12 Things to Do in Rochester, Minnesota

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Robert Wilson

Rochester, Minnesota is a vibrant city located in Olmsted County, about 85 miles southeast of Minneapolis. Known as the Med City, Rochester is home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic and serves as a global healthcare destination. With a population of around 120,000 residents, Rochester balances major medical innovations with Midwestern charm.

Beyond the clinic, Rochester offers visitors plenty of things to see and do. The scenic Root River meanders through many of the city’s 95 parks and green spaces. The renowned Mayo Civic Center provides Broadway musicals, concerts, and other performing arts. Quirky galleries and museums explore unique niches of history. And a burgeoning downtown scene overflows with trendy eateries, microbreweries, and boutique shops.

From outdoor recreation to cultural attractions, family-friendly spots to nightlife destinations, Rochester’s diverse attractions offer something for everyone. Read on for 12 of the top things to do in Rochester, MN during your visit.

1.Explore Downtown Rochester and Its Public Art Displays

Downtown Rochester serves as the city’s cultural hub. Stroll through the open-air Peace Plaza lined with restaurants and colorful murals. Pose with the bronze statues of Mayo Clinic founders William and Charles Mayo. Snap photos of the Civic Center and its Reflection Wall, with more than 100 etched granite panels depicting Rochester history.

As you amble along downtown, keep your eyes peeled for Renaissance Rochester, a public art program installing imaginative sculptures, paintings, and light installations across the city. Some displays rotate regularly, giving locals and visitors an ever-changing artistic landscape to admire. Interpretive signs provide details on installation meanings and artists for a deeper understanding of the works.

Some highlights downtown include Windorn, a kinetic tower that sways gently in the breeze near Peace Plaza. Colorful Adirondack chairs dot the sidewalks, painted by local artists and community groups. And exhibits like Claude’s Mind and Portal give visitors fun photo ops. For art aficionados and Instagrammers alike, Rochester’s downtown public art makes for a visual feast.

2.Relax at Quarry Hill Nature Center

Just two miles from downtown lies Quarry Hill Nature Center, one of Rochester’s cherished green spaces. Here visitors can explore nearly 700 acres of forests, prairies, and wetlands all threaded with over 20 miles of hiking trails appropriate for all ages and abilities.

A visitor center greets guests with natural history exhibits, a gift shop stacked with nature-themed items, and views of the picnic area and pond below. Be sure to check for any naturalist-led programs or bird walks happening during your visit. Free snowshoe rentals in winter open up cold-weather recreation.

Easy walking trails skirt the pond or wind up wooded hillsides blanketed in wildflowers come summer. More rugged routes challenge hikers with sections of roots and rocks. Download trail maps online or chat with the center’s friendly staff for personalized routing recommendations during your visit.

3.Tour Historic Districts on The Corners Walking Trail

Dating back before Minnesota achieved statehood, Rochester’s storied history waits around many corners. The Corners Walking Trail links some of the city’s most historic districts in an informative 1.7 mile urban trek.

Eye-catching route markers with an artist’s palette lead the way as you stroll from the Central Business District past Saint Mary’s Hospital and Historic Southwest en route to Pill Hill. This trail segment illuminates Rochester’s early days as a Dakota Indian settlement and farming village.

Arriving in Pill Hill, visitors find streets lined with elegant 19th-century homes that once housed wealthy Mayo Clinic physicians and railroad tycoons. Guide signs share background on the neighborhood’s architecture and key landmarks.

The Corners Walking Trail continues with additional route loops that provide every glimpse into Rochester’s bygone eras. Download a mobile app or printed guide to uncover the city’s rich history while getting your steps in.

4.Take the Kids to Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo

Just minutes from Rochester rests Oxbow Park, a sprawling county park along the meandering Zumbro River. Families appreciate the park’s picnic areas, fishing piers, nature trails, and disc golf course. The show-stealing attraction, however, is the Zollman Zoo.

