Thrifty GALA Festival Guide

By  GALA Expert 

 February 20, 2024 


Welcome to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul! While Festival offers a great many entertainment options included with your delegate registration, there is certainly much more to do and see if you’ve got the time. Also, while downtown Minneapolis is not the most inexpensive of cities, there are several ways to enjoy it while keeping to a slim budget. Here are a few ideas.

A stylized line drawing of a bird made from a treble clef, and staff paper



This section covers two aspects of transportation – getting to Minneapolis, and getting around Minneapolis. 

Getting to Minneapolis – Flying
The Minneapolis Airport (MSP) consists of two terminals: Terminal #1 – the main Lindbergh Terminal and Terminal #2 – the Humphrey Terminal.  MSP is presently served by a wide range of carriers both national and international. Terminal 1 receives flights from Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air Choice One, Air France, Alaska Airlines, American, Boutique Air, Delta, Frontier, KLM, Spirit and United. Terminal 2 carriers include Condor, Icelandair, JetBlue, Southwest, and Sun Country. With a bit of luck and persistence, you should be able to find a flight to fit your style and budget.

Thrifty Tip #1: Don’t base your airline decision on the first prices that pop up. Some bargain carriers look amazingly low priced at the front end, but will charge you for the seat you select, any and all luggage, plus toss in a 7 hour layover somewhere between here and there.  So get the full picture of what you’ll be paying for before you commit anything to your debit or credit card.

Thrifty Tip #2: Travel light—this is always a challenge for Festival—performance shoes, comfy shoes, performance clothes, see and be seen clothes, casual clothes; these fill up a bag or two pretty quick! Since airlines often charge for checking a bag, checking additional bags, and sometimes for even having a bag, fewer is better.

Thrifty Tip #3: An option you might wish to investigate is shipping some of it ahead. Priority Mail flat rate from the Postal Service usually takes 2-3 days to most destinations, and ships for a fixed price no matter where they’re headed or how much they weight (up to a maximum of 70 lbs). So, if you can separate out the things you won’t need for a few days at home, consider shipping them ahead to be waiting for you here. With additional bag fees running around $50 and up, shipping ahead can be a saver. Notify your hotel that a package is on the way; they’re generally happy to secure it until you arrive. At the end of the trip you can ship everything home – your tired body will thank you for not making it carry that heavy suitcase to the end of the concourse!                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Getting to Minneapolis – Train
The Amtrak “Empire Builder” serves the Twin Cities, on a route extending from Seattle or Portland to Chicago. Chicago to St Paul takes about 8 hours, while Seattle to St Paul takes about 2 nights. If you have some flexibility, the additional time may be worthwhile (though you’ll have additional food needs as well), and you can likely bring all the luggage you’ll need at no additional charge.

Do note that Amtrak’s on-time performance has not been stellar, particularly crossing the Dakotas, and a “late” train may be very late indeed. Still, can be a fun trip, particularly with a friend or two, and if you’re one of the lucky who sleeps easily on trains.

The train arrives and departs from St Paul Union Station, so you’ll need to also get from there to downtown Minneapolis for the Festival. See Getting Around Minneapolis for local transportation options, particularly the Green Line LRT which  connects St. Paul Union Station with downtown Minneapolis.

Getting to Minneapolis – Bus
Jefferson Lines and Greyhound serve Minneapolis/St Paul. The Minneapolis station is at 516 2nd Ave N, several blocks, but walkable from the performance venues, or a short ride-share if your luggage is too much to face alone.

Getting Around Minneapolis

Buses and Light Rail (best value option)
Minneapolis is well served by affordable public transportation. The local transportation network is MetroTransit ( In addition to Visitor (day) Passes, a 50 cent downtown zone, and some limited free Nicollet Mall buses serving the Convention Center.

With the Metro Transit Mobil app, you can purchase, store, and present tickets, view schedules, plan trips, and check on bus locations. Download the free app on Google Play or the App Store. You can even purchase rides before you arrive – which may simplify transit from the airport, the train station, or just around town. Note that fares paid in cash on buses must be exact; drivers do not handle cash or make change. The app and pass options make transit much easier.

