Twin Cities Local Highlights

Published on September 07, 2022 - Updated on September 07, 2022

The Twin Cities offer endless opportunities for family fun! Here, families can embrace their inner foodie, seek out one of our 10,000 lakes, play in nature, and more! Narrowing down the Twin Cities into ten local highlights is nearly impossible! However, after much thought and family discussion, we have identified 10 Twin Cities Local Highlights that are sure to spark family joy and memory-making. From local zoos and playgrounds to opportunities to learn together, this list includes some of the best family-friendly things to do in the Twin Cities. Keep reading to plan your next family day in the Twin Cities!

Twin Cities Highlights & Local Favorites

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

1225 Estabrook Dr, St Paul, MN 55103

A young girl looks at a small indoor pond, surrounded by tropical foliage inside one of the gardens at Como Park and Conservatory.

Located in the heart of St. Paul, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has been a local highlight for generations. The first zoo in Minnesota, it opened in 1897! Here, kids will delight in racing through the various outdoor exhibits, featuring a variety of animals including zebras, polar bears, orangutans, and giraffes! While almost all of the animals have an outdoor habitat, there are indoor exhibits for cold or rainy days too. Inside, kids can learn about tropical foliage, sloths, and reptiles. Or, meander one of the many indoor gardens. The tropical weather here is the perfect escape from Minnesota's snowy winters! The best part, this zoo is free to enter (donations are appreciated)! Finally, don’t miss taking a turn on the iconic on-site carousel.

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • Within the grounds, Como Town offers exciting rides and attractions for kids aged 2 - 12.
  • Looking for a nearby brewery that is also kid-friendly? Heady to Lake Monster Brewing Company, which offers great taps and food trucks (plus, a large outdoor seating area!).

Wood Lake Nature Center

6710 Lake Shore Dr. S, Richfield, MN 55423

A young girl points across a large pond toward a white bird at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota.

Nestled in the center of the Twin Cities, Wood Lake Nature Center provides families with an oasis of tranquility and nature within its 150 acres. While it is located right along a major highway, inside the nature center you will feel miles away from urban life. Here, families can traverse over two miles of maintained trails, including a scenic boardwalk. Kids will adore wandering the trails in search of birds, turtles, and other small creatures. During the winter months, adventurous families can also use groomed cross-country ski trails. Those visiting with older kids or teens can challenge them to find the hidden geocaches awaiting discovery! Be sure to leave enough time to learn something new at the cozy interpretive center too. Check the calendar for seasonal events (like Halloween story walks) or summer classes for kids.

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • One of the best playgrounds in the Twin Cities is also nearby! Augsburg Park and Playground offers an accessible playground, picnic area, small pond, and a Hennepin County library.
  • After hiking in Wood Lake Nature Center, head to the Richfield Outdoor Pool to cool down on a sunny, summer day.
  • Families looking for food will also find a McDonald’s, My Burger, Caribou Coffee, and Firehouse Subs nearby (66th and Lyndale).

Hyland Play Area

10145 E Bush Lake Rd, Bloomington, MN 55438


Nestled inside Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Hyland Play Area offers one of the most adventurous playgrounds in the Twin Cities. Locally known as the “chutes and ladders park” because of its series of hexagonal climbers and slides, this playground will leave your kids exhausted and beaming from ear to ear. Here, kids can make their way through a series of ladders, slides, and sky tunnels - twisting and turning along the way! There is also a designated area for infants and toddlers. Just across a small field, families can also enjoy a small visitor’s center, offering some limited concessions and restrooms. Finally, there are miles and miles of stroller and bike-friendly trails for summer strolls (and cross-country ski trails in the winter!).

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • On your way, grab a coffee and a good morning treat from Mugshots Coffee Co to start your day before exploring Hyland Lake Park Reserve.
  • Would you rather hit up a kid-friendly brewery afterward? Head to nearby Nine Mile Brewing Company to try one of their many tap beers.

Fort Snelling State Park

101 Snelling Lake Rd, St Paul, MN 55111

A mom and her young daughter walk across a snowy trail hand-in-hand, while exploring Fort Snelling State Park during the winter.

