Downtown St. Paul: The Guide

Minnesota, St. Paul skyline and Smith Avenue / High Bridge on Mississippi River

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In the early 1800s, a camp of squatters and traders lived near Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River, the first European settlement in Minnesota. The fort commander took objection to one whiskey distiller, bootlegger, and trader called Pierre Parant, and forced him out of the settlement. Parrant, nicknamed "Pig's Eye", eventually settled in what is now downtown St. Paul, and the settlement that grew up around his tavern on the east bank of the river became known as Pig's Eye, too.

This area is the last natural landing for steamboats traveling upriver on the Mississippi, which made St. Paul an important trading site. In 1841, a Catholic chapel to Saint Paul was built on the bluffs above the landing, and the name of the settlement was changed to St. Paul. In 1849, the Minnesota Territory was formalized, with St. Paul as the capital.

Location and Borders

To most people, downtown St. Paul is bound by Interstate 94 to the north and Kellogg Boulevard and the Mississippi River in the south. The official boundary of the neighborhood is a little further north, at University Avenue. From the southwest, going clockwise, downtown is bordered by the West Seventh, Summit-University, Thomas-Dale (Frogtown), and Dayton's Bluff neighborhoods on the same side of the Mississippi. The West Side neighborhood is directly across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul.

Traffic in captured in slow shutter in front of the skyscrapers of St. Paul, Minneapolis

Businesses and Skyscrapers

In contrast to the gleaming silver skyscrapers that dominate downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul has older, brownstone office buildings and towers, many in the art deco style. The tallest building in downtown St. Paul is the Wells Fargo Place building, at 471 feet tall. The most recognizable is the First National Bank Building on Fourth Street: it's the 1930s skyscraper with the red "1st" sign on the roof. The Ramsey County courthouse's plain exterior belies the magnificent art deco interior. An atrium rising several floors is clad in black marble, showcasing the gigantic God of Peace Statue.

Arts, Theater, and Opera

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Rice Park has theater, opera, ballet and children's performances. The Landmark Center contains the TRACES World War II History Center, the Schubert Club Museum of Musical Instruments and several other exhibits. Downtown St. Paul also has the Fitzgerald Theater, the Park Square Theatre, and the History Theatre. A small art gallery, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, is on the Mississippi river bank. Minnesota Public Radio is headquartered in, and broadcasts from, downtown St. Paul.


Downtown St. Paul isn't the shopping destination that downtown Minneapolis is. There is a large Macy's store and a Sears store on the edge of downtown, and a couple of independent stores. Independent stores like beloved Heimies Haberdashery and art and gift store Artist Mercantile operate in or close by the pedestrianized Seventh Place Mall. The main St. Paul Farmers Market is held on Saturday and Sunday during the summer in Lowertown, the eastern section of downtown. A satellite farmer's market is held in the Seventh Place Mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

St. Paul Minneapolis state capitol building at dusk


Museums in downtown St. Paul include the impressive Science Museum of Minnesota and the popular Minnesota Children's Museum. The fascinating Minnesota History Center documents the state's history and residents. Rice Park, opposite the Landmark Center, hosts Winter Carnival events and has sculptures of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Schultz's Peanuts characters. Mears Park is another attractive park and has free concerts on summer evenings. The Rivercentre hosts conventions, festivals and music events. As St. Paul is the state capital of Minnesota, the Minnesota State Capitol is in downtown St. Paul.

Eating and Drinking

St. Paul has a small but varied number of restaurants. From eponymous 24-hour Mickey's Diner Car and casual Key's Cafe to the divine Meritage and the upmarket St. Paul Grill. International options include Fuji-Ya, Pazzaluna, Senor Wong and Ruam Mit Thai Cafe, often touted as the best Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities.

Sports and Nightlife

The major sporting venue in downtown St. Paul is the world-famous Xcel Energy Center. It's certainly very famous in the ice hockey world anyway. The Xcel Energy Center, or the X, also hosts conferences, music concerts, and other sporting events. Visitors to the Xcel Energy Center often have a drink at one of the bars on nearby West Seventh Street such as the Liffey, a popular Irish pub. Downtown St. Paul has a handful of bars and nightlife venues such at the Great Waters Brewing Company, Alary's Bar, and Wild Tymes Sports Bar & Grill.


Homes in Downtown St. Paul are apartments, studios, lofts, and condos. There are a few new high-rise condo developments, and old warehouses and commercial spaces converted into modern apartments and lofts. Apartments in buildings on the skyway system are more expensive. Parking a car adds a significant amount to living costs.


  • Walking: The easiest way to get around is usually by foot. Downtown St. Paul is quite compact, and the skyway system connects most major buildings and attractions.
  • Driving: Parking ramps are plentiful but usually expensive. Almost all street parking is metered. A rechargeable parking card is very handy if you often park at meters. Meters are free in the evenings and on Sundays.
  • Bus and train: Downtown St. Paul is very accessible by public transport. Many bus routes serve Downtown. The METRO Green Light Rail connects Downtown St. Paul with Downtown Minneapolis.