Minneapolis offers family-friendly options

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  • Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News The Minnesota Zoo features all sorts of wildlife, including coral reef fish.

  • 1

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Mathew Mathis and Features Editor Erica Pennington pose for a photo with their daughter, Hallie, at the Minnesota Zoo.

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    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Mathew and Hallie Mathis check out saltwater fish during a recent visit to the Minnesota Zoo.

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    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Llamas roam in an open area at the Minnesota Zoo during "Llama Trek."

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    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News The Mall of America features a theme park in its center court. The mall is a great stop for shopping and people watching.

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    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News This moose picture was created using tiny Lego squares. The Mall of America features a Lego store that carries kits, thousands of individual Lego pieces in different colors and more.

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    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth craving may want to check out Carlo's Bake Shop at the Mall of America. The bakery is part of more than a dozen "Cake Boss" store locations across the U.S.

  • Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News The Minnesota Zoo features all sorts of wildlife, including coral reef fish.

  • 1

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Mathew Mathis and Features Editor Erica Pennington pose for a photo with their daughter, Hallie, at the Minnesota Zoo.

  • 2

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Mathew and Hallie Mathis check out saltwater fish during a recent visit to the Minnesota Zoo.

  • 3

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Llamas roam in an open area at the Minnesota Zoo during "Llama Trek."

  • 4

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News The Mall of America features a theme park in its center court. The mall is a great stop for shopping and people watching.

  • 5

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News This moose picture was created using tiny Lego squares. The Mall of America features a Lego store that carries kits, thousands of individual Lego pieces in different colors and more.

  • 6

    Erica Pennington/Beloit Daily News Those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth craving may want to check out Carlo's Bake Shop at the Mall of America. The bakery is part of more than a dozen "Cake Boss" store locations across the U.S.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. - Sometimes you need to get away from the routine and have some fun.

That's why my family recently decided to hit the road and enjoy a long weekend with my brother and parents in Minneapolis.

Back in my competitive ice hockey days, the Twin Cities seemed almost like a second home. When my brother moved to Maple Grove, Minnesota, it was even more of a reason to visit.

Life has changed a lot since then, especially now that we have the addition of my daughter, Hallie. We haven't been doing a whole lot besides work, home, chores, sleep(?), repeat.

It was nerve-wracking to even think of being in a car for more than five hours with a teething baby, but we knew that if we plan to continue our world-traveling ways, it had to be done.

- Gulp. -

I had no idea how it would go and came fully prepared for battle: snacks, extra bottles, a few cartoons on a tablet and a plethora of toys to get chucked in the backseat.

Thankfully, few tears were shed by any of us.

We started our family-friendly adventure with a stop at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, which is not-too-far from the Minneapolis Airport.

The Minnesota Zoo is home to everything from bears and prairie dogs to farm animals and my personal favorites: otters and a lazy sloth.

Visitors can explore and see a variety of sea life indoors at "Discovery Bay," or venture outside and explore the "Northern Trail" or "Grizzly Coast."

A trip to the zoo really isn't much fun when the animals are all inside or asleep, so I was very happy to see that many creatures were up and stirring on this day.

Our entire group enjoyed the permanent habitats and really loved the limited-time "Llama Trek," which ran through Labor Day. Another highlight of our stop was seeing a beautiful leopard up-close.

Just a few miles north of the Minnesota Zoo is another must-see destination in Minneapolis: The Mall of America.

Admittedly, I don't go to malls very often. Stopping by the behemoth Mall of America complex is just something you have to do if you're in the area.

The Mall of America has over 520 stores on three different stories, an aquarium, mini golf course, movie theatre and an indoor "Nickelodeon Universe" amusement park.

We enjoyed a couple hours of shopping, fantastic people watching and then told ourselves we'd gotten enough "exercise" to chow down on cupcakes from Carlo's Bakery, of television's "Cake Boss" fame.

Our weekend itinerary was rounded out with stopping by a couple local restaurants, going to a farmers market and strolling up and down Main Street in downtown Hopkins - an antique lover's paradise.

Looking for other fun things to do? Pack up a duffel bag, and head out to explore. Here's a glimpse at just a few Minneapolis options:

• Minneapolis Institute of Art: This museum's permanent collection is now more than 89,000 pieces strong. General admission is free.

• Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: Since 1988 the sculpture garden has welcomed millions of visitors. It showcases works from the Walker Art Center.

• Take in a professional sports game: The Minnesota United FC, Twins, Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx all call Minneapolis home.

• Minnehaha Park: One of the city's most popular parks has a gorgeous waterfall, limestone bluffs, bike path, disk golf and much more.

• Historic Homes: Drive along St. Paul's Summit Avenue to see huge, beautifully-preserved Victorian Homes. It is part of two National Historic Districts.

• Eat, eat, eat: Grab a Juicy Lucy cheeseburger or try Cuban food at Victor's 1959 Cafe.

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