The standard fare on buses and light rail is $2.00, which allows rides and transfers for up to 2.5 hours. The fare increases to $2.50 at rush hour (Mon-Fri 6-9 am and 3-6:30 pm), and may increase further on express buses (mainly serving suburban destinations). Reduced fares for older adults or patrons with disabilities are available. All MetroTransit services are wheelchair accessible.

Getting to and from the Airport
Both terminals are served by the Blue Line light rail (as well as a bus or two). The Blue Line ride from MSP to downtown Minneapolis takes about 25 minutes, and trains run every 10 minutes during the day – evening trips are less frequent at 15-30 minutes.

How to ride the Blue Line LRT from MSP

  • Follow signs in both terminals – you need to walk a bit. Remember that trains are frequent so you don’t have to rush. Terminal 1 may also take a short tram ride to get you to the station.
  • Purchase a ticket at a ticket kiosk before boarding (or use the MetroTransit mobile app). Fares may be purchased at kiosks with credit/debit cards or cash (in small bills). The fare is $2.50 during rush hours – Mon-Fri 6-9 am and 3-6:30pm. At all other times and weekends it is $2.00.
    • Keep your ticket – it is good for 2.5 hours, and you may transfer to other buses or light rail.
    • Tickets may be checked on LRT, and there is a substantial fine for riding without paying the fare.
  • The Blue Line runs from the airport terminals both north (toward downtown) and south (toward the Mall of America). Look for signs saying either Downtown, Northbound, or both to make sure you are on the correct side of the platform.
  • When the train arrives, the doors usually open automatically; however, if the weather is unusually fierce, you may need to push the button to open the door (this helps conserve the air conditioning). Get on board, find a seat, and enjoy the ride.
  • There are several downtown stops. Figure out which one best matches where you are staying or going (the MetroTransit Mobile App’s trip-planner is very helpful for this). For most Convention Center adjacent hotels, the Nicollet Mall stop is probably best. Downtown stops in order:
    • US Bank Stadium
    • Government Center
    • Nicollet Mall
    • Hennepin Avenue
    • Target Field
  • All Downtown stops serve both the Blue Line light rail which serves south Minneapolis, the Airport and the Mall of America, and the Green Line light rail which serves the University of Minnesota and St Paul. Take care that you observe which train you are boarding, using the Green or Blue indicator, and the prominent destination signs.

Other Options from the Airport
The Twin Cities are served by the two largest app-based ride services, Uber and Lyft. Signs within the MSP terminals will direct you to the pickup locations for these “app-based ride services”, which are typically less expense than taxicabs. A typical fare from MSP to downtown will be $20-$30, depending on time of day, driver availability, and traffic volume. Surge pricing can increase this dramatically.

Taxis are available as well; follow signs in the terminals for Ground Transportation. Expect a rate of   $39-$49, plus gratuity.

Super Shuttle is around $16 one way for shared ride service to downtown hotels; roundtrips may be cheaper, and this may be an excellent choice for several travelers arriving at the same time.

Other Options around Downtown Minneapolis
Getting-Around Minneapolis – Learn about bike & scooter rentals, public transit and driving in Minneapolis. Scroll down to ‘Explore this section’ to see all of the options available.      

: The same app-based ride share services serving the airport do considerable business in the downtown core.


Festival Hotel Housing: When housing opens, book as early as possible for the best selection of available rooms. Examine options when they are announced to select your top preferences, before they open to reservations. Factors include –

Sharing: if you’re comfortable sharing a bed, and occasionally close quarters, 4 people can stay in rooms with two queen beds, and split the cost; per person this is often quite affordable.

Amenities: Rooms with a kitchenette can be a lifesaver for the thrifty traveler – being able to prepare some of your own meals is a real savings, provided the room cost remains reasonable. Even a small fridge or a microwave can improve the situation for breakfast or a quick bite (might want to pack a set of plastic utensils, or grab them at the grocery deli.) If rooms with kitchenettes or appliances are not available, hotels that provide a breakfast buffet can help to cover at least one meal per day.

