How to Find Escape During Winter in Minnesota


The ground is frozen and the trees are barren, Yet there are still ways to connect with the earth until the thaw.

Get Grounded

Ready for a refresh? Here’s a foolproof renewal plan. Step one: Bundle up, as usual. Step two: Get to the white-paned glass palace filled with a thriving jungle. You know the one—our historic landmark and great treasure, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Step three: Open the door. Step four: Unzip your parka, and unwind your scarf like a mummy freeing itself. Step five: Feel instant joy! It’s the smell that makes your heart happy. Warm, wet air full of green growing, the smell of chlorophyll, the smell of earth. It hits you on a cellular level: This is warmth; this is life! Step six: Walk the paths, find the special blooming orchids, admire the beauty of leaves and bark, go around the Sunken Garden (as many times as you want), and marvel. Step seven: Take the interior hallways over to the Como Zoo’s Tropical Encounters—a rainforest animal and plant exhibit that combines the great smells of warm, living life with the sounds of birds and the sights of darting fish and bright frogs. And finally, step 8: Head back out to the frozen world. Your very being will be newly alert, alive, and restored. 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul

Tour the Terrain

There’s nothing like the sound of horse hooves hitting the pavement, especially when you’re snuggled in an open carriage on Hitching Company’s Minneapolis riverfront tour. Book a dinner at a neighboring North Loop or Northeast eatery to warm up with red wine or a smoky drink.

Add a Pinch of Salt

Book a halotherapy session at The Salt Cave, and you’ll quickly be transported to another world—one where six tons of pink salt line the walls and floors and low lights glow warm and cozy. Choose from individual, unstructured sessions (meditate or nap with no distractions!) and guided services—such as a yoga class—and reap the potential benefits: stress relief, reduced inflammation, and more. Ahhh. 4811 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.

Earthly Delights

Having one of those days when you could really use a change of perspective from your WFH space? Hustle off to Hotel Emery (pictured), and hunker down at Spyhouse Coffee in the lush lobby. And if you really need a break from the mundane, make 24 hours of it with a handmade pasta dinner at the Chef Steven Brown–driven Giulia, an overnight in one of the rooms above (hello, 12-foot ceilings), and a comfy seat at the neighboring Guthrie Theater while you enjoy The Little Prince—the story of a prince’s intergalactic travels to various planets, including Earth. 215 S. 4th St., Mpls.

Camp Indoors

Need an easy getaway with the kids? Westin Edina Galleria offers an indoor camping package complete with a tent, age-appropriate toys, and a customized sleeping bag. Bring your own twinkle lights and your favorite pillows, dim the overheads, order room service, dial up a Netflix movie, and then hunker down.

Dig in the Dirt

Feeling the need to wrap your fingers around a piece of earth? Dame Errant clay studio just might be your indoor winter wonderland. Owner/artist Tara Block’s studio is tucked in a historic warehouse space and offers a great variety of workshops, but we are especially intrigued by the “Open Clay” options providing a place to create by starting with a sphere, cylinder, or slab of clay. Tools are provided, plus glazing and firing on-site. Let your imagination guide your hands. 1729 N. 2nd St., Mpls.

Commune with Nature

Only a few places in town allow you to escape from it all and experience the quad-fecta of the elements—count the Minnesota Zoo as one of the best. The animals roaming the earth year-round. The warmth of the indoor Tropics Trail. The snow monkeys taking in the outdoor air! And for the first part of this year, there’s a dolphin exhibit (a fan-favorite water mammal). 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley

Eat Local

Escaping the kitchen and eating out is often a welcome change of pace, especially in the winter. One of the things our local chefs do particularly well is celebrate the ingredients nurtured on this land. Minnesota is fifth in the nation in agricultural production, with $16 billion of our economy coming from growing things we eat. The manner in which it’s grown is obviously the finer point that brings us all to the table in different ways, and some of our chefs are keeping their roots very close to home.

The national buzz about Owamni (pictured below, 420 S. 1st St., Mpls.) is well-earned, because the Indigenous-foods restaurant has created a shift in our thinking. By removing all the ingredients that were brought to these lands by colonizers, the menu doesn’t just give us a taste of the past but a taste of who we might be today on an alternative, more natural timeline.

