12 Attractions in St. Cloud, Minnesota

Last Updated on February 11, 2024 by Emily Johnson

St. Cloud is a city located in central Minnesota, about an hour’s drive northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. With a population of around 69,000, St. Cloud serves as a regional commercial center and is home to St Cloud State University.

The city’s name originates from St. Cloud (Saint Clodoald), a 7th century monk. The French named the area around present-day St. Cloud as “Les Grandes Écores”, meaning “the great oaks”, referring to the dense oak savannas that covered the region.

St. Cloud has a vibrant downtown centered around the Beaver Islands Trail, following the Mississippi River. Beyond downtown, you’ll find history museums, outdoor fun for all seasons, cultural sites, and university happenings that add to St. Cloud’s charms.

Here are 12 top attractions that highlight some of the best things to see and do in this Minnesota city:

1. Beaver Islands Trail

The Beaver Islands Trail is a paved 22-mile trail that follows the Mississippi River through St. Cloud. One of the most popular sections is the downtown riverfront trail, running through scenic Beaver Island Park.

Along this lively trail, you can stop for a picnic or admiring views of the river. In warmer months, look for boat tours that launch from nearby docks. You’ll also find outfitters renting canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards so you can paddle surrounded by beautiful scenery along the mighty Mississippi.

2. Munsinger Gardens and Clemens Gardens

The riverside Munsinger Gardens and Clemens Gardens are two of St. Cloud’s loveliest green spaces. Both are free for visitors to wander and feature flowers blooming spring through fall.

Munsinger Gardens includes an extensive flower display with around 70,000 tulips plus water features like pretty fountains and waterfalls.

The Clemens Gardens encompasses tranquil walking paths through vibrant flower beds and ponds. It also features the historic inscribed granite walls from the Clemens estate. Walking between the two connected gardens lets you fully admire St. Cloud’s gorgeous civic gardens.

3. Stearns History Museum

To delve into the local history of central Minnesota, visit the Stearns History Museum complex located near downtown. The museum center preserves many historic buildings and artifacts from the region’s frontier past.

Inside the modern museum, you’ll find interesting interactive exhibits on early settlers, pioneer life, agriculture, industries and Native American culture. A vintage village with replica 19th century shops gives you a taste of days gone by.

The most unique displays are the furnished grassland dugouts, subterranean homes that early pioneers sometimes lived in before establishing farms on the prairie. With its range of historic buildings, the museum does an excellent job preserving and presenting regional history.

4. Lake George

Escape from downtown and enjoy Lake George’s refreshingly uncrowded public park. Families love pedaling quadracycles along the lakefront path or playing at the expansive playground.

Fishermen can try their luck from the fishing pier or other lakeside spots. On warm days, cool off at the sandy beach and roped off swimming area. Or pack a picnic and dine by the lake while the kids let off steam climbing on the playground. With its scenic waterside setting and many family attractions, Lake George makes an effortlessly enjoyable outing.

The lake park area also includes picnic shelters to reserve, walking and mountain bike trails in Eastman Park Natural Area, and a dog park.

5. Paramount Center for the Arts

The elegant Paramount Center for the Arts hosts theater, music, dance and many other performances in its restored art deco auditorium downtown. Designed in 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival style, the theater interior wows with glittering chandeliers, tall arched windows, and beautiful design details.

This cultural hub draws a mix of local and touring performers, with events ranging from pop concerts, musical theater, and dance performances to children’s theater. The Paramount also shows classic and independent films in its intimate screening room. Stop by to see a show or just admire the neoclassical grandeur of this historic venue.

Before shows, theatergoers often gather at nearby restaurants or the lobby bar that serves cocktails in a glamorous setting.

6. Quarry Park and Nature Preserve

Quarry Park is one of the more unique attractions in St Cloud, set in a former granite quarry that closed operations in the 1970s after nearly a century of mining operations. Now the vast park encompasses scenic cliffs, woodlands, and water features in the heart of town.

Kids especially get a thrill from adventures like scampering over the sprawling playground and spotting dinosaur statues tucked into the landscape. Families also love the swimming beach with a grassy lawn for picnics and outdoor games in summer.

Miles of trails lace through the park for hiking and mountain biking adventures with great city views from dramatic overlooks. Anglers can cast a line into several ponds and rock quarry pools too. With geological, cultural, and natural interest, this site makes an unexpected find in central Minnesota.