Food and Beverage

If your room has kitchenette, fridge and/or microwave, you can easily manage some of your meals ‘in’. Some hotels will provide small refrigerators for an additional charge; others provide them standard.

Even if this is not an option, grocery stores often have a selection of minimal prep or grab-n-go items that can be considerably cheaper than restaurants and coffee shops. Depending on the item, most groceries are not taxed; whereas restaurant and hospitality taxes in Minneapolis are unfortunately not low, particularly in the downtown core.

Another Minnesota quirk to be aware of – grocery stores do not sell strong alcoholic beverages; you must go to a liquor store for everything from beer/wine to the hard stuff. However, many of the stores below have an adjacent liquor store that they own and operate.

Groceries, Markets, Liquor Stores

  • Target. Nicollet Mall and 9th Street. A very short walk from the performance venues, has a good grocery with many convenience items such as sandwiches, salads, and beverages. Adjacent liquor store.
  • Walgreens. 655 Nicollet Mall. Primarily a drug store, but has an aisle or two of food items.
  • Lunds & Byerly’s. Hennepin Avenue and 12th Street. Another short walk from the performance venues, this is probably the nearest full-feature grocery. Adjacent liquor store.
  • Whole Foods. 222 Hennepin Avenue (Hennepin and Washington). More of a hike from the performance spaces, but doable, and the free Nicollet Mall buses can get you much closer (debark at the Library, and walk from there). Several organic and specialty items, not all of them bargain priced. Adjacent liquor store. Near the Gay 90’s nightclub and bar.
  • Trader Joe’s. 721 S Washington Avenue. Grocery chain with a variety of signature items plus produce, dairy, and more. Another urban hike, or short bus ride from the performance venues. Adjacent liquor store. Close to some river corridor hotels (ALoft, Radisson Red), and the Eagle BOLT gay bar.
  • Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. Long running, year-round, seasonal farmer’s market, with veggies, fruit, meats, hummus, honey, and more. The big market runs daily, 6 am to 1 pm, at 312 East Lyndale Avenue North, which is about 1.3 miles from the performance venues. Satellite markets are held on Nicollet Mall between 6th & 9th Street on Thursdays from 6am to 6pm, and at the Hennepin County Government Center (300 S 6th Street) on Tuesdays from 10 am to 1 pm. Some cash in hand is recommended, as not all vendors take plastic.
  • Mill City Farmer’s Market. Another year-round market open Saturdays only from 8 am to 1 pm. Located at 704 S 2nd St, a healthy hike from the performance venues, but close to river corridor hotels (ALoft, Radisson Red) and the Stone Arch Bridge. Not all vendors process plastic, so some cash in hand is recommended, but you can purchase market tokens in $5 increments (plus a service fee) with your credit or debit card. Vendors accept tokens, and give change in cash.
  • Rainbow Road, a gay gift shop with friendly, chatty staff!
  • Other independent liquor stores include Haskell’s (81 S 9th St, near Target), and Greenway Liquors at 105 W Grant St (near Rainbow Road).

Restaurants and Cafés
Note that many fast casual and fast-food locations in the downtown core have limited or no weekend or holiday hours and most are closed on Sundays.

