48 Hours in Saint Paul
Where to go, what to see, and most important -- what to eat.
Saint Paul is the perfect size city to explore in 48 (or 72) hours and feel as though you’ve gotten to most of the greatest hits.
But here’s an itinerary for checking out the city from different perspectives and angles, whether you ride, walk, or my favorite pastime – sit and eat.
Jump on The Light Rail For Breakfast or Lunch
The Green Line can take you end-to-end to between both downtowns, so it’s a convenient way to take in a wide swath of the Twin Cities in less than an hour.
There are plenty of opportunities and reasons to hop on and hop off (one ticket offers 2 hours of unlimited one-way rides) and if you start near the University of Minnesota campus and head east, you’ll see some of the most interesting neighborhoods in Saint Paul, cutting through Frogtown with the best immigrant cuisine along University Avenue, and then snaking all the way into Downtown.
Take the train to the end of the line and check out Union Depot’s soaring 1926 architecture, and all Lowertown has to offer including bars, restaurants, parks, minor league baseball, music venues, a vibrant artist’s district, and more.
It’s a perfect way to get your bearings and check out the lay of the land before moving on to your next adventure.
5 of my favorite spots to stop for breakfast or lunch:
- Sometimes the simplest things are the best -- and the most difficult to find. Good, old fashioned scratch breakfast with eggs your way is a dying breed, and Egg & I does this service nicely, on the daily. Prices remain firmly in an era gone by -- 30 years and going strong,
- If I have to pick one favorite restaurant in Saint Paul, it’s going to be On’s Kitchen. Every. Time. On is the namesake of the place, and this family-run powerhouse will have you wondering if you’re still on vacation -- try the regional specialty, Khao Soi if it’s on special, and Nam Khao, one of my (many) last-chance dishes, crispy rice with sausage, peanut, coconut and hills of fresh herbs.
- Marc Heu Patisserie is a real-deal Parisienne patisserie, and the kind of place worthy of organizing an event around. Creations like Royale Goyave tart with guava and strawberry are almost a shame to destroy with your teeth, they’re so pretty.
- A super interesting taste trend for good reason -- King Cajun Boiling Seafood slings Louisiana seafood boil plied with handfuls of heady seasonings and spices.
- The Naughty Greek’s unique take on gyros is tastier than it has any right to be. Get a pork, lamb, or chicken pita dripping with Tzatziki and enjoy it during one of their live jazz nights.
Stay Downtown, Then Walk Across the River
No matter how long I live here, I’m still a sucker for the strikingly pretty downtown St. Paul architecture and it’s proximity to the river. Stroll over the Wabasha Street or Robert Street bridges for twinkling water vistas and an entry point to the West Side. Babani’s Kurdish -- the country’s first Kurdish restaurant -- is a unique and utterly delectable mom & pop. Get the Kubey Sawar – crushed wheat dough filled with beef, spices, and sizzled in oil.
Move on to Caesar Chavez Street for a small but mighty Mexican enclave. I like La Costa for its cute atmosphere, high-octane margaritas, and piles of chips and salsa. There’s also a surprisingly extensive seafood list to pair with great tequilas. Get the party started here, then grab dessert at nearby Don Panchos Panaderia - tres leches cake and churros are local faves.
Jump back on the train and head back down University for a nightcap. Great bars for every vibe include The Dubliner, Ngon Bistro, The Turf Club, and Black Hart of Saint Paul.
Explore Strong Immigrant Cuisine
You owe it to yourself to spend a full afternoon or evening exploring our strong Southeast Asian, East African, and Latinx community cooking. You will not have left Saint Paul with an idea who we are without sampling (or completely indulging in) these iconic parts of Minnesota cuisine.
Try these 3 different cuisines:
- Our two Hmong Marketplaces, one on the East Side, and the other near downtown warrant a full afternoon alone, but if you’re just breezing through don’t miss a made-to-order green papaya salad, a mangonada (super refreshing mango slushie with a tamarind encrusted straw) or glass noodle-stuffed chicken wings.
- Karibu Deli, Fasika, and Afro Deli offer a great starter pack of East African dining for any vibe you might be looking for -- fast, super fast, or sit down and dine, respectively.
- For Latinx dining, the West Side is an obvious choice, but don’t overlook the always burgeoning East Side. Manana Salvadorian restaurant is always bustling thanks to their otherworldly pupusas and antojitos-- little fried snacks.
Go to the Rondo Community
It’s important to get a sense of the history of the city in a way that might not immediately register at surface level.
Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood was once a strong and vibrant African American community that was bisected by the construction of Interstate-94, ultimately decimating it. This phenomena can be seen happening historically to Black communities all over the country, but remnants of Rondo’s more glorious past can still be felt.
Go to Penumbra Theater for performances that “illuminate the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.”
For dinner, go to Taste of Rondo for Soul Food, live music, a comedy show, or all of the above. Or, pop a few blocks east just outside of Rondo for Tommie’s Pizza, Minnesota’s only Black-owned pizzeria. It’s renowned for its dedication to excellence.
Then, get a bite or an ice cream or both at Two Scoops Eatery on the outskirts of Rondo. This Black-owned ice cream shop and community hub is also known for daily food specials like handmade pizza and pulled pork sandwiches.
If you have an extra day:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you aren’t really doing Saint Paul unless you’re doing it by bike.
Check out my downtown bike itinerary, or check out this Saint Paul bike map and choose your own adventure.
Summit Avenue’s mansions will leave you agog and challenge anyone’s ability to keep their eyes on the road. Top eating and drinking stops include celebrity chef Justin Sutherland’s Handsome Hog, Moscow on the Hill for alllllll the vodka, or Revival for very good fried chicken and southern food.
Indian Mounds Trail is a good reason to visit Wakáŋ Tipi Cave and present day Indian Mounds Park, an ancient and sacred space for our Native community.
Cherokee Trail will take you into a less trod portion of the West Side, with beautiful vistas of the bluffs off Cherokee Hill -- I crashed my pink huffy as a little girl on this steep run -- be careful!
In the evening, bike and eat along an off the beaten track neighborhood -- choices could include leafy Highland Park -- Joan’s in the Park and Ichido Ramen are standout restaurants, or Cleveland Avenue -- Mario’s is a new, heralded pizzeria and Gus Gus is a palace for grownup snacking fantasies.
Plan your mini Saint Paul vacation today and tag us on your adventures by using #MYSAINTPAUL.
Taste of Rondo
976 Concordia Ave Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104 (651) 348-2615 Rondo Website >
173 Western Ave N Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102 (651) 340-7710 Cathedral Hill Website >
560 6th Ave N Minneapolis, Minnesota 55411-4398 (612) 373-3333 Twin Cities Metro Area Website >
214 4th St E, Suite 300 Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101 (651) 202-2700 Lowertown Website >
The Naughty Greek 2
2400 University Ave W Saint Paul, Minnesota 55114 (651) 219-4438 Midway Website >
217 Como Avenue Saint Paul, Minnesota 55103 Frogtown Website >
Hmong Village Shopping Center
1001 Johnson Pkwy Saint Paul, Minnesota 55106 (651) 771-7886 East Side
Hmong Village Shopping Center1001 Johnson Pkwy
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55106
Karibu Grocery & Deli
719 Payne Ave Saint Paul, Minnesota 55130 (651) 414-0799 East Side Website >
270 North Kent Street Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102 (651) 224-3180 Cathedral Hill Website >