Minnesota offers families over 60 state parks to choose from across the state, including one nestled right in St. Paul! Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, Fort Snelling State Park is a stunning urban park. Not to mention, one of the best places to hike in the Twin Cities for families. While there are many trails to choose from, Pike Island Loop is perhaps the most iconic. This 3.9-mile loop trail is lovely no matter the season - you may even catch a glimpse of a local deer or turkey! During the winter months, you can also snowshoe and cross-country ski along this trail. In addition to hiking, Fort Snelling State Park also offers two playgrounds, picnicking areas, fishing, and a swimming beach.

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • Head to nearby Historic Fort Snelling to learn about local Minnesota history together, including its military history and information about the local indigenous peoples and cultures.
  • Want to end your exploration with lunch? Fiddlehead Coffee Co. is a lovely option for sandwiches, salads, and delicious baked goods.

Mall of America

60 E Broadway, Bloomington, MN 55425

A mom and her young daughter stand in front of a colorful wall, while exploring Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America.

Certainly, one of the most well-known highlights of the Twin Cities is the Mall of America! Offering four floors of shopping, restaurants, and things to do, the Mall of America offers tons of fun for the whole family. Families interested in getting creative can check out Crayola Experience. Alternatively, those looking for an animal encounter can meet the sharks and other creatures at SEA LIFE at Mall of America. In need of an adrenaline rush? Kids will delight in racing down roller coasters at Nickelodeon Universe. Additionally, there are two indoor mini golf courses, as well as an arcade for more family fun. If you have teens, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mall of America to learn more about the people and stories here. If you want to grab a bite to eat while you’re shopping or playing, head to the Rainforest Cafe or Twin City Grill.

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

Minnehaha Falls

4801 S Minnehaha Dr, Minneapolis, MN 55417

A toddler girls holds onto a metal fence, while looking through the bars at the towering Minnehaha falls in Minneapolis.

Located in Minnehaha Regional Park, Minnehaha Falls is certainly one of the coolest natural wonders in the Twin Cities. This urban waterfall is 53 feet tall and is just off the parking lot, making it easy to get to with kids of all ages. After you have viewed the falls (either from above or by taking the stairs to the bridge below), there are several more things you can do in the park. Firstly, families will enjoy renting surrey bikes near the top of the falls for a thrilling ride. Then, there is a garden, playground, picnicking area, and wading pool here too, as well as additional hiking and biking paths. Parking can be tricky though, with paid street parking and a paid lot. Free street parking is also available past the Dairy Queen.

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • If you’re hungry, Sea Salt is a seasonal eatery just above the falls. They provide a delicious menu filled with seafood, tacos, and sandwiches.
  • If you’d like to continue your outdoor adventures, you can also hike the nearby Wincell Trail, which goes along the Mississippi River.
  • Afterward, head to Venn Brewing Company to try their tap beer, and enjoy the family-friendly patio and food trucks (there are changing tables in the restrooms).

Lake Harriet

4135 W Lake Harriet Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55409


Going to one of Minnesota’s many lakes is truly a highlight of the Twin Cities. With over 20 lakes to choose from just in the Twin Cities, you may be wondering which one is best for families. Certainly, families seeking a day filled with fun will adore Lake Harriet Park and Playground. Not only can you play on the lake, but there is also a large playground for kids to run, climb, and slide. While kids are playing on the huge climbing structure, parents can relax with a cup of coffee on a nearby bench. When you’re ready to play in the water, families can rent kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards from a nearby rental stand. Kids can also make sand castles and wade in the water at the public beach. Then, there is also a paved trail around Lake Harriet for families who want to take a stroll, rollerblade, or bike. While making your way around the lake, keep your eyes out for the cute fairy house (located on the south end of the lake).

