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Saint Paul is a great city to live in. The winters are very long and cold, but the city has so many redeeming factors, you can almost overlook that. Saint Paul has great food, hangouts, and local music - and the people here are friendly and open minded. Recommended.
Saint Paul’s population is just under 300,000. On the whole, Saint Paulians are a pretty blue-collar, hard-working, liberal group. The city was founded by French Canadian traders, and quickly gained an influx of Italian, Irish, German and Swedish immigrants. The influence of each distinct cultural group is still delightfully present. Saint Paul has continued to welcome immigrants, and in the 1980’s, became home to the country’s largest urban contingent of Hmong immigrants from Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam, which now make up 10-15% of the population – a statistic that is ever-growing – and West Saint Paul has been home to a growing community of Mexican immigrants since the 1930’s. Today, the population is just over ½ white, 10% each Hmong and African American, and just under 10% Hispanic. Saint Paul is home to lots of families – many young new ones, and many who have lived in their homes for generations. People are out a lot in Saint Paul – walking dogs, riding bikes, enjoying local parks and restaurants, and striking up conversations with strangers.
If it’s time to eat and you’re in Saint Paul, you’re in luck. Pizza is a big deal here – whether it’s traditional, hand-tossed, enormous slices from Cossetta’s Italian Market & Pizzeria in downtown or Savoy’s crispy thin crust with extra spicy sausage and family-secret sauce – Saint Paul’s pizza rivals that of Chicago or New York any day. Stop in any one of the many Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants along University between Dale and Snelling for a traditionally-prepared, delicately-seasoned meal. The West side is littered with Mexican restaurants to die for, or, if you’re feeling a little fancier, hit up W.A. to Frost and Company on Cathedral Hill, and sit on their stunning outdoor patio and enjoy internationally-inspired cuisine with a local twist.
- Mai Village – Exquisite Vietnamese food at reasonable prices
- Café Latte – Gourmet cafeteria and wine bar on Grand Avenue… a perfect power lunch or romantic first date spot
- Mickey’s Diner – A classic art deco dining car with great malts in the middle of downtown
- Boca Chica – Authentic, fresh Mexican. Yum.
- St. Clair Broiler – Nothing tastes quite as good on a Saturday morning than an omelette from this 50-year institution
Saint Paul’s nightlife is distinct, and comes primarily in the form of neighborhood pubs and local hangouts – comfortable, social, well-lit (usually). These are bars that you go to hang out in for a good chunk of time: play some pool, tell some jokes, embarrass yourself and stumble home. If you want to dance, hit up the Wabasha Street Caves on Thursday nights for a big band and some of the best swing dancing you’ve ever seen. But in terms of nightlife, this is about as much variety as you’re going to find in Saint Paul. If DJs, flashing lights, bouncers and red carpets are more your thing, Saint Paul is not the choice for you. That’s what Minneapolis is for.
- Sweeney’s – One of the best neighbordhood bars in the state
- The Liffey – As Irish as it gets
- Moscow on the Hill – Russian vodka and food... don’t miss it!
- Mancini’s Char House – There’s nothing quite like the old-school supper club vibe of Mancini’s. Plus, the cover bands are awesome. Gold Chains and metallic fabrics encouraged.
Saint Paul is a traditionally middle-class city, and is extremely affordable to live in. Of course, rental costs vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, but it’s not atypical to rent a spacious 2-bedroom for around $1,000/month. Most neighborhoods also offer ample free parking. Trees are everywhere in Saint Paul, which makes most neighborhood streets feel pretty quiet and secluded from the noise of a typical city of Saint Paul’s size.
The most expensive neighborhood is Summit Hill, which overlooks the river and downtown and overflows with turn-of-the-century architecture, Victorian-style mansions and lush, styled yards. The cheapest neighborhoods are more concrete and less trees – and tend toward more crime and COPS-esque outside-the-front-door drama. The good news is, most of Saint Paul is between these extremes, often comfortably so.
Saint Paul abuts Minneapolis (the largest city in Minnesota), and the two cities are connected by Interstate Highway 94, which is great to drive on as long as it’s not between 7:30 – 9:00am or 4:00-6:30pm. The span of 94 between the two cities during rush hour is a bear, and cross-Twin commuters can plan to spend 30-50 minutes making a drive that usually takes 15. Travel east on 94 from Saint Paul, and you’ll head into beautiful downtown Hudson, WI in about 25 minutes.
If you’re going North or South, you’ll take 35E, which usually moves fairly quickly. On the south side of the city, 35E slows to a 45 MPH zone for a few miles, which – though it is brief – can be annoying.
