Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Saint Paul: The other half of Minnesota’s Twin Cities

Written by Steve Atlas

Several years ago, we spotlighted Minneapolis. (Here is a link to that column: ) This month, our Car Free Journey takes us to St. Paul: the other city that is part of the “Twin Cities.”

Saint Paul, Minnesota

What’s Special about Saint Paul?

Many of us know that St. Paul is the state capital of Minnesota. But did you also know that:

  • Saint Paul has a gangster history that rivals Chicago and Hot Springs, Arkansas. It is where the enforcement of prohibition was born. On the 5th floor of the Landmark Center, Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead led the local office of the Prohibition Bureau. Volstead, you may remember, wrote the Prohibition Act. But since Prohibition was repealed long ago, take a break to enjoy a Summit Extra Pale Ale—it has been a staple for craft brew enthusiasts in Saint Paul since 1986.
  • Saint Paul is second only to Minneapolis for the top park system in the United States. 96 percent of local residents can walk to a park in 10 minutes or less. For more details, visit:
  • The city is home to the Minnesota State Fair: ranked as best state fair in the United States by USA Today readers in an annual poll.
  • Travel + Leisure ranked Minneapolis/St Paul as one of its Top 30 Friendliest Cities worldwide. Here is what the magazine said: “Thanks to the Minnesota Institute of the Arts, the Sculpture Garden (now in its 20th year), and the stunning conservatory at the Como Zoo & Conservatory—among countless other free things—the city has a reputation for being welcoming and open to visitors and locals alike.”
  • A 2016 USA Today readers’ poll named Minneapolis Saint Paul #1 for the best local food scene in the United States
  • USA Today readers ranked Saint Paul as the Most Romantic Getaway in North America.

Are you a lover of old homes and architecture? Saint Paul’s Summit Ave. has the longest stretch of preserved Victorian architecture in the United States. The Minnesota State Capitol, designed by Cass Gilbert, has the 2nd largest unsupported marble dome in the world. 101 of Saint Paul’s historic buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1983, the Historic Lowertown District was added to the register. It has recently become a bustling hub of restaurants, pubs, outdoor concerts, and the Green Line light rail system. CHS Park, home of the Saint Paul Saints, was voted Best New Ballpark in 2015 by Ballpark Digest. Saintt Paul has 26 miles of Mississippi River riverfront—more miles than any other city on the entire stretch of the river. Those miles of riverfront are lined with biking trails and eagles’ nests. This is a city that connects with nature.

Let’s visit Saint Paul and learn why it is such a special place.

Getting Here

By Air

Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is a hub for Delta Airlines. Other airlines serving the airport include American, Jet Airways, Southwest, and United.

It’s easy to get from the airport to downtown Saint Paul, using Metro Transit. For details, go to Here are some suggestions from Metro Transit:

From the airport to downtown St. Paul:

Take Metro Transit’s Route 54. Buses leave about every 15 minutes. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

Board at Stop 4 at Terminal 1: on the transit station’s street level (up one level from the tram).

Route 54 does not stop at Terminal 2. To get downtown from Terminal 2, take a Blue Line train that runs between Terminals 1 and 2 every day—24 hours.

From downtown St. Paul to the airport:

Route 54 provides daily service, leaving roughly every 15 minutes; travel time is about 20 minutes. Catch the bus traveling west on 6th Street in downtown St. Paul.

Between airport terminals

Blue Line trains operate 24 hours a day between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. No fare is required for trips between terminals. Board at the ground level.

The one way fare is $1.75 ($.75 for seniors age 65 and over and persons with disabilities), and $2.25 for all passengers during weekday rush hours. A 24-hour pass good on all Metro Transit buses and rail lines is $6.00 and is good for 24 hours after the first time it is used. (You can also buy a less expensive one-day pass for $1-$4.50 at rail ticket machines—good from the time of purchase until 2 a.m. the next day). For more details about passes, go to (The best choice might be a one-day visitor’s pass for just $4.50. Go to:

For more details about schedules, fares, and how to get to the places you want to go, visit, or call 612) 373-3333..

