25 Summer Bucket List Items for Minnesota Kids

Minnesota. The land where Mother Nature amuses herself by pushing her people to suffer ungodly frigid temperatures until they’re on the brink of insanity and then, POOF, she hands them sunshine. Virtually overnight. But don’t blink – you’ll miss it!

Summer comes and goes quickly in our lovely state. That’s why our family makes a little list of adventure options – our so-called “Summer Bucket List.” It’s not made to instill pressure or guilt. We just want to have a quick response to the first utterance of “I’m bored” coming out of someone’s mouth*.

*Being bored is a wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong. Boredom happens a lot at our house. I like to pair it with buckets of laundry and a little healthy conversation. Now…back to the fun stuff…

This year’s bucket list was far less overwhelming than some in the past. I chock that up to the fact that we’re going to be enduring a full home remodel (so help me GOD!), but I still wanted to share some of the goodies (and some oldies) that topped our list.

Happy summer, everybody! Now stick out your chest, look Mother Nature in the face and boast, “Three months of sunshine? Watch this, girlfriend.”


1. GO STRAWBERRY PICKING

This is first because it happens fast. Strawberry season takes place in June and July. The warmer the spring, the earlier the berries are ready for picking. This is a fun and easy adventure for families of all ages, including the very young. Pick a sunny day, a favorite orchard and start Pinteresting some strawberry gloriousness. It’s a relaxing and delicious way to spend a summer day with the kiddos. Some of our favorite orchards include: Afton Apple Orchard (Hastings)Pine Tree Apple Orchard (White Bear Lake)Berry Hill Farm (Anoka), and Anderson Berry Farm (Isanti).

2. VISIT FAWN DOE ROSA

This place is, like, magical in the eyes of my children. The big lake, the hyperactive goats, the deer that walk right up to you and nibble food out of your hand. It’s a childhood favorite that’s been around since well before our childhoods, so  – just like crimpers and Joey McIntyre – you better believe this place will make YOU feel magical too. The road trip to Taylors Falls will be so worth it.

I have a full post on Fawn Doe Rosa here if you want more information.

3. SEE A DRIVE-IN MOVIE

There is no better way to celebrate the rarity of a perfect summer night than by watching a movie OUTDOORS! We love visiting Vali Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo for their $1 hot dogs and pre-show frisbee tossing. Never been to the ones in Elko New Market or Litchfield but check those out too (and report back to me if you go!). Just remember: It’s still Minnesota so there will be bugs/mosquitos. Our family blood is a mosquito’s favorite feast so we usually deck out our trunk and watch the movie with the doors closed. Whatever. It’s still novel.

4. COOL OFF AT SOME GREAT SPLASH PADS

Gosh, I love a good splash pad. Just feels like there’s less anxiety than a pool with just the same ability to cool off. Our favorite splash pads are: Central Park (Maple Grove), Round Lake (Eden Prairie), and Nicollet Commons (Burnsville). My friends at Family Fun Twin Cities have an awesome list available with even more of these fantastic little water havens.

5. SLEEP IN A TENT

Who cares if it’s just in your backyard – sleeping in a tent is one of those memories that just stick with a kid. If you’re feeling ambitious, pack up the car and hit up a friendly state park. Whitewater State Park is notorious for having very few mosquitos. Father Hennepin State Park has a nice little beach. There’s just so many to choose from (see this list too). Not into hauling your life away to make the memory? Cool. Put up the tent in the backyard, disconnect from electronics, play board games, sleep in a sleeping bag and tell ghost stories. To a kid, it’s all the same, man.

6. ROAD TRIP TO HEMKER ZOO

While it’s small and slightly odd, it’s a pretty unique road trip to take with the kiddos some summer day. Feed a giraffe, pet a penguin and spend awhile hanging out with the budgie birds. Definitely small enough for even the littlest legs to get around, this zoo is just an rare little find if you’re in to rare little finds.

There’s a review of it written on my site here if you want more info.

7. HOST A LEMONADE STAND

Who doesn’t love a heavy piggy bank, am I right? Get your mini entrepreneurs set up on their curb to make some summer dough! A pitcher of lemonade, a plate of cookies, a toy cash register for change, and the joy of making the signage…that, plus the obvious cute factor of kids selling lemonade that no one can resist, is all you need to pull off one of time’s most trusted summer adventures: The Lemonade Stand.

