By Alicia Underlee Nelson
Minot’s unique vibe sets it apart. A steady stream of new faces at Minot State University and Minot Air Force Base keeps the community’s energy feeling younger and more diverse than many other North Dakota cities its size. A thriving art scene and strong contingent of locally owned shops build on the curious, cultural atmosphere that college towns do so well.
Located four hours northwest of Fargo and just under two hours from Bismarck, Minot is perhaps best known as the home of the North Dakota State Fair (held every July), and Norsk Høstfest, the largest celebration of Scandinavian culture in North America. (If Nordic-themed shopping, food, and an all-star concert line-up sound appealing, this year’s celebration is scheduled for September 27-30.)
But there’s plenty to see in Minot even if these marquee events don’t work with your schedule. Here’s what’s new and intriguing in Minot, the Magic City.
Explore Magic City Discovery Center
This brand new museum is ostensibly for kids. But Executive Director Wendy Keller says the 150+ exhibits are a hit with ages 0-99.
“The Magic City Discovery Center is a state-of-the-art hybrid children's museum/science center that will provide crucial Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education exhibit zones for North Dakota children,” explains Keller. “We are one of only 10 Smithsonian Spark!Lab Innovation Centers in the United States. This exclusive partnership with the Smithsonian Institute brings top notch programming all the way from Washington D.C. to Minot, North Dakota.”
There are 12 galleries to explore. You can design your own roller coaster, play musical instruments, learn to code, and fly paper airplanes. The littlest ones kids can try camping, ice fishing, or put on puppet shows. (There’s also private space to feed babies that includes a spot for kiddos to lay down and rest.)
The lower level is split between a Water Flow Gallery (where kids can splash, reroute rivers, and create whirlpools), and a collaborative art space where kids (even the grown up kind) can literally paint and draw on the windows that separate the spaces. You can create art and crafts (instructions are provided) or make your own stop-motion-movie.
Many of the exhibits illuminate North Dakota industries. Working as a team to run a grain auger teaches guests about agriculture, while the 37-foot tall climbing feature includes oil derricks and the B-52 bombers that take off from the nearby base. Kids can actually pretend to pilot the aircraft and communicate with other kids running the air traffic control station. Adults can climb it too, so leave big bags at home and wear comfortable pants and footwear.
Spot local art
The Scandinavian Heritage Park is one of Minot’s most notable attractions. Stroll the winding paths to see what happens when Nordic history and public art collide. Stop to snap photos of a stately wooden Stave church like the ones found in Norway and a towering Swedish dala horse. This is also a great place to grab tourism information, maps, and shop for locally made and Scandinavian-themed souvenirs.
One of the coolest maps is the one that shows the location of 23 street art murals all over the city. Minot artists are prolific and their colorful creations peer down from buildings and peek out from alleys.
Stop by Margie’s Art Glass Studio to grab a cup of coffee and see what’s new. (If you don’t take your order to go, you can enjoy it in a handmade mug.) You can even paint your own mug in the ceramics studio downstairs. If you live nearby you can pick it up when it’s done. But if you don’t, they’ll ship it to you.
Speaking of classes, the nearby Taube Museum of Art hosts painting classes and mid-week art sessions for kids. This welcoming and accessible space hosts exhibits and openings that showcase art created within the community.
Encounter animals at Roosevelt Park Zoo
Open year-round, this all-weather zoo is home to 135 animals and 68 different species. It’s open from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily, so it’s a great place to spend the morning or the afternoon. And since many animals are more active in cool weather, fall is a great time to visit.
The chatty gibbons are always a hit. (You’ll hear them whooping well before you see them.) Doe-eyed giraffes, burly bison, and elegant zebras amble around watchfully, while wolves laze in the shade. Little ones love feeding the goats and watching the chickens scamper around the Children’s Zoo. A new habitat allows the majestic Amur Tigers to cross a series of catwalks high above guests’ heads, giving both the humans and the tigers an entirely new perspective.
Downtown Minot is packed with locally owned shops. The neighborhood is anchored by Main Street Books, one of the most beloved indie bookshops in the state. Come here for new and used books, bookish (and often snarky) gifts, and a great selection of toys.
Score delicate, super sparkly jewelry at Michelle F. and flip through the music on vinyl and CD at Budget Music and Video. See what’s new at Original Comics, then browse the kitchen gadgets and cookware at Gourmet Chef.
Don’t miss The Foundry, which stocks gifts, decor, food, and housewares from over 50 local makers and pickers. This is a shop where you can buy everything from clothing to edible cookie dough. And the selection is always changing, so it’s never the same store twice.
Play at Tilt Studio
When you’re traveling with kids, arcades are a must. And Tilt Studio in Dakota Square Mall is so much better than most. The 150+ arcade games, claw machines, virtual reality experiences and video games inside this bright, colorful, sprawling space are just the tip of the iceberg.
You can also try blacklight mini golf or challenge your group to blacklight laser tag. Quick rounds of mini bowling are fun for all ages. (The balls are small and light, more like the ones used in lawn bowling, so they’re easy to grab.) Spin and Flip Zone Bumper Cars flip you upside down like you’re on a NASA training mission, which takes bumper car madness to a whole new level.
Try The Putt District
Mini golf aficionados should check out this quirky local spot right in downtown Minot. The 14-hole course is blacklight-responsive and features pop culture-inspired art by local artist Scott Gordon.
If you’re feeling snarky, The Putt District also serves Pride Dairy ice cream, made in Bottineau, North Dakota. And the lobby mural made by mustachioed musician and artist Max Patzner is pretty sweet too.
When you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, why not head to Minot? This easygoing and artistic North Dakota town is a good bet for curious travelers of all ages.
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