Public transportation in Saint Paul leaves much to be desired, unfortunately. The busses run every 15-30 minutes (depending on the time of day) on all major streets, and are definitely possible to get around on, but you do have to plan your day around it. If you’re commuting to Minneapolis from Saint Paul, plan a 1½ - 2 hour bus ride (yikes!). Most public-transit commuters tend to bike when possible; despite the cold weather, the Twin Cities have a surprisingly large and loyal contingent of cyclists. Saint Paul, however, is a fairly hilly city, which does make commuting in and out of downtown somewhat challenging for bicycle commuters.
City streets aren’t often very congested, however, and are quick-to-learn and easy to navigate for new Saint Paulian drivers. Almost everyone who lives in Saint Paul drives – and most families have multiple cars. Fortunately, free parking is everywhere – and if you do have to pay, chances are you won’t have to pay much.
The best thing to do when looking for an apartment in Saint Paul is shop around – look at lots of different kinds of places… lofts, duplexes, 4 or 6-unit brownstones, single-family homes, in as many neighborhoods as possible. It’s common to stumble upon an affordable gem in Saint Paul, so keep an eye on Craigslist and go on lots of showings.
Free parking is common, so isn’t that great of a perk in Saint Paul. If the apartment you’re looking at doesn’t have laundry on-site, keep looking. Chances are you can find something in your price range with laundry on-site, sometimes even for free.
Spend time scouting out the immediate neighborhood around your apartment – eat at a restaurant, sit on a barstool, talk to the neighbors. Good neighborhoods in a reasonable price range to start with are Cathedral Hill, Highland Park, Como and Phalen.
There’s ALWAYS something going on in Saint Paul. If you need help, pick up a City Pages in pretty much any public place, and scour for the week’s events.
MUSIC – Live music is a daily staple in Saint Paul. Check out the Turf Club or Big V’s in the Midway any night of the week – both are regular Twin Cities hangouts for great local music and rock bands from around the country. If jazz is more your style, head down to the Artists’ Quarter in downtown Saint Paul for live jazz every night featuring phenomenal local musicians. Keep your eye on their calendar for the occasional open mic night as well for some spoken word. Or, if you prefer the classics, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is the only full-time professional chamber orchestra in the country. Saint Paul is also the home of The Current 89.3 – a division of Minnesota Public Radio that broadcasts indie and local music with no commercials.
THEATRE – The Ordway Center for Performing Arts presents all kinds of theatre – from nationally touring musicals to locally-produced revues. Minnesota Public Radio’s Fitzgerald Theatre is most famous for producing “A Prairie Home Companion,” but stop by for music, interviews, and live radio broadcasts as well. The Park Square Theatre produces well-known classics and new plays in repertory, the Penumbra Theatre focuses on plays featuring African-American actors and playwrights, and the Steppingstone Theatre Company produces high-quality theatre for kids.
ARTS – If you’re lucky enough to be in town while the Lowertown Art Crawl is going on, check it out. Otherwise, stop by the Minnesota Museum of American Art or the U of M’s Goldstein Museum of Design.
MUSEUMS – The Science Museum of Minnesota is always a hit – with a beautiful view of the river and an ever-evolving collection of exhibits, you’ll definitely learn something regardless of your age. The Minnesota History Center is the home of everything Minnesota, and also hosts traveling exhibits with a local bent.
SPORTS – In the summer, go see baseball the way it was meant to be seen - at Saint Paul Saints’ Stadium – under the stars, and with a huge polish sausage in your hand. In the winter, the Excel Energy Center in downtown hosts the Minnesota Wild hockey team. For a local treat with a punch and kick, check out a Minnesota Rollergirls bout at Roy Wilkins’ Auditorium.
OUTDOOR – Harriett Island (which is NOT an island, surprisingly enough) is a great park on the river for exploring, throwing and catching, picnicking and the like. The Como Park and Zoo also boasts the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory – a lush floral escape that is open year-round.
SHOPPING - Grand Avenue is the place to be if you have shopping to do… independent children’s bookstores, artisan boutiques, antiques, furniture, gifts, clothing, shoes – you name it, you can find it on Grand Avenue. Plus, you can stop for a great lunch. If you’re the thrifty treasure-hunting type, peruse Frogtown and the Midway for thrift, retro, and hovels for bizarre inventors’ finds.
As a newbie to the city, I’d start with Summit-University, known to the locals as Cathedral Hill. This neighborhood overlooks downtown and includes some of the city’s best bars, affordable rentals and condos, and the beautiful Saint Paul cathedral.
Macalester-Groveland and Highland are also beautiful neighborhoods – lots of old single-family homes, charming restaurants and shops and (especially in Highland) access to the East River Road, which runs along the Mississippi River. You may shell out a little more to live here, but I bet you will love your neighborhood and whichever beautiful little home you buy or apartment you rent.
