I live in central Florida, and in the beginning of August, it gets REALLY hot and sticky. I have multiple sclerosis, which means I’m very sensitive to heat and can’t be outside for more than a few minutes. I love to travel with my two boys, but finding a summer destination that I can enjoy is often difficult. Enter Minneapolis. It doesn’t sound like a huge tourist destination, but for me it was perfect: a direct flight from Orlando, August temperatures in the low 80s, and reports of good wheelchair accessibility. After two full days in one of Minnesota’s twin cities, I can tell you that Minneapolis exceeded all my expectations! Here are ten thoroughly accessible things to do in the city that my boys and I truly enjoyed.
1. Mill Ruins Park. In its 19th-century heyday, this area of mills, canals, tailraces and other historic resources comprised the largest direct-drive water-powered facility in the world and was the leading international producer of flour, a commodity which was shipped both nationwide and worldwide. This industrial powerhouse was the catalyst for the development of Minneapolis and the birthplace of a number of companies which remain significant to this day, including General Mills, Pillsbury, Washburn Crosby (WCCO), and Xcel Energy.
The park tells this story through the now exposed historic walls and waterpower features long buried beneath many feet of sand and gravel. With the reopening of the historic tailrace canal, which carried water from the mill turbines back to the river, visitors have the opportunity to interact directly with an exciting water feature. There is a ramp that starts from West River Parkway and leads down to the ruins. You can also access the historic Stone Arch Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River and is a National Civil Engineering Landmark.
2. Mill City Museum. Built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, Mill City Museum is located on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. Here, visitors of all ages learn about the intertwined histories of the flour industry, the river, and the city of Minneapolis. The museum features exhibits about the history of Minneapolis, flour milling machinery, a water lab and a baking lab. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the multistory Flour Tower, where visitors sit in the cab of a freight elevator and are taken to different floors of the building, each designed to look like a floor in a working flour mill. Voices of people who worked in the Washburn A Mill are heard throughout the show. Visitors exit on the 8th floor, where extant equipment is interpreted by staff, and are then led to the ninth-floor observation deck to view St. Anthony Falls. My kids absolutely loved the Baking Lab, where they could play with dough made with flour, and the Water Lab, where they could experiment with the power of water flow. The museum main entrance is on West River Parkway, about two blocks southeast from Mill Ruins Park.
3. Loring Greenway. My boys and I literally stumbled across this gorgeous pedestrian pathway on our Google Maps route from the Nicollet Mall to the Walker Art Center. An important part of landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg’s strategy for the Greenway was to complement the dwelling units with a lush park-like environment that would compete with the suburbs. This worked splendidly. A walk on the Greenway feels like a walk in the woods. The trees team up with the high-rise buildings to make the Greenway a quiet and shaded place. The entrance from Nicollet Mall is near 12th street, and runs all the way to Loring Park. My boys had a blast playing at the sand playground, and we all loved watching–and in many cases, petting–the dozens of dogs passing by with their owners.
4. Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. One of the most celebrated art museums in the country, the Walker Art Center is known for its innovative presentations and acclaimed collections of contemporary art across the spectrum of the visual, performing, and media arts. Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities. Expect to spend a lot of time in the elevator, as there are eight levels to explore, and while very open and fully accessible, the layout can be a bit confusing. Located in the WeDo MPLS Cultural District, its campus includes the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. This is a beautiful green space filled with more than 40 iconic sculptures, including Spoonbridge & Cherry and Hahn/Cock. Part of the pathways are paved and part are hard-packed gravel. From the Garden, you can take a beautiful ramped pedestrian bridge to cross I-94 over to Loring Park.
5. Minnehaha Falls Park. This park takes its name after the beautiful stream and its spectacular falls that plunges 53 feet into a gorge before running out to the Mississippi River. Trails lead in all directions, including down the gorge to favorite river shorelines. The New England poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, gave this Minneapolis waterfall national fame in the Song of Hiawatha, although he never saw the 53-foot falls he wrote of in 1853. Wheelchair users cannot access the lower level platform bridge, but can easily view the falls from the upper vantage point and pedestrian bridge.
The Longfellow House Hospitality Center, which sits on the northwest end of Minnehaha Regional Park introduces the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 50-mile outdoor recreation loop in the Minneapolis area. Park benches in the upper reaches of the gorge provide a cool and shady spot to watch the falls on hot summer days. The Longfellow Garden is located on the northwest side of Minnehaha Regional Park and covers the land bridge over Highway 55/Hiawatha Avenue. The park is very easy to reach with a 20-minute ride on the Minneapolis tram blue line.
6. Minneapolis Institute of Art. In 1883, twenty-five citizens of Minneapolis founded the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, committing them to bringing the arts into the life of their community. More than a century later, the museum they created, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, stands as a monument to a remarkable history of civic involvement and cultural achievement. MIA’s permanent collection has grown from 800 works of art to more than 89,000 objects. The collection includes world-famous works that embody the highest levels of artistic achievement, spanning about 20,000 years and representing the world’s diverse cultures across six continents.
The museum has seven curatorial areas: Arts of Africa & the Americas; Contemporary Art; Decorative Arts, Textiles & Sculpture; Asian Art; Paintings; Photography and New Media; and Prints and Drawings. Visitor drop-off/pick-up is located at the Third Avenue entrance circle drive. Accessible parking is available at several locations near the museum. Wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please call 612.870.3000 at least 24 hours before your visit to reserve a wheelchair. MIA also welcomes your personal walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters. Pillsbury Auditorium is accessible by ramp and has a limited number of wheelchair positions.