  • $
    • Chipotle – 1040 Nicollet Mall. National burrito chain
    • Eggy’s – 120 W 14th St. All day breakfast and lunch diner
    • Food Trucks – various downtown locations and beyond, look for them near the Convention Center and Central Lutheran Church serving the Gala Festival crowd.
    • Lotus – 113 W Grant St. Vietnamese food, phở, spring rolls
    • QDoba – Nicollet Mall & 10th St (in the skyway). National taco & burrito chain
    • Subway – 1260 Hennepin Ave. National sandwich chain (open weekends)
    • Subway – Nicollet Mall & 9th St (in the skyway). National sandwich chain (closed weekends)
    • Trieste Café – 10 S 5th St. Lunch diner featuring very affordable fresh Greek salads and specialties. Great for solo dining.
  • $$
    • Barrio – 925 Nicollet Mall. Latin cuisine and tequila bar (over 100 varieties!) A number of “small plates”, and some good happy hour specials for the thrifty diner.  
    • Bulldog – 1111 Hennepin Ave. Pub grub and nightly beer specials.
    • Buca di Beppo – 1204 Harmon Pl. “Family-style” Italian fare. That means bring a group and share – “plates” are intended to serve 3 or more!
    • Devil’s Advocate – 1070 Nicollet Mall. Scratch kitchen focusing on bold flavors and fresh ingredients.
    • Hell’s Kitchen – 80 S 9th St. Long-running (since 2002!) fiercely independent, award-winning restaurant, offering breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner, and brunch on weekends, with a, ahem, unique atmosphere and décor. No connection to Gordon Ramsay or the TV show; features quality cooking and a vibrant bar.
    • Newsroom – 990 Nicollet Mall. Eclectic restaurant, lounge, & wine bar.
    • Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery – 825 Hennepin Ave. Pub grub and a rotating list of interesting beers brewed on-site.
    • CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar – 825 Hennepin Ave (above Rock Bottom). Something for every diner – features Vegan/plant-based, Vegetarian, Keto, Paleo, and Gluten-Free specialties, plus poke, sushi, and sashimi. Has a “10 for $10” lunch special menu. Ask about roof-top seating!
    • Brit’s Pub – 1110 Nicollet Mall. Classic English pub fare and draught beers, plus roof-top lawn bowling.
    • Key’s Café – 114 S 9th St (Foshay Tower). Local institution offering massive piles of American diner food and all-day breakfast for the extremely hungry diner.
    • Hen House Eatery – 114 S 8th St. Breakfast and lunch joint serving eggs, sandwiches, salads, and burgers.
    • The Local – 931 Nicollet Mall. Cead Mile Failte! Tasty Irish pub fare in a convivial and lovely bar featuring whisky and Irish taps. Ask about the “wee lunch” menu, and the “late night” menu for extra-affordable specials.
  • $$$
    • Owamni – 420 S. 1st St near the Stone Arch Bridge. Owned by the award-winning Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman has dedicated his career to promoting Indigenous food systems and Native food sovereignty. If you want to eat inside the restaurant book your reservation weeks before you arrive! Otherwise, patrons can walk up for lunchtime outdoor seating.

Bars and Brew Pubs

  • LGBTQ+
    • The 19 Bar. 19 W 15th St. Long-lived cozy neighborhood bar. Near the Convention Center.
    • The Saloon. 830 Hennepin Ave. Energizing atmosphere, pulsing dance floors, numerous bars.
    • Eagle MPLS 515 S Washington Ave. Somewhere between a neighborhood bar and a night club, with a great outdoor patio, long happy hour, food, and great themed nights for bears, underwear, and fetish gear.
    • LUSH. 990 Central Ave NE. Community space for the whole community, with restaurant, bar, and entertainment venue and dance floor. All gender restrooms and a vast outdoor patio.
    • The Black Hart, formerly the Townhouse, 1415 University Ave W.  Hamline Station stop on the Green Line. Neighborhood, queer, and soccer bar (close to Allianz Field) in the Midway neighborhood of St Paul. Check the calendar for drag shows, burlesque, bingo and karaoke.
    • Gay 90’s. 408 Hennepin Ave. One building, 6 bars, 3 dance floors. An institution. Full service menu, nightly drag shows, many specials.
    • Roxie’s Cabaret & Nicollet Diner (open 24 hrs). 1333 Nicollet Ave – one block from the Convention Center. Drag shows, karaoke, bingo, game night, movie night and stand-up comedy 7 nights a week with drag brunch every Sunday. Exquisite cocktails and a hearty menu before, during and after the show.
    • Any bar in town with more than a few GALA chorus members present. Paint that rainbow all over town!
  • Brew pubs 
    • Surly Brewing, 520 Malcolm Ave SE. Green Line Prospect Park Station stop. Bustling venue with tavern grub & several microbrews, plus an upstairs eatery ($$$) with beer pairings.
    • Fulton Brewing Taproom, 414 N 6th Ave. Target Field Station stop on Green or Blue Line (northbound).
    • Northeast Minneapolis and Northeast Arts District: Indeed, Boom Island, Dangerous Man, 612 Brew, Bauhaus, Sociable Cider Werks, Urban Growler, and more, many of them in or adjacent to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, a large area of galleries, artist lofts, venues, and restaurants. Many brew pubs do not serve food, but are served by a rotation of food trucks and/or delivery, which you may enjoy onsite with your tasty beverage.