By Bus and Train

Amtrak, Greyhound, and Jefferson Lines share the Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul. Union Depot is served by the Green Line light rail and several local and express bus routes. For details, go to

Saint Paul’s Union Depot

C:\Users\Steve\Downloads\Union Depot.jpg

Courtesy of Union Depot

Where to Stay

Most places to stay are in downtown Saint Paul, which is the most most convenient neighborhood for transit, attractions, and walkability. Go to

Here are a few places to stay near Union Depot and Amtrak (a small sample of what is available):

·       The Saint Paul Hotel

·       Covington Inn Bed & Breakfast

·       InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront

·       Doubletree Downtown Saint Paul

·       Hotel 340

·       Embassy Suites Downtown Saint Paul

·       Hyatt Place: (coming this fall, Hyatt Place will be the closest hotel to Union Depot)

Here is a sample of places to eat that are located near Union Depot and Amtrak:

·       Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar

·       Saint Dinette

·       Ox Cart Ale House (from one of Saint Paul’s best rooftops. you can see CHS Field and the river bluffs)

·      PUBLIC kitchen + bar

·      Handsome Hog

·      The Buttered Tin (one of the best breakfast spots in Saint Paul)

Now that you are settled in, start planning your time here. Before we begin our sightseeing and exploration of Saint Paul, let’s take a few minutes to learn about the city.)

Welcome to Saint Paul

Saint Paul (abbreviated St. Paul) is the capital and second-most populous city in Minnesota. In 2015, the city’s estimated population was 300,851.[Saint Paul is the county seat of Ramsey County: the smallest and most densely populated county in Minnesota. The city lies mostly on the east bank of the Mississippi River in the area where it merges with the Minnesota River and adjoins Minneapolis: the state’s largest city. Known as the “Twin Cities,” Minneapolis-Saint Paul is the 16th-largest metropolitan area in the United States, with about 3.52 million residents.

Regionally, the city is known for the Xcel Energy Center, being the home of the National Hockey League’s local hockey team: the Minnesota Wild, and for the Science Museum of Minnesota. It is the headquarters of companies such as Ecolab and the former home of 3M: the makers of scotch tape. The city is also known for its gangster history that includes police shootouts with John Dillinger, a flourishing craft beer scene and, until his retirement this year (2016) Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. The city is also home to American Public Radioand the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Known for its high literacy rate, St. Paul was the only city in the United States with a population of 250,000 or more to see an increase in circulation of Sunday newspapers in 2007.

If you are here between August 25 and September 5, take time to visit the Minnesota State Fair (here, you can get nearly any food on a stick) ranked #1 in U.S. state fairs by USA Today Readers in a 2016 reader poll. For information about the fair, visit You can get to the fair on Metro Transit. Go to

Metro Transit:

If you visit here in winter, come during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival: a tradition that began in 1886 when a New York reporter called Saint Paul “another Siberia.” Attended by 350,000 visitors annually, the event showcases ice sculpting, an annual treasure hunt, winter food, activities, and an ice palace. The 2017 Winter Carnival will be held from January 26th until February 5th in Rice Park, in downtown St. Paul. For more information about the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, go to

Culture and the Arts

The Como Zoo and Conservatory and adjoining Japanese Garden are popular year-round. The historic Landmark Center, located in downtown Saint Paul, hosts cultural and arts organizations. Notable recreation locations include Indian Mounds Park, Battle Creek Regional Park, Hamlet Island Regional Park, Highland Park, the Wabasha Street Caves, Lake Como, Lake Phalen, and Rice Park, as well as several areas abutting the Mississippi River.

The Irish Fair of Minnesota is also held every year at the Harriet Island Pavilion area. The country’s largest Hmong American sports festival, the Freedom Festival, is held the first weekend of July at McMurray Field near Como Park

Como Zoo

C:\Users\Steve\Downloads\Como Zoo.jpg

Courtesy of Dan Anderson

Culture and the Arts

The Como Zoo and Conservatory and adjoining Japanese Garden are popular year-round. The historic Landmark Center, located in downtown Saint Paul, hosts cultural and arts organizations. Notable recreation locations include Indian Mounds Park, Battle Creek Regional Park, Hamlet Island Regional Park, Highland Park, the Wabasha Street Caves, Lake Como, Lake Phalen, and Rice Park, as well as several areas abutting the Mississippi River. The Irish Fair of Minnesota is also held every year at the Harriet Island Pavilion area. The country’s largest Hmong American sports festival, the Freedom Festival, is held the first weekend of July at McMurray Field near Como Park.

Saint Paul is the birthplace of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz: the creator of Peanuts, who lived in Merriam Park from infancy in 1922 until 1960. Schulz’s Snoopy cartoon inspired giant, decorated Peanutssculptures around the City: a Chamber of Commerce promotion in the late 1990s. Other notable residents include writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, playwright August Wilson, painter LeRoy Neiman, and photographer John Vachon.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts hosts theater productions and the Minnesota Opera is a founding tenant.RiverCentre, attached to Xcel Energy Center, serves as the city’s convention center. Great jazz musicians have passed through the influential Artists’ Quarter, which moved to downtown Saint Paul in 1994. Artists’ Quarter also hosts the Soapboxing Poetry Slam, home of the 2009 National Poetry Slam Champions. The world-renowned Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is the United States’ only full-time professional chamber orchestra. As an Irish stronghold, the city boasts popular Irish pubs with live music, such as Shamrocks, The Dubliner, and O’Gara’s.

