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5 Stops Not To Miss on the Blue Line

The first leg of the METRO Green Line just celebrated its first anniversary and MSP’s transit community is abuzz with a bevy of planned or under-construction projects: the Snelling Avenue "A" Line, the Green Line extension, the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit line, possible rapid transit along West 7th Street and more.
“Metro Transit has an ambitious vision for bus rapid transit,” MnDOT transit advantages coordinator Shawn Combs Walding said in a recent interview with The Line. “[Bus rapid transit] is a great example of doing what we can with what we have. We need to make these types of investments while we continue the conversation about more ambitious transit alternatives.” In fact, after the Snelling Avenue "A" Line is done, Metro Transit is set to build the long-anticipated "C" Line, which will introduce BRT service along North Minneapolis' Penn Avenue spine.
So it’s not surprising that MSP’s first major fixed-rail transit project of the post-streetcar era — the METRO Blue Line — isn’t top-of-mind for most residents and planners. The initial excitement around the line’s opening, back in 2004, has faded; even for the more than 25,000 regular riders who board its trains each weekday, the Blue Line is just another way to get to work, the airport or the Mall of America.
But the Blue Line isn’t all business. There’s plenty to see and do along MSP’s original light rail line outside the 9-to-5 grind — or, if you’re playing hooky from work, any time at all. If you’re looking to get reacquainted with your hometown, start with these five Blue Line stops.
1. Minneapolis’ Most Successful Live-Work Play District
Station: Target Field
It’s hard to believe that Target Field Station, one of the most important stops in the Metro Transit system, wasn’t included in the original Blue Line plans. These days, there’s no containing the hotness emanating from Target Field Station and the surrounding North Loop. The North Loop is arguably Minneapolis’ archetypal live-work-play district, though Prospect Park and Northeast are giving the neighborhood a run for its money. Whether you’re taking transit to a baseball game or simply hitting up one of the North Loop’s many happy hour spots after work, the Blue Line is your ticket to ride.
Breweries and Restaurants: Too many to name. Highlights include Fulton Brewery, 414 N 6th Avenue; Modist Brewing; Kieran’s Irish Pub, 85 N 6th Street; 508 Bar and Restaurant, 508 N 1st Avenue
Cultural Attractions: Target Field; Target Center; Mill City Nights; Fine Line Music Cafe, The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
Special Events: Twins home games (April through September); Timberwolves home games (October through April); Open Streets Downtown (various times); Twin Cities Pride (late June), Mississippi Minute Film Festival (late October).
What to Watch For: Several office and apartment building projects are planned or under construction in the North Loop. Longer-term, the Bottineau Line (Blue Line extension) is slated to punch through the North Loop’s northwestern fringe, strengthening connections with Near North and other North Minneapolis neighborhoods.
2. A Revitalized Downtown East (East Downtown) Neighborhood
Station: Downtown East
Whether you call it Downtown East or East Downtown (either is correct, according to local geography experts), the district bounded by I-35W, Hennepin County Medical Center, Fifth Avenue South and the Mississippi River is rapidly changing.
Formerly a dingy, low-energy expanse of surface parking lots and under-utilized industrial buildings surrounding the old Metrodome, Downtown East is lately among MSP’s hippest, fastest-growing neighborhoods — a proximate complement to a resurgent North Loop. A replacement for the Metrodome, a signature park, and a slew of new condo and apartment buildings all promise to inject additional life in the coming years.
Breweries and Restaurants: Day Block Brewing, 1105 S Washington Avenue; Grumpy’s Downtown, 1111 S Washington Avenue; Sea Change, 806 S 2nd Street; Spoonriver, 750 S 2nd Street; Hubert’s, 601 S Chicago Avenue; Crooked Pint Ale House, 501 S Washington Avenue.
Cultural Attractions: The Guthrie Theater, 818 S 2nd Street; Mill City Museum; Open Book; Gold Medal Park / Mill Ruins Park
Special Events: Mill City Farmers Market; Vikings home games (beginning fall 2016) at U.S. Bank Stadium; Super Bowl LII (February 4, 2018); NCAA Men’s Final Four (early April 2019).
What to Watch For: Several new hotels, apartment buildings and condo complexes are planned or under construction within walking distance of Downtown East Station. Downtown East Commons, a four-acre park near the heart of the neighborhood, will take shape in 2016 and 2017.
3. Vibrant Cedar-Riverside
Station: Cedar-Riverside
One stop south of Downtown East is Cedar-Riverside, a vibrant cultural melting pot. The heart of the city’s East African community is also a popular stomping ground for hipsters, artists and U of M grad students. If you’re in the mood to sample a new cuisine, discover MSP’s next musical export, or expand your intellectual horizons at a West Bank lecture hall, punch your Blue Line ticket for Cedar-Riverside.
Breweries and Restaurants: Town Hall Brewery, 1430 S Washington Avenue; Republic West Bank, 221 Cedar Avenue; Acadia Cafe, 329 Cedar Avenue; Hard Times Cafe, 1821 Riverside Avenue; Palmer’s Bar, 500 Cedar Avenue; Nomad World Pub, 501 Cedar Avenue; Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Avenue.
Cultural Attractions: The Southern Theater, 1420 S Washington Avenue; The Cedar Cultural Center
Special Events: West Bank Neighborhood Association Block Party (early September); Franklin Avenue Open Streets (various times).
