Relocating to St. Paul?
Your boss just came in and told you that there was an opportunity in the St. Paul office. You are looking for a new job and saw an interesting opening at a St. Paul firm. Or you are looking for a new city to live, stuck a pin in a map and it landed on St. Paul. Whatever your reasons for a relocating, or thinking about relocating to St. Paul, many newcomers know very little about the city before they arrive.
St. Paul, and Minnesota don't experience much tourism compared to other destinations in the US. The city of St. Paul 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 Garrison Keillor, the creator of radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, lives in and broadcasts the show from St. Paul.
Aside from processed meat products and Midwestern variety radio shows, 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 St. Paul than that.
What Is St. Paul Like?
Every city is a product of its history, geography, and residents. The city of St. Paul began as a military and trading settlement, the most northerly place on the Mississippi River accessible by steamboat. In the early nineteenth century, a one-eyed, rogue whiskey distiller and bootlegger named Pierre Parant was forced out of the main settlement and set up residence, and a tavern, in what is now downtown St. Paul. Traders and customers of Parant's establishment also settled in the area which became known as Pig's Eye - Parant's nickname.
The town of Pig's Eye gradually became a city, with the steamboats, and later the railroad, bringing trade and new arrivals from Scandinavia, Ireland, and Eastern Europe. In 1841, a chapel to St. Paul was built overlooking the Mississippi, and the city was officially renamed St. Paul. Eight years later, St. Paul became the capital of the new state of Minnesota.
St. Paul and adjoining Minneapolis form the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the largest urban area in the Midwest after Chicago and Detroit. Downtown St. Paul is on the east bank of the Mississippi River, and the city of St. Paul is a rough rectangle shape spreading east-west around downtown St. Paul. In comparison to Minneapolis' orderly grid system, St. Paul's streets are twisting and almost all named rather than numbered, making navigation much less simple.
About 250,000 people live in St. Paul 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 Ireland, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Somalia, Mexico and Latin America.
The oldest existing housing in St. Paul was built around 1860. Large parts of the city of St. Paul 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 east, and Eastside (on a compass, actually south of downtown) St. Paul. Very little modern housing is available in the city - If you want something contemporary in St. Paul the best place to look is in Lowertown, where old warehouses are being refurbished into modern apartments.
St. Paul's neighborhoods are each very distinct, and the character of the city changes markedly between neighborhoods.
The suburbs surrounding St. Paul offer plenty of modern homes in every price range. The commute into St. Paul is about average for a large city, and predictably, it can get very congested on the major freeways, I-35E, I-94 and I-494 which bring commuters into St. Paul from the suburbs.
St. Paul is relatively quiet, and calm for a city its size. Of course there is crime in St. Paul, as in every metropolitan area, but most violent crimes are concentrated in specific areas of St. Paul, mostly in the eastern neighborhoods.
"Quiet" is a word often used to describe St. Paul. Compared to Minneapolis, St. Paul is much quieter and has less choice for nightlife, culture and entertainment. It's far from being dead though, and in recent years has seen significant growth with new entertainment venues, businesses and cultural organizations opening in, or moving to, St. Paul.
Lowertown, the former industrial part of downtown, is gradually transforming into the arts center of St. Paul, hosting two annual art crawls, live outdoor music and performance, and a music festival featuring the best local classical, indie, jazz and pop musicians.
Downtown St. Paul has three major media outlets. St. Paul's newspaper, the Pioneer Press, is one of two major newspapers published daily in the Twin Cities - the other is the Minneapolis based Star Tribune.
Twin Cities Public Television, one of the nation's highest-rated PBS stations, is headquartered in St. Paul. Listener-supported Minnesota Public Radio is one of the gems of the Twin Cities, and is also headquarted in St. Paul. MPR has three radio stations, Classical Music, The Current alternative music station, and MPR NewsQ, which broadcasts the aforementioned A Prairie Home Companion from the Fitzgerald Theater. The Fitzgerald, named for St. Paul's most famous resident, F Scott Fitzgerald, is operated by MPR and also hosts visiting artists and writers, music shows and other productions.
Music and Art
St. Paul has several music and performing arts venues. The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown St. Paul is home to the Minnesota Opera and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and also hosts Broadway-style productions and theater shows. And also in, or nearby downtown St. Paul, are the Minnesota History Theater, the Park Square Theater, the Penumbra Theater, and the Stepping Stone Children's Theater.
Fans of new music often have to travel across the river to Minneapolis, but in St. Paul, the ancient Turf Club hosts the latest indie acts, Station 4 is a rock club with live music, and major acts often play the Xcel Energy Center.