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • Before you head to Lake Harriet, grab picnic supplies from Broders’ Cucina Italiana, a well-loved local Italian deli offering everything from pizza to sandwiches and a small Italian market.
  • Want to give kids a special treat after a day of fun in the sun? Head to nearby Wild Rumpus Bookstore, where kids can purchase a new book and see the on-site menagerie of animals, including cats and chickens.
  • Sweet Retreat Cupcake Boutique is another great nearby option for an afternoon treat after playing all day on the lake!

Mill City Museum

704 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401

A large, neon sign above the Mill City Museum reads "GOLD MEDAL FLOUR".

If your family loves learning about local history, a trip to the Mill City Museum is in order. Perhaps one of the best places to learn about the history of the Twin Cities, Mill City Museum was built upon the ruins of Washburn "A" Mill (right next to Mill Ruins Park). Kids will adore the smells wafting from the baking lab (there may even be a few samples!), as well as seeing decades-old commercials for iconic General Mills products, learning about local foods, and playing at the large water table. Make sure you get tickets for the Flour Tour elevator show. This unique tour is sure to delight people of all ages. Afterward, take the elevator to the rooftop observation deck, where you’ll be treated to an unparalleled view of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls.

Shady Oak Beach and Community Play Area (Seasonal)

5200 Shady Oak Rd, Minnetonka, MN 55343


Shady Oak Beach is ideal for hot summer days spent in the sun and on the water. Truly a local favorite, this seasonally-opened beach and play area are perfect for families looking to splash their way into new memories. Families can swim with peace of mind as a lifeguard keeps watch over the area. Alternatively, families looking to explore the waters a bit more can rent (or bring their own) kayaks or canoes. On the specially-curated playground, kids can even search for hidden “fossils”! Plus, a concession stand, changing areas, and a first-aid area are also located on-site. Would you prefer to pack a lunch picnic? The area outside the fence provides a lovely shaded area with picnic tables (and grills!). Finally, there is also a walking/biking path (available all year round).

Nearby Family-Friendly Favorites:

  • Start your morning nearby with a sweet treat from YoYo Donuts, offering both traditional and creative flavors. Their maple and bacon donut is a local favorite!
  • Looking for a nearby lunch? Head to Scoreboard Bar and Grill, a popular neighborhood restaurant for tasty food and good prices.

Minnesota's Largest Candy Store (Seasonal)

20430 Johnson Memorial Dr, Jordan, MN 55352

A young girl stands looking at a sign that reads "Minnesota's Larges Candy Store".

Indulge your inner sweet tooth with a candy-fueled shopping spree at Minnesota's Largest Candy Store! While this Minnesota legend may not technically be located in the Twin Cities metro area, it certainly deserves a spot on this list of local highlights (it's about 30-40 minutes from most locations in the Twin Cities). Families from across the state flock to Minnesota's Largest Candy Store for its rich and diverse array of candy and specialty foods. Seasonally open mid-May through November, kids will delight in taking a “mini-road trip” to experience its wonders for themselves. From character candies (think Harry Potter and your favorite superheroes) to candies that will bring you back to your own childhood, Minnesota's Largest Candy Store has it all. Plus, don’t miss their scrumptious baked goods, jams, cheeses, and more. Not to mention, the world’s largest selection of soda. A visit here will truly be a sweet one!

Have you been to the Twin Cities? Does your family live here? Let us know what your favorite local spots are in the comments below! Or tag us in your photos on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Interested in other amazing cities around the U.S.? We've got a whole bunch of local-recommended spots in major (and not major!) cities across the country. Check out our blog for great advice on cities like Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, and more! Or, if you are interested in getting information about taking the family to the national parks, we've got some great tips on Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Haleakala National Park, and Mt. Rainier National Park!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Antonia Grant
Antonia Grant is a life-long learner and avid adventurer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves equipping families with the tools and confidence they need to travel and adventure together. Antonia is also a strong believer in the beauty of multigenerational relationships and travel. Her main adventure buddies are her husband and young daughter. As a family, they love trying new restaurants, hiking, and traveling the world! By day she works at Carleton College, by night she is a Minneapolis ambassador for happyly. She’s always seeking new adventures to write about and share. Connect with Antonia on Instagram!
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