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An urban adventure with a historic aviation link

Visitors come to the largest city in a state nicknamed “Land of 10,000 Lakes” for easy access to those famous bodies of water (there are actually 11,842 lakes, according to state officials) while also enjoying the mix of arts, culture, entertainment, and dining that a city of nearly 4 million people offers.

In the heart of downtown, where we based our most recent stay, developers recently converted one of Minneapolis’ earliest skyscrapers from an art deco office building into a 262-room boutique hotel that is part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio of independent hotels.

The hotel honors Rufus R. Rand Jr., who commissioned the building that was completed in 1929. As we toured the property, developers told us that while Rand is considered one of Minnesota’s favorite sons, few visitors know about him. His obituary published in The New York Times in October 1971, said he was the last surviving member of the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of volunteer American aviators who formed a separate fighting unit in France’s air force in 1916, before the United States entered World War I.

“Even as a student at Williams College before World War I, relatives recall, Mr. Rand was enthusiastic about flying. He helped form an aero club at the college and flew his own planes at a time when they were powered by bicycle chains. As a fighter pilot he was, shot down once but escaped without serious injuries.”

Starting with the art deco wing motifs behind the front desk, most of the lobby of the 26-story Rand Tower Hotel is aviation and industrial themed. The 1929 office building was recently converted to a Marriott Tribute Portfolio boutique hotel. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. Rand, whose grandfather was once mayor of Minneapolis, and his father, who founded the Minneapolis Gas Light Company, integrated his love of aviation into the building’s exterior and interior design. The 26-story tower went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and the Rand Tower Hotel had a soft opening in late 2020.

The $110 million renovation and conversion project preserved those elements and continued to play off of aviation and industrial themes. Some are obvious—the art deco wing motifs behind the front desk and Rand’s flight maps and engineering patents hanging on meeting room walls—while others are more subtle: bar chairs featuring bomber jacket leather, turbine fan details on light fixtures, and custom airplane wallpaper. The lobby bar Whiskey & Soda is named for lion cub mascots that lived alongside the Rand’s World War I air squadron.

From the Rand Tower, you can access the Minneapolis Skyway System, roughly 9.5 miles of pathways connecting 80 city blocks via enclosed, second-level bridges that make traversing in inclement weather easier. We visited in beautiful fall weather, fortunately, so we walked, bicycled, and kayaked to see the city’s river, parks, sculpture gardens, lakes, waterfalls, and baseball.

A guided tour of Target Field, the downtown Minneapolis home of the Minnesota Twins, includes learning the history of the ballpark and the team as well as seeing art and memorabilia not always viewable by the public. This display includes artifacts on loan from the family of the late Kirby Puckett, the center fielder who played his entire 12-year Major League Baseball career for the Twins. He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.We took Paddle Bridge Guide Collective’s two-hour Heart of Minneapolis tour, a guided float from the Boom Island Park marina past remnants of the city’s early development and along the redeveloped Riverfront District. In the same area, we walked across the pedestrian and bicycle-only Stone Arch Bridge at dusk. There you’ll find St. Anthony Falls, the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi River’s 2,300-plus miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, and one of the newest park spaces at the adjacent Water Works at Mill Ruins Park, which honors the birthplace of the city’s milling industry as well as being a spiritual space for Indigenous people.

We took a tour of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and returned that night for a baseball game. The $545 million ballpark opened in 2010 and has been rated a Top 10 Major League Baseball Stadium Experience by ESPN The Magazine.

We explored the more than 40 artworks in the 11-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden outside the Walker Art Center, one of more than 50 museums in the area. We drove to Paisley Park, the private estate, studio, and creative sanctuary for the late artist Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958 in Minneapolis.

Among the museums are several at local airports. The Metropolitan Airports Commission owns and operates Minneapolis-St. Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport along with six general aviation airports within 35 miles of the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota Air National Guard Museum is on the active Minnesota Air National Guard Base at MSP and has 21 aircraft used by the U.S. military from before World War II to the present on display in an air park. There also are indoor displays containing more than 6,000 artifacts and objects.

Crystal Airport in the northwest corner of the metro area is the closest to downtown Minneapolis; St. Paul Downtown Holman Field, just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul, is home to the group’s longest runway (6,941 feet) and a restaurant; Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, just 10 miles southwest of Minneapolis, is among the busiest.

There’s also the South St. Paul Municipal Airport-Richard E. Fleming Field, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis. It is home to the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing Museum, which displays six aircraft, six vintage vehicles, and display cases of other World War II artifacts.

Minnesota aviation pioneer Rufus R. Rand developed Rand Tower (tallest building on the left) in 1929. A $110 million renovation converted the office building into a luxury boutique hotel that opened in late 2020 and preserved the original design’s architectural aviation and art deco themes. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.

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