This compact zoo began as a wildlife rescue rehabilitating injured regional animals. Although rehabilitation remains central to its mission, the zoo has expanded with dozens of exhibit species native to Minnesota and beyond for visitors to enjoy.

A river otter enchantingly frolics and feeds in its pool, while a sandhill crane slowly stalks its habitat. Lucky guests may glimpse orphaned baby animals snuggling in the nursery. And energetic wolves can be heard howling even from far across the park when emergency sirens blare.

Oxbow Park offers an easy outdoor escape for Rochester visitors of all ages to get close to wildlife. The zoo’s exhibits spotlight conservation initiatives protecting species near and far. Admission is free, making the Zollman Zoo an affordable, enriching community asset.

5.Admire Art Collections at The Rochester Art Center

Art aficionados visiting Rochester relish hours exploring the vaulted galleries of The Rochester Art Center. This architecturally striking museum overlooks Civic Center Plaza, its tiered limestone walls rising dramatically behind a glass facade. Inside, airy minimalism lets diverse art installations shine.

Mediums range from ceramics, glasswork, fiber arts, and sculpture to photography, paintings, and mixed media spanning styles from traditional to avant garde. Many pieces come from upper Midwest artists, offering insights into the regional creative scene. Regularly changing exhibits ensure fresh cultural perspectives with each visit.

In addition to visual arts displays, the Rochester Art Center frequently hosts public lectures, artist receptions, and hands-on art workshops. Recent community collaborations engaged residents in dialogues on pressing social issues through creative projects reflecting their diverse voices. By showcasing varied artists and driving community engagement, the Rochester Art Center advances its goal of connecting people through shared human experiences.

6.Catch a Show at Mayo Civic Center

As one Minnesota’s premier event spaces, Mayo Civic Center attracts big name concerts, nationally touring theater productions, sporting events, and other entertainment. Music icons like Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Garth Brooks have rocked the arena’s rafters on recent tours.

For theater fans, Mayo Civic Center’s Presenting Series delivers Broadway blockbusters direct from New York alongside opera, dance, and comedy shows. In 2023 and 2024, catch tours of hits like Hamilton, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Ain’t Too Proud.

The venue also hosts the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and private banquet events in its grand ballrooms. Free building tours run select Fridays, letting visitors explore the halls and auditorium while learning some history along the way. With a packed annual schedule, Mayo Civic Center promises a memorable show for visitors throughout the year.

7.Play and Learn at The Children’s Museum of Rochester

With kids in tow, one of the best spots to ditch cabin fever in Rochester is The Children’s Museum. This nonprofit museum packs thoughtful, hands-on exhibits into a converted 1928 school building. Displays nurture young imaginations while sneakily covering core curricula like science, math, reading, fine arts, and technology.

Visitors might don a white coat and stethoscope in The Clinic dramatic play area. They can stock shelves in a mint-condition midcentury grocery store, ring up customers with vintage cash registers, then hop in a 1957 Chevy for a cruise. Interactive building zones stacking oversize foam bricks foster engineering skills.

And in Music Maker, families can try dozens of eclectic instruments from rain sticks to steel drums. expect to spend hours immersed in playful learning fun.

8.Tour Historic Assisi Heights Monastery

Perched on Pill Hill towers Assisi Heights Monastery, a century-old Italianate mansion turned convent and senior living center. The extraordinary estate merits a visit for its architectural grandeur and ties to the famed Mayo Clinic.

Assisi Heights originated as home to Dr. William Worrall Mayo, father to the founders of Mayo Clinic. Sold to the Franciscan Sisters in 1915, Assisi Heights almost met the wrecking ball before preservation efforts stabilized and restored the rare Romanesque revival structure.

Guided 20-minute mini-tours grant visitors a peek at the light-filled chapel and grand common spaces of this historic gem. Walk the manicured grounds and gardens for panoramic views overlooking Rochester’s skyline. Guests can also attend 45-minute programs on the property’s rich multi-era history and inspirational Franciscan Sister residents.