Speaking the language of the small farm, Wise Acre Eatery (5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.) can account for all of the ingredients in the kitchen. They come from the restaurant’s farm in Plato, Minnesota, which means the menu is planned in harmony with the harvest. If it’s been a rough year for the tomato crop, the pasta might look different—as it should.

And if you believe in gratitude for anything you’re eating, from salad to cheeseburger, Tongue in Cheek (989 Payne Ave., St. Paul) has set a place for you. The eatery’s mission is to only use animals that have lived a good life, being raised sustainably and humanely. The ethos is simple and true for all: Living a good life tastes better.

Terra Firma

Don’t let the weather hold you back from walking the beautiful earth every day. It’s a practice that enthusiasts say fills them with awe and keeps them sane. Tools of the trade? Snow pants; Icebugs (spiked shoes from Sweden); a good hooded coat that’s a size too big so you can layer sweaters under it; and the ordinary winter necessities, such as gloves and a hat. Now, hit the trails.

Walker’s Sculpture Garden: During winter in the Sculpture Garden, you’ll see that all on this earth have hardships—like zero-degree temperatures and tailpipe smog—even giant cherries. And yet in the difficulties, we can still shine with our dazzling beauty. 725 Vineland Pl., Mpls.

Pike Island at Fort Snelling: What do giant pileated woodpeckers and eagles do all winter? What they always do: hunt for food, inspire, and be awesome. They’re easiest to spot on Pike Island, where there’s a decent chance they’ll find open water for fishing and trees for pecking, giving humans on the paths an audible signal to lift our parka’d heads and smile. 200 Tower Ave., St. Paul

Summit Avenue: The dead of winter is the easiest season to see all the ornate details of the grandes dames of domestic architecture along Cathedral Hill—each gingerbread curlicue, each granite balustrade, each little pop of engineering that says, “We of the past have created such marvels that you will gawk and applaud for centuries.” St. Paul

See Green

Who knew a hyper-vertical plant boutique would take root? Erik Hamline. His 5,000-square-foot north Minneapolis shop Mother Co., Plants (pictured, 2400 N. 2nd St.) is a mecca for cactus lovers, but it has evolved to include tropicals, giant (by houseplant standard) sculptural greens, and air plants. The wide-open warehouse-meets-shop is an oasis among neighboring industry, and a trip here in a weekend is a getaway all its own. After your zen-like moment, bring yourself back to earth and cross the river to hit Psycho Suzi’s (1900 NE Marshall St.), where over-the-top Christmas décor is in place until January 28!


Our 10,000 lakes are frozen, yet waters still flow in places big and small while ice becomes our best winter friend. 

Float + Soak

Believe it or not, floating in super-salty warm water in a pitch-black (optional), completely silent pod can be one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating hours of your life—try it at St. Paul’s Awaken for Wellness (pictured, 1821 St. Clair Ave.) or its location in Hudson (411 Cty. Rd. UU). Not feeling the float tank? Fusion LifeSpa in Deephaven (18142 Minnetonka Blvd.) offers detoxifying and relaxing steams, baths, and treatments to connect with water in a more traditional spa environment.

Belly Up

For the first time ever, our best ice is going for a record in February. With the help of the city of St. Paul, Minnesota Ice is attempting a Guinness World Records title for the world’s longest ice bar. China currently holds the record at 330 feet, but there’s no doubt we can beat that in Mears Park. 221 E. 5th St., St. Paul

Bask In Bathing

The national trend has finally found its way north, as Watershed Spa opened this past fall to become the first public bathhouse in the Twin Cities. In the former Soap Factory space (fitting, no?), the lower level of the spa is dedicated to creating a ritual bathing haven with steam, a sauna, hydrotherapies, and a large communal pool. Suits are required, but you are free to move between the heated waters and the cold-plunge pool as you hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 514 SE 2nd St., Mpls.

