A Comprehensive Guide to Relocating to Minneapolis

The Minneapolis skyline.
••• Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Your boss just came in and told you that there was an opportunity in the Minneapolis office. You are looking for a new job, and saw an interesting opening at a Minneapolis firm. Or you are looking for a new city to live, stuck a pin in a map and it landed on Minneapolis. Whatever your reasons for a relocating, or thinking about relocating to Minneapolis, many newcomers know very little about the city before they arrive.

Minneapolis, and Minnesota, don't experience much tourism compared to other destinations in the US. The city of Minneapolis is a long way from anywhere else, and it doesn't have much about it that's famous or nationally recognized. Well, Minnesota is the home of Spam. And you've probably heard of Target, founded and headquartered in Minneapolis.

Aside from processed meat products and superstores, many Americans don't know much about Minnesota, except for the stereotypes perpetuated in movies like Fargo. There are plenty of people who say Yaah? instead of Yes?, lots of traditional Midwestern and Lutheran charm and plenty of snow, but there's much more to Minneapolis than that.

What is it like to live in Minneapolis?

Every city is a product of its history, geography, and residents. Minneapolis grew into a city in the mid 19th century with the arrival of immigrants from Scandinavia and became a commercial center with the taming on waterfalls on the Mississippi River to grind wheat and drive the timber trade.

The milling industry was once the largest in America and General Mills was founded and is still headquartered, in a Minneapolis suburb. After the decline of the local milling industry in the 1950s, Minneapolis refocused on becoming an economic hub rather than a production one. Many corporate headquarters are based here, and industries like banking, retail, medical technology, health care and computer technology are all important to the local economy.

Minneapolis and adjoining St. Paul form the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the largest urban area in the Midwest after Chicago and Detroit. Downtown Minneapolis is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, and the city layout is on the traditional grid system, with deviations around the river, and the city's lakes, creeks, and many parks.

About 350,000 people live in Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities metropolitan area totals around 3.2 million people. Part of the population growth has been from migration within the US including many Native Americans, and part is immigration from overseas. There are large populations from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Somalia, Mexico and Latin America.

The oldest existing housing in Minneapolis was built around 1860. Large parts of the city of Minneapolis was developed around the turn of the 20th century and much of the empty space was mostly filled in by the 1950s, with postwar housing built mostly in less desirable neighborhoods in the far south and north of Minneapolis. New, modern housing, condos and apartments are available, especially in the fashionable parts of town, but if you want something contemporary the best places to look is in the old industrial districts around downtown Minneapolis for a refurbished warehouse apartment.

Minneapolis has a distinct neighborhood setup, with the character of the city changing markedly between neighborhoods.

The suburbs surrounding Minneapolis offer every kind of suburban living you could want, from identikit subdivisions, older suburbs with character and cute downtown districts, there are upscale areas and affordable choices. The commute into Minneapolis is about average for a large city, and predictably, it can get very congested on the major freeways, I-35W, I-94 and I-394 which bring commuters in from suburbs.

Minneapolis is relatively quiet, and calm for a city its size. Of course, there is crime in Minneapolis, as in every metropolitan area, but most violent crimes are concentrated in specific areas of Minneapolis.

But does quiet equate to boring? Minneapolis is no New York, but locals who call Minneapolis the "Mini Apple" could be said to have a point.

Entertainment and Culture

The local Minneapolis arts and entertainment scene is very vibrant with local musicians having a strong following, and popular music fans often spoiled for choice of who to go and see on weekends. Bands touring the nation almost always stop in Minneapolis or St. Paul, unless they are on a limited stop tour. Iconic venue First Avenue, featured in the Prince movie Purple Rain, is where most indie acts play, and the Target Center hosts major stars.

Art is an important part of Minneapolis culture. Minneapolis has three major art galleries, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a vast, comprehensive gallery covering every major period with art from around the world, and two modern art galleries, the Walker Art Center and Weismann Art Museum. The Northeast Minneapolis arts district is home to many small studios and galleries with artists, sculptures, and photographers working in many styles of art. Art Fair Weekend is in every August when three huge simultaneous Minneapolis art fairs draw collectors from across the country.

