polished up and put back into use as a rail station. Fortunately at least some of the artists who put Lowertown on the cultural map in the first place still have studios here and there are still galleries, performance spaces, and art events that showcase their work.

Minnesota State Capitol - ExplorationVacation.netJust uphill, the regal Minnesota State Capitol is in the midst of a renovation that will bring it back to its original beauty. Renovation tours are available and much of the surrounding grounds and sculptures are still open to the public.

West 7th

This old neighborhood southwest of downtown is undergoing tremendous change, but the history of the area, once a European immigrant community anchored by the former Schmidt Brewery, is still evident in its restaurants, antique shops, galleries, and micro-breweries.  With downtown and the Xcel Energy Center (home of the Minnesota Wild) nearby, West 7th is a busy place from happy hour until late into the evening.

Irvine Park - ExplorationVacation.netNearby, tiny Irvine Park is where Saint Paul was established as a city in 1849. This historic neighborhood is the perfect place to stroll and a glimpse of the city’s past.


Summit-University and west to River Road

The Summit-University area includes several neighborhoods on Cathedral Hill and along Summit and University Avenues to Minneapolis.

Summit Avenue St Paul Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netCathedral Hill sits on the bluff above downtown, anchored by the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul. This was a breezy, largely rural area in 1891 when railroad magnet James J. Hill built his home here. Saint Paul’s elite soon followed, erecting mansions along Summit Avenue and throughout the surrounding neighborhood. It’s a great neighborhood for walking.

Nearby Selby Avenue is the home to a few unique shops and a number of great restaurants, bakeries, and up-scale bars—many located in historic buildings.

To the south, Grand Avenue is lined with shops and restaurants from Cathedral Hill almost to the Mississippi River.

To the north, University Avenue (and the Metro Green Line) runs through some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the state. This diversity is evident in the shops, restaurants, and cultural institutions along the way. It’s also becoming an arts center, with new studios and galleries popping up. It’s a great place to get a bite to eat.

Highland Park

Although it’s a desirable residential neighborhood, Highland Park has little of interest to visitors beyond River Road. This neighborhood of modest homes grew up around a (recently demolished) Ford motor vehicle assembly plant, and businesses here largely serve the surrounding neighborhood.

Como (including Hamlin-Midway and Saint Anthony Park)

Como Conservatory St Paul Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netThe Como area includes its namesake park, zoo, and conservatory, while Saint Anthony Park’s tiny commercial hub is a fun place to shop and grab a bite to eat.

The East Side (Payne – Phalen, Dayton’s Bluff, and the Greater East Side)

The East Side neighborhoods encompass a mix of mostly struggling neighborhoods with a broad range of housing and commercial development. Dayton’s Bluff has a notable collection of Victorian mansions as well as several popular restaurants and bars. These neighborhoods are also home to Lake Phalen, Indian Mounds, and Swede Hollow parks. It’s an interesting area of the city, but visitors should be cautious in some of these neighborhoods after dark.

The Greater East Side and Battle Creek

The Greater East Side encompasses the residential and commercial areas that grew up around 3M’s headquarters. Nearby Battle Creek is a secluded residential neighborhood. For visitors, the attraction in this part of the city is Battle Creek Regional Park.

Thomas-Dale and the North End

Oakland Cemetery St Paul Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.netBeyond the capitol area, there is little of interest to visitors in the mostly lower-income Thomas-Dale and North End neighborhoods. There are two exceptions to that statement:

  • The historic Oakland Cemetery, where many of Minnesota’s most prominent early settlers were buried
  • The Half Time Rec is a popular local bar that often features Irish music and where it is not unusual to see local children showing off their Irish step dance skills

Visitors should be cautious in some areas of these neighborhoods.

The West Side

The heart of Saint Paul’s Hispanic community

River Road

Crossing several neighborhoods along both sides of the Mississippi River is Minneapolis and Saint Paul, River Road is ideal for walking or biking. The road has bike and walking paths and runs from the main campus of the University of Minnesota down to Hidden Falls Park in Saint Paul and Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. On the Saint Paul side the trails hug the bluff above the river, providing views of the river, lock and dam, various bridges, and Minneapolis in the distance.

Exploring beyond Saint Paul

The eastern suburbs around Saint Paul are largely residential, but a few places warrant a trip beyond the city.

Fort Snelling ExplorationVacation.netFort Snelling

Located on a site used by American Indian communities for generations, Fort Snelling was the first step in Minnesota’s path toward statehood. The historic fort is preserved as a historic site, while later housing and other military facilities are (finally) being put to new uses. The adjacent Fort Snelling State Park, preserves land around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.

White Bear Lake

Located north of Saint Paul, White Bear Lake is a charming lakeside community with a vibrant arts community, innovative restaurants, and unique shops.


The historic town of Afton is tiny, but it’s the perfect place to stop for an ice cream cone after a day spent exploring Afton State Park.


Perhaps the perfect river town, Stillwater’s Victorian architecture climbs the hillsides above the Saint Croix River. With a vast array of unique shops and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend a day or two.

Resources for planning your exploration

Saint Paul is small enough that visitors can just wander without doing a lot of planning, but there are a few resources available for those seeking more information or a more structured itinerary.

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