52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #21: Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

For the past few weeks, I’ve prepared for a visit with some friends from England. This is their first time in Minnesota. They arrived last Friday and are staying at my house until later in September.

While planning for this visit, I had to step back from my normal daily routine and think about what it would be like to be a tourist here, in this place where I’ve always lived. What do people come to the Twin Cities to see?

Well, there is the shamelessly money-grubbing entity that is the Mall of America. Biggest shopping mecca in the country with carnival rides for a bit of diversion. But my friends were explicit in their wishes to NOT go there. Okay with me.

Up next: the arts scene. The Twin Cities are loaded with museums and galleries and music venues and literary events. We have the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a wonderful museum that offers enough to keep an arts patron busy for an entire day. We have the Walker Art Center, an explosion of modern art with an outdoor sculpture garden. The Mill City Museum. The Minnesota History Center. The Science Museum of Minnesota. The Dakota Jazz Club, for after the museums are closed for the day. And on and on.

After thinking about it all quite a lot, I decided to start with something obvious: a tour of our state capitol building. On Saturday morning, we piled into my car, drove to St. Paul, and walked up the wide marble steps of the capitol, taking a moment to turn around to see the St. Paul skyline spread out below. Then we queued up for the tour at noon. We had a fantastic tour guide with a sense of humor that kept everyone engaged. As we went from point to point on the tour, I thought about how I had not come to tour my own capitol outside of going as a chaperone for my kid’s school group. As a chaperone, I spent far less time listening than I did watching grade-schoolers wander away from the group to touch something they shouldn’t. I loved my discovery that these tours were kind of fun.

Would I have done this tour without the prompt provided by hosting guests?

The day after we toured the capitol, we went on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. We launched from Harriet Island in St. Paul. I had gone on my brother’s boat out of Stillwater plenty of times, but had not gone on a riverboat cruise just for fun. As we sat back and listened to the audio that provided stories of old St. Paul, Pig’s Eye Parrant, and Fort Snelling, I thought how little attention I pay to the history I’ve grown up with.

Today, I’ll take my friend to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a place that I’ve gone to many times for classes, field trips, Sunday afternoons with my parents when I was little. I’m already wondering what will strike me differently as I try to see this all through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been there before. And I’m thinking beyond this visit with friends to the simple idea of being a tourist in my own town. To looking again at familiar things as if for the first time.

What would you show me if I came to visit you?


  1. I would show you a spot which is close to the centre of our town, where kangaroos lounge and bold swans beg. I would show you our National Gallery, and the National Library. I hope I would have asked you want you would most want to see.


  2. That sounds perfect! I would especially love to see the kangaroos. Before my friends arrived, I sent an email list of all kinds of links to things here so they could see what interested them and they did a little internet surfing themselves. One of the things they chose that surprised me was the Minnesota Zoo and that's where we're headed today. Then they told me general sorts of things, like an interest in history, which was how we chose to start with the state capitol. It's been a really nice visit so far.


  3. Lovely post, Kathleen! I'm trying to be a tourist in my hometown as of late. If you visited El Paso, I would take you to Transmountain Rd so from high atop the mountains, you could look over the lights of this little city. It's like looking down on a starry sky.


  4. If you came to Bakersfield, I would take you around downtown to see the murals that depict Kern County life. We'd go to Pioneer Village (I've been wanting to go there ever since while on a cruise, we met a Russian couple from San Francisco told us it was wonderful. Pitiful, isn't it?) We'd go see productions at some of our fine local theatres, to our excellent Bakersfield Museum of Art, and to Hart Park to see the peacocks. It would be fun to show you around!


  5. Annis, it's so nice to see you here again. I've never been to Bakersfield. Your story about the Pioneer Village makes me think about the Gangster Tour I went on with my friends on Saturday; it's a wonderful tour about how life was in another era here in the Twin Cities and I had managed for years to ignore this fun event that was right under my nose. It took guests from another country to get me to it! And my friends had a blast.

    I hope you get to Pioneer Village soon. Don't wait any longer. 🙂


  6. Well Kathleen, Nothern Ireland is famous for its scenery, so if you came to Warrenpoint I would show you the Mountains of Mourne which, as in the words of the famous song, really do sweep down to the sea. In fact, the stretch of water is called Carlingford Lough and it featured in my poem of the same name on Every Day Poets. Being an inlet of the Irish Sea, it is in fact a sea lough rather than a land locked lake(or loch as it is known in Scotland)

    We could then go for a short drive cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, or The South, as we call it and visit the pretty village of Carlingford and look back across the lough at Warrenpoint nestling in the bay. Of course, no trip to Northern Ireland would be complete without a drive to Oonah's neck of the woods in County Antrim to see The Giant's Causeway, finishing off at Bushmills Disillery for a sample of the famous whiskey! 🙂



  7. That sounds like a pretty good trip to me! I've been to the Republic of Ireland, once, in 2005 when my husband had a conference to attend. We were in Newbridge, visited Dublin, then drove across the country to Westport and hiked up Crough Patrick. It was a magical trip. I'd love to come to Northern Ireland.


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