Don't let a little rain keep you in your hotel room. There are plenty of activities (that don't all involve shopping) to keep you busy indoors. Here are a few ideas.
Bowling alleys are open all day, every day. Memory Lanes and Bryant Lake Bowl, where the hipsters and Big Lebowski fans go, and neighborhood places like the Ranham bowling center (which has to be a winner for the best cheap bowling) have a certain charm. As a bonus, Ranham is also in the basement of the same building as The Nook Bar with the best Juicy Lucy burger in St. Paul.
Check Out a Museum or Gallery
The Minneapolis Institute of Art is huge, free, peaceful, and almost overwhelming with the number and variety of ancient and modern artworks and objects literally from all around the world. For parents with kids, there's also a small playroom and bags of space to run around in even if your little one is still a little too small to truly appreciate the art.
Or, how about visiting the Textile Center in Minneapolis? No fussy floral prints here. With galleries of all kinds of textile arts, you can admire the textiles or get inspiration for your next craft project.
The Minnesota Children's Museum is a classic rainy day destination and thus gets busy on bad-weather days. Admission is pricey at $9.50 per human over 1, but a membership is an excellent value. $95 gets your whole family in for a year and if you are in or close to St. Paul, and have little kids, you'll certainly get your money's worth several times over.
The Bell Museum of Natural History is another favorite for little children. The touch-and-feel room can keep most little ones entertained for hours, providing mom or dad are not scared of spiders, snakes, and the other creepy crawlies that live there, too. (Note that the Bell Museum is currently closed as a new location is built and reopened in 2018.
Visit a Conservatory or Greenhouse
The bucolic image of fall, with crisp days and scarlet leaves, not-really-necessary jaunty scarves, and hot apple cider? Sadly the rain knocks the pretty leaves from the trees and turns them into gutter-filling slime which have to be raked and picked up.
You can see plenty of attractive plants that someone else cleans up after when they shed at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park. The steel-and-glass building is beautiful and the rain sounds amazing pattering on the glass, making it even more rainforest-like.
In Minneapolis, the greenhouse in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is smaller than the one at Como Park but equally tropical, also free, and has a gigantic Frank Gehry-designed glass fish. You can almost see some of the outdoor artworks in the Sculpture Garden from the greenhouse, but you really need to go and paddle in the mud to actually see most of them. The Walker Art Center across the road is a much better bet for art when it's raining.
Take Some Pictures
Both the above venues are great places for photographers. It doesn't matter whether you have an SLR camera or a point-and-shoot model. The rain, especially combined with the light we get in the fall, can make for dramatic photographs. Reflections from shiny buildings and water and images of the sky and clouds should inspire you.
Downtown Minneapolis, with its silver skyscrapers and blue Guthrie Theater, the lakes, and Mississippi River are obvious candidates, but if there's any of that fall foliage left, it looks at its most intense after rain, and photographing outdoor sporting events in a downpour makes the athletes look even more heroic, whether you have tickets to see the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium or the sports star is your kid at their Saturday morning soccer game at the local park.
Wander Around the Midtown Global Market
It's always fun to browse by yourself or bring your family here with all the interesting stores and restaurants. During the week, it's a nice place to bring the kids and enjoy the market's play area. Starting this Wednesday, the Midtown Global Market holds their regular Wee Wednesday toddler morning from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. with entertainment, crafts and activities, and a free child's meal with the purchase of an adult meal at participating restaurants.
Take the Kids to a Toy Store
Local toy shops often welcome children with events and in-store activities, in the hope that the kids will refuse to leave without some new plaything. Creative Kidstuff, the local chain, has several stores and a busy calendar of events at each one.
Get a Caffeine Kick
Coffee shops can be a great place to pass some time, and if you have little ones, there are shops with playrooms to keep the kids entertained. Sovereign Grounds in Minneapolis and Java Train in St. Paul are two favorites with local parents.
A bowl of pho, with steaming hot broth filled with spicy herbs and seasonings, meat or wontons, and filling noodles, is probably the best comfort food for a rainy day there is. Trieu Chau is one of several Vietnamese restaurants on the west end of University Avenue in St. Paul. Trieu Chau serves a great (in size and taste) bowl of pho (and many other delicious dishes) for a bargain price and with friendly service.