When the words “Alberta Clipper” and “Polar Vortex” ringing in my ears and the Minnesota sunlight has faded like a cheap sports coat, I scramble for opportunities to get out of the house. And nothing can lift my spirits faster than a brisk walk through an air-conditioned 70 degree with the occasional babbling brook, scenic view, or intriguing specialty store.
Follow me from Duluth to Rochester, from the Twin Cities to Fargo, and see if we can’t turn the mall walk from ordinary to extraordinary.
Duluth Skywalk Adventure
The Duluth Skywalk offers 3.5 miles of comfortable, well-marked corridors, most of which are nestled along the harbor. Some of the sections can be nondescript office building connectors, so you’ll want to grab a map and plot your route. Here is one of my favorites.
Start at the Radisson Hotel on W. Superior Street and look for signs to the Skywalk. Inside, you’ll pass a tranquil indoor waterfall, then follow directional signs to the Vacation Center, a hub connecting five of the Skywalk’s thoroughfares. I increased my walking time to 30 minutes by continuing to Tech Village and then backtracking. From the Holiday Center, head south on the yellow road to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC).
Right next to the DECC is the surprising Great Lakes Aquarium. In almost every direction there are soothing sounds of running water and exhibits overflowing with foliage. The aquarium is supposed to focus on freshwater species, but there’s so much more to it. Expecting a series of exhibits with fish behind glass, I was instead entertained by otters and ducks in bubbling streams, snakes and predatory birds. And then there were interesting exhibits of electric eels, stingrays and a rainbow of tropical fish amidst the freshwater exhibits.
By the time I finished visiting the aquarium, my winter slump was long gone. I put an exclamation mark on my return to the Radisson, finding its JJ Astor restaurant and lounge revolving on the 16th floor. What a perfect spot for stunning views of the harbour, city and a celebratory drink.
Bask in the sun: Mall of America
MOA offers four levels of walking, and you can walk over a mile per lap by sticking to the outer walls. When it’s cold outside, getting splashed by the Nickelodeon Universe Log Chute (which is temporarily closed) or lounging under the eight acres of skylights can be just what the doctor ordered.
There has been quite a turnover of new stores during the pandemic. So I like to take a tour of each of the three lower levels to find out what’s new and interesting. If there’s one area that puts the MOA above the rest, it has to be excellent dining opportunities. I love to end a walk with a top notch burger at Wahlburgers or Shake Shack. On the other hand, there are 20 full-service restaurants within the walls of MOA.
You can’t go wrong ending your walk with a dose of walleye soup and Minnesota wild rice at Twin City Grill or at happy hour, and people watching at Cantina Laredo. One caveat: your menu choices may require extra turns.
Shopping bargain in Rochester
Rochester’s trainless underground “metro” and overhead skyway system has been a temperature-controlled haven for visitors since the Roaring Twenties. The main benefit is that Mayo Clinic patients can stay in downtown hotels without ever having to step outside. The system doesn’t offer Duluth’s straight-line walking routes, but with some knowledge of maps, you can do your 30-minute hike and discover the best shops and restaurants along the way.
I chose to access the system from the Mayo Civic Center parking ramp, which offers free parking on weeknights and weekends. I found the skyway and veered west, about eight minutes from the Grand Shops of Kahler & Marriott. There are 17 women’s and six men’s clothing stores in the area. Toss in bookstores, pharmacies, and convenience stores and it would be easy to live for months in this man-made city. It would be a “Survivor” place where I could thrive.
But I stay focused on my task, get off at the subway level, and head north toward the Mayo Clinic Methodist campus. There, I maneuver west toward Graham Parking Ramp and Brentwood Inn and Suites. On my trip back to the Civic Center, I have plenty of options. There’s great Italian food at Victoria’s Ristorante & Wine Bar, or delicious lobster macaroni and roast chicken at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar. Both are close to the Galleria in University Square – or I can finally give in and start my Grand Shops shopping spree.
Other walking options in the mall
Apache Mall, Rochester: I would be remiss not to mention the Apache, a traditional mall favorite for decades. You can log more than three-quarters of a mile per lap.
West Acres Mall, Fargo: The largest mall in North Dakota. During your 0.82 mile walk, you will be able to see the largest regional art collection in the state.
Crossroads Center, Saint Cloud: 2.3 trips around this mall equals one mile.