Adventurous Parenting: Explorer banner
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Lighthouse on Boom Island
Island Hop the Mighty Miss
Mark Twain, philosopher of rivers, viewed the Mississippi as a “wonderful book.” Give your kids a close read of the liquid tome by exploring the islands that dot Big Muddy’s metro run. Huck and Tom would be proud.
Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
Our most well-known Mississippi island is a living history lesson, with Victorian-era homes, an upscale inn that used to be a door factory, DeLaSalle High School, and a BNSF rail bridge. On the north end, a walking trail leads to a footbridge that connects to Boom Island Park, where kids will get a kick out of the lighthouse that once serviced a log-sorting station.
Harriet Island, St. Paul
Its back channel was filled in 1950, but this “island” opposite downtown St. Paul remains an excellent spot for getting up close and personal with the river. There’s a playground for kids, a riverboat dock, and a pavilion designed by the nation’s first black municipal architect, Clarence W. Wigington.
Raspberry Island, St. Paul
This tiny island just south of Harriet under the Wabasha Bridge was renovated in 2008 and is home to an ultra-modern bandshell that’s illuminated at night.
Pike Island, St. Paul
Situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, this wooded island is part of Fort Snelling Park, though it was once the purview of the Mdewakanton Sioux, who viewed it as the sacred center of the universe. If you have older children, consider using a visit here to talk about Pike’s role as an internment camp for more than 1,600 Mdewakanton people following the Dakota War of 1862.
Get Science-y in St. Paul
A handful of East Side ways to make science as fun as a Bill Nye bow tie.
Sleuth Science: Collector’s Corner at the Science Museum of Minnesota is a life-changer. Bring in something of scientific interest from home like a pinecone, fruit, or that strange green thing growing in the milk cup you just found in the closet. The Collector’s Corner staff will break it down and then your child awards them points based on whether they’ve actually learned anything. It’s super fun. And with a Science Museum membership you’ll get free admission and discount parking so this can turn into a regular part of life. It will be deeply satisfying to watch your kids pore through the grocery store, paying scientific attention to star-anise pods and loofahs.
When you’re all scienced out, head up the hill to Cossetta for some of the best slices in town. And don’t forget the big Cossetta’s market where you can get gorgeous sausages for fancy dinners or even pre-made pans of lasagna for your less leisurely weeknights.
Study Stars: Remember the old Minneapolis Planetarium that was torn down in 2002 when the Central Library was rebuilt? You know, the one where you used to go watch Pink Floyd laser light shows? Well, even though they said they would rebuild it someday, they still, uh, haven’t. But that’s OK because Como Elementary School in St. Paul wasn’t so foolish as to get rid of its planetarium. The Como Planetarium is open to the public Tuesday nights with One World, One Sky (Big Bird, Elmo, and Hu Hu Zhu taking viewers on a tour of the night sky) at 5:30 pm and Planetpalooza, in which audience members use their own iPads and phones to explore the sky, at 7 pm.
It’s just a short drive from Como over to East St. Paul’s Ward 6, where the little kid burgers are made from the same beef mix as the renowned grownup burgers. There are free refills on lemonade, plenty of crayons, and the same friendliness no matter your age.
Binge on Botany: Established in 1915, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is the perfect antidote to winter. The steamy blossom-scented air and the blossoms themselves warm you to the remotest cockles of your heart. Double down with a trip to Tropical Encounters at the neighboring zoo for more natural warmth and even a two-toed sloth.
When you’re done pretending it’s summer, hit Half Time Rec, the resto concepted by Jack Riebel, who opened Butcher & the Boar. It has truly killer hot dogs. Don’t miss the one topped with beer cheese mac and popcorn.