Things to Do and See

Festival will have nearly non-stop activities for you to participate in, all included in your delegate registration. But if you’re hankering for a change of scene, Minneapolis has several free and low cost ways to entertain yourself and your friends old and new. A small selection is listed here:

American Indian Cultural Corridor.  Franklin Ave between Cedar and Chicago Ave – a quick bus ride. Minneapolis is home to one of the largest concentrations of urban Native Americans in the U.S and Franklin Avenue is the heart of this community. This presence is visible in the various American Indian institutions clustered on and around the avenue, including urban tribal offices, the American Indian Center, All My Relations Arts Gallery, The Four Sisters Market, restaurants and cultural gathering places.

Bike Trails – Over 51 miles of trail in the Minneapolis Grand Rounds alone; with many other spur trips farther afield. Information on Bike rentals at

Birchbark Books owned by Native author Louise Erdrich. 2115 West 21st Street, Minneapolis. The bookstore is operated by a spirited collection of people who believe in the power of good writing, the beauty of handmade art, the strength of Native culture, and the importance of small and intimate bookstores.

Comedy Corner Open Mic Night. Free, Friday 10 pm. The Corner Bar, 1501 Washington Ave S. ~90 min. Very popular comedy open mic so arrive early; doors open about 20-25 minutes before, and seating goes fast. Brave enough to perform? Visit the website to sign up for your 3 minute set between 12 and 9:30 pm on Friday, cross your fingers, and check the list starting at 9:30 to see if you go on!

Como Zoo and Conservatory. 1225 Estabrook Dr, St Paul. This free zoo in St Paul features giraffes, seals, bears, antelope, big cats, primates and more, and the adjacent historic conservatory is home to many tropical gardens in a 1913 glass house. The zoo in Como Park occupies a corner of one of the largest regional parks in the Metro area (450 acres of public space). It’s a 9-mile drive, 45 minute bike ride, or 1 hour bus ride (see the MetroTransit app for trip planning assistance) from the performance venues, but worth a trip if time allows. The adjacent park includes picnic areas, sport fields, fire pits, numerous gardens, a golf course, and a lake (naturally) with a lakeside pavilion (home of the annual QMC Pride Concert), and bike and paddleboat rentals.

Guthrie Theater. 818 S 2nd St. Access to public spaces and Endless Bridge is free – breathtaking sweeping view of St Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River and the Stone Arch Bridge. The Guthrie offers a number of discount ticket options should you wish to see a show at one of the three theaters (Cabaret is on deck for summer 2020), and tickets to the experimental Dowling Theater are always $9 (it’s on Level 9 of the complex).

Hennepin History Museum (2303 3rd Avenue, near the MIA). Free on first Thursday, $8 at other times. Note that the venue is not accessible, and some stairs are necessary.

Loft Events, Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave S. The Loft offers a diverse array of literary events, reading series, book launches and more. Most events allow for advanced ticket purchases. Advanced tickets guarantee a general admission seat and help cover the Loft’s costs to host the event. Advanced tickets are non-refundable. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the door 30 minutes prior to most events on a first-come, first-served basis. No one turned away for lack of funds. An event calendar and details available at  

Mill City Museum (and Mill Ruins Park). 704 2nd St S. $12 adults, though some reduced fare options are available. Near the Guthrie Theater, engaging history museum with spectacular views, sited in a historic elevator complex.

Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) 2400 3rd Ave S. Free admission to the general galleries. South of the Convention Center, about ¾ mile walk south on 3rd Avenue, or a short bus ride (out of the downtown zone). One of the nation’s premiere collections, with over 80,000 items. Particularly notable for its Asian collections – a legacy of Minneapolis’ long tenure as the hub for Northwest Orient Airlines (now Delta).

