Hockey Road Trip: Minnesota Nice! (Part 2)

24 April 2020

In the first part of our Minnesota trip, Charlene and I witnessed both an NFL and NHL game, while also seeing where Prince called home. But we still had a few more days for sightseeing and off we went…


This entire day would be reserved for the crown jewel of Minnesota tourist attractions: the Mall of America. Having already been to the West Edmonton Mall in Canada (reportedly the largest mall in North America), I was curious to see its American counterpart. Truly, it was a sight to behold.

We started with breakfast at Tim Hortons, acquiring the much-needed fuel for what would be a very long day. The Mall consists of several “phases”, four stories high with a giant amusement park in the middle. In fact, it’s so big that there are some stores (such as American Eagle and Champ Sports) that have TWO locations within the mall itself!

Our first stop was FlyOver America (a ride very reminiscent of Soarin' from Disneyland), and then we proceeded to spend the rest of the day perusing the massive premises and snacking along the way.  It's amazing - though not surprising - how much time you can spend at the Mall of America, and I would have to recommend it to anyone visiting the area!

We wrapped up with dinner in the food court and a few rides at the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, before heading home after a very exhausting day on our feet.


Road trip!  Call me crazy, but I decided we should head south for the day to take in my first game in the United States Hockey League.  Of course, that meant crossing into Iowa, but I also wanted to give Charlene some incentive for coming along.  Simply put: the woman loves Spam, and when I learned that there was a SPAM Museum in southern Minnesota, I knew we had to go and I knew I had to surprise her.  Suffice it to say, she was ecstatic when we arrived!

Located about 100 miles south of Minneapolis in the small town of Austin, the SPAM Museum is a wonderful attraction that sheds light on a product synonymous with America industry.  It's also just the right size to provide rather interesting information and entertainment, without taking up too much of one's time.  As an added bonus, the Hormel Historic Home is only a few blocks from the SPAM Museum, and provides a glimpse into the life of the family whose meat packing operation became a virtual empire around World War II as Spam became incredibly popular.

Seeing as how this town is practically in the middle of nowhere, I can only recommend visiting if you're either passing near the area or know someone who loves Spam - in our case, we fit both criteria, as Charlene certainly enjoyed the surprise.

But this was only the halfway point of our arduous journey, so it was off for another two-hour drive to Waterloo, Iowa.  We arrived in time to grab dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and then headed to Young Arena for a USHL matchup between the Waterloo Black Hawks and the Youngstown Phantoms.

As you might imagine, the tickets were fairly inexpensive, so I decided to pony up and buy front-row seats (even though we did spend plenty of time wandering around the arena).  It was an incredible perspective to witness all of the sights and sounds of a hockey game from up close, though it did make it difficult to follow the action when the puck was at the opposite end.

After a quick stop in the team store, we managed to find the mascot Tommy Hawk, who astonished me by actually responding "YEEEEESSSSS" when I asked if I could take my picture with him (Note: I cannot recall a time when any other mascot from any other sport has ever spoken to me).

Rather than drive all the way back to Minneapolis to continue our stay with my aunt and uncle, we opted to grab a hotel room near the SPAM Museum in a town called Albert Lea, and then head back in the morning.


Returning to Minneapolis, we began our day at the beautiful Minnehaha Falls Regional Park and soaked in the splendor of nature.  It's not that big, but the fall foliage still provided us with a scenic view as we walked around together.

It was time for lunch and we had to try these Juicy Lucy burgers that people were talking about - yes, no trip to Minneapolis is complete without consuming one of these behemoths!  There are two establishments who claim to be the inventor of the Juicy Lucy, so we chose the 5-8 Club and were pleased with our decision.  The burger itself - with cheese cooked inside the patty - was delicious, even with the scorching hot melted cheese causing me to eat much slower than usual.

From there, we ventured to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center for more outdoor beauty.  With the downtown architecture looming in the background, the Sculpture Garden is a great place to unwind and kill some time, while also admiring some fine art.

We would wrap up the evening downtown, beginning with dinner at the Depot Tavern, a cozy gastropub connected to the famous First Avenue Club (a popular venue for Prince, where he filmed much of Purple Rain).  The Target Center, home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, is located across the street and we had tickets to see their home opener.  I'm not necessarily the biggest NBA fan, but I wanted to see something other than hockey and thought it would be fun to take in three of the four major sports leagues in the same week.

The team was coming off their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons, but it wasn't really enough to garner interest as the crowd was sparse and fairly quiet, so we used much of the time to walk around and view the arena from several angles.  This also gave us the opportunity for some fun photo ops, whether comparing my wingspan to that of star center Karl-Anthony Towns, or meeting a mascot who was much shorter than me!

It was to be our final day in Minneapolis, so we left the game a little early to spend more time with my aunt and uncle before departing in the morning.


This day would bring yet another two-hour drive, this time north to the charming city of Duluth.  Of course, heading north meant it was only going to be even colder and when we arrived on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth, we were greeted with a brutal temperature change that kept us bundled up in layers.  We quickly went inside the student union to have lunch and buy some merchandise at the bookstore, before heading to the sprawling estate known as Glensheen.

Nestled against the banks of Lake Superior, Glensheen is a beautiful mansion sitting on several acres of land that offers an immersive tour of the massive grounds.  Charlene is always fascinated by these older homes, and we had a great time slowly making our way around.

I'd been listening to the very entertaining Tom and Jim's Top 5 podcast for some time and noticed that co-host Tom Skull mentioned how much he loved living in Duluth.  I reached out to him once the trip was finalized and asked for suggestions of where to visit while in Minnesota, and he said we could stay with him and his family if we made it all the way up to Duluth.  Mind you, we only knew each other through many friendly conversations on social media, and when I asked if he was serious he referenced "Minnesota Nice" and insisted we take him up on his offer.  Who am I to resist?

Tom introduced us to his wife and son upon our arrival at his house, then took us to Grandma's Saloon, a restaurant near Amsoil Arena, home of the UMD Bulldogs hockey team.  He couldn't have been more gracious and genuine, and we had a great time getting to know each other over dinner.  From there, we walked to the arena to see the defending NCAA champions in action!  

Just like in Mankato the weekend before, this was the type of environment I had hoped to see when I planned this trip.  The crowd was raucous and the action was intense, making it the perfect encapsulation of the "State of Hockey".  The Bulldogs won and I met the mascot - it was a good night all around!


After getting a great night's sleep in Tom's guest room, we woke up and headed out for brunch with his family on our final day in the state.  Along the way, he drove us around Duluth and crossed into Wisconsin for a bit, before we ended at Trophy Cafe.  The food was delicious and our waitress took this nice picture of us with Tom, his wife Danna, and their son Fletcher.

So there it is: "Minnesota Nice" in one photograph.  It was a great trip, and I honestly hope I get the chance to return soon...


I found a sweet Minnesota Wild shot glass at their team store, but I was disappointed that there weren't any at the bookstore at Minnesota State University in Mankato.  Being the defending champs, I knew there would be one in Duluth, so my haul was small but stylish.


It had been years since I'd seen my hometown team up close in person, so it was time to rectify that during my annual Christmas visit to see my family...

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