Slip + Slide: Ice

Ice Castles is created with icicles “grown” on a site in New Brighton (1500 Old Hwy. 8) that local artisans use to build LED-lit tunnels, caverns, towers, fountains, slides, and crawl spaces, plus a Polar Pub. Need more? Escape to The Minnesota Ice Maze, part of Winter Skolstice at Viking Lakes (2645 Vikings Circle, Eagan), starting January 6, and make your way through a “local largest” course made with 300-pound blocks, only to emerge onto an ice slide at the finish.

Go Jump In A Lake

As crazy as that sounds, there are many reasons to saw a hole in a frozen lake top and jump in. Frontiers-of-health types insist it’s good for your cardiovascular system, aiding blood flow. It’s also good for your overall well-being because icy-water submersion tells your cells to make more energy-generating mitochondria. And Polar Plunging is good for your mood because it gives you an instant boost of endorphins.

Special Olympics Minnesota knows for a fact that Polar Plunging is also good for our community—some 15,000 Minnesotans helped fundraise last winter through To Polar Plunge for good, all you need to do is sign up and agree to fundraise $75. After that, it’s all about courage and commitment.

To train, some people take increasingly long cold showers or fill up their bathtub with cold water and ice cubes. On the big day, they put on their neoprene socks (what avid Polar Plungers use) or shoes (everyone must have footwear when Polar Plunging so that their wet feet don’t freeze to anything once they get out). Super plungers also put on a costume. Costume? For all the social media, of course: Minnesota’s social media feeds fill up with folks in team T-shirts, colorful outfits, and superhero onesies all jumping into cold cut-out pools in the frozen lake top in the bright blue-cast sunlight of a winter day.

Are you up for it? You can connect with the thousand-plus-member Minnesota Facebook group Night Water Butterflies to learn more. (It’s not a great idea to do your first frozen lake dip solo.)

Immersive Spa Day

Secret tip: If you book a spa appointment at Life Time Edina in Southdale, you get access to the entire premium club for the whole day. Sweat it out in a spin class, play some pickleball, then steam and sauna. Make way to your mani or pedi, then refresh in the locker room before grabbing a table on-site at Rare Steak and Sushi. Best day ever.

Winter days can take on a certain sameness—same icy landscape, same four walls—except for the day you jump into a frozen lake. That’s a day you never forget. That’s a day you were strong, brave, and possibly a little nuts—and got proof of it.


U.S. Pond Hockey Championships: The greatest hockey event in the world happens this month on Lake Nokomis. Dust off your skates to play (or sign your kid’s team up for Youth Night). Or do what most folks do: Pack a thermos and watch a game between any of 300 or so teams playing on more than 25 rinks. Starts Jan. 19

Wayzata Chilly Open: On February 11, the place to be is Wayzata Bay for a day of ice golf tourneys, snowkite races, “snowga,” and, of course, a chili cook-off. Sign up a team for the golf tourney, or just take it all in, including the restaurants vying for top prizes in the heated competition. Bonus: nearby post-event watering holes.

Art Shanty Projects: Starting January 21, Bdé Umán (AKA Lake Harriet) hosts the free-to-all fest where you can explore and interact with 35+ artist-created structures, sculptures, and other projects. This year’s crop includes Chapsicle of Love, where they’ll be performing actual, legally binding weddings.

Slip + Slide: H2O

Our winters solve one of the momentous pains of taking your family to the water park for the day: no need to apply goopy sunscreen to antsy children. Let that fact alone (but also our subzero temps and early sunsets) be all the license you need to pack up your brood and head to an indoor water park. For those looking for the grandest experience, try Bloomington’s Great Wolf Lodge (pictured, 1700 American Blvd. E.)—it has slides as high as four stories, a poolside bar, a lazy river, and a wave pool. If you’re looking for something slightly more chill, the Venetian Indoor Waterpark in Maple Grove (11801 Fountains Way) has two four-story slides and a massive 20-person spa for parents. Or hit the chillest of them all: St. Paul’s municipal Great River Water Park (270 Lexington Pkwy. N.), which has slides, lap pools, diving boards, and a sauna for less than $10 a person.