Museums in Minneapolis document Minneapolis' history, from the aforementioned milling days at the Mill City Museum, and the library and local history artifacts at Hennepin History Museum. The Museum of Russian Art is a small but excellent museum which does exactly what its name suggests with artworks ancient and modern, and the Bakken Museum does a great job of making electricity and magnetism fascinating.

Minneapolis coffee shop culture is alive and well, with plenty of coffee shops being small music venues, art galleries and community gathering sports as well as serving cappuccino.

Listener-supported Minnesota Public Radio is one of the gems of the Twin Cities. MPR broadcasts three radio stations, Classical Music, The Current alternative music station, and MPR NewsQ, which also airs A Prairie Home Companion. See, you have heard of something else from Minnesota. Minneapolis' newspaper, the Star Tribune, is one of two major newspapers published daily in the Twin Cities - the other is the St. Paul-based Pioneer Press.

Nightlife in Minneapolis centers on downtown Minneapolis, Uptown Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota campus has plenty of bars and entertainment, and Northeast Minneapolis is popular with hipsters.

Minneapolis has a sizable gay community, and the city is generally welcoming and accepting. Minneapolis was one of the first in the nation to introduce civil partnerships allowing same-sex couples some of the benefits of traditional married couples. There is no specific gay neighborhood in Minneapolis, but most of the gay-friendly bars and businesses are in the cooler parts of Minneapolis - Uptown Minneapolis, the Loring park neighborhood and downtown Minneapolis. Loring Park is the home of the annual LGBT Pride Festival, a weekend-long event that's one of the larger pride festivals in the USA.

Performing arts are thriving in Minnesota. The Minnesota Orchestra plays in their custom technicolor Orchestra Hall building in downtown Minneapolis. For dance and performance arts, the Northrop Auditorium is where to see modern and classical dance from national and international performers. An oft-quoted statistic is that Minneapolis has more theater seats per capita than anywhere else in the nation save New York.

The sapphire-blue Guthrie Theater is the largest and most well-known theater in Minneapolis, there's a whole theater district on the west side of downtown Minneapolis and another collection of theaters in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The Minneapolis Fringe Festival is one of the nation's largest. Children can get their dose of culture at In The Heart of the Beast puppet theater, who as well as traditional puppet shows, produce the annual May Day parade and festival, a free street art extravaganza and festival that draws a hundred thousand spectators and participants.

Other major annual events in Minneapolis include the Aquatennial festival in July, the series of Holidazzle parades in December, and the Loppet cross-country ski festival and races in February. And there's the Minnesota State Fair in late summer that's one of the largest and one of the best in the nation.

Education and Politics

Minneapolis has one of the best educated and most literate populations in the country. Minneapolis is home to the largest campus of the University of Minnesota, a highly regarded public university, as well as Augsburg College, a private liberal arts college.

Minneapolis has plenty of options for public and private schools. Minneapolis Public Schools are currently going through significant changes mostly due to lack of funds and declining enrollment. The best schools in the area - considering only test scores - are in the suburbs - and many parents in Minneapolis send their children to private schools in and around Minneapolis, or schools in other school districts. The problems that beset all urban areas affect do some of Minneapolis' city schools too, but there are also many good schools in the city where students score well academically.

Minneapolis usually votes for democrats. Minneapolis and the Twin Cities metropolitan area traditionally votes for liberal, progressive politicians, but there are plenty of conservative areas for Republican folks, mainly in the southwestern corner of the city, to feel at home in. Minneapolis city government follows the trend with the current major, R. T. Rybak, being a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, affiliated with the national Democratic Party. Minneapolis' city website is useful and well organized, and the city of Minneapolis has supported projects like the use of solar energy in the city, and their initially troubled, but now mostly functional municipal wi-fi system.

Parks and Sports

Minneapolis is regarded for parks and open spaces. Minneapolis Park and Recreation board manages almost 200 parks. Theodore Wirth Park is the largest in the city, with miles of hiking, golf in the summer and a gentle ski and snowboard hill in the winter. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden has the city's iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture.  Minnehaha Park contains a beautiful 53 foot waterfall and is a popular spot for weddings. Minneapolis' 22 lakes, and the Mississippi River are surrounded by parkland and are popular for walking and recreation.