7. Target Field. Ever since I took my boys to their first major league baseball game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, they’ve become little baseball addicts. So, of course I had to take them to see the Twins at Target Field! Accessible seats were very easy to purchase online, and I selected seats in section 103. Those seats line the entire top row of most sections in the lower level, and don’t require an elevator to access from the main stadium entrance. There is accessible seating available on all levels at Target Field. We reached Target Field using the Minneapolis Skyway system directly from our hotel, which took us to the parking garage Ramp B elevators. From there, we were able to easily roll to the main entrance.
Both the Blue Line and Green Line Light Rail have an accessible stop at Target Field Station. All concession stands at Target Field are accessible. If guests require assistance at any of the food service areas, please notify the nearest Concessions worker or Twins Guest Services staff member. Every row of accessible seating has at least one (and often 2) electrical outlet boxes.
There are 12 public elevators located throughout Target Field. Elevators 1 & 2 are located in the Administrative Office building near Gate 6. Elevators 3 & 4 are located across from section 125. Elevators 6 & 7 are located across from section 112. Elevators 9-12 are located across from section 103. Elevator 13 is located across from section 133, and elevator 14 is located at Gate 3. All restrooms provided within the ballpark are accessible. For the convenience of our guests, there are several single-user restrooms available at Target Field. These are located on the Main Concourse near sections 111, 123, 132, 134, as well as across from the camera platform above centerfield; in the Grandstand near section 238, on the Suite Concourse near Suite 14 and Skyline Suite 2; and on the Terrace Concourse at sections 208, 214, and 220. If a more private environment is desired, please visit the nearest Guest Services Center.
8. Minneapolis Skyway. The Minneapolis Skyway System is the largest, contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges in the world, composed of 9.5 miles of pathways connecting 80 city blocks. The system connects corporate offices, bars, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, government services, retail, gyms, grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, doctors, dentists, masseurs, pharmacies, hair and nail salons, dry cleaners, live theaters, three pro sports facilities, a church, art exhibits and, well, you get the idea.
With skyways being included in nearly all new construction in central downtown, maps and way finding signage became necessary. This effort improved navigation, and has evolved dramatically in helpfulness, but alas, people can still be seen standing in skyway junctions, heading spinning around, trying to figure out where to go next (including us). All part of the adventure! As each skyway is owned by the buildings they connect, they do not have uniform opening and closing times. Keep this in mind when making evening plans. If you’re hopelessly lost, just ask someone who appears to be walking confidently for help. Skyway mastery is a point of pride for many Minneapolitans. Also, locals are just really nice.
Free bathrooms on skyway level are rare. Plan ahead. A good rule of thumb for finding one’s way into the Skyway System from the street is if the building has a skyway connected to it, you can almost certainly find an access point. Just find your way to the second level of any skyway-connected building and you’ll find skyway access. Helpfully, many elevators in downtown Minneapolis have a ‘SK’ button in place of a ‘2’. NOTE: This applies to standard business hours, after hours you may find street-level doors on certain buildings locked, even if you can clearly see people still using the skyway. Here is a PDF map of the Skyway system.
9. Nicollet Mall. Nicollet (formerly known as Nicollet Mall) has long been downtown’s core shopping and entertainment artery. Its comprehensive remodel has enhanced the experience for visitors, workers and the area’s growing residential population. With motor vehicles restricted to buses and taxis, this mile-long, go-to pedestrian oasis is lined by bar and restaurant sidewalk seating, art, bountiful greenery and many shopping options. Minneapolis has a particular affinity for outdoor dining. At ground level, Nicollet has a pleasing series of sidewalk patios that invite long, lazy meals, drinks and people watching without having to shout over cars, trucks and motorcycles roaring by. Eateries get VERY busy around happy hour every day during the week, so plan ahead. You can also find the popular Mary Tyler Moore statue at Nicollet and 7th Street. A beloved attraction by fans, tourists and locals since it first arrived on Nicollet in 2001, the statue captures the iconic moment Mary throws her tam in the air during the opening credits of the 1970s hit TV Show.
The easiest way to get to Nicollet is by light rail. Both Blue and Green line trains make a stop right on the main street. Before marching down this strip of leisure and retail, stop by the Meet Minneapolis Visitor Center, located right on the corner of 5th Street and Nicollet. Here you can get all your Minneapolis questions answered by staff, including directions and suggestions about things to do in the area.
10. The Basilica of Saint Mary. The Basilica of Saint Mary is the vision of Archbishop John Ireland and French Architect, Emmanuel Masqueray. Archbishop Ireland educated in France and hired Masqueray to design cathedrals for his archdiocese: one in Saint Paul and one in Minneapolis. The exterior work of St. Mary was finished in 1914, and the interior work begun in 1922, was near completion when the church was named America’s first basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1926. The Saint Joseph Chapel occupies the central space of the undercroft’s ground floor, and the chapel is used for daily Eucharist, morning prayer, small weddings, and funerals and intimate concerts. The sanctuary, located at the north end of the nave, features a marble altar and a domed roof that rises 138 feet above the floor.
The colors used throughout are those of the Virgin Mary: white for purity, blue for truth, red for love, and gold for glory. The installation of eight double bronze doors containing the symbols of the apostles and the evangelists was made in 1954. This installation completed the structural requirements that make a church a basilica–the only one in the Upper Midwest. East and west ground level entry doors (under the Hennepin Avenue main stairs) are equipped with automatic door openers, and the church elevator located near west Hennepin entrance provides access to all levels of the church. Accessible restrooms are located on the church’s ground level and lower level.
It’s very easy to navigate around Minneapolis as a wheelchair user. Accessible taxis are available, and both buses and the tram system are fully accessible. SuperShuttle offers accessible transfers to and from the airport. For more accessibility information, please CLICK HERE.