Exploring my own backyard series: Twin Cities walking tours (part I)

Nina’s Coffee Cafe | St. Paul, Minnesota

This post contains recommended links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may receive compensation if you purchase these products and services. I was the guest of the Minnesota Historical Society while taking these walking tours; however, opinions and experiences are all mine. I’m a history geek so, of course, I’m going to love them.

Cathedral of Saint Paul | St. Paul, Minnesota
Construction began in 1907.

Whenever I travel, I typically take a walking tour with a local guide to learn more about the city, its history, people, culture, architecture, etc.  

I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for 26 years and this past week was the first time I took a history tour here in my home state. 

Well, that’s not entirely true.  

One of the beautiful homes we saw on the F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour
Former boarding house where Fitzgerald would visit other writers in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I went on four tours – three in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis – sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). And I took two more this past weekend, and a few others scheduled later this summer into September. And there’s so many more! Check out MNHS’s history tour schedule for details. 

I plan to post individual posts for all the tours I’m taking. Meanwhile, enjoy a sample of what you can experience when strolling down memory lane in Minneapolis and St. Paul.   

Push Pin Travel Maps

Hill District Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota 

Hill District Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota
This was the home of St. Paul native and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grandmother.

I’ve driven through and past this area over the years, but last weekend was the first time I actually got out of my vehicle to walk through the historical Hill neighborhood and admire all the beautiful homes. 

Kit homes | St. Paul, Minnesota

We walked along old streetcar lines (the first ones were horse-drawn) while learning about the rise and fall, and the rise again, of St. Paul – from a rural summer retreat for the wealthy, to its not-so-glamorous days, and its journey to restore its status as an upscale historical neighborhood.

Formerly a pharmacy, this historical building is now home to W.A. Frost & Co. restaurant that features a beautiful patio – the first patio approved in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fitzgerald also hung out here.
W.A. Frost – one of the Twin Cities’ most beautiful patios – perfect for brunch with friends or a romantic dinner.

Stories and the homes of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (St. Paul native) made its way into the narrative and photo op stops as well (see the Fitzgerald walking tour section below).  

Tour duration: 2 hours (moderate walk, mainly sidewalks, some uneven terrain) 

Remaining 2019 tour dates: July 27; Aug. 24; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. 


F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota  

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Birthplace | 481 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota

Loved this tour where we explored F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old stomping grounds in the beautiful and historic Hill District / Summit Ave neighborhood. 

Commodore | St. Paul, Minnesota
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in this residential hotel with their daughter, Scottie.

Our tour began where the Fitzgeralds lived at one point, The Commodore. While our tour did not take us inside to experience the cool art deco bar, my husband and I stopped in afterwards. Lots of mirrors and jazz music.  

After our F. Scott Fitzgerald tour, we stopped in at the Commodore Bar & Restaurant.

Other photo stops included where Fitzgerald wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise. It was an overnight success selling out in three days. I was surprised to learn that his more-known classic, The Great Gatsby, was not well-received or well-liked initially. It only became critically acclaimed after his death.  

F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota

Another beautiful home on Summit Avenue | St. Paul, Minnesota

Tour duration: 90 minutes (moderate walk, mainly sidewalks, some uneven terrain/cobblestone) 

Remaining 2019 tour dates: July 27, 28; Aug. 24, 25; Sept. 28-29 (most have a morning and two afternoon slots; check the MNHS website for the most updated schedule

Minnesota Golden Gophers gear at Fanatics.com

Nooks and Crannies Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota

James J. Hill House | St. Paul, Minnesota

Tour Minnesota’s own Downton Abbey in St. Paul. This 36,000+ square-foot home of James J. Hill took three years and 300 workers to build. Completed in 1891, the home was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961. 

You’ll find beautiful woodwork and wood carvings throughout the home.

James J. Hill was a railroad magnate back in the day. The Minnesota Historical Society now operates the home and the three acres it sits on. 

The home’s personal art gallery also features a beautiful pipe organ.

This particular tour gives visitors behind-the-scenes access to a back staircase, dust chutes, secret panels, a silver safe, gatehouse, the huge attic with its original theatre stage, and more. 

The huge attic with a theatrical stage came with its own lighting system.

Remaining tour dates: The Nooks and Crannies tour is offered every Tuesday now through Aug. 27. 

Tour duration: 90 minutes


Disasters of the Riverfront Walking Tour  

Mill City Museum and Washburn A Mill Ruins | Minneapolis

Fascinated. That’s how I felt after walking away from this walking tour. Special shout-out to Marty, our tour guide. I was so impressed by his storytelling skills and knowledge about Minneapolis and its flour milling history – and the disasters along the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. 