Minnehaha Park and Minnehaha Falls.  4801 S Minnehaha Dr. Free. Easily reached from the 50th St-Minnehaha Station on the Blue Line, this large regional park in Minneapolis covers nearly 170 acres, including the famous falls (fictionally referenced in Longfellow’s romantic poem), picnic areas, walking trails, band shell, popular restaurant, gardens, historic sites, and play areas. Bike rentals are available.

Music and Movies in the Park. We take summer very seriously in the Twin Cities, and free concerts and movie presentations are available most nights of the week throughout the summer in various parks – many of them very close to downtown and the performance venues. Bookmark to stay informed.

Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. Loosely bounded by the Mississippi River, Lowry Ave NE, Central Ave NE and Broadway St NE. Best times to visit are First Thursdays or Open Saturdays. A short drive, bike ride, or bus ride from downtown, this loose collection of converted warehouses, artist lofts, and gallery spaces includes nine buildings and three galleries, with a wide range of working artists, brew pubs, and food trucks and restaurants. LUSH, popular LGBTQ+ community space, bar and restaurant is district-adjacent at 990 Central Ave NE.

Parks and Lakes – the state has a bunch (you may have heard). City lakes are great for walking, biking, recreational activities, and picnics. Lake of the Isles, Bde Makaska (formerly Lake Calhoun), Cedar Lake, and Lake Harriet are all short bus rides from downtown, or reachable on rented bike or scooter. Loring Park and its charming pond are mere steps from the venue, and the site of Pride festivities every June – just walk the Loring Greenway from Nicollet Mall (begins just north of the Hyatt before 12th St) to the park.

Stone Arch Bridge. 100 Portland Ave. This former Northern Line railroad bridge now connects Mill Ruins Park and West River Parkway with Father Hennepin Bluff Park, which is sited in the Historic St Anthony Main district. It’s a pleasant stroll, bike ride, or scooter jaunt with great views of the falls, the old mill traces, and the historic mill buildings on both sides of the river. When you reach the St Anthony Side, seek out queer-friendly Wilde Roast Café in St Anthony Main for coffee, gelato, or more substantial meals.

Tappy Hour. Free (after $2 admission to Can Can Wonderland). Friday 4-6 pm. Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave N Ste 4. Green Line LRT to the Fairview Ave Station, then a short walk. Wanna tap-dance? Bring your shoes (or hope for potluck in the shared shoe box), and hoof along to Bob Marley, Herb Alpert, KC and the Sunshine Band, James Brown and Michael Jackson. Open to all levels of experience, and all ages. While there, check out Can Can’s mini-golf, arcade games, low-cost burlesque and cabaret events (including Queer Circus), and food and drinks (including some kick-ass adult “milk shakes”).

The Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. 725 Vineland Pl.  Free. The Spoonbridge and Cherry is the best-known exhibit, but the garden currently contains more than 40 iconic works in an 11 acre site. Easy walk through the Loring Greenway (by Hyatt) to Loring Park. Then take the bridge over freeway to Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden.

The Walker Art Center. 725 Vineland Pl. Free Thursday Nights, $15 regular. Multi-disciplinary museum of contemporary art, among the most visited modern and contemporary art museums in the US. Permanent collection includes over 13,000 works, including books, costumes, drawings, media works, paintings, photography, prints, and sculpture.

Weisman Art Museum (333 E River Pkwy, on the U of MN campus). Just a couple of stops away on the Green Line to East Bank Station, the Weisman offers free admission to all exhibitions and public programs, with a collection of over 25,000 works of art and is especially rich in the areas of American modernism, ceramics, Mimbres pottery, and Korean furniture. In addition, the building is an iconic work of architecture by Frank Gehry, and the museum curates over 25 works of public sculpture and installations on the U of M campuses.

Wells Fargo History Museum (90 S. 7th St., Skyway Level) Free. Open M-F, 9-5, except bank holidays. Rotating exhibits, generally focused on technology innovations that connect the Midwest to the world. Call ahead to arrange a group tour.

Yoga. Loring Park. Free to attend; donations welcome. Wednesdays, 7 pm. Book your attendance through Eventbrite: Bring your mat, water, and a friend or two; fur babies welcome.