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Most people come to Rochester to see a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. If you are one of the lucky few coming just to visit, or if you would like distraction from whatever ails you, there are many things you must do as a first-time visitor to the city.
Let's start with things to do around downtown, since that is where the Mayo Clinic is located. One thing to do is actually take tours of the Mayo campus. You can see an art tour (and there is some pretty amazing art at the Clinic) and you might also consider just wandering through the myriad subways and skyways here (just so you know, in Rochester, a subway is basically a tunnel connecting two buildings -- not a fast-moving passenger transportation vehicle).
After getting to know more about the world famous medical center here, why don't you do some shopping? The Barnes and Noble downtown, located in the Peace Plaza on 1st Avenue is one place to start. This Barnes and Noble was built inside the renovated Chateau theatre, which sat empty for years. Outside the store, the marquee is still there. Inside, the Chateau theatre castle theme is very prominent, with a painted ceiling and other fun additions. This is not just a book store - though you can definitely pick up a latte at Starbucks in the store and sit in the fiction section purusing some new releases.
More shopping musts are the Tangerine store, also located on 1st Avenue and its sister store Baby Clementine, right across from Barnes adn Noble. Tangerine is a novelty store which carries funny cards, lotions and candles, books, and other home accents. Baby Clementine is run by the same folks and is a store catering towards the little ones in the stroller you're pushing around. In the Galleria Mall, also located in the Peace Plaza, there are several interesting stores to visit - generally there is something for everyone!
Now that you've been shopping and site-seeing all day, you are probably quite hungry. There are many places just in downtown Rochester than you can visit that have a wide array of dishes. Victoria's, located on First Avenue, is an authentic Italian restaurant. They have many great pasta dishes, as well as salads, pizzas, calzones and an excellent choice of wines and other alcoholic beverages. Also in the Peace Plaza is Mac's, technically a greek restaurant, but serving a wide variety of items. Their breakfast is very good too! If you feel like walking or taking the shuttle up 2nd street, you might want to visit The Canadian Honker. This is an American restaurant with excellent sandwiches, salads, and main dishes. Most of their dishes taste like Mama made them and are cooked fresh and often with organic foods. If you have special dietary needs, you might want to check them out.
If you have transportation to get around town, there are several other places you should probably check out. The first is the Apache Mall located between Hwy 14 and 16th Street. Here you will find more shopping including stores like Herberger's, Sears, JC Penney, Macy's, New York & Co, GAP, American Eagle, Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal, Wilson's Leather, Coach, another Barnes and Noble, Foot Locker, Anne Taylor and many other stores. There is also a food court and a Coldstone Creamery, in case you need a break.
You may also want to visit the Mayowood mansion and the Plummer House, both remnants of the original founders of the Mayo Clinic. Tours take place at both of these places. Visit http://www.olmstedhistory.com/mayowoo... for Mayowood and http://www.ci.rochester.mn. us/departm... for the Plummer House. Both are interesting places to visit and learn more about Rochester's history.
There are also many parks to visit in southeastern Minnesota. One is the state park Whitewater, with hiking trails, camping, a beach, and a visitor's center with interesting exhibits and a huge picture window where you can observe dozens of different birds in their natural habitat. Visit http://www.dnr.state.mn. us/state_park... for more information.
Another park to visit is Oxbow Park, which also has a zoo. If you have kids with you, it would probably be worth it to check it out. See http://www.co.olmsted.mn. us/parks/oxb... for more information.
For a true Rochester visit, you need to go see Silver Lake. In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, Olmsted county is the only county without a natural lake. But have no fear, the city made it's own lake for your enjoyment. Remember when I told you about the Canadian Honker earlier? Well, since Silver Lake is heated all year round, we have large feathery visitors in Rochester also year-round. And by that, I mean Canada Geese. These huge birds wander around Silver Lake, leaving their droppings everywhere, so be careful where you step! But they are fun for the little ones to feed and for a true Rochester experience, you can miss it. The walk around the lake is also very nice for those of you who want to get your exercise. If you're coming from downtown, take Broadway north and turn right on 7th Street NE. There is a parking lot just a little ways up on your left.