Minnesota has more shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined. We couldn’t get to all 10,000 lakes, but here are some of our favorites.
Officially entitled East Cedar Beach by the city of Minneapolis, but known to its regulars (of whom there are many) as Hidden Beach, Minneapolitans’ favorite outdoor hangout is wacky—and we like it.
Originally a nude beach, Hidden clings to its hippie roots and relaxed vibe. It’s not uncommon to strike up conversations with other chilled-out beach-goers about the weather, the lake or the meaning of life.
Set back a ways from the beach is the infamous “mud pit.” It’s unclear whether the purpose of this pit is to cleanse your body or play in. Whatever its intended role, the pit feels cool and squishy to stomp around in—but its gray, murky contents are questionable.
The eastern waterside of Cedar Lake is crawling with characters. One of the most well-known is the Tie-dye Man. He accepts donations for his hand-dyed t-shirts, but mostly gives them away for free. Tie-dye Man’s fellow beach-goers include drum circle members, tatted-up road bike riders, families, old hippies and dogs big and small.
The water is always full of swimmers at Hidden, and although the waves sometimes look more green than blue, no one seems to mind.
Bottom line: Go for the people watching.
If swimming is your top priority, then Thomas Beach on Lake Calhoun is not for you. Thomas Beach is where you go to see and be seen.
It’s rare to see anyone do more than stand and chat in the water, unless they’re throwing a football. The water is a bit dingy, and smells fishy on warm days, but it’s fine for a quick dunk or some gossip.
Most weekdays and every weekend in the summer, the sandy strip of lakefront is so packed with people that it’s unclear where the beach begins and ends.
Thomas Beach is great for fitness enthusiasts. Runners, roller-bladers and bikers always fill the paths around the lake.
Because Thomas Beach is such a people magnet, several food trucks stop by at different times throughout the day, ensuring that you won’t go hungry on your beach venture.
Bottom line: Go for the people.
Lake Harriet Refectory, a.k.a. the band shell
Technically, the Lake Harriet Refectory isn’t on the beach, but the band shell is within walking distance of Lake Harriet’s North and Southeast beaches.
The views from the band shell could turn the truest Minnesnowtan into a summer junkie. Sailboats and sunsets provide the perfect backdrop for the summer concerts.
Starting in June and running until Labor Day, nightly concerts feature a different musical group or artist each time—sometimes with more than one show a night.
There is a vast spectrum of musical stylings to choose from. Israeli music, a flute ensemble, big band jazz and barbershop a cappella all hit the stage during a single week in July. Check out minneapolisparks.org for a full listing of acts.
Concessions are available during the shows, so grab a snack, sit back and enjoy the show.
Bottom line: Go for the tunes.
Square Lake Park
Located right outside Stillwater, this beach is worth the drive. Call up a couple buddies, pull up Google Maps and make a day trip out of it.
It’s good to get out of the city every so often. Sometimes in the concrete jungle it’s easy to forget that lake water can be clear, air can be fresh, and happy families with babies and barbecues really do exist.
Square Lake Park is every beach dream come true. There is a long, wide strip of sandy beach with enough room to spread out, surrounded by a huge grassy area dotted with gargantuan trees that provide plenty of shade once that SPF 50 starts to wear off.
There are vending machines if you forgot refreshments, or picnic tables and grills if you remembered.
The lake—which isn’t really that square at all—is situated scenically among tall evergreen trees and boasts some of the best water quality in the state.
Swimmers young and old flock to the water in great numbers, but the roped-off swimming area is so spacious, you won’t feel crowded.
Before heading home, feel free to use the on-site showers, bathrooms and changing rooms to ditch your wet suit for the ride back to the Twin Cities.
Bottom line: Go for the water.