Explosions. Structural collapses. Tunnel collapses. Fires. Bridge collapses. Floods.  

Street view of the Washburn Mill A ruins (part of the Mill City Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota). The explosion in 1878 killed 18 workers and the majority of the west side of the milling district.
Source: Minnesota Historical Society

Minneapolis has definitely seen its share of disasters. Some natural and some caused by humans.  

For about 50 years, Minneapolis was considered the Flour Milling Capital of the World. You’ll probably recognize two of the leading millers: Pillsbury and General Mills (formerly Washburn-Crosby company, best known for Gold Medal flour). 

I learned many things on the tour, but the most surprising fact was discovering that flour dust is more explosive than gun powder.  

Here’s an example of its power (and this was only with a tablespoon of dust).  

St. Anthony Falls | Minneapolis, Minnesota

We also learned about the Eastman Tunnel Collapse in 1869, which threatened St. Anthony Falls and the milling district. The falls were restored and protected by an apron, dam, and underground dike built by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Our tour ended by viewing the new I-35W bridge in the distance. I say new although it’s been here for more than a decade. Those of us who lived here in 2007 remember one of the city’s most recent disasters – the tragic I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 that killed 13 people and injured 145. 

While the tour did not include the I-35W Remembrance Garden, my friend and I walked a short distance down from the Mill City Museum on West River Parkway to pay our respects.

I-35W Bridge Remembrance Garden | Minneapolis, Minnesota
Each pillar bears the name of each victim and a personal story about them. The names of the 145 survivors are etched into the granite wall.

Tour duration: 90 minutes (moderate walk, some uneven terrain) 

Remaining 2019 tour dates: Aug. 11; Sept. 22; 1 to 2:30 p.m.   

And these are just a sample of the fascinating history walking tours in the Twin Cities. I’ll share more photos and my experience for each walking tour in the coming weeks.

Don’t let the summer pass you by without taking the tours yourself – whether you’ve lived here your entire life or visiting for the first time. For dates and times for all history tours, go to the Minneapolis Historical Society’s website.  

See the Minnesota Historical Society website for tour descriptions and tour dates.

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. What a gorgeous tour. Your pictures are amazing! Maybe someday I will go to the Twin Cities and get to explore all of the amazing sites!

    1. Most of them are although most them have uneven terrain and some have cobblestone roads and historic stone curbs. This is noted in the actual tour site. I’ll research and add a note when I write the individual posts. Thanks for asking…good thing to consider.

    1. Absolutely loving it…my husband has joined me on most of them and I took a friend to one, and she said exactly what I was thinking, “I don’t know why I haven’t done this sooner.”

  2. I just love your vacay in your own backyard idea! Minnesota looks like a great place to visit and I’m bookmarking for future reference. Thanks!

    1. My pleasure! I’m thoroughly enjoying these tours. Maybe I should become a tour guide…although my voice doesn’t carry so will just write about them.

  3. I love walking tours. They can be so informative. I loved seeing the architecture and homes in your post. This is a great guide to exploring the twin cities. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m a huge fan of walking tours…so many fascinating stories and you get the opportunity to ask questions.

  4. These buildings and homes are gorgeous! I would love to see the F. Scott Fitzgerald home. I’ve been to Minneapolis, but I’m sad to say that my trip was limited to the Great Mall area. I need to get back!

    1. Yes, please do! The Mall of America is our #1 attraction (40 million annually!)…and there’s so much to do. Real people live in the homes on these tours and sometimes the owners will come out and talk (when I was on the F. Scott Fitzgerald tour) or occasionally even invite you in.

    1. Thank you! I’m having a lot of fun exploring my own backyard in Minnesota this summer…so many beautiful people and beautiful places!

  5. These tours all look so awesome! But I would absolutely love the F. Scott Fitzgerald one! I love doing walking tours of new cities, but as you already know, there’s always something new to learn about your home town. Can’t wait to check these out!

    1. The F. Scott Fitzgerald tour was pretty cool. I hope you get the opportunity to check the Minnesota Historical Society walking tours out.

  6. This is phenomenal, thank you for sharing! I didn’t realize there’s so much history in this city, I’ll definitely check out the Minneapolis Historical Society walking tours the next time I’m there!

  7. So many amazing things here.
    1. I love that the Commodore Hotel plays music from the era. So cool.
    2. A pipe organ in your house!?! WOW!
    3. The architecture of all these houses is just spectacular.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve sort of satisfied my need for architecture for the next week or two.

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