As another Minneapolis summer comes to a wistful conclusion, locals inevitably reflect on the season with a review of all the wonderful warm weather activities. Things we take for granted in July become cherished memories in September and October as the looming winter approaches. Minnesotans, I’m convinced, treasure their sun-sheathed days more than citizens of any other state. The soul-suffocating cold that surrounds us for six months gives rise to an appreciation for warmth that Arizonans, for instance, simply can’t fathom. Likewise, despite having what feels like nine minutes of blissful sunshine per year, we’re also one of the healthiest and most active metro areas in America. We should be proud of that.

So, in recognition of the autumn dawn and the slow transition from outdoor running to indoor Monopoly, let’s examine two of the city’s most popular summer destinations: Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.

In my early twenties, I had an apartment on East Calhoun Parkway. It was a 600-square-foot spot that — despite the space constriction that made opening my oven a complicated process, that parking was an impossible enterprise, or that no worse human existed than my sleazy landlord — felt like the place to be. As a young single man, it was exciting to bring friends back to my place residing alongside the aquatic urban oasis that was Lake Calhoun.

There was always something happening. The street itself was always busy with music blaring visitors and the Tin Fish restaurant across the road offered immediate access to a beautiful view and an ice cream cone. The beaches were within a five-minute walking distance; during hot summer days, there was no better place to spend an afternoon. The people-watching was always fascinating as Lake Calhoun seemed to bring out everyone from aimless hipsters to power-walking geriatrics. And, whenever people did drop by my apartment, assuming they didn’t need access to the oven, they always seemed to enjoy the bustling neighborhood.

At some point, however, as the bachelor in his early twenties gave way to the boyfriend in his late twenties, the same characteristics that had once been so attractive began feeling objectionable. Sleeping was always an adventure as the noise-level maintained a constantly irritating octave. The neighbors in the same building, of which there were only two, partied until 3 a.m. on what felt like every Tuesday night. Also, the expense to live in my tiny shack started to feel like a silly waste of money when I could’ve had twice the living space in a less centralized location.

Today my wife and I own a home nearer Lake Harriet. Our early thirties sensibility, I suppose, more closely aligns with Lake Calhoun’s southern sister. Though we remember the “cool apartment” on Calhoun fondly, these days we much prefer the quietude of Harriet during our dog walks. The bandstand is also a very unique lakeside attraction that I don’t think we appreciated a decade earlier. Ultimately, Lake Harriet now offers everything I enjoy about the lakes — scenery, beaches, restaurants, parks — without the frat boy dynamic.

Let me also be careful not to overstate the two lakes’ distinction. It isn’t as though one is Cancun, Mexico, and the other is Branson, Missouri. Both are fairly tame, family-friendly, picturesque destinations. Lake Harriet, however, more closely fits my current definition of outdoor fun than does Lake Calhoun.


By Jacob Westlin