8. TRAVEL TO THE NORTH SHORE

I lived in Duluth for five years and have always enjoyed revisiting…in the summer. The kids get a kick out of the lake, the boardwalk, Canal Park, and the lift bridge. Even more, they seriously LOVE hiking Gooseberry Falls or Jay Cooke State Park, and being rewarded for a job well done with a stop at Betty’s Pies. Of course there’s a million more stops you can make in the vast “North Shore” but I don’t have the time to run through alla that. So just read this.

9. SPEND A DAY AT THE ST LOUIS PARK AQUATIC CENTER

Maybe I’m biased because this is my local hangout, but I swear, our pool is SO amazing! Zero depth area, small slides, big slides, diving boards, inflatable obstacle courses, drop slides, lifeguards, shaded spots, a concession stand, and a big ol’ sand pit are the reasons the St Louis Park Aquatic Center is one of my favorite go-tos during the summer. Wish it were cheaper, but if you search a little bit, you can usually locate a BOGO type of deal.

10. SPEND A DAY IN STILLWATER

The cutest and quaintest city in Minnesota: Stillwater. Just love spending a day here with my kids. Plenty to do along Main Street (including Kids Oasis, Leo’s Malt Shop and Candyland), but let’s not forget Teddy Bear Park. This comfortable park sits atop the hills of Stillwater and is large, open and ready for kiddo action!

I have a post about the park and the rest of Stillwater here.

11. DINE ON A ROOFTOP

For some weird reason, my four-year old wouldn’t stop talking about her yearning to dine on an outdoor rooftop last summer. So, at 11am on a Thursday, I took three kids under six to Stella’s Fish Cafe and ate among the birds. And what a memory it was! Not sure that Stella’s was the most kid-friendly choice, but no one seemed to mind me bringing them either. Brit’s or Crave downtown are fun options too (during the day). But the best one with kids is definitely Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown – burgers, fries, shakes and sunshine? What’s not to love?

12. ENJOY TAMARACK NATURE CENTER

Oh, White Bear Lake, you’ve done it again. With your super-clean, water-flowing, all-natural nature center, you’ve created a place that is so very worth the drive for us west siders! A wonderful place to cool off, get wet and dirty, learn about nature, climb rocks, build a fort with sticks and just be young. We love visiting this place on a hot day.

Read all about it in my review from a couple years ago.

13. DO SOME UNIQUE MINI GOLFING

My oldest thinks mini golf is the greatest excursion known to man, so my family goes abnormally above and beyond to find a variety of courses throughout this great state. While our favorite is definitely Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul, that’s not outdoors so we save that one for the cold months. We’ve enjoy Adventure Falls in Taylors Falls, Big Stone Mini Golf in Minnetrista, and Malt-Tees Mini Golf in Richfield.

14. HIKE, HIKE, and HIKE SOME MORE

My husband is obsessed with reading hiking blogs, so we have been turning some reading into reality these past couple of years. Some of the best hikes we’ve taken as a family (meaning, good for little legs, ease of convenience, and high on the beauty scale) include: Willow State Park (Hudson), Jay Cooke State Park (Carlton), William O’Brien State Park (St. Croix), Lake Maria State Park (Monticello), and Interstate State Park (Taylors Falls). Bring bug spray and your patience…but I promise, hiking with your littles is memories in the making.

15. FIND A DELICIOUS PIZZA FARM

Pizza is honestly one of the greatest ways to my heart. And when you add wine, the outdoors and a gorgeous farm as the backdrop, that’s it. I’m done! That right there is my heaven. Taking a day trip to a pizza farm is an absolute MUST for this mama. There are a number of them surrounding the Twin Cities, family-friendly (some dog-friendly) and woodfire-grilled deliciousness (a lot of it straight farm-to-table style), and they are worth the drive. My absolute favorite is actually in Nelson, WI, called Nelson Stone Barn. Seriously, BE-AU-TI-FUL! Others that I hope to visit soon can all be found in this nice list from The Midwestival. If you go, bring me some leftovers, yo!

16. GET MUDDY ON THE QUAKING BOG

Get the kids muddy! Just do it. Throw your hands up in the air (and pack extra shoes) and let the kids hike freely through Theodore Wirth’s Quaking Bog in Minneapolis. This park is nature tucked directly inside the busy city, but you’d never know it. The Bog sits underneath the coolest floating boardwalk, and jumping on it is guaranteed to make your kids giggle. Get outside and take a hike that won’t bore them.

