Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Nature, for those in the northern latitudes, is far more than flowers, trees and warm breezes. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, of course, it includes snow. And cold. But nature here also includes lakes, rivers, trails and access to some of the most pristine wilderness in the U.S.
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Beyond the suburban sprawl, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, 50 miles northwest of the Minneapolis, has hiking and Nordic ski trails from which you can watch for dozens of bird species and other wildlife. Numerous lakes within a two-hour drive offer fishing, trails, small beaches and boat ramps. And not much further afield is the vast wilderness of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters canoe area.
Minneapolis has more parkland per 1,000 residents than any other large city in the country — 180 parks in all — along with a connected chain of lakes and the Grand Rounds, a 50-mile loop of trails, paths and roadways around the city.
Culture also shines here. The Minnesota Orchestra is regularly mentioned among the best symphonies in the world. The Guthrie Theater's blue building on the riverfront heads up a list of theater companies and art museums so impressive that Minneapolis was recently included in a "where to go next" list by Travel and Leisure, right next to Rome and Montenegro.
Minneapolis-St. Paul may not be flashy — at one point it led the nation in per capital consumption of Cool Whip — but it is smart: A high share of metro residents have a college degree, and the Twin Cities have finished first or second in a ranking of America's Most Literate Cities several times. The University of Minnesota (enrollment 49,000) dominates higher education in the region, but the area has three-dozen degree-granting institutions and an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
If you want to eat something other than Cool Whip, St. Paul has a burgeoning restaurant scene, anchored by a handful of excellent ethnic restaurants.
A strong spirit of civic responsibility pervades this metropolitan area. More than four in 10 residents do volunteer work.
The Twin Cities has one of the country's lowest rates of death from heart disease. A large percentage of residents exercise regularly, and similarly high numbers don't smoke. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently ranked Minnesota first in the United States for the overall quality of its health care.
What keeps most people away is the bone-rattling cold. The average high temperature stays below freezing for about three months of the year. Longevity in the Twin Cities metro area might be due to the fact that its residents are usually refrigerated.
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