Not everyone wants to revel in the cold. Even those who love a good snowstorm may need a break from the long gray stretches of winter or the rainy patches of summer. Smart locals know where to find a bit of the tropics right in the Twin Cities, and visitors can have a great time here even in the worst weather.
While much of the Minnesota Zoo (1300 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, 952/883-8600, www.mnzoo.com , daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; Labor Day–Memorial Day and weekends in May and Sept. 9 a.m.–6 p.m.) is outside, the Tropics Trail and aquariums are all indoors, with hundreds of animals, birds, fish, and plants from warmer climes on display. You could skip the outdoor trails entirely and still spend a happy and full morning or afternoon at the zoo, especially if you catch a dolphin show or an IMAX film.
Likewise, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory (1225 Estabrook Dr., 651/487-8200, www.comozooconservatory.org , daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m., free) in St. Paul has a much smaller tropics display uniquely combining botanical and zoological exhibits. Keep your eye out for the sloth.
A perennial favorite of downtown Minneapolis office workers who need a midwinter boost is the Cowles Conservatory in the Walker Sculpture Garden (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612/375-7600, www.walkerart.org , daily 6 a.m.–midnight, free). The greenhouse is small but packed with hibiscus, oranges, palms, and other tropical plants. Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish sculpture is oddly uplifting.
All of Minnesota’s cultural institutions are, of course, indoors and are excellent ways to escape the elements. But if you like your escapism untainted by high culture, there is no better place to run away to than the Mall of America (60 E. Broadway, Bloomington, 952/883-8800, www.mallofamerica.com , stores open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; mall opens daily at 7 a.m.). Keep in mind that everyone else in the metro area is likely to hit upon this very idea when the mercury plunges, and the 13,000 on-site parking spaces have actually been known to fill up on the coldest days, forcing chilly shoppers into the 7,000 overflow spaces across the street. The mall opens at 7 a.m. every day of the week so mall walkers can get a few laps in before the stores open (one pass around the first level is 0.57 mile).
Thanks to Minneapolis and St. Paul’s skyways, you can combine shopping, dining, and a little indoor exercise. St. Paul has five miles of indoor walkways and Minneapolis has seven. If you can bear to brave the elements for a single block, the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612/630-6000, www.hclib.org , Tues. and Thurs. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Wed. and Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., Mon. closed) is just off the skyway system and a worthwhile escape, especially if you have small children.