Assisi Heights endures as a testament to craftsmanship and determination in Rochester, open for visitors to admire and learn from. Tour reservations are recommended to guarantee entry.

9.Bike or Blade the Douglas State Trail

The flat, paved Douglas State Trail delights outdoor enthusiasts with over 30 miles of multi-use trails ripe for recreation. In warmer months, bring your bikes, inline skates, or sneakers to cruise from Rochester to the trail’s west end at Pine Island.

Most visitors hop on where the trail crosses 2nd Ave SW in Rochester and take it east several lovely miles toward Douglas. The route meanders alongside fields and woods speckled with apple orchards, horse pastures, and tree farms that supply u-pick experiences.

Break up the journey at Douglas Depot Park midway, a sweet village spot with flower gardens, picnic tables, and restrooms housed in a historic train car. You can even grab lunch from the Red Caboose takeout counter parked onsite. For family outings or mileage-eating training runs, Douglas Trail packs welcoming scenery.

10.Shop and Nosh on North Broadway Avenue

Just across the Zumbro River, Rochester’s hip North Broadway district beckons visitors for an afternoon of boutique shopping, art galleries, and some seriously good eats. Sprinkled along tree-shaded North Broadway Avenue sit cozy cafes, funky shops hawking vintage decor and clothes, yoga studios, and specialty grocers.

Grab a pour-over coffee and pastry at The Daily Rise to fuel some retail therapy. Browse through Milk & Honey Ciders’ standout collection of Minnesota-made art, furnishings, apparel and gifts. Rest tired tootsies over wood-fired pizza and wine at Forager Brewery and Ferdinand Culinary while local bands play jazzy sets.

Browse the colorful creations at Rochester Clove, a collective of over 40 regional artists and makers. Pop into Jon’s Pipe Shop for premium smokes and fine tequilas. And don’t skip dessert – stop for a sundae drizzled in housemade hot fudge at the throwback Grand Chute Ice Cream Parlor.

11.Sip Your Way Through Rochester’s Brewery Scene

Thanks to an explosion of micro and craft breweries, Rochester offers plenty to love for beer lovers. Most taprooms congregate downtown or across the river in the hip North Broadway neighborhood. Flight trays let you sample a range of IPAs, stouts, sours and everything between as you map your new favorite brews.

Grand Rounds Brewing rolls out German lagers like crisp pilsners and chocolatey dunkels with a modern Minnesota twist. At LTS Brewing, you can nosh wood-fired pizzas alongside their lineup of clean and quaffable mainstays.

Beer geeks adore Forager Brewery for their innovative recipes using foraged berries, bee pollen and Chanterelle mushrooms from nearby forests and prairies. And at Little Thistle Brewing, malty Scottish ales get dreamed up by their Kentucky-born brewmaster. With award winners in every style, it’s tough to pick a favorite.

12.Experience Winter Magic at Rochesterfest Winter Skate

When deep winter descends, Rochester knows how to make the most of snow and ice with a giant downtown ice rink event called Winter Skate. Each January, an outdoor ice path snakes for three blocks, lit up brilliantly to glow beneath twilight skies.

Skaters swoop and glide down Peace Plaza as cheerful music plays, then loop back around. Surrounding streets host warming fires with hot cocoa, food trucks with hearty snacks like poutine and pierogi, and colorful booths from community groups.

Free skate rentals make Winter Skate affordable for all ages. Non-skaters can don crampons to safely navigate the slick surfaces. Or snuggle in an ice lounge with seat cushions, blankets and wireless headphones pumping more tunes. However you choose to enjoy, Winter Skate transforms Rochester into a winter wonderland.

Conclusion

Rochester impresses visitors with much more than world-class healthcare thanks to vibrant arts, historic neighborhoods, outdoor recreation hubs, family fun, and locally focused food and drink. The Med City’s many attractions offer engaging activities for all interests and ages.

After exploring the 12 highlights in this article, you will see why so many travelers plan repeat visits to experience Rochester’s exceptional blend of culture, nature, and that famous Midwestern warmth.

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