As the largest and most populous neighborhood of Minneapolis, Whittier scores high on walkability. Most of my requirements for fun urban hikes are met within Whittier’s 81 square blocks. You’ll find historic landmarks, arts and cultural organizations, interesting architecture, public art including murals and sculptures, and local shops and restaurants. Perhaps what makes walking in Whittier most enjoyable is the people who live, work, and play here. Though you can find quiet spaces for solitude, I like that I’m rarely alone when walking in Whittier.
It was difficult but I managed to whittle down my list of suggested stop to this list of top 10.
West 29th Street & Lyndale Avenue South
Near the southern end of Whittier, you can hop onto the Midtown Greenway — a 5.5 mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that runs parallel to Lake Street. Access points are near West 29th Street at Bryant Avenue on the west and Nicollet Avenue on the east. One of my favorite spots on the Midtown Greenway are the two gardens near Lyndale Avenue: Vera’s Garden and the Soo Line Community Garden. When walking on Lyndale Avenue, I like to pause when crossing the Midtown Greenway to watch people go by on their bikes, skateboards, and on foot.
Once Upon A Crime
604 W. 26th St.
Located a half block east of Lyndale Avenue, Once Upon A Crime is a nationally known bookstore and has been in Whittier since 1987. The shop is located in a beautiful brick apartment building and though it is in the basement it manages to engage passersby with its awning, signage and book event posters. Step inside and you’ll likely be greeted by one of the owners eager to help and welcome you to take your time while perusing thousands of titles.
Herbert on Harriet
2304 Harriet Ave. S.
On a recent early morning stroll, I happened upon Herbert, a beautiful ivy covered brick apartment building. On the north side of the there is a green space with a row of trees hugging the building. Since falling in love with Herbert, I have started walking through the neighborhood to discover other houses and buildings with architectural details I admire. Whittier is full of places that make me stop to snap a photo. Many homes have charming porches and balconies that seem to be put to good use. Craftsmanship from the early 1900s can be found in the artistic masonry, and grand columns mark entries into some of the most beautiful homes in Minneapolis. Lovers of typography will enjoy the lettering in stone or etched on doors.
Washburn/Fair Oaks Historic District
East Franklin Avenue on the north, Interstate 35W on the east, East 26th Street on the south and the alley between Nicollet Avenue and First Avenue South on the west
One of my favorite places to walk in Minneapolis is the Washburn/Fair Oaks Historic District with the Washburn/Fair Oaks park at its core. The park and district are named after Senator W. D. Washburn’s estate “Fair Oaks.” As you watch people read on colorful benches or practice tai chi, you can try to imagine the grandiose castle-like mansion that once stood on this site. Visit Hennepin County Library’s Tumblr blog to see photos of Fair Oaks from and check out a copy of Larry Millet’s “Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities.”
Most of the homes in this historic district were built between 1870 and 1930. My favorite stretch of mansions is on the north side of the park along 22nd Street between 1st and 3rd Avenues. Once homes of prominent Minneapolitans, the mansions now house organizations like National Federation of the Blind and the American Association for University Women.
Hennepin History Museum
2303 3rd Ave. S.
Within the historic district is the Hennepin History Museum. Founded by the Hennepin County Historical Society in 1938, the museum has been in the George Christian Mansion since 1958. With several exhibits and a calendar full of special events, a stop at the Hennepin History Museum is well worth your time. Afterward, take the advice of museum director, Cedar Imboden Phillips and visit St. Stephen’s Whittier Community Garden behind the museum on Clinton Avenue.
Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia)
2400 3rd Ave. S.
Before entering the museum, I suggest walking around the block to fully appreciate the size and architectural significance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). It is impossible for me to walk along the north side of the building on 24th Street without taking a photo of the columns and Chinese guardian lions. Once inside, I make my way to the third floor for one of my favorite views of downtown Minneapolis. I love visiting the museum year round but during the colder, darker months of the year it is a great place to walk and cure the winter blues. With the exception of the special exhibits, admission to the museum is free.
Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD)
2501 Stevens Ave.
MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design) dates back to 1886 when it was known as Minneapolis School of Art. The campus has eight buildings including the historic Julia Morrison Memorial Building (built in 1916) and the more contemporary 1970s Main Building designed by the late Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange. Along 26th Street on the south end of campus, you’ll find a sculpture garden featuring permanent and rotating works of public art by MCAD students and alumni. One of my favorite traditions is going to the annual MCAD Art sale the weekend before Thanksgiving.
2550 Pillsbury Ave. S.
If you’re an observant walker, you will likely find a few things that spark your curiosity. I like to think of these as mysteries as if I’m the first person to make the discovery. When I return home, I like to go on fact finding missions with Google as my trusty assistant. On a recent walk, the building on the northwest corner of 25th Street and Pillsbury Avenue South caught my eye. The building itself is distinctive and the barely there lettering above the entry spelling out “Minnesota Commercial Men’s Association” captured my interest. Thanks to a Hennepin County Library Tumblr post (hclib.tumblr.com), I learned that it was built in 1901 as a telephone exchange for the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. It wasn’t until 1935 that it became an office for Minnesota Commercial Men’s Association, an insurance company. It has gone through many renovations including one by architectural firm, Liebenberg & Kaplan best known for its theaters. Though it started as a commercial building, it is now residential. In 2007, Dwell Magazine featured the transformation by Greg Martin, owner of Urban Bean coffee shops.
Intersection of East 25th Street & 1st Avenue South
Perhaps because of its proximity to prominent arts institutions, the corner of East 25th Street and 1st Avenue South has several quirky details that make this a favorite stop. A large zebra sculpture, merry-go-round horses perched on a fence, and a wild boar guardian statue have all been my Instagram subjects. Aside from animal statuary, Pontchartrain Apartments and its balconies and bikes are also a delight.
Nicollet Avenue and the surrounding area between the Midtown Greenway and Franklin Avenue
You know you’re in a great neighborhood when an entire street (actually more than one street) is devoted to eating. Eat Street is an urban walker’s paradise. You’ll find colorful signs and murals, people from all walks of life bopping in and out of restaurants and shops, and plenty of places to stop for a drink or bite to eat.