Summer in Minneapolis usually features the mighty Mississippi in a starring role—trails along the river teem with joggers and bikers—but when August hits, the natural scenery is upstaged by the 22 venues that house the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Featuring theater, dance, puppetry, and spoken word shows, the nation's largest nonjuried performance festival is a testing ground for new works by individuals and small companies.
If you were at the fest in 2003, you might have caught Around the World in a Bad Mood!, a one-woman play by agitated flight attendant Rene Foss that is now touring nationwide. The 2007 Fringe had similarly intriguing acts on its roster, from modern rewrites of classical myths such as Sophocles' Antigone to original works like I Never Slept with Helen Keller, a drama written by a deaf playwright for a local deaf and blind actor. With highly coveted performance slots being doled out by lottery, not by a panel of judges, the lineup promises uncensored and unpredictable theater—and at $12 (or less) per show, you can get your drama (or comedy or dance) fix without a Broadway blow to the wallet.
...And While You're There
Few cities embrace the arts with the same gusto as Minneapolis, which makes it an ideal place to go culture crazy. You can stroll the sculpture garden at the Walker Arts Center, home to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's iconic (and enormous) Spoonbridge and Cherry; venture inside the Walker to gawk at one of the country's great collections of modern and contemporary art; or check out Intermedia Arts' exhibitions (in 2007, celebrating the role of women in hip-hop). On the banks of the Mississippi, the Tony Award–winning Guthrie Theater is always staging excellent productions; across the river, the University of Minnesota's Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is a Frank Gehry–designed fantasia in stainless steel—and the art inside is pretty amazing, too.
In the Uptown neighborhood, you'll find funky boutiques, sidewalk cafés, and vintage clothing stores. Style-conscious city dwellers shop at Cliché and Local Motion for one-of-a-kind dresses, T-shirts, and summer skirts; the sunny and intimate Design Collective stocks clothing and accessories exclusively by local emerging designers. Bonus for shopping junkies: Minnesota has no sales tax on clothing.
Where to Eat
Minneapolis is home to two 2007 James Beard Foundation award nominees for best chef in the Midwest. At La Belle Vie (612-874-6440), Tim McKee serves French Mediterranean cuisine; at Restaurant Alma (612-379-4909), Alex Roberts uses seasonal and local ingredients to create flavorful dishes like lamb tartar with mint and jalapeño.
Where to Stay
Continue your arts immersion at the sleek, ultramodern Chambers hotel. More than 200 sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs—all from owner Ralph Burnet's personal collection—adorn the year-old hotel's minimalist halls, 60 guest rooms, and open-air courtyard (from $450 a night; 612-767-6900).
For more intimate lodging, head across the river to the historic St. Anthony West neighborhood. Marsha Carlson, the innkeeper at the Victorian LeBlanc House Bed & Breakfast, helps guests start weekend visits with a candlelight breakfast and her specialty, Swedish pancakes topped with lingonberries (from $81 a night; 612-379-2570).