Saint Paul’s museums include the:

  • University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Museum of Design,
  •  Minnesota Children’s Museum, 
  • Schubert Club Museum of Musical Instruments,
  • Minnesota Museum of American Art,
  • Traces Center for History and Culture, 
  • Minnesota History Center,
  • Alexander Ramsey House,
  • James J Hill House,
  • Minnesota Transportation Museum,
  • Science Museum of Minnesota, and the
  • Twin City Model Railroad Museum.


The Xcel Energy Center hosts hockey, other professional sports, concerts, and other events. The National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild play their home games here. The St. Paul Saints, the city’s Independent League baseball team, play their home games at the open-air CHS Field in downtown’s Lowertown Historic district. Four noted Major League All-Star baseball players are natives of Saint Paul: Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield, Hall of Fame infielder Paul Molitor, pitcher Jack Morris, and catcher Joe Mauer.  The St. Paul Twin Stars of the National Premier Soccer League play their home games at Macalester Stadium.

The first curling club in Saint Paul was founded in 1888. The current club, the St. Paul Curling Club, was founded in 1912 and is the largest curling club in the United States. The Minnesota Roller Girls are a flat-track roller derby league based in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Minnesota’s oldest athletic organization, the Minnesota Boat Club, is housed on Raspberry Island in the Mississippi River. Saint Paul is also home to Circus Juventas:, the largest circus arts school in North America.

On March 25, 2015, Major League Soccer announced that it had awarded its 23rd MLS franchise to Minnesota United FC, a team from the lower-level North American Soccer League. On October 23, 2015, Bill McGuire of Minnesota United FC and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced that a privately financed soccer-specific stadium would be built on the vacant Metro Transit Bus Bam site in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood near the intersection of Snelling and University Avenues. The stadium will open in 2018 and seat 20,000. The team hopes to play in the MLS in 2017. The Timberwolves, Twins, and Vikings all play in Minneapolis.

Getting Around

Metro Transit provides bus and light rail service within Saint Paul and Minneapolis and also between the two twin cities. The best choice is a Visitor’s Pass that costs just $4.50 for a full day of unlimited travel on Metro Transit. The Visitor’s Pass must be purchased online or at a Metro Transit service center. For details, go to For a list of Metro Transit Service Centers, go to . For a longer stay, consider getting a Go Card:

For more details about schedules, fares, and how to get to the places you want to go, visit, or call 612) 373-3333. The city has several taxi companies. These include: Suburban Taxi, Saint Paul Yellow Taxi, Red and White Taxi, and Airport Taxi. Both Uber and Lyft are also available. New users can use promo code STPAUL for a free first ride with a maximum value of $20.

For Local and Regional Visitors with cars

You can leave your car at a Park and Ride lot (free parking)and take Metro Transit. Parking is free. For a list of local Park and Ride lots, go to

What to Do

Start your visit with a self-guided Walking Tour around downtown Saint Paul:

You can plan your visit in several ways. You can choose to explore one or more of the city’s neighborhoods, and visit a few parks. Or you can choose to focus on major attractions here. For detailed information about attractions links to their websites, and what to do in Saint Paul, go to

A Few Parks You May Enjoy

St. Paul’s Dept. of Recreation and Parks recommends visiting these two parks:

Mears Park

Mears Park, located in Saint Paul’s historic Lowertown District, is one of Saint Paul’s oldest parks and boasts a band stand, gentle stream,  and well-manicured flower gardens. It is accessible by bike via the nearby Bruce Vento Regional Trail, Sam Morgan Regional Trail, and Indian Mounds Trail, by bus via several city and regional bus lines, or by rail via Amtrak and the newly-built Metro Green Line Light Rail. It is home to many events and festivals throughout the year and surrounded by numerous excellent dining options. It is located two blocks from CHS Field, the new home to the St. Paul Saints baseball team. Many downtown amenities are located within walking distance including hotels, theaters, museums, and shops.