Wet Your Whistle (+Toes)

Google “local hotels with pools” and several will pop up—but two truly stand out. There is, of course, the luxury Four Seasons Minneapolis (pictured, 245 Hennepin Ave.) with a spa and indoor pool complete with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking North Loop’s Gateway District. (Hotel guests can also book luxe spa treatments.) And then there’s the rooftop soaking pool at Hewing Hotel (300 Washington Ave. N.), where you can sit on a ledge submerged in the warm water, sip something on ice, and watch your breath rise as you take in the skyline view—including the neighboring Four Seasons.


The winter air is crisp and cold, yet also filled with warmth, laughter, and energy indoors and out. 

Carried Away!

Hot-air ballooning isn’t just for the warmer months. Soar through the St. Croix Valley year-round (uh, blizzard permitting) with Stillwater Balloon (135 St. Croix Tr. N., Lakeland), offering hour-long airborne tours of the area in high style—complete with a champagne toast upon landing. Prefer to stay on the ground? Watch more than 30 balloons fly through the skies during the magical Hudson Hot Air Affair (pictured) in early February.

Breathtaking Views

Four Seasons Hotel’s outdoor Nordic Village, at its Riva Terrace, features curling, a fire table lounge, cocktails with skyline views, and a four-course dinner served in a private mini cabin. Open to non-hotel guests through March 4.


Into the idea of skydiving but intimidated by all that sky? iFly’s got you, as it takes the sky out of the diving. Just off of 394 in the shadow of Bacio (earn yourself a dessert or nightcap), iFly replaces the whole jumping-out-of-a-plane thing with vertical wind tunnels powerful enough to smoothly suspend flyers in the air with the same sensation of skydiving. All ages (3 and up) and abilities are welcome. “Flights” can be booked individually (for as low as $65/person) or in groups. 12415 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka

Secret Slice of Sky

Tucked in among the taller skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis, Blondette sits on the fifth floor of the Rand Tower Hotel with a view that beats a panoramic skyline. The glass roof and walls allow you to perch, with martini in hand, among captains of the creative class while you glimpse the sky above, old industry looming all around you. Hey, why not make it an overnight! 527 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls.

Hang Time

Need to wear out a rambunctious kid? Urban Air Adventure Park’s Plymouth location, with all its options, is your place. Here, your kid gets go-karts, a climbing wall, a ropes course, performance in-ground trampolines, a warrior course, and a handful of other crazy stuff that defies conventional definition, like the zip-line-esque Sky Rider. Best yet? This is one of the few places where kids pay the premium price and their adults buy a Parent Pass, which gets you access to all the same stuff, at half the price. 3580 Holly Ln. N.

Rarified Air

Take a mental breath of fresh air by spending an afternoon around a bunch of stuff that needs to be kept in very specially climate-controlled air at one of our myriad major museums. The Walker Art Center (725 Vineland Pl., Mpls.) is currently exhibiting a career retrospective of Jannis Kounellis, the Greek mixed-media artist most famous for pioneering the Italian Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Meanwhile, a stroll around Mia (2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls.) will net you all the standard joys of its permanent collection, plus the tail end of its landmark Botticelli exhibition and other longer-lasting installations like local painter Teo Nguyen’s lamentation on his homeland, Viêt Nam Peace Project. Or, if you want to dig deeper, head to the U to check in at the Weisman Art Museum (333 E. River Pkwy., Mpls.), where the iconic Frank Gehry–designed building tends to make the headlines but the Weisman’s deep cull of modern art, ranging from Marsden Hartley to Georgia O’Keeffe, steals the show, or explore St. Paul’s Minnesota Museum of American Art (pictured, 350 N. Robert St., St. Paul) for contemporary American art, including the currently exhibited Off the Deep End, a massive digital mural designed to confront sea level rise and climate change.

