Living on the Cheap in Minneapolis

cheap, free minneapolisWhat to DO. Where to EAT. Where to DRINK. How to GO.

Minneapolis consistently ranks as one of the best cities for young people to live. Nationwide, the city might not be as buzzed about as others on the list, Minneapolitans know exactly why their metropolis garnered its spot. With its lively urban center, its rarely-seen-outside-of-Chicago architecture, its massive greenbelt, its easy going and open-minded, laid back Midwest culture, and–most importantly–its thriving economy and its sizable creative sector, its easy to understand why Minneapolis might attract the young urban professional. And hey, it’s pretty cheap too.

If you are one of those young urban professionals, that is. If you’re not–and this is you, interns and part-time employees–it’s going to be hard to really enjoy the things you moved here to enjoy. Like any city with any kind of culture scene, that culture is going to come at a price, and your $10 an hour isn’t going to get you as far as you might think it will. But we sympathize, and we’re here to do something about it. So we’ve done our research, consulted with the obligatory authorities, and we now present to you: Living Large on the Cheap in Minneapolis.


One of the best ways to enjoy Minneapolis’s offbeat personality is by attending one of the many art festivals. On the first weekend of August–known as Art Fair Weekend–you can hit three. The Loring Park Art Festival features over 140 artists as well as plenty of festival food vendors.  The Powderhorn Art Fair prides itself as being one of the finest juried regional art fairs in the USA, and is set in an idyllic lakeside location in Powderhorn Park.   The Uptown Art Fair  is the largest of the three, with nearly 400 artists and over 20 food vendors. It’s attended by an average of 375,000 people every year, making it the second-biggest fair in the state after the Minnesota State Fair itself.

And there are more. Art-a-Whirl is the largest open art studio tour in the country  with over 50 locations in north east Minneapolis throwing open their doors to visitors. It takes place on a three day weekend in mid-May. It’s thrown by the North East Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), which also hosts a Fall Fine Arts Show, the opening event of which (taking place in mid-September) is free.

Those looking for free live music in Minneapolis are also in luck: the city’s twin, St. Paul, is a live music hot spot with a tradition for throwing free shows. Thursday evenings from 6-9pm in June and August, head out to Downtown St. Paul’s Mears Park for Music in Mears, a series of free concerts by local musicians. Mears Park also hosts the Concrete and Glass Music Festival, a three day event in September as well as the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in late June. St. Paul Parks and Recreation gets in on the fun by throwing their own series of free musical performances, Music in the Parks, which runs from May to September.

On the other side of Minneapolis, Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park hosts free live music on Thursday nights in July and August. Take the kids out to Edina for the Centennial Lakes Park Family Concerts on summer weekdays for kids-friendly concerts.

For art and music–and more–mark down the following fairs and festivals on your calendar: the St. Paul Winter Carnival takes the last week and a half in January. Sure, it can be crazy cold for non-native Minnesotans, but the Ice carving, food, and parade through Downtown St. Paul are worth bundling up for it. If you’d prefer to stay warm, the In the Heart of the Beast Mayday Parade is a uique puppet parade and festival in Powderhorn Park. Watch as the choreographed parade becomes a raucous street festival involving thousands.

Grand Old St. Paul Day is a festival in Downtown St. Paul celebrating that city’s culture and history. With four different districts catering to different tastes and demographics, and with awesome food and live music, it’s one of the best ways to experience this unique American city.

The Minneapolis Aquatennial might not even be bragging when they proclaim the event the ‘Best Days of Summer.’ The Aquatennial is one of Minnesota’s biggest yearly events, with over 70 individual events and performances taking place throughout the week all around Minneapolis, from concerts downtown to boat races on the lake. It takes place every year during the full third week of July.

Minneapolis is home to a high number of museums per capita, many of which are not only prestigious, but are either always free to enter or offer special free days. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is the most important of these, and is always free. The University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum is also always free, though finding free parking will be a different matter. The Como Zoo and Conservatory is always free and open to the public, though they ask for a donation of $3 to help maintain the animals’ habitats. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, on the Walker Art Center campus, is also always free.

