Here's what to do in Minneapolis, if you don't know anything all, don't have access to Google, and think Potbelly is fine dining. However, if you're willing to try a little harder than that, the next time you find yourself with 48 hours to spend in Minneapolis, here's what you should do instead:
Friday, 5:00 pm: Arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). Take the light rail downtown if you're up for an adventure. If you're tired and weary from flying, take a taxi. It's not cheap, though it'll cost less than cabbing it in from larger airports in larger cities like NYC & Chicago.
Don't stay out by the airport or the Mall of America. Nothing there is on a pedestrian scale, thus it will be a baffling ordeal just to get coffee in the morning. Instead, stay in downtown Minneapolis. Check your favorite travel site (such as Expedia, Orbitz or Hotels.com) for a 3.5-4.5 star hotel. Avoid the Embassy Suites, Hyatt Place or Normandy; they've all seen better days. Consider the Millennium; it recently underwent massive renovation and was nice even before that. Other solid choices include the Radisson Blu, Hyatt, or Marquette. The W Hotel (Foshay) is hip and young. The Grand Hotel provides old school elegance. (We haven't stayed at the Grand yet; but it's on our list for a future visit.) (Hotel list revised March 2015.)
Friday, 7:00 pm: Like steak? Don't go to Capital Grille. It's actually fine, but it's a chain, a place you can find in any big city nowadays. Local options abound. SEVEN is hip and upscale. Murray's is the oldest of the old school. Manny's is a bit like how I imagine Morton's of Chicago was, once upon a time. JD Hoyt's is more of an old school supper club, but the room is nice and the food is fantastic.
Sadly, most of the vegetarian places I used to love seem to have closed. But if you're looking to avoid meat, I have a novel suggestion: Fogo de Chao. It is a Brazilian steakhouse, a churrascaria. But trust me -- vegetarians will find much to love here as long as you don't mind watching other people gorge on steak. Instead of approximately $50 for all you can eat steak, you can opt-for the approximately $25 "salad bar only" choice. Their salad bar is to die for. It makes all other salad bars cry in shame. I actually most often go to this restaurant just for lunch, and just for the salad course. It is thick with vegetables and cheeses, potatoes and pasta salads. Freshly dressed asparagus. Fresh mozzarella. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Friday, 8:00 pm: As noted in that other article, Minneapolis has a strong and thriving theatre and music scene. Check the City Pages to see what your options are for the evening. TC Tix is also a good place to check, it's a "half price tickets" site. If nothing appeals to you, jump in a cab and head over to the Whiskey Junction bar. There will be a band. It will be local. It will probably be blues or classic rock. The scene may be silly. It will definitely be fun.
If you like jazz, then you're in luck. The area has two fantastic jazz clubs. My favorite is the Artists' Quarter, located in Downtown St. Paul. It's worth the cab ride there and back. I have a bias in that I've known the owner for years and have always loved this place. Don't take my word for it, though -- the reviews, universally positive, often say things like "this is what a jazz club should be:" dark, subterranean, not expensive.
Friday, 11:00 pm: Need a nightcap? Kieran's Irish Pub in the block E complex is a bright spot in an otherwise dull development block. Kieran owns a few pubs around, and he has a knack for taking something that starts as office space in a glass office block and turning into something that looks and feels authentic (or at least very fun). There is often live music.
Saturday, 10:00 am: For the love of god, don't go to Potbelly. If it's nice out and you want to go for a very short walk to get your coffee, walk to a specific downtown Dunn Brothers coffee shop at 201 3rd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401. It's a neat, old historic two-story brick building. The coffee is great, the service is good, and they'll be plenty of light breakfast options. If you have a car, head over to the French Meadow Bakery/Cafe on Lyndale Avenue South. Their menu is large, mostly organic, and fantastic. Be patient; it can take some time to order and find a table.
Saturday, 11:00 am: The Mississippi River is one of the stunning natural features of the area. If you can't find anything at or near the river, you're dead inside and need to stop writing travelogues. Nicollet Island, St. Anthony Main, and the Mill Ruins Park are just a few of the things you'll find near downtown. If you're up for a drive, take the south river road south/east bound out of downtown Minneapolis, and follow it down toward Minnehaha Falls, at the confluence of the river and Minnehaha Creek. It's a great place for an informal hike or a bike ride (rentals available). The Sea Salt Eatery is highly ranked and worth checking out.
Saturday, 2:00 pm: The Mall of America is fun to visit if you like to shop or have kids (and patience). If that's not your thing, take the kids to Historic Fort Snelling instead. If the weather's not nice, go see a movie at the fancy Showplace ICON movie theatre in St. Louis Park. Premium VIP seating with cushy leather chairs, gourmet food and a full bar will make it a movie-going experience you'll not soon forget.
Saturday, 6:00 pm: I guess you could go see a baseball game, if that's your thing. Or you could experience the arts up close at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a wonderful museum of fine art located in South Minneapolis. Admission is free.
Sunday, 9:00 am: Don't eat breakfast at your hotel. Hop in the car and head over to St. Paul's Cathedral Hill area. The Cathedral itself is very pretty, and you can kill time walking around while waiting for W.A. Frost to open at 10:30 am for brunch.
Sunday, 12:00 pm: After a long and leisurely brunch, Mark's suggestions aren't too bad. He recommends visiting the Minnesota History Museum and Science Museum of Minnesota, both located in downtown St. Paul.
Sunday, 5:00 pm: If you've got time for an early dinner before departure, for the love of all that is holy, don't eat sad pizza at some place that has no windows. Go to Pizza Luce, a local chain with multiple locations. Their gourmet pizza is quite possibly the best pizza you may ever have in your entire life. And they have slices ready for easy snacking, if you're on the run.