Check out my blog post on the Quaking Bog here.

17. PADDLE BOAT AT CENTENNIAL PARK

Not everyone can live on a lake (I should know – ahem, St. Louis Park) but everyone should have access to the water and the sports that come along with it. So every once in awhile, we will find a spot to rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboat. My kids’ favorite is paddle boating, which we have done at Centennial Lakes in Edina and Firemen’s Park in Chaska. Centennial Lakes has a nice summer Farmer’s Market and some chill music in the park throughout the summer as well.

18. CATCH SOME FISH

While I won’t touch the fish nor the worm that you must first have to catch it, I love watching my kids fish. Good thing they have an Uncle Lance! Find a great fishing spot, pick up some cheap poles and sit on a bucket and have a conversation with your kids. If you don’t have a boat, there are some sweet fishing piers at Fort Snelling Lake and Lake Como in St. Paul, Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, and the 9,997 other Minnesota lakes that I’m sure are wonderful for catching a yummy dinner.

Need some pointers for how to fish with your kids? Read my blog on that here. Or just call Uncle Lance.

19. DISCOVER THE BEAUTY OF THE ARBORETUM

What’s that you say? The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum won the Readers’ Choice 2017 Botanical Garden of the Year Award? You betcha it did! While you may not hear the words “botanical garden” and think “perfect for my KIDS,” I guarantee you’ll be surprised. They have koi fish, a Japanese garden, fountains, waterfalls, a Play Yard (tucked away, so be sure to look it up before you head there) and a super fun (and semi-complicated) hedge maze. All of that, on top of just the sheer beauty of the place, definitely makes it #1 award winning material.

I wrote all about the Arboretum a couple years ago. Read that post here.

20. WADE IN THE KIDDIE AREA AT THE EDINA AQUATIC CENTER

Edina doesn’t skimp on much, and their aquatic center fits the bill. There is an entirely separate swimming area for zero depth play, with a splash center and some slides and – if I remember correctly – the water is actually warm. Plus, it’s brand new in 2017 (they replaced the older play structure since it was 20 years old).  There are two big water slides, a flow rider, a zip line, a playground, the zero depth section, diving boards and just one massive pool for cooling off on a hot, hot day. While we can’t afford to go all the time, it’s fun to do it at least once a summer because, well, sometimes you just gotta treat yo’self.

21. GO OUT FOR BREAKFAST

When school’s in session, the mornings are a rush out the door. And while working parents don’t necessarily get summers off, it’s fun to treat the weekends more special because everything just feels more carefree in the summertime. That’s why my family enjoys a leisurely breakfast at a slow-moving restaurant with greasy eggs and a zillion types of pancakes a couple times a summer. Occasionally we will bike out for breakfast. Other times, we will wear our pajamas (yup, we’re that family). Even if you technically don’t get out the door until nearly lunch time, many of our tried and true favorites serve breakfast all day. Try the Original Pancake House (many locations), Good Day Cafe (St. Louis Park), Colossal Cafe (St. Paul), or make road trip stops at Tobies (Hinckley) or Betty’s Pies (Duluth). You could also just always head out for some quick donuts! Mmmmm, donuts.

22. CLIMB DOWN GLACIER HOLES AT INTERSTATE PARK

I love a good geological adventure…one that has some history to it and looks cool too. That’s why I really enjoy road tripping to Taylors Falls every summer and taking my kids to Interstate Park to climb rocks, hike the paths, and walk deep down into the glacial potholes. It’s such a unique discovery and children will ask a gajillion questions about it if they’re anything like mine. “Where do the potholes come from?” “How come they’re so deep?” “What if it caves in on us?” And if you’re anything like me, you have absolutely no idea on the actual answers and dodge the questions with a “Hey, look! A squirrel!”

But seriously, this is a gorgeous park for a substantial, but simple enough, family hike. Need the details on the park? I’ve got them in an old blog post.

23. ROAD TRIP SOMEWHERE GORGEOUS

Sometimes it’s fun to just throw a dart at a map and go for it. A road trip is what you make of it, and we make them FUN (check out my Road Trip Tips here). With kids, we’ve driven to Chicago, Kansas City, the North Shore and this year, we are heading to Marquette, Michigan. For inspiration, follow travel bloggers, play on Pinterest, follow your heart, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to just do it! Kids fight in the car. Kids cry in the car. Heck, sometimes kids even puke in the car. But the journey is sometimes more entertaining than the destination, and that’s what life is all about. Just go, man. Pick somewhere pretty and just go.