Nightlife in St. Paul centers on downtown St. Paul, and Grand Avenue. St. Paul's shopping, restaurant and entertainment street. The west end of Grand Avenue caters to college students from the three nearby colleges and universities, and the east end of Grand Avenue has more refined bars and restaurants. Downtown St. Paul has an odd mix of entertainment choices with hip restaurants and bars, veritable establishments, and dull chain restaurants.
St. Paul usually votes for democrats. St. Paul 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 Highland Park neighborhood, to feel at home in. St. Paul city government follows the trend with the current major, Chris Coleman, being a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, affiliated with the national Democratic Party. And since St. Paul is the capital of the state of Minnesota, much government business is done in the city, the Minnesota State Capitol is in downtown St. Paul, and the Governor of Minnesota's official residence is on St. Paul's Summit Avenue.
Summit Avenue is the grandest street in the Twin Cities, running from the Mississippi River to the magnificent St. Paul Cathedral. A collection of Victorian mansions with architecture ranging from beautiful to monstrous line Summit Avenue. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived on Summit Avenue, as did many prominent businessmen and public figures. The James J Hill house , open to the public, was home to the man who built the railroads linking the Twin Cities to the other major northwestern cities in the nation.
St. Paul has a smaller gay community than Minneapolis, but the city is generally as welcoming and accepting as Minneapolis is. St. Paul recognizes civil partnerships allowing same-sex couples some of the benefits that married couples enjoy. There is no specific gay neighborhood, but downtown St. Paul has two gay bars and a nightclub, and elsewhere in St. Paul, the Townhouse is the Twin Cities' oldest LGBT bar.
St. Paul's parks and open spaces are plentiful and pretty. Como Park is the largest, and contains a zoo, Victorian conservatory, amusement park, Japanese gardens, Como Lake, a golf course and cross-country ski area. Indian Mounds Park is the site of 2000-year-old Native American burial ground. Lake Phalen is St. Paul's largest lake, and Phalen Park has a city golf course and hosts events like a solar boat regatta, the annual Dragon Festival Asian cultural festival, and a gigantic holiday light display.
Other major annual events in St. Paul include the Winter Carnival in January, and Grand Old Day in June. And there's the Minnesota State Fair in late summer that's one of the largest and one of the best in the nation.
St. Paul is very family-friendly. As well as the all the mostly free attractions at Como Park, there are several museums in St. Paul. the world-class Science Museum of Minnesota has everything from dinosaurs to nanotechnology, and the equally excellent Children's Museum of Minnesota is a favorite destination for anyone with young children. The Minnesota History Center, a museum, gallery and library of all things Minnesota appeals to visitors of all ages.
St. Paul has plenty of options for public and private schools. St. Paul Public Schools are currently going through a major 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 St. Paul send their children to private schools in and around St. Paul, or schools in other school districts. The problems that beset all urban areas affect do some of St. Paul' city schools too, but there are also many good schools in the city where students score well academically.
St. Paul' 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 all play here. The Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Minnesota Vikings all play in Minneapolis, and the Minnesota Wild play at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.
For participating in sports, there is plenty to get involved in. St. Paul 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. St. Paul is home to the largest curling club in the country. And proof that an active lifestyle promotes good health - the Twin Cities have one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the nation. Just stay away from the hotdish.
Hotdish is the classic Minnesota food. 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. Visit any local bakery for a fuller explanation. But it's not all hotdish in St. Paul. Every major cuisine is represented is restaurants all over the city, with many on Grand Avenue, an Italian district in the northeast of the city, the District del Sol on the Eastside, and the best Asian food in the Twin Cities on University Avenue, just outside downtown St. Paul, with Hmong and Vietnamese restaurants and several Asian markets.
The cost of living in St. Paul 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 St. Paul, because the state doesn't apply sales tax on clothes or shoes. Accounting for a large part of clothing and many other retail sales in the city, is the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the country, is just outside the southern city limits.
Food prices here 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 winter in St. Paul might be long, but the summer is too. The weather in St. Paul goes as follows: five months of summer, one month of fall, five months of winter, one month of spring. The summer is warm, moderately humid, interspersed with thunderstorms and tornado warnings (and the occasional actual tornado) 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 St. Paul?" It's long, and it's cold. Winter starts around mid-November and isn't done until late April. Minneapolis/St. Paul is the coldest metropolitan area in the continental United States, the temperature rarely rises above freezing all winter, several feet of snowfall, 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.
St. Paul is a calm city that enjoys a high quality of life, is very livable, and not too expensive, with all the excitement of Minneapolis just on the other side of the Mississippi River.