Located near the north side of the University of Minnesota, Dinkytown boasts a huge array of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and stores. A couple of highlights:
The Varsity Theater and Café des Artistes: This versatile venue hosts everything from Shakespearean plays to local and smaller touring bands; it prides itself on being able to cater to anyone. Every Monday from 5-7 p.m., this hot spot hosts Happy Hour Happenings with Ari Herstand; every first and third Sunday, The Vinyl Lounge features live hip-hop, R&B and reggae performances; every second and fourth Sunday, the venue hosts salsa dancing with Charanga Tropical.
The DinkyTowner Café: A hip music scene featuring a bar and restaurant rolled into one, the DinkyTowner boasts low or no cover charges, and an event or performer every night of the week.
Odds and Sods: South Minneapolis uptown, at the intersection of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, offers a chill, artsy atmosphere to study, shop, eat or be entertained.
Chiang Mai Thai and Chino Latino offer satisfying Thai and Mexican/Asian fusion when the bowls and tortilla line just dont cut it (no offense, Bon Appétit). While a little pricey for a college students budget ($12-$25), both restaurants are worth every dollar.
Magers and Quinn Booksellers: Browse their shelves for an array of new, used, rare and out-of-print books, or just strike up a conversation with anyone working there.
Uncommon Ground and Plan B are both independent coffee shops, and lend themselves to a day of studying or a night of relaxing with friends.
Artists Quarter: Located in downtown St. Paul at St. Peters Street and 7th Place, this jazz club offers cheap or free jazz and spoken word performances. For a preview, check out the Artists Quarter profile on myspace.com.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: Across from the Walker Art Center lie enormous feats of architectural genius. Free garden tours at noon on Saturdays, 1 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.
Hibbing, Minn. (4 hours, 15 minutes from Northfield): A small town about the size of Northfield, Hibbing is hometown of Bob Dylan. The library has a collection of Dylan memorabilia, including rotating exhibits. If you're still around after finals, May 20-24 is Bob Dylan week in Hibbing, complete with trivia, music, contests and other events around town.
Postville, Iowa (3 hours, 20 minutes from Northfield): This small town of about 2,000 has a fascinating history. In 1987, a Hasidic Jew named Aaron Rubashkin revived an abandoned meatpacking plant, transforming it into a kosher packing plant. Now called Agriprocessors, it is the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the world. The interaction between the small, intensely Christian community and recent Jewish immigrants has been tense at times, but has led to rich cultural interplay in this small Midwestern town.
Austin, Minn. (1 hour, 20 minutes from Northfield): This town in southern Minnesota is home to the famous (or infamous, however you look at it) Spam Museum. Opened in 2001, the museum is a destination for the Spam lovers pilgrimage. Seriously, pay homage to your Minnesota heritage and visit the 16,500 square-foot museum. Youll learn more than you ever wanted to know about spiced ham products. Admission is free.
Harmony, Minn. (2 hours from Northfield): Home to the largest Amish community in Minnesota, Harmony reminds the busy college student of the simple joys of life. Ride in a buggy, admire Amish art and woodcarvings, or step inside the Harmony Toy Museum. In nearby Walnut Grove, visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum (open May thru October).
River town tour: Drive down scenic Highway 61 through Winona, Wabasha, Lake City and Red Wing, admiring quaint river towns and the Mississippi. Stop by the Nelson Cheese Factory (across the river from Wabasha) for cheese, wine, gourmet sandwiches or desserts.
Cottage View Drive-In Movie Theater: Although movie-watching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when Minnesotans think outdoor recreation, the largest drive-in movie theater in Minnesota provides a restful outdoor activity. Located in Cottage Grove, Minn., the theater is well maintained and reasonably priced ($5).
Geneva, Minn: Harmony Park Music Garden is the highlight of this small town about an hours drive from Northfield. The versatile park is a full-time camping site and music venue; it will host Bella Luna Fest May 25-27, which will boast national acts such as Ozomatli and Medeski Martin & Wood. Regular camping is $20 per site (2-4 people). See www.harmonypark.com for more details.
Whitney Island: Located about six miles west of Fairbault, this island is one of many on Cedar Lake. Named to honor the donor family's longtime involvement, the island is an ideal getaway for wildlife connoisseurs or for anyone wishing to escape into nature.
Of course, this is only a sampling of all the fun things to do in Minnesota. However, a short spring road trip or visit to a tucked away Twin Cities locale is an excellent way to get to get to know the local culture.