24. DISCOVER A NEW ICE CREAM JOINT

My kids freaking love ice cream. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that yours do too. Instead of auto-piloting to your local Dairy Queen, next time you plan on heading out for some of the good stuff, surprise your kiddos with a new, amazing spot! We’ve traveled near and far for good ice cream in these parts and here are a number of our favorites (they all have a lot of variety, making it extra exciting for them…and us): Milkjam Creamery (Minneapolis), Sebastian Joes (Minneapolis), Izzy’s Ice Cream (St. Paul), Grand Ole Creamery (St. Paul), Schoolhouse Scoop (Hastings) and Licks Unlimited (Excelsior). Ice cream is what summer was made for.

25. ATTEND THE STATE FAIR…AND AGAIN…AND AGAIN…

You live in Minnesota. To show your loyalty to your state, it’s almost mandatory to attend the Minnesota State Fair. Loyalty aside, you could also go BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME! Our State Fair is quite literally one of my favorite places on earth. Laugh it up, but man, when it comes to people watching, unique concoctions and memories that will last a lifetime, our fair tops the charts. I’ve gone while I was pregnant (that go expensive), when I had a newborn, and with three small children in tow. So it’s always possible. But if you want some tips on how to family-friendlify your state fair experience, be sure to check out my post here.

Our State Fair is the BEST State Fair. And I firmly stand behind that. While holding Mouth Trap cheese curds in one hand and a Life Bridge mini donut beer in the other. My family and I make this a crazy tradition and we like to go multiple times a summer…because we’re nuts. And also hungry.


So there you have it. My Summer Bucket List Top 25. See? Not at all overwhelming, yet thorough enough to keep us on our toes. The sunshine is so good for the soul, so enjoy it when it rears its gorgeous head. Kids will be back to school before you know it – MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT!

In case you need some additional ideas, our list also includes:

  • Watching airplanes fly overhead near the airport
  • Wading in Minnehaha Falls
  • Biking around downtown Minneapolis
  • Dancing at a concert in the park
  • Visiting a lighthouse
  • Shopping an early morning Farmers Market
  • Go horseback riding and go-karting
  • Jump on a trolley and just ride

What’s on YOUR list? 

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  • Reply
    Ryan
    06/20/2017 at 8:06 am

    Wow, epic post! Makes me tired reading through everything!

  • Reply
    Kelsey
    06/20/2017 at 8:43 am

    The drive in you mention is elko versus elk river. Good list! A few things I’ve never heard of before!

    • Reply
      Nate
      06/20/2017 at 10:24 am

      Thanks! Got that updated.

  • Reply
    Sherryse
    06/20/2017 at 9:47 am

    Great post! I love these ideas and love even more that I can count on you to plan my summer for me. :). Just wanted to let you know that the Elko Drive in is not in Elk RIver. It’s in Elko New Market. Have a great summer!

    • Reply
      Nate
      06/20/2017 at 10:25 am

      Thanks! I’ve updated the Elko link now.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    06/20/2017 at 2:53 pm

    The link in #15 for Nelson Stone Barn (nelsonstonebarn.com) is incorrect the correct site is thenelsonstonebarn.com

    Sent the link to my SO right away, I’ve never heard of a Pizza Barn before!

    • Reply
      Nate
      06/20/2017 at 3:17 pm

      Thank you fixed it! Oh you MUST go to Nelson. It’s simply incredible.

  • Reply
    Michaela
    06/21/2017 at 10:26 am

    These are all SO GREAT! I think I will be doing them all. I really want to get to the pizza barn, so thank you for that reminder!!!

  • Reply
    Jamie
    07/16/2017 at 8:26 pm

    i think Goony Golf is closing. 🙁

  • Reply
    IRis
    02/24/2018 at 12:40 am

    I just started to plan a summer vacation to MN from Kansas city! This posting is very very helpful! What a beautiful family!
    Thank you for all the great info! Can’t wait to be there with my kiddos 🙂

  • Reply
    Tania
    05/25/2018 at 8:53 pm

    Try the pump house in Minneapolis for fabulous ice cream!!!

  • Reply
    Cassie
    07/10/2018 at 4:10 pm

    I read your blog every summer for inspiration! Thanks for all the ideas and tips!

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