The Grander Things

Appreciating St. Paul’s Grand Avenue

flickr/mulad

flickr/mulad

Before I knew Hennepin, Lyndale, and Lake, there was another street that occupied my heart—Grand Avenue. Grand starts as a steep uphill along highway 35E and becomes a 5-mile-long, east/west-running journey through St. Paul, cutting through dozens of restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries, and quaint local shops and businesses.

I grew up in a small suburb of St. Paul with parents that rarely ventured to the western lands of Minneapolis. It took a Timberwolves game or a restaurant my dad just had to try to get them to the 612. So, without a car or any real knowledge of what was in Minneapolis besides First Avenue and Lake Calhoun, I was pretty much stuck with what St. Paul had to offer—which was a lot.

My mom had an affinity for St. Paul as she attended St. Catherine University and worked downtown St. Paul for several years after graduating. Throughout my adolescence and into my teen years, we would have “explore St. Paul” days. My mom and I would visit places like the Cathedral, the beautiful Saint Paul Public Library downtown, McNally Smith College of Music, and my most favorite—Grand Avenue.

I was pretty much stuck with what St. Paul had to offer—which was a lot.

The best way to experience Grand Avenue is simple. Just walk. No matter where you are on the Grand trail—near Lexington, Hamline, or Snelling, among other cross streets—you will run into something. I recommend wandering down the street and in and out of shops guided by your own curiosity and desires, but drastic Minnesota temperatures don’t always inspire this kind of aimless exploring. So here are a few of the grandest things Grand has to offer.

GRAND FOOD: Café Latte

Café Latte’s double-decker food heaven is my number one place to dine at it St. Paul. Served assembly-line style, Café Latte has salads, sandwiches, fancy dips, chili, soup, and most importantly—a giant display case of cakes.

GRAND DESSERT: Grand Ole Creamery

They have over 200 different flavors of ice cream and President Obama got ice cream there over the summer. Enough said.

GRAND FUN: Paint Your Plate

Spend an afternoon painting various ceramics (bowls, plates, mugs, tiles, etc) with your friends in the happiest, most colorful studio on earth. Then let the folks at Paint Your Plate dry, glaze, fire, and package your creations for pick up.

GRAND SHOPPING: Ten Thousand Villages

Although not based in Minnesota, the St. Paul location is something to be proud of. Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade organization that sells handmade art from 38 countries. Profits help pay for food, education, healthcare, and housing for disadvantaged artisans.

So on the next Saturday afternoon when your friends ask the dreaded “What do you want to do today?” Instead of suggesting the same old Minneapolis activities you do every weekend, suggest a trip to Grand Avenue.