While shopping isn’t high on my list of things to do while traveling (beyond picking up fun trinkets for friends and family), there are certain places where it’s a must. Fashion capitals like New York and Paris definitely require a little window shopping and, let’s be real, probably some impulse buys as well.
Bloomington, Minnesota isn’t a fashion hotspot by any means, but it is home to one specific retail gem—the Mall of America. But, as I found out on my road trip to the Minneapolis area, this mall has a lot more to offer than simply shopping.
An Afternoon of Thrills
Whether you’re traveling with kids or not, you have to check out Nickelodeon Universe, an indoor theme park located in the heart of the mall.
As California natives, we’re used to places like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags—so we had to check out this foreign concept of going on rides indoors. We didn’t go with any kids and weren’t super familiar with the majority of the shows the rides were based on, but had a blast anyway.
We skipped over the kid’s rides—like the Dumbo-esque Blue’s Skidoo, the Spongebob Squarepants Pineapple Poppers bounce house and the Rugrats-inspired Reptarmobile bumper cars—in favor of the thrill rides. The Fairly Odd Coaster put a twist on classic rollercoasters with cars that spin as they plummet down the track while the Pepsi Orange Streak zips all over the theme park, providing excellent views of the other rides (some of which you even pass through). But my personal favorite was the Rock Bottom Plunge, a Spongebob-inspired coaster that features plenty of twists and turns, a loop and a nearly vertical drop. We had to check out some classics as well, like the swings and the lengthy Log Chute, similar to Disney’s Splash Mountain.
Aside from rides, Nickelodeon Universe also features the Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course, which consists of a ropes course and a zipline over the park, as well as Moose Mountain, an 18-hole mini golf course.
Sampling of Sealife
The mall’s Sea Life Aquarium completed an expansion earlier this year, adding even more exhibits to the million-gallon attraction. Because sea creatures are so obscure and hard to spot in the wild, I always find myself drawn to aquariums where you can interact with them up close. Kids can grab a dive log, which they can get stamped at each of nine dive stations while learning about the animals living in the aquarium.
Entering through the Stingray Adventure room, we got to touch a variety of rays, starfish and sea anemones before moving on to view jellyfish, seahorses, coral and fish before reaching the Tunnel. The Tunnel is split into four distinct tanks. The first, Rainbow Reef, showcases the many types of colorful fish that live in coral reefs. The second—the largest in the aquarium—is Atlantis, a shark-filled tank that is also home to plenty of fish, rays and sea turtles. The final two tanks are filled with freshwater species, with Wild Amazon modeled after the Amazon River in South America and Sturgeon Lake showcasing the species that live in rivers and lakes within Minnesota. Before exiting the aquarium, you’ll also pass through Mysteries of the Rainforest, one of the best parts of the attraction. It features exotic creatures like the poison dart frog, piranhas and caimans, relatives of the alligator.
Certified scuba divers can also swim with the sharks—definitely a thrill for a mall visit!
And There’s Plenty More
While the theme park and the aquarium were the highlights of our visit, there are plenty of other things to do while at the Mall of America. Stop by the movie theater to enjoy a 21+ movie with a glass of wine, soar over the best U.S. landmarks in the FlyOver America simulation, attend a show at the House of Comedy or explore creativity with kiddos at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Some of the mall’s stores like the Crayola Experience + Store, the American Girl store and Build-a-Bear also have interactive experiences for families to enjoy together.
When it comes to shopping, the mall has over 500 stores. There’s a good chance that they’ll have anything you’re looking for, from Macy’s and Nordstrom to Best Buy and L.L. Bean. But there are some unique spots that are worth checking out as well. Alpaca Connection brings handmade products directly from artisans in places like Peru and Bolivia, DAVIDsTEA offers more than 150 types of loose leaf tea, Stitch It provides alterations and fashion advice and Air Traffic has a variety of kites, games, boomerangs, toys and yo-yos. There are also some hair salons and barbershops, including Final Cut Sports Barbershop where men can get groomed from head to toe while watching the game.
Don’t forget to eat; with so many shops and attractions, it’s only logical that the mall would be filled with dining options as well. Whether you’re looking to grab a bite to eat or sip some cocktails, combine your visit with some of the mall’s best attractions for your next multi-generational trip or girl’s night out in Minnesota.