Making the most of Minnesota’s ideal (and ever-fleeting) outdoor event season is a time-honored tradition, but outdoor venues hold a whole new appeal in a post-pandemic landscape.
Plein air events can offer planners plenty of space to safely distance their guests as well as peace of mind to attendees still wary of in-person gatherings—as well as some much-needed screen-free interaction.
While it’s best to connect directly with venue personnel for up-to-date site specifics like gathering capacities and current safety protocols, the following venues offer ample inspiration for your next al fresco fête.
After more than a year spent meeting virtually from the home office, an outdoor event at the heart of the city can feel like a fresh adventure.
Nicollet Island Pavilion
Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, Nicollet Island Pavilion boasts some of the best views of the Minneapolis skyline and its iconic bridges, but its best feature may just be its versatility.
“With outdoor events, you have so much space to create these unique vignettes,” says Mintahoe co-president Suzi Shands. “Between our deck that overlooks the river, the spacious covered tent and our wide-open field next to the pavilion, there’s so much room spread out and define the space based on your event.”
The venue’s serene riverside setting offers planners the perks of a park-like setting and the amenities of a downtown locale. “It’s a little oasis in the middle of the downtown hustle and bustle. You feel like you’re on this peaceful island, but you’re also so close to everything guests would need, including boutique hotels, transportation, parking, you name it.”
Planners can work with the Mintahoe team to coordinate additional amenities needed.
Mill City Museum
Set amid the ruins of the old Washburn A Flour Mill in downtown Minneapolis, Mill City Museum sets a striking scene in a space designed to persevere.
Exposed steel, brick and wood elements merge with masonry walls to create a raw, industrial aesthetic, but the 120-year-old venue’s 520-square-foot open-air courtyard offers a charm all its own.
“If you’re looking for a downtown setting and a historic feel, Mill City is your go-to,” says Rachel Bruzek, design and culinary manager for D’Amico Catering. “There’s this European feel to the courtyard that’s so unique and unexpected that it creates its own retreat within the city. There’s nothing like it—especially at dusk, which adds a whole new level of drama.”
The venue is conveniently located at the center of the city’s historic Mill City District, with easy access to local hotels, the light rail system and MSP Airport.
Minnesota Boat Club
Located across the river from downtown Saint Paul, the Minnesota Boat Club offers guests a true riverside retreat.
“The beauty of the Boat Club is that it’s located on its own island and the cityscapes you can take in from that vantage point are just incredible,” says Shands. “It’s a very intimate, historic setting with river views all the way around.”
The venue features two large outdoor verandas (totaling over 4,000 square feet of outdoor space) perfect for corporate social events, and for groups looking to utilize the Club’s indoor space as well, large glass doors can be kept open to create an open-air atmosphere. “There’s a gorgeous wall of windows that offer tons of natural light and opportunities to open things up and flow the action across both spaces.”
For groups looking to host strictly outdoor events, planners can make use of the Club’s adjacent yards that can be tented and offer unobstructed views of the Mississippi River Valley’s natural beauty and wildlife.
WIDE OPEN SPACES
For groups craving a city escape and a fresh experience in new surroundings, a plethora of natural beauty awaits just miles outside the cities.
Ashery Lane Farm
Just 30 miles west of the Twin Cities, the newly-developed Ashery Lane Farm event center offers planners a luxe retreat in a true farm setting—the estate does double as a working orchard and vineyard after all.
While the property’s brand-new Grand Barn offers rustic elegance indoors, the 45,000-square-foot Great Lawn is an ideal space to spread out and let loose.
“When you're here, you feel completely removed from the rest of the world,” says D’Amico’s Bruzek. “It’s a complete retreat where you can relax in the fresh air and just be, and with the expansive Great Lawn, you’re never tight on space. You can let loose with a few games of bocce ball on our courts or indulge in a stunning al fresco dinner. The idea is to get away.”
From a day of lawn games and scavenger hunts to an impressive and safely distanced meal set against the Farm’s natural backdrop, can work with planners to make the most of the space. While outdoor amenities can be provided by D’Amico, shuttle services are recommended.
7 Vines Vineyard & Winery
Sprawled across 11 panoramic acres just 20 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, 7 Vines Vineyard & Winery has become a true event destination.
“It’s amazing how much 7 Vines visit can feel like a trip to Napa Valley,” says director of hospitality and senior event specialist Lorah Palmer. “We hear it from guests all the time. The minute you drive through the front gate and you’re surrounded by rolling acres of vines, it’s like you’ve been transported.”
Planners can buy out the entire premises or work with the 7 Vines team to reserve a variety of outdoor spaces, including a new manicured patio space (complete with a fire table), and two covered pergolas—all with panoramic views of the vineyard. For events held out on the sprawling lawns, the 7 Vines team can provide tables, umbrellas, and additional amenities.
From art classes, murder mysteries, and wine pairings among the vines to snowshoeing and carriage rides across the property, the 7 Vines team encourages planners to make full use of the vineyard’s ample space, incorporating the vines as a stunning backdrop.