Como, Hamline-Midway and St. Anthony Park feel similar to these two neighborhoods, if a little smaller-scale and a little more affordable. Hamline-Midway (known to locals as “The Midway”) has its more colorful aspects, particularly along University Avenue after 9pm. Coupled with a dingier feel, however, this part of the neighborhood offers great local music and hangouts at night and really fun thrift and vintage shops to explore by day.
West Seventh is the home of old downtown Saint Paul, and is hit-or-miss in terms of quality rental. Parts of this neighborhood are really charming – just make sure you familiarize yourself with and like the part of West Seventh your apartment or home is in. The Sunny Day Café, the Liffey and multiple antique shops dot this strip of the city with charm and character.
Other good things to know: life almost completely abandons Downtown Saint Paul after 5:00pm. Also, the West Side is actually on the east side of the city.
RADIO – Minnesota Public Radio is headquartered in Saint Paul - tune in to 91.1 for news, 88.5 for classical and jazz, and 89.3 for indie and local music. KFAI 106.7 St. Paul is a volunteer-run local radio station that features music and talk shows on socially-conscious topics of interest.
GROCERY – If it’s summer, don’t miss the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market in downtown. Kowalski’s is an independently-owned, local grocer that carries locally-grown produce, and the Mississippi Market is a fantastic, large co-op with a huge selection of organic and health-conscious options. For more bang for your buck, head to a Cub Foods or Rainbow Foods.
BANKS – Wells Fargo and US Bank are the reigning national chains in Saint Paul, although community banks like Cherokee, Summit Community Bank and Riverview Community Bank are alive and well here.
GYMS – Lifetime Fitness and the YMCA of Greater Saint Paul are the biggest local spots, although there are small yoga, pilates and other fitness centers scattered throughout the city.
NEWS – If you’re a newspaper person, you’ll probably subscribe to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. If you’re a free weekly type, pick up the City Pages for features and events, or The Onion for humor and locally-focused arts and entertainment features. If online news is more convenient for you, go to www.tcdailyplanet.net for local citizen journalism or www.minnpost.com or www.mnspeak.com for editorials and features from the area’s best writers.
In terms of large corporations, The Travelers Companies (insurance), Gander Mountain (camping gear!), and Ecolab (pesticides) are all headquartered in downtown Saint Paul. 3M (scotch tape), which employs 16,000 is often cited as a Saint Paul company, though the corporation is actually in nearby Maplewood, MN.
The best place to look for jobs in Saint Paul is on the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Craigslist. If a nonprofit job is more your speed (nonprofit organizations are numerous in the area), go to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ job board on www.mncn.org. If you’d like to work in the arts, the Springboard for the Arts website has a great job listing board for arts or arts administration openings.
Also worth looking into are a number of locally-headquartered corporations just outside Saint Paul, such as Target Corporation, Best Buy, Medtronic, Boston Scientific, General Mills, Aveda and many others!
Minnesota is a great place to get an education, and Saint Paul truly is the capital city in this regard. In fact, Saint Paul is 2nd in the nation in the number if higher education institutions per capita. Excellent colleges and universities in Saint Paul include Macalester College, Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, the College of St. Catherine, and Concordia College. William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law are also located in Saint Paul.
The Saint Paul Public Schools are one of the most diverse public school districts in the country, and serves about 42,000 students. Students in the district speak 70 different languages – and staff teach in four: English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.
Minnesota was also the first state to champion charter schools, the first of which was opened in Saint Paul in the 1990s.
If you’re buying a home for the first time, look around Como, Hamline-Midway, Merriam Park or Payne/Phalen for affordable starter homes. If you’re an experienced home-buyer with a little more padding your wallet, Highland, Macalester-Groveland, Dayton’s Bluff or Summit-University offer beautiful old Victorian homes with a more intimidating price tag.
If you’re looking for condos, check out lowertown in downtown Saint Paul or Summit-University.
The Twin Cities have the coldest annual average temperature of any major metropolitan area in the country. Don’t be fooled – it gets really cold here in the winters, and the winters can be very long.
However, the great thing about Minnesota is that the summers are so beautiful that every year in July everyone forgets about winter. The summers are warm – 80-100 degress Fahrenheit – and can be humid.
Saint Paul enjoys beautiful, colorful autumns, with mild temperatures and access to nearby apple orchards and pumpkin farms. In the spring, it’s not uncommon to see multiple Saint Paulians going to the store in t-shirts in 50-degree weather… and bicycle riding begins as soon as the icicles start to melt.