Minneapolis' professional sports teams, while not bringing home any major trophies for some years, have plenty of dedicated fans and every year, one or two of the teams seems to be having a exciting season. A national football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey team play here. The Minnesota TwinsMinnesota Timberwolves, and Minnesota Vikings all play in Minneapolis, at the Target Center, the forthcoming Target Field and the Metrodome, America's puffiest stadium. Minnesota Wild play at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, just across the Mississippi River.

Several major golf tournaments have been held here in recent years, and every winter, Minneapolis hosts the US Pond Hockey Championships. Minneapolis residents are no couch potatoes, and Minneapolis residents are some of the fittest in the nation. More people commute by bike here than almost anywhere else, and Minneapolis has above average numbers of cyclists, runners, golfers, horse riders, and sailors per capita. There's plenty of opportunity for outdoor and water recreation in the summer and snow sports in the winter. Sailing, cross country skiing, rollerblading, water skiing and disc golf are very popular. And proof that an active lifestyle promotes good health - Minneapolis has one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the nation. Just stay away from the hotdish.

Food and Cuisine

Hotdish would be the classic Minnesota meal. Hotdish is a casserole of meat, vegetables (usually canned or frozen variety) cooked in a liquid (usually cream of mushroom soup) topped with some carbohydrate (often tater tots) and baked. Bars, any form of brownie-like cake baked in a sheet and cut into squares, are a staple dessert. Brownies, however, are not bars. But it's not all hotdish in Minneapolis.

Every major cuisine is represented is restaurants all over Minneapolis city, the most heavily promoted is "Eat Street", a restaurant-heavy section of Nicollet Avenue in Midtown Minneapolis, but there are restaurants of all kinds all over town. Mexican, African, Asian and European markets are easily found to get ingredients for cooking.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Minneapolis is comparable to the national average for most expenses. What should you budget for? Heating bills are the second highest in the nation because the winter is so cold and so long and fuel is expensive. Housing is cheaper than the national average. And clothing is cheaper in Minneapolis, because the state doesn't apply sales tax on clothes or shoes. Accounting for a large part of clothing and many other retail in the city, is the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the country, is on Minneapolis' southern city limit.

Food prices in Minneapolis are similar to the national average. Even though the length of the winter means a short growing season, and restricts what can be produced locally, there is a strong local Minnesota food movement and co-op markets selling local foods, and farmers' markets, are very popular.

The Climate

The winter in Minneapolis might be long, but the summer is too. The weather in Minneapolis goes as follows: five months of summer, one month of fall, five months of winter, one month of spring. The summer is warm, humid, interspersed with thunderstorms and tornado warnings (and the occasional actual torndao) but generally pleasant. Spring and fall are brief but lovely. And how about the winter?

The number one question new arrivals ask is: "How bad is the winter in Minneapolis?" It's long, and it's cold. Winter starts around mid-November and isn't done until late April. Minneapolis is the coldest metropolitan area in the continental United States, the temperature rarely rises above freezing all winter, several feet of snow fall, days below 0F are frequent, and when the wind blows the windchill factor can often be -40F. We all survive it and you will too. The right attitude, the right supplies, and finding your own way to have fun in or out of the snow will get you through the winter and you might even enjoy it.

As well as the winter, another major drawback of Minneapolis is the relative isolation of Minneapolis within in the country. There is not much nearby. Chicago is the nearest major city, a 6-hour drive or 1-hour plane ride. Duluth, the largest city in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities metro area, has a scenic location on Lake Superior. Duluth is a popular weekend getaway destination or used as a staging post on trips to the scenic central and northern parts of Minnesota like the  North Woods or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Handily, Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is right in the middle of the metro area so at least it's easy to get out of town. Delta, Airlines recently merged with our local carrier, Northwest Airlines, which is now being re-branded as Delta and is the major carrier operating from MSP. Local budget airline Sun Country uses MSP, handy for cheap flights around the country.