What to Watch For: Many of Cedar-Riverside’s bars and restaurants, notably Acadia and Palmer’s, double as performance venues. Check websites for information about special events and shows. Also, look out for Cedar Cultural Center’s revamped outdoor plaza, slated to become an all-season neighborhood hub.
4. Beautiful Minnehaha Park (and Falls)
Station: 46th Street and 50th/Minnehaha Park
You forgot that Minnehaha Falls is accessible from the Blue Line, didn’t you? That’s not surprising. By the time the typical outbound Blue Line train makes it to 46th Street, most of the folks left onboard are either on their way out to jobs at the VA or the Bloomington strip, or heading to the airport for a flight out of town. They’re not thinking about the Grand Rounds, Minnehaha Falls, or any of the seasonal jewels (picnic areas, hiking trails, Sea Salt) tucked within Minnehaha Park.
But if the sun is shining, there’s no better place to be. Pack your bike, check your events calendar and choose from two convenient Blue Line stops serving Minnehaha Park.
Breweries and Restaurants: Sea Salt Eatery (open April through October), in Minnehaha Park; Cap’s Grille, 5000 S Hiawatha Avenue S; Town Hall Lanes, 5019 S 34th Avenue.
Cultural Attractions: John H. Stevens House Museum; Hiawatha Statue; Pergola Gardens
Special Events: National Public Lands Day (volunteering opportunities on warm-season weekends); Bike with a Ranger Day (various warm-season Saturdays); Music in the Parks (Memorial Day through Labor Day, Wednesday-Friday).
What to Watch For: Frozen Minnehaha Falls is one of MSP’s top natural wonders. In a typical year, the falls freeze by late December and stay solid until March.
5. Historic Fort Snelling
Station: Fort Snelling
If you grew up in or around MSP, you probably visited Fort Snelling on a school field trip. In case you were tuning out your teacher and/or interpretive guide on your last visit, you need to know that Fort Snelling got its start as a rough-and-tumble outpost on what was then the United States’ northwestern frontier before contributing to at least three major war efforts before its mid-20th century decommissioning.
These days, Fort Snelling is a well-kept ruin on a high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers on one side, and MSP International Airport on the other. Already a bustling destination for schoolkids and history buffs, the old fort stands to get a lot busier thanks to the nearly 200-unit Upper Post redevelopment, a planned workforce housing project slated to repurpose about two dozen old structures on part of the site.
For now, hop the Blue Line to Fort Snelling for a leisurely jaunt back through two centuries of military and civilian history. Don’t forget your bike or hiking shoes: The Minnesota Valley Trail is part of dozens of miles of riverfront and woodland trails along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.
Breweries and Restaurants: Not many. For pre- or post-visit fuel, hop back on the Blue Line and head north to 38th Street (four stops) or Lake Street (five stops).
Cultural Attractions: Fort Snelling State Park; Historic Fort Snelling & Visitor Center; Minnesota Valley State Trail.
Special Events: World War II Weekend (mid-June); Civil War Weekend (mid-August); World War I Weekend (early September); Independence Day celebration (July 4).
What to Watch For: The Upper Post redevelopment is the big item on the agenda for Fort Snelling and environs. With a bigger daytime population, the area may be able to support a handful of local shops, restaurants, and perhaps even a brewery.
Bonus: Nicollet Mall, Reimagined
Station: Nicollet Mall
Big things are afoot along Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis’ de facto Main Street. Already a cultural hotbed, the famous pedestrian street is in the early stages of a $50 million revamp that includes hundreds of new street trees and planters, ultra-modern LED lighting, new paving and wayfinding elements, outdoor seating, public art, and right-of-way accommodations for the proposed Nicollet-Central Streetcar line.
The Blue Line runs along 5th Street, about two-thirds of the way up Nicollet Mall. But no point on the pedestrian thoroughfare is more than a half-mile walk (or free bus ride) from the station. If you’re reticent to brave the elements on a cold winter’s day, never fear: Minneapolis’ extensive skyway system offers easy, climate-controlled access to most of the mall.
Breweries and Restaurants: Too many to name. Highlights include the Foreign Legion, 105 S 5th Street; 8th Street Grill, 800 South Marquette Avenue; Hell’s Kitchen, 80 S 9th Street; The Local, 917 Nicollet Mall; Brit’s Pub, 1110 Nicollet Mall; Lakes and Legends Brewing, 1368 Lasalle Avenue.
Cultural Attractions: Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall; First Avenue/7th Street Entry, 701 1st Avenue N; Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Avenue; Gallery 13, 811 Lasalle Avenue; Brave New Workshop, 824 Hennepin Avenue; Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall; Minnesota Orchestra, 1111 Nicollet Mall; Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 S Marquette Avenue.
Special Events: Holidazzle Village (late November through mid-December); Minneapolis Farmers Market (Thursday 6 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.; on Hennepin Avenue during construction); Twin Cities Pride (late June); Minneapolis Aquatennial (late July).
What to Watch For: Everything. Areas of particular interest include an outdoor Reading Room seating area between 11th and 12th Streets; two new green spaces (Loring Woods and Mississippi Woods) bookending the mall; a high-tech Light Walk between 6th and 8th Streets; and a totally reimagined Theatre in the Round performance space between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Brian Martucci is The Line’s Innovation and Jobs News Editor.
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