Make the most out of the school year’s first long weekend with these tips.

By Tammy Galvin

Before having kids of my own, I never understood the importance of MEA weekend. More officially known as Minnesota Educator Academy—a two-day educational conference for, you guessed it, educators—the event signaled two things: Fall has officially arrived, and perhaps more importantly, K-12 students get their first reprieve of the year from their daily grind.

The timing of MEA is near-perfect…almost as if somewhere along the way school administrators, teachers, parents and students all came together and collectively agreed that this “break” was needed. After all, it is well over a month-plus into the new school year, while simultaneously being about another month away from Thanksgiving break.

As such, many families have built years of traditions around this first long weekend of the school year, which always falls on the third Thursday and Friday of October. To help you figure out your MEA plans, we’ve compiled a few short-lists of “must-dos” whether you are planning a weekend getaway, a stay-cation filled with daytrips, or the best “free” activities in and around the metro. Enjoy!

Top 5 Weekend Getaways

  1. North Shore. Yes, Duluth gets busy this weekend and lodging rates can be absurdly, well north, but finding last-minute vacancies are well worth the effort. Try VRBO or even consider a bit further north to Two Harbors where the rates drop quite a bit the further north you head.
  2. Lanesboro. None other than the B&B capital of Minnesota.
  3. Winona. The drive alone is worth the trek.
  4. Banning State Park. Waterfalls, log arches and ice caves. What’s more to say?
  5. Waconia. An idylllic lakeside community.

Image by Bear/flickr

Top 5 Freebies

  1. Apple orchards. While admission to most are free, the “extras” like hayrides, baked treats, ciders and mazes usually have token admission rates of a few bucks. The best part about going on MEA weekend is most offer special events and extra MEA hours of admissions. Our favorites include: Aamodt’s Apple Farm (Stillwater), Afton Apple Orchard (Hastings), Applewood Orchard (Lakeville and bonus: Leashed dogs are welcome!), and Apple Jack Orchards (Delano; better-suited for younger tots).
  2. Geocaching ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE (ok this might cost you $9.99 to download the official geocaching app if you don’t have one, but it is worth every single penny and then some. And actually, if you plan ahead, you can register for free on and simply enter the GPS coordinates of the caches near you, keeping it truly free. Don’t know what it is? Check out this 75 second video. There are thousands upon thousands of geocaches in and around the Twin Cities. Some favorites include Hyland Lake Park Reserve (there are also several caches through the Three Rivers Park District system), Isaac Walton Trail in Bloomington, and many more. For example, as I sit in my downtown Minneapolis office and do a search for “nearby caches” on my geocaching app, there are 53 caches that I could easily navigate to within 1 mile from my office.
  3. Must-See Museums. Choose from always-free Mia, the Weisman Art Museum (although finding free parking could prove impossible) and the Minnehaha Depot at Minnehaha Falls.
  4. Walk the Stone Arch Bridge, pack a picnic, blanket and some yard games. Pet-friendly, too, so bring some water for the pups and a staked leash.
  5. Bike or walk on one of the award-winning trails. Try a few closer to the city and not in the ‘burbs for a change of pace: Midtown Greenway or West River Parkway, which runs right by the Mill City Ruins, are my faves. If, however, Mother Nature isn’t cooperating spend the day immersed in the Central Library downtown, a truly amazing building with far more than books on hand to keep you and the family busy for hours. If the kids balk at the idea of spending their “break” in a hushed environment, mention the Adaptive Technology Lab, Best Buy Teen Tech Center, Piano room and so much more. Then head out and explore the nine miles of skyway that connect other downtown delights.


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