7. St. Cloud State University

St. Cloud State University adds a youthful energy and cultural scene to the city. More than 15,000 students attend the university known for degrees in business, healthcare, education, and technology. Visitors who stroll through the sprawling campus will find attractive historic architecture plus modern buildings and facilities.

University happenings like Division II Husky sporting events, concerts, theater productions, art exhibits, and guest lectures often open to the public. The Whole Music Club schedule also brings local, regional and national musicians to its venues for reasonably priced shows often open to all ages.

Special events like the annual Grande Day Parade and homecoming festivities also invite locals to enjoy lively university spirit.

8. Great River Regional Library

Culture vultures will want to check out the award-winning Great River Regional Library downtown. The striking modernist building design won national architecture awards for its bold form and sustainability features.

Inside, guests can admire public art installations, cozy seating areas, and great reading spaces with scenic river views. Of course, the library also encompasses vast book, multimedia, and local history collections. Frequent events include author talks, technology workshops, children’s activities, book clubs, crafting circles for adults, and other community programming.

Even if you’re just visiting St. Cloud briefly, it’s worth peeking inside this architecturally impressive library to see a model of modern civic architecture.

9. Beaver Island Brewing

St. Cloud’s beer scene shines at Beaver Island Brewing, just across from Munsinger Gardens downtown. The tasting room fills with locals relaxing over hearty Midwestern comfort food and fresh craft beer brewed on-site.

Flagship beers range from Annamae Irish Red Ale to Freighter IPA with citrusy hops. Seasonals might include a blueberry blond ale or chocolate oatmeal stout depending on what the brewers are cooking up. Tasting flights mean you can sample a selection of their beers. Or order a full pint along with tasty bar bites like fried cheese curds, Bavarian pretzels, or Scotch eggs. Linger at a picnic table on the patio when weather allows.

10. Pioneer Place on Fifth Avenue

Pioneer Place offers performing arts, independent films, and contemporary exhibits in a sophisticated downtown venue. Two theater spaces host orchestral concerts, musicals, touring plays, and the like. Cinematheque screens indie and foreign language films in an intimate theater.

The four galleries of Pioneer Place showcase top Minnesota artists with mediums ranging from painting to sculpture, glasswork to fiber art. Opening receptions allow you to mingle with artists while enjoying complimentary refreshments. Check the schedule for gallery talks and hands-on art events too. Altogether it’s a great spot to take in culture across the arts.

11. Grand Avenue Coffee and Wine

What do a coffee shop and a wine bar have in common? Find out at Grand Avenue Coffee and Wine, where you can pair pinot noir alongside your single origin pourover coffee. The unusual hybrid shop offers an extensive selection of coffees and global wines in a sleek setting near downtown.

Browse coffee sourced from top specialty roasters, with brew methods like AeroPress, Chemex, and batch brew joining espresso drinks. Then sample wines by the glass or arranged in tasting flights. Food offerings include tapas plates, pastries from a French trained baker, and cheese boards to complement the wine. It’s the perfect place to elevate your coffee break or wine tasting.

12. Convention Centers

St. Cloud offers outstanding facilities for conferences, expos, weddings, and large events at its River’s Edge Convention Center and Kelly Inn Convention Center. These sprawling venues provide professional conferencing services paired with comfortable accommodations and dining on-site or nearby.

The River’s Edge Convention Center brings scenic views alongside the Mississippi River with a glass atrium lobby. Green features also garnered it LEED Gold sustainability certification. Its 17,000 square foot exhibit hall makes a versatile venue for conferences, galas, and other large scale events. The nearby Kelly Inn also has ample conference spaces in a more relaxed hotel environment.

Altogether St. Cloud’s modern convention centers attract visitors arriving from across Minnesota and beyond with their full-service setup and accessible location.

Conclusion

Beyond the scenic riverfront and lively university campus, St. Cloud also contains wonderful parks, trails, museums, and cultural attractions like theaters and independent cinemas. From heritage sites preserving central Minnesota’s history to quirky surprises, it’s a city with diverse attractions that make it an appealing tourism destination. Those visiting friends or relatives attending St. Cloud State University will appreciate how much there is to do during their stay too.

Next time you’re traveling in central Minnesota or planning a weekend escape from Minneapolis-St. Paul, consider adding St. Cloud to your itinerary. Alongside outdoor recreation on the Mississippi, the city offers fantastic regional history museums, university happenings, locally brewed beers, and cultural attractions across music, art, and the performing arts. With this guide to top sites and events, you can easily fill a weekend of meaningful experiences in St. Cloud.

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