Rochester is the third largest city in Minnesota, behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul. Home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, Rochester also offers a small town vibe in the shape of a welcoming community and city-wide celebrations.
Blending a lively downtown district with natural spaces, Rochester has a vibrant history that’s still evident today. Some of the best things to do in Rochester include visiting the eminent Mayowood Mansion, exploring the outdoors at Quarry Hill Nature Center, and touring the Rochester Art Center.
Whether you’re seeking a breather in nature close to the urban landscape or a city experience in Minnesota, Rochester provides a wide array of attractions worth exploring as well as an expansive bike trail network that leads straight to them.
Visit Rochester Art Center
Located along the edges of Zumbro River, Rochester Art Center houses a massive collection of multicultural and multimedia works of art intended to connect visitors to the city’s way of life. Rochester Art Center has been in business for more than 70 years, and the current building provides magnificent viewing from the outside.
Stepping inside the Rochester Art Center, you’ll discover a vast collection of treasures. It not only offers an ever-changing showcase of works from emerging and nationally known artists, but also offers lots of ways to engage, giving something new for every visit. It plays host to community programs such as its summer youth camps, adults’ creative development series, and even kids’ dance parties.
Shop at Downtown Peace Plaza & Apache Mall
For a great dining and shopping experience in Rochester, Peace Plaza is an amazing place to start. Located near the Mayo Clinic, it’s a pedestrian-friendly public place that provides quick access to all that downtown Rochester has in store. With first-class restaurants, modern civic assembly space, and fashionable boutiques, Peace Plaza oozes the welcoming vibe felt throughout Rochester.
An extensive network of underground walkways and skywalks stem from the plaza and spread all over the downtown area, offering a climate-controlled method of travel as you browse the various restaurants and shops. You can rent out the Peace Plaza for truly memorable occasions among the picturesque streets of the city’s downtown.
For all your favorite brands, check out the Apache Mall. It’s home to over 100 stores, including Build-a-Bear, SCHEELS, H&M, Macy’s, American Eagle, Tradehome, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, and plenty more. If you need to recharge your batteries, the Apache Mall is also home to great restaurants, including Applebee’s, HuHot, and Red Lobster.
Explore Silver Lake
Lake Silver is a lovely freshwater reservoir found in southeastern Minnesota, on Zumbro River’s South Fork, about a mile north of the downtown area. Most of this waterbody is surrounded by a public park, and it is home to the Rochester Rowing Club. You can partake in jogging, biking, rollerblading, gazing at the gigantic Canada geese, or simply enjoying a leisurely stroll around the lake.
You can picnic and tour the handicapped-friendly Children’s Adventure Playground, or swim in the pool outside. There’s also a tier 1 skate park here. For fishermen, common species include Bluegill, White Sucker, and Black Crappie.
Take a Glimpse of History at Plummer House
The Plummer House is a cultural attraction in Rochester that Dr. and Mrs. Stanley Plummer used to called home. It’s directly linked to the neighboring Mayo Clinic. As Mayo Clinic’s co-founder and innovator, Dr. Plummer oversaw the construction of Plummer House from 1917.
Over 100 years later, this historic building has been carefully maintained and members of the public can take a peek at the past. Visitors are free to walk around the manicured lawns and gardens during the day, and guided Tudor mansion tours are done on Wednesday from June to August.
Rochesterfest is a 7-day festival that brings the people of Rochester together for a wide variety of family-friendly activities every June. From treasure hunts to triathlons, as well as a Grand Parade, food vendors, and live music, Rochester abounds with attractions and is an amazing place to get the summer fun started. Rochesterfest truly celebrates the city and aims to attract new visitors to enjoy all of the fun.
Tour Rochester Civic Theatre
Rochester Civic Theatre is a not-for-profit organization that aims to educate and enrich the lives of the youth and adults of Rochester through the production and presentation of live theater, music, and dance.
It’s Rochester’s number one producer and presenter of professional and community theater, live music, and dance. The Rochester Civic Center was founded in 1951 and is a multidisciplinary award-winning association. Its performances feature local, national, and international artists. Moreover, the organization’s education department provides classes, advanced training, and work opportunities for all actors.
Take Rochester Food Tours
From April to October, you can take guided connoisseur food tours in downtown Rochester, every Friday and Saturday. Each tasting is conducted by a locally owned restaurant or specialty food store. Visitors are treated to a delicious variety of dishes that make for a hearty lunch. They also learn the tales behind the local eateries.
Between tastings, visitors will get to understand Rochester’s architectural, cultural, and historical highlights. The tour is ideal for locals and outsiders who want to widen their knowledge of culinary experiences. The whole tour comes with a neighborhood guide and costs $42 for adults.
Visit Mayowood Mansion
Mayowood Mansion was built in 1911 by Dr. Charles H. Mayo, the co-founder of Mayo Clinic. It boasts more than 40 rooms, embellished with lovely American, English, German, French, and Spanish antiques, as well as Dr. Mayo’s attractive arts collection.
Mayowood Mansion also features beautiful gardens teeming with color in the warmer months. In 1965, Dr. Mayo’s family handed over the home and 10 acres to Olmsted County Historical Society so that the public could visit and enjoy the historic estate. Soon after, Mayowood Mansion was declared a historic site of Minnesota. While it’s not open during the winter, it offers special Christmas tours during the holidays.
Enjoy Mayo Civic Center
Covering over 200,000 square feet, Mayo Civic Center has loads of space to explore. In fact, it’s one of the biggest event venues in southern Minnesota. Playing host to exhibition and semi-pro sporting events, local and international music performances, as well as numerous business meetings, conventions, and conferences, Mayo Civic Center plays an integral role in the Rochester community.
In 2017, it was expanded to include an architecturally eye-catching front wall and a second-floor giant ballroom. While there’s a lengthy list of performances and shows to pick from, one easy way to enjoy Mayo Civic Center is simply relaxing on the riverfront patio that overlooks the beautiful Zumbro River.
Hit the Bike Trails
Hitting the bike trails is one of the best methods to get some workout while exploring Rochester. There are plenty of different trails found throughout the city, with over 85 miles of organized biking trails as well as inline skating or walking.
They bring together cyclists and other people to lovely natural sites such as Silver Lake. The scenic waterfront route cuts through downtown, providing easy access to places like Rochester Art Center and numerous shopping outlets. You not only can enjoy the Rochester’s attractions, but also marvel at the city’s wildlife within the same urban landscape.
Tour Quarry Hill Nature Center
To connect with all kinds of animals, take a tour of Quarry Hill Nature Center. It is located in a massive park spanning 329 acres, with imposing biking and hiking trails, historic sandstone caves, and limestone fossil quarry.
Discover 35 different live animal species that together with exotic species call Minnesota home, a giant aquarium with 7 different fish varieties, as well as a Saw-whet owl.
Welcome to Rochester, MN!
There’s so much to do and see in Rochester, Minnesota. In fact, this city draws thousands of tourists every year. The Mayo Clinic on its own is the hub of Rochester’s economy, attracting over 2 million visitors yearly.
Haron Omaita is a freelance writer from Nakuru, Kenya, who specializes in ghostwriting, guest blogging, copywriting, proofreading, and editing. As a keen traveler and whole foods aficionado, he also contributes insightful travel and tourism articles to Better Wander. He’s mad about road trips, soccer, and reading.