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Twin Cities hot for summer

By Chris Welch, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rent a bike from one of the dozens of racks around the city
  • Aster Cafe has one of the nicest patios around
  • The Anchor Fish & Chips offers an unforgettable version of its namesake dish
RELATED TOPICS
  • Tourism
  • Minneapolis

CNN's Chris Welch is an all-platform journalist based in Minneapolis. Share your Twin Cities tips in the comments section below.

(CNN) -- The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul -- or simply "the cities" if you're hip -- are no doubt known by many as simply too cold for any "normal" person to call home. But that's an unfortunate association.

Yes, winters here tend to be on the chilly side of things, but the place has so much more to offer than a slick spot for ice fishers to set up their shanties. In fact, Minneapolis was just named No. 4 on National Geographic Traveler's list of the world's 10 best summer destinations.

Why, you ask? For starters, it's easy to navigate and is often called one of the best places for bicyclists. Be sure to rent one of the shiny green Nice Ride Minnesota bikes from one of the dozens of racks around the city.

The metro area is also home to one of the most thriving arts communities in the country, one of my favorite aspects of the place. Did you know that as far as live theater goes, the cities have more seats per capita than any place in the country other than New York City? Minneapolis is home to the nationally recognized Guthrie Theater and a plethora of other professional and community theaters.

Lake Wobegon ring a bell? If so, you may want to stop by the historic Fitzgerald Theatre in downtown St. Paul, home of Garrison Keillor's public radio institution "Prairie Home Companion." For classical music, keep in mind the renowned Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and on the other end of the music spectrum, don't forget the music club First Avenue, a staple in downtown Minneapolis made nationally famous in the 1980s with the help of Prince.

First Avenue isn't just a great place to hear bands; it can turn into quite the dance party on certain nights of the week. So can a lot of the other nightclubs nearby. But in my humble opinion, some of the best places to get down are the city's gay bars. Fittingly enough, Minneapolis was just named the Gayest City in America by The Advocate magazine.

One of the best spots that provides a cool (and yes, a tad trendy) atmosphere complete with brick walls, good lighting, and -- this is key -- great music is Jetset Bar. Traditionally a GLBT establishment (though, of course, more than welcoming of patrons of all sexual orientation), Jetset is a small place and off the beaten path of the more traditional downtown hotspots.

But chances are you won't want to spend your time inside when the warm weather arrives -- and I promise, summer will arrive. I firmly believe it is one of the best places in the country to spend summer. June, July and August are sunny and usually in the 70s and 80s -- perfect for getting out on the lakes.

One of my favorite things to do in the summer, however, is eat outside. It seems restaurants set up their outdoor patios almost as soon as the thermometer reads 50 degrees. Since winters here are so long, people -- including yours truly -- tend to come down with what I would call the worst cases of cabin fever known to man. When spring finally does arrive, it's like the gun's been fired and gates opened at the racetrack.

And some of the best places to find an entree/libation combo are at some of the smallest nooks and crannies in the metro area.

Aster Cafe is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots of summer (well, year-round really). Located in a historic part of town called St. Anthony Main, it's situated along the river just across from downtown. Aster has one of the nicest patios around. Sample some of their tea-infused vodkas and nibble on a cheese plate. The chorizo flatbread is fantastic. An added bonus: You can often catch some great live music here, courtesy of the many local songwriters that call the cities home.

I will preface this next recommendation by saying that I don't traditionally order (or even enjoy) fish and chips. But this place has made me a believer.

The Anchor Fish & Chips is tucked in a modest building in a section of Nordeast (its how the locals say it) Minneapolis. The 'hood's got a definite hipster vibe, but whether that's your scene or not, The Anchor is worth a stop. It will only hold a few dozen people, so make sure to get there early if you go on a weekend because they don't take reservations. Try anything from the small list of fairly traditional Irish fare. As for myself, I haven't been able to tear myself away from the title entree -- it's too good!

And what travel guide about the Twin Cities would be complete without a few pointers on how best to tackle the Mall of America? Many locals scoff at the very mention of the popular tourist destination. It can be crowded, difficult to park and a little out of the way south of the cities.

But I don't avoid it like others because it has a few stores that you just don't get anywhere else in the state. And there are plenty of Minnesota-themed gifts, in case you've got to have that woodsy, moose-appliqued nightgown or 10,000 Lakes paraphernalia. The trick, however, is knowing when to go. Monday through Thursday, day or evening, is best. Avoid weekends like the plague.

If you go during the week, you can snag parking in the small open lot that's right next to the bus stop and taxi stand. (I've found that people don't always know those are public spaces.) But if it's the weekend, your best bet is to park across the street next to the Ikea and walk over.