Lost in Space

Can Can Wonderland: There are all kinds of forced-air experiences to be had here! A Pac-Man–themed air hockey table called Pac Man SMASH? A one-of-one 1930s electromechanical directional-air penny arcade game called Blow Ball? Check and check. 755 Prior Ave. N., St. Paul

Top Golf: What are you worried about? It’s nearly impossible to whiff when the little white ball is teed up for you, right at your feet. Each ball is microchipped with Toptracer technology, allowing a variety of game play that goes way beyond par. 6420 Camden Ave. N., Brooklyn Center

Bad Axe Throwing: If you really want to throw something that will slice right through the air, why not throw something with a sharp edge—like an axe? That’s exactly what goes down at the two Minneapolis outposts of the Canadian chain. And, c’mon, cut it out: 50 percent off on your birthday? City Center, 611 Hennepin Ave. and 2505 NE Kennedy St.

Sugar Clouds

Spinning Wylde spins air and sugar, along with no small amount of magic, at the Cities’ first and only dedicated cotton candy café. Housed in the historic Union Depot (214 E. 4th St., St. Paul), it feels like an enchanted gateway to a charmed life, one where you eat candy for dinner.

Wonders of Wind

It’s a twister! But don’t worry; you won’t have to take Toto down to the storm cellar. Get carried away on the third level of the Science Museum, in the middle of the Experiment Gallery, with a miniature indoor tornado. Amaze your kids (and yourself) by disrupting the airflow of the ghostly rope with the palm of your hand. Stick around to conduct a few more experiments: The Aeolian Landscape uses a fan and a mound of glitter to demonstrate the effect of wind on earth forms, and you can perceive the flow and current of an airstream by observing the effect of a blower on a rubber sphere. On your way out, put all your theoretical comprehension to work by stopping by the interactive Mississippi River Visitor Center to play with the bald eagle computer simulator and ride the wind above the river valley. 120 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul


Minnesota winters shine bright with many sunny days, yet we also crave the heat of the flame to warm body and soul.  

Hot House

The Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis is feeling the heat. That’s because it’s the home of the Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts (pictured, 2213 Snelling Ave.), the Upper Midwest’s premier center for all things glassblowing and glass arts. One part professional studio for working glass artists, one part glass arts education center, and one part storefront for the glass artists who work there, Foci isn’t just a place for people who know their way around a crucible. You can stop by to shop, watch artists at work, or reserve a time to check out their glassblowing demos. If you’re feeling adventurous, sign up for entry-level classes. And now that you’re fired up, mark your calendar for the opening of Fluidity: Identity in Swedish Glass on February 1 at the American Swedish Institute (2600 Park Ave., Mpls.).

Body Heat

Sometimes a winter escape is as simple as a hot yoga class—where you can really sweat it out. The Modo Yoga Studio (3252 W. Lake St., Mpls.) is heated to 95 to 103 degrees (quite the antithesis to the bone-chilling breeze outside), creating an environment conducive to easing stress and helping you stretch farther than you could in a cooler space.

Fire and Ice

If you know your Winter Carnival history, you know Vulcanus Rex and his Krewe overthrow King Boreas at the end of 10 days of festivities as a signal of the hot summer to come. Get your Vulcan flame on at the Vulcan Snow Park (State Fairgrounds) or the annual Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade on February 4. The eve is capped off with—you guessed it—fireworks.

Liquid Flame

The bar at Spoon and Stable is still considered to be one of the hottest seats in the city, even seven years in. One reason for that may be Jessi Pollak, the lead bartender, who recently competed in a global cocktail competition in Sydney, representing the United States with elegance and aplomb. That, in and of itself, is fire. But to sit front and center while sipping this flamed Oaxacan drink? That’s what we call a surefire bet. 211 N. 1st St., Mpls.