Other musclemen offer special monthly or weekly free days. The Walker Art Center is free every Thursday evening from 5-9pm (courtesy of Target) and on the first Saturday of the month. The Bell Museum of Natural History and the Minnesota Children’s Museum are both free on Sundays. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is free every Thursday from November through March and every third Thursday after 4:30pm from April to October.

Finally, there are two more unbeatable free deals we can’t forget to mention. The Acme Comedy Club has an awesome birthday deal: during your birthday month you and five friends can pick any Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday night for a free show. Sign up here. The In the Heart of the Beast puppet theater is one of Minneapolis’s most unique theater groups and offers free puppet shows for children on Saturday mornings (though a $2 donation is suggested).


Hard Times Cafe is a cooperatively-owned vegan/vegetarian joint where you can order a solid cup of coffee and a fulfilling breakfast/brunch for well under $10. The Weinery slings Vienna Beef hot dogs, vegan tofu dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers for $3.50, and smoked brats, Italians sausages, and burgers with toppings like chili and coleslaw for $4.50. Customize your dog with a huge list of toppings.

At Barbette you’ll find a fine dining happy hour from 3-6pm Monday-Friday, with $5 appetizers like oysters, mussels, and pâté. Wash it down with $3 PBRs or $4 house wine/domestic drafts. If you decide to splurge just a bit, there’s a 5-course prix fixe menu available on Mondays from 5-10pm.

A classy Italian restaurant serves fine versions of Italian classics along with more experimental fare, Bar La Grassa serves hefty half-portions of each of their pasta dishes, most of which check in at between $8-10. Republic’s menu is full of carefully-prepared versions of your favorite bar food for $8-10, and its huge beer menu lists a surprising number of $4 craft brews. At happy hour (4-6pm every day) the turkey burger costs only $6, the fish/pork tacos drop to $5, and select craft beers, wine, and wells go for $3.

People swear by the Black Sea‘s $4.95 kebab sandwich and their $6 chicken gyro.


Summit Brewing Co. hosts free tours and tastings at their brewery on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 1pm and on Saturday at 10:30am, 1:00pm, and 3:30pm. Their tap room, open on Friday from 3-8pm, pours pints for $4 and flights for $7.

Liquor Lyle’s is a seedy dive bar that slings $2 drinks from 11-close on Fridays and Saturdays and two-for-ones from 9-11pm other nights. If karaoke’s your thing, Vegas Lounge is the place to go. $3 drinks every day give you even more of a reason, and on Tuesdays domestic taps drop down to $2.

The 331 Club‘s awesome drinks special menu is always changing, but it’s not unusual to see $2 Summit and Surly drafts on a normal day. Their adult spelling bee is extremely popular for a reason: $6 gets you entry and a beer, and every successfully-spelled word wins you another free beer.

Shaw’s Bar and Grill on University Ave. has some kind of drink special going on every day of the week–think $2 whiskeys, $2.50 20oz Coor’s, $4 Redbull vodkas, and $1.75 PBRs.


Minneapolis has one of the best transportation systems in the country. It’s still mostly car-oriented, but there’s a long and speedy light rail line, an extensive bus network (with park and ride stations), what might be the largest network of commuter bike paths and lanes in the country, and a public car sharing system.

Bus and light rail fares are $1.75 a trip, $2.25 at rush hour, while travel within the Downtown zone is only $.50. The 31-day unlimited ride pass costs anywhere from $31.50-$113.50 depending upon the fare type you sign up for.

The city’s excellent bike share program, Nice Ride Minnesota, allows you to take advantage of the excellent bike routes that run through the city without shelling out upwards of $200 for a bike. A subscription costs $65 a year and includes free 30 minute rides, while hour rides are $1.50.


Stay up to date on cheap and free events and offers in Minneapolis with Minnesota Monthly and Citypages.

Did we miss any budget Twin City gems? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

Brian Shreckengast is a writer at Self Storage Deals.