Mears Park

C:\Users\Steve\Downloads\Mears Park.jpg

Courtesy of Teresa Boardman

Como Regional Park

Como Regional Park, one of Saint Paul’s most beloved and well known parks, is home to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Como Town Amusement Park, Putt-er There Mini Golf, Como Regional Park Pool, Como 18 Hole Golf Course, Cafesjian’s Carousel, Historic Streetcar Station, Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, Como Lake, multiple ballfields and soccer fields, paved biking trails, Como Dockside restaurant and bar, water craft rentals, bike rentals, a playground, fishing pier and picnic areas with shelters, fire pits and barbeque grills. Como Regional Park can be accessed via several bus routes and by bike along the Saint Paul Grand Round. Scenic Bikeway or Lexington Parkway bike path.

It’s easy to take Metro Transit to Como Regional Park. Routes 3 (from downtown St. Paul) and 83 (transfer from the Green Line at the Lexington Parkway station) stop right at the park. For details about schedules, go to:

Stay Downtown and Walk to many of the City’s Attractions

Visit Saint Paul, the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, recommends staying in Downtown/:Lowertown.

You can easily walk back and forth across downtown, and visit a wide variety of attractions, such as:

  • Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild hockey, concerts) and Roy Wilkins Auditorium (Minnesota Roller Girls, concerts)
  • CHS Field (St. Paul Saints baseball, concerts, festivals, events)
  • Minnesota History Center
  • Cathedral of Saint Paul
  • Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • State Capitol building
  • James J. Hill House
  • Landmark Center
  • Rice Park and Wells Fargo WinterSkate (during the winter)
  • Mears Park
  • Harriet Island Regional Park (site of many of city’s festivals)
  • Union Depot
  • Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
  • History Theatre
  • Park Square Theatre
  • Fitzgerald Theater
  • AAW Gallery of Wood Art
  • AZ Gallery
  • James J. Hill Center
  • Minnesota Museum of American Art
  • Minnesota Transportation Museum
  • Schubert Club

As a classical music enthusiast myself, I would recommend a short visit to the Schubert Club Museum( Located on the 2nd floor of the Landmark Center, the museum is open (free admission) from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Sunday through Friday. Here, you can see historic keyboards, see correspondence from famous composers, and hear music boxes and phonographs dating back to 1900.

Another way to explore Saint Paul is on a 1 ½ hour riverboat cruise. For details, visit

The following attractions are just a short walk from downtown:

Padelford River CompanyC:\Users\Steve\Downloads\Padelford River Company.jpg

Courtesy of Padelford Packet Company

The following attractions are just a short walk from downtown:

The following attractions are easy to reach by public transportation (contact Metro Transit for details about what route to take, and the location of the nearest stop):

Explore one of Saint Paul’s Neighborhoods

A big neighborhood destination for visitors is Grand Avenue: Saint Paul’s best spot for shopping with lots of great dining options. Bus route #63 goes through downtown and has multiple stops in the Grand Avenue/Summit Avenue neighborhood:

Visit St. Paul recommends checking out the following neighborhoods: Downtown, Lowertown, Cathedral, Selby/Dale, and Grand/Summit. For more information about St. Paul neighborhoods, go to:

Take a Guided Tour

Sometimes, a guided tour can be the easiest way to see a city, especially if you don’t have a lot of time.

Here are a few ideas for guided tours in St. Paul:

Tips for Visiting Bicyclists

Saint Paul is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States. See the city’s bicycle-friendly page:

Nice Ride bike-sharing system is the best, with stations all over the Twin Cities, which makes it easy to group bicycling in with other forms of public transportation to get to your destination:

Suggestions for Visitors with Special Interests

Visit These trip ideas include great, walkable options, such as “Travel Back in Time” and “Downtown Day Trip” Also included are family-friendly ideas, couple’s getaway, budget-friendly visits, and other ideas.

Nice Ride

Nice Ride stations are scattered throughout Saint Paul and are a great way to get around.

C:\Users\Steve\Pictures\059-3-0443_Saint Paul MN Nice Ride.jpg

Courtesy of Visit Saint Paul

Entertainment and Dining Out

Visit for more info on dining, including maps of restaurant locations.

Here are a few ideas for bars and other places with entertainment:

Ideas for Day Trips

Take the Green Line to Minneapolis. (for ideas of what to do in Minneapolis, visit ) If you feel like shopping, visit the Mall of America. Get Knit often does day trips to other parts of Minnesota.

Tips from a Local Resident

Frequently, the people who know most about how to enjoy a city without a car are local residents who use public transportation. Car Free Journey talked with Emily Hanson: a local resident who uses Metro Transit to commute to work, and also for recreation and daily living after work. Here are Emily’s answers to several questions we asked her about visiting St. Paul without needing to drive (her comments are in Italics).

 What tips and cautions would you offer a visitor who wants to visit the Twin Cities without driving (especially St. Paul)?