Candles in the Dark

A candle-filled ice globe on a frozen lake top—why is it such a unique light? Lonely but radiant, a little yellow glow, refracted through ice until it looks like a distant star brought near. No wonder crowds gather in the night for the annual Luminary Loppet, a slow, artsy, and magical parade right on top of Lake of the Isles. Ticketed admission (yes, it sells out!) includes a glow-stick pendant, and then you head out to follow the pre-tamped-down routes—one for walkers, one for skiers—that thread between scattered art stops. It could be fire dancers spinning in primal joy or giant dancing penguins in light-up costumes or musicians coaxing haunting sounds from instruments made of ice. Along the way, find beer stands, hot chocolate stations, fires to warm your hands, ice lanterns, ice candelabras, and candles—uncountable against the dark, each casting the unique light that says, “We might have been alone in our houses for months, but here, we are never alone when we seek light.” February 4,

Hot Hand

If Vegas isn’t in the cards, hit up the largest poker room in the Midwest at Canterbury Park. The dealers are fast, and despite some weird Minnesota gambling laws limiting wager amounts, there’s plenty enough action for most players and frequent enough tournaments for the die-hards. 1100 Canterbury Rd., Shakopee

Turn Up the Heat

Saunas are having a big moment, from a cultural refocus on self-care to a civic willingness to ease some of the bureaucratic barriers put up by an archaic health code.

“This is a sauna capital,” says John Pederson, basically the Johnny Appleseed of the Twin Cities sauna scene (he founded 612 Sauna Society collective in 2016 before starting Stokeyard Outfitters).

According to Pederson, the sauna is rooted in Minnesota’s Nordic bathing traditions while also being connected to a more universal “thermaculture,” with practices from all over the globe dating back thousands of years. Benefits include helping your body recover after a workout, helping to expand the bandwidth of your sympathetic nervous system, and helping you adjust your relationship to our winter weather. But Pederson knows there’s no bigger bummer than sitting in a lukewarm cedar relic and not quite reaching your thermodynamic tipping point.

“There’s good heat and bad heat,” he explains, “and you’re looking for a state change—where you go, Whoa.”

Ready to embrace the heat? A Stokeyard Outfitters saunameister guides gentle sauna aromatherapy/cold-soak experiences at the Hewing Hotel’s rooftop sauna (pictured above, two hours/$65, Or reserve a seat in one of Pederson’s three wood-fired mobile saunas at his new showroom in south Minneapolis (90 minutes/$35, The younger, inked-up, health-conscious crowd is drawn to Embrace North’s Fire and Ice subscription program (unlimited sauna/$30 a month, Or the granddaddy of them all, 612 Sauna Society, is a member-owned co-op set up at The Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park (packages start at $35/session, And all the local sauna players will come together for The Great Northern Sauna Village at Malcolm Yards (501 30th Ave. SE, Mpls., January 26–February 5), offering multiple types of sauna—heat, steam, aromatherapy, and the natural winter air.

Fireside Chat

Like the magic of catching sight of a shooting star, finding yourself in front of a good fireplace is one of those everyday-miracle joy-makers. Most out-and-about types know the classics: Victorian W.A. Frost; North Loop hot spot Hewing; the many firepits in the grown-up playland outside mega-brewery Surly; and, of course, the classy, sexy Williamsburg Room at the Lex. Here are a few more to add to your list:

O’Shaughnessy Distillling Company: Minnesota’s only Irish whiskey specialist, has a killer Irish coffee made with its own good whiskey. Sip one at the many outdoor firepits, perhaps beside your pup wearing its best Irish sweater? 600 Malcolm Ave. SE, Mpls.

The Gnome Craft Pub is doing the craziest fun thing: Poke-able Pints are your beer plus a red-hot poker warmed by the outdoor bonfire. Add the poker to beer and watch it bubble and steam, caramelizing the beer sugars to make a sort of beer s’more. No, really. For real. Really real. Go! 498 Selby Ave., St. Paul

The Lynhall: There are fireplaces for early birds, too. Maybe hit a city lake for an early morning run (or walk) and then head to one of the Lynhall locations (open at 9 am) for something fancy like a maple turmeric latte in front of a crackling fire. 2640 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. and 3945 Market St., Edina

Sun Gods

Like a house cat, we Minnesotans are drawn to sunbeams on a winter day. If a Sun Country flight isn’t on the horizon, head to RH’s Rooftop Restaurant and bathe in warmth. Enjoy a meal within a glass-and-steel atrium surrounded by fountains, trees, and overhead grand chandeliers. Time it right, and take in the sunset with a glass of bubbles in hand. 6801 France Ave. S., Edina

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