You have to give a place credit for being the source of both the rock star Prince and the Mississippi River. And if you’re interested in culture and bodies of water, the lake-studded Twin Cities area is the place to go. Settled around 1680, sister burgs Minneapolis and St. Paul became milling, lumber, and rail powerhouses in the mid-19th century. A massive building boom resulted in streets lined with limestone mansions and in well-wrought train stations and libraries.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit in the Edenlike spring, be sure to take advantage of the many walking and bike paths. An efflorescence of new restaurants puts the state’s bounty of fish and organic produce to good use. So even if you find the weather a little fresh for your taste, you probably won’t feel that way about the food.
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
More famous for its Frank Gehry design than for its early-20th-century American art collection, the Weisman, with its brushed stainless steel exterior, is summed up in Gehry’s famous quote about the commission: “They told me not to build another brick lump.” The collection is shown in a handful of small, easily navigable galleries and features the largest holding of works by modernist painter Marsden Hartley as well as important pieces by his contemporaries Milton Avery, Lyonel Feininger, and Georgia O’Keeffe. 333 E. River Rd. on the West Bank of the U of MN campus, Minneapolis;  625-9494; Tues.-Wed. and Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs., 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Modeled after the Washington Monument, this Art Deco limestone obelisk, designed by the firms of Magney and Tusler and Hooper and Janusch for public utility company owner Wilbur B. Foshay, was opened just months before the stock market crash of 1929. Until 1973, the 32-story, 447-foot-high tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis; now it’s dwarfed by the nearby IDS Tower. The observation deck affords views of downtown. 821 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis; observation deck/museum Mon.-Fri. 12 p.m.-4 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
St. John’s Abbey at St. John’s University Located in rural Collegeville, an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities, St. John’s Abbey is one of nine Marcel Breuer buildings (of a planned 22) designed for this Benedictine college campus. Completed in 1961, the structure is notable for its cast-in-place concrete form and a powerful bell tower that pokes over the treeline. According to I.M. Pei, the abbey had the potential to be the most important modern building in the U.S.–if only it weren’t in the middle of nowhere. Collegeville, MN;  363-2011; open during school and worshipping hours, self-guided tour brochure available in the lobby.
ALSO WORTH A LOOK
Walker Art Center
Thomas B. Walker, the lumber baron, opened Minneapolis’s first art gallery in 1879. Now housed in a modern sculpture of a building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1971, the Walker is one of America’s preeminent contemporary art institutions. On any given day, a visitor can see performance art, international films, or a concert. Across the street, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden –the largest urban sculpture park in the U.S.–displays huge modern masterpieces by the likes of Tony Smith and Mark di Suvero. 725 Vineland Pl., Minneapolis;  375-7577; Tues., Wed., and Fri-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., garden open daily 6 a.m.-midnight.
This little gem of a museum on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus is based on the collection of sisters Harriet and Vetta Goldstein, former home economics professors who wrote the influential book Art in Everyday Life. Its permanent holdings of costumes and textiles from the 4th to the late 20th centuries are exhibited with a growing assemblage of interior and decorative arts, including glasswork, basketry, and ceramics. 1985 Buford Ave. (McNeil Hall) on the St. Paul U of MN campus;  624-7434; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. a.m.-4 p.m., Thus. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Minnesota State Capitol Building
Architect Cass Gilbert had a Minneapolis-based practice for almost 20 years before returning to New York in 1899 to begin work on the Woolworth Building. The State Capitol, his Midwest masterpiece, boasts one of the largest unsupported marble domes in the world, and the construction, which the architect oversaw himself, spanned nine years. The St. Paul building is bedecked with peerless statuary and mural work and furniture and wood detailing designed by Gilbert. The nearby Minnesota History Center conducts tours daily. Aurora Ave. between Cedar and Constitution Sts., St. Paul;  296-3962; Mon-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4p.m., Sun. 1 p.m.-4 p.m., guided tours begin on the hour.
WHERE TO STAY
Located in what used to be the Ceresota flour mill, the Hyatt Whitney features a lobby with a marble floor, a soaring ceiling, and velvet couches for people- or river-watching. The hotel’s 97 rooms are elegantly furnished with slightly worn antiques and many have views of the St. Anthony Falls. (150 Portland Ave., Minneapolis,  375-1234, rooms from $160.) \ Built on the banks of the Mississippi in 1893 of locally quarried limestone, Nicollet Island Inn resides in the former home of the Island Door and Sash Company. This antiques-filled hotel retains many of the building’s original beamed ceilings, stained-glass windows, and stone fireplaces. A loading dock is now a glassed-in dining room, a 150-year-old wood bar stands in the lounge area, and an old glass elevator moves between the inn’s three floors. (95 Merriam St., Minneapolis,  331-1800, rooms from $135.) \ Reed and Stem, one of the firms responsible for Grand Central Terminal, designed the Saint Paul Hotel in 1910, easily the finest hotel in th e Twin Cities. The Renaissance-revival building offers 254 rooms and suites, a rooftop fitness center, and a breathtakingly grand lobby replete with coffered ceilings, potted palms, paintings, and crystal chandeliers, (350 Market St., St. Paul,  292-9292, rooms from $165.)
WHERE TO EAT
Recently opened by a pair of local restaurateurs, Brasserie Zinc (1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis,  904-1010) features plush semicircular booths, professional but un-snooty service, and reasonably priced, if predictable, French classics that are a welcome addition to the sometimes bland downtown Minneapolis dining scene. \ Restaurant Alma (528 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis,  379-4909), a two-year-old restaurant housed in an old brick industrial building near the University of Minnesota, has the peaceful ambience that comes from wood floors, bare walls, and potted trees. An ever-changing menu relies on produce available from local farmers and artisan cheesemakers. \ Across from Loring Park’s horseshoe courts and lake, the Loring Bar and Cafe (1624 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis,  332-1617) serves up gourmet delights from an open kitchen. Mismatched chairs, dried flowers, and towering trees fill every nook of this character-infused spot. It’s well worth indulging in the pricey drink menu to enjoy a ba lmy evening on the bar’s patio in the shadow of the nearby Basilica.
Lunalux (1618 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis,  373-0526) is a charming graphics studio selling restored fountain pens and ink, whimsical stationery, and novelty items like handmade books in which to paste in your fortune-cookie fortunes. The building, formerly a ball-bearing factory and then a Rolls-Royce showroom, is located next door to the Loring Bar and Cafe (see above). \ Danish Teak (801 8th St. SE, Minneapolis,  627-9381) specializes in vintage Danish furniture and ceramics. A recent visit yielded a pair of 1950s Hans Wegner lounge chairs for a cool $5,000 and a whimsically striped unsigned loveseat for $450. It’s hard to find and open only on Saturdays, but the hand picked furniture in perfect condition is worth the effort and wait. \ On sale at City Salvage (505 First Ave. NE, Minneapolis,  627-9107) is an entire staircase from a lumber baron’s South Minneapolis mansion (complete with directions for reinstallation) and the brass revolving door from the old Surgeons and Physicians Building. Mo re practical finds include intricate stained-glass panels rescued from Arts and Crafts bungalows and 1950S linoleum kitchen tables in buttery yellow, slate, and emerald green.