As with anywhere- get a map out and familiarize yourself with big landmarks. Pinpoint where you are staying, and get a sense of what is nearby. Check out Google maps for quick trip details for bus routes/time, and walking directions. Be cautious around high traffic areas- especially with the trains

(see tracks, think train- as the signs say!)

2) Where are the best neighborhoods (including, but not limited to downtown St. Paul) for out-of-town visitors without cars to stay? Why?

Lowertown is a great place to stay in St. Paul. You are within walking distance to pretty much everything the downtown/lowertown area has to offer (bars, restaurants, stadiums, attractions, markets, parks…) It is also a great area to catch a number of buses and the light rail. You can also get easy access to other fun areas like Grand Ave and Summit Ave- Highland Park- and the University of MN campus.

If you travel outside of St. Paul into Minneapolis, I really enjoy the St. Anthony main or North Loop area to stay. Again, you are within a mile of dozens of attractions (places to eat, stay, stroll around) and can just hop on the multiple public transport options to get wherever else you could want to go.

3) What are some of your favorite places to eat?

In St. Paul, for me Cossetta’s is a must. DELICIOUS pizza, and a bunch of other pasta/salad options. They had a huge renovation within the last few years and built a beautiful and extensive Italian market and dessert counter. The Buttered Tin is wonderful for breakfast, Black Sheep Pizza is also terrific for pizza, and Bulldog Lowertown is a great bar… Tanpopo is a TERRIFIC Japanese noodle shop- and if I could, I would eat there everyday.

4) Can you suggest any parks, and other highlights and attractions in St. Paul that visitors can enjoy using public transportation or walking? 

If you are in town on the weekend, check out the St Paul Farmer’s Market. Even if you don’t have the ability to shop for produce, it is a fabulous area to walk around. Eat a bagel sandwich, look at the beautiful flowers, grab some coffee and take in the sights! The Science Museum is one of my favorite spots- you could go in for just an Omni movie, or take a day to see the entire museum. If you have the chance to see a show at the Ordway or Fitzgerald Theaters, those are extremely fun attractions to check out and catch a great performance. Of course there is also the new Saints stadium, as well as the Xcel to see a game… and check out the banks of the Mississippi, or head over to Harriet Island.


Saint Paul Farmers Market

C:\Users\Steve\Pictures\059-3-0328_thumb St Paul Farmers Market.jpg

Courtesy of Saint Paul Farmers’ Market

5) Do you have any special tips about good ways to enjoy a weekend here without a car?

With traveling anywhere, take a few minutes to plan ahead. Take time to think of a few places you want to check out, and utilize your smartphone! Even being from the cities, I use google maps all the time to find the best bus or walking routes. Weekend bus and lightrail options can have limited frequency on the weekends, so plan ahead! Otherwise, if you are up for a little walk, you can get pretty much anywhere in the downtown/lowertown St Paul area within 20-30 mins.

6) Some visitors just love to walk. Can you suggest a few neighborhoods, parks, trails, or any other ideas for enjoying a walk? For visitors with limited time, can you suggest one or two short walks that can help give visitors a sense of what is special about St. Paul?

For a short walk, head to the area around the Science museum for a beautiful view of the river and Harriet Island.

If you have time, head over to the island. Or, take a walk from Rice Park to Mears Park- that will give you a little sense of the city. If you want to take a bit of a hike outside of the downtown area, head to the Cathedral and walk up Summit Avenue to see the beautiful homes, and then hit the shops on Grand Ave. Great shops, views and restaurants!

7) Can you suggest a few ideas for visitor with special interests such as:

  1. Parks and other Natural Attractions:

Harriet Island, Mounds Park, just walking around the River, Fort Snelling (probably best to bus/train)

  1. Museums, and other cultural attractions- (also Families)

Science Museum, Children’s Museum, Ordway Theater, Fitzgerald

  1. Evening entertainment Ideas easy to reach by public transportation

Amsterdam Bar often has local music/entertainment, as does the Bedlam Theater (walkable!) Saints games are great, too!

8) If someone falls in love with St. Paul and wants to move here, are there neighborhoods or communities where they could realistically live without needing to depend on a car?

Absolutely- Lowertown, Summit Hill, Grand, Highland Park and Mac-Groveland, anywhere along University—all of these spots have great access to public transportation.

For More Information

For information about what to see and do, contact: 651-265-4900 or (toll free) (800) 627-6101 or

Landmark Center Visitor Information Center: 651.292.3225

For public transportation in St. Paul, contact

Metro Transit: 612-373-3333

Steve Atlas welcomes your comments and suggestions. Do you have a favorite place that you want Car Free Journey to spotlight in a future column?

Send your requests and suggestions to


About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at