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Sep 1, 2009 · Leave a Reply

Destination: Rochester, Minnesota

By Barbara Sorensen @barb sorensen

As a patient, visitor or student at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., I invite you to experience and explore our city. It’s a great place. And, yes, I have to admit I am a little biased since I live and work here.


Let me tell you about the Rochester I know and enjoy. With a population of just over 100,000, it is considered a large city; however, despite the population and physical size of the city, I find it has a friendly, smaller town feel. Mayo Clinic is located in the heart of downtown with easy access from all the major highways. It takes less than 15 minutes to get from our airport to the downtown area.

Being a lifelong Minnesotan, I would be remiss if I didn’t start by talking about the weather. Yes, it’s true; a favorite topic of conversation of many long-time Minnesota residents is the weather. Rochester has approximately 200 sunny days a year. In July, our warmest month, the temperature averages around 82 degrees for a high and 60 degrees for a low, while in January, our coldest month, the temperature averages around 21 degrees for a high and 3 degrees (above zero) for a low. Before coming to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, especially in the winter, you may want to check your favorite weather web site to find out what type of weather we are having. One of my favorite seasons here is fall: temperatures are what I consider ideal and the colors are beautiful. The Sugar Maples, with their bright orange-yellow leaves, offer some of the best color around.

As Minnesota’s third-largest city (only Minneapolis and St. Paul are larger), Rochester enjoys numerous big-city amenities: a nature center, a history center, a symphony orchestra, a handful of choral ensembles, a couple community theaters, concerts and national touring theater groups, an art center that focuses on contemporary art, a comedy club, seven options for post-secondary education (from certificate programs through Ph.D. and M.D.), public and private K-12 schools where students consistently score above the national average in academic testing, a summer collegiate baseball team (go Honkers, the Northwoods League Champions!), a Junior Hockey team and an international airport. In addition, there are numerous places to dine and shop.

Within the city limits, you will find over 100 parks, two public outdoor swimming pools, a Recreation Center (complete with an indoor Olympic length swimming pool and two ice skating/hockey rinks), a National Volleyball Center, nine public and private golf courses, and numerous walking and biking trails. If you are in town around the end of May and you are runner, I invite you to consider participating in Rochester’s Med-City Marathon. The marathon, which offers a USATF-certified course, is held the Sunday of Memorial weekend.

North of the Mayo Clinic about seven blocks is Silver Lake Park. It’s a nice, tree-filled park that offers a walking/biking path, picnic areas and a small, man-made lake (it was created as a result of a dam on the Zumbro River). Here’s a fact I find interesting: in Minnesota where we have “Land of 10,000 Lakes” as our state nickname, Olmsted County (where Rochester is located) is the only county in the state that does not have a natural lake.

Silver Lake Park is a great place to walk the dog, ride a bike, take a casual walk, jog, rollerblade or just sit and relax. During the summer months, canoes, paddleboats and bicycles are available for rental. Depending on when you visit Silver Lake, you may even be able to watch the Rochester Rowing Club practice.

On the south side of Silver Lake Park and across the street is a large, handicap-accessible playground. I appreciate that there are plenty of places for parents to sit as they watch their children. There is even a picnic shelter right there should you want to pack a lunch or snack. One of the city’s swimming pools is a quick walk across the parking lot from the playground. If you have younger children, it is a great place to spend part of your day.

Approximately six blocks south of Mayo Clinic is Soldiers Field, another park. On the park grounds, you will find a walking path, a golf course, tennis courts, running track, baseball diamond, playground, swimming pool and a Veterans Memorial.

During the summer months, Rochester offers free concerts in the park on Sunday evenings; a weekly summer Market & Music Festival in the downtown area called Thursdays on First and Third; a downtown Art Walk held the first Thursday evening of each month; and a large outdoor farmers’ market (open Saturday mornings) located just a few blocks east of the Mayo Clinic. In June, we have a weeklong celebration (called Rochesterfest) complete with food vendors, events and activities, musical entertainment and a large parade.


Every Wednesday and Friday noon those in the downtown area have an opportunity to hear Mayo Clinic’s Carillon. Performances last around 30 minutes and can be heard from a variety of outdoor locations close to the Plummer Building. After the concert, if you are interested, you can meet at the bronze entrance doors of the Plummer Building to meet the carillonneur. He is happy to answer any questions you might have.

During early October, Mayo Clinic celebrates Heritage Days. This weeklong celebration is a way to share and remember Mayo’s history. If you are on the clinic campus during that week, feel free to check out the displays, listen to the noon-time entertainment and attend the ice cream social on Annenberg Plaza.

One of my favorite features of downtown Rochester is the pedestrian subway and skyway system that encompasses much of downtown. It’s how I go from building to building on the downtown campus on rainy and snowy days. Many of the downtown hotels are connected to either the subway or skyway. If you would like to enjoy a climate-controlled walk to your next appointment, to your hotel, to your next class, to one of the shops in the downtown area, or to get a bite to eat, consider using the subways/skyways.

For those who have the time and want to explore beyond Rochester, consider visiting the Twin Cities. The metropolitan area is only a 75 minute drive north of Rochester and is home to the Mall of America; numerous professional sports teams (Skol Vikings!); the Minnesota Zoo; Adventures Aquarium, under the Mall of America; Fort Snelling; and many professional theaters, including the world-renown Guthrie Theater…to name but a few places you could visit.

If you have any questions about Rochester or your visit while at the Mayo Clinic, do not hesitate to ask an employee or one of Mayo’s many volunteers. Our volunteers are stationed at key locations throughout the campus and are easily identified by the royal blue jackets or vests they wear.

For your convenience, here is a link to a map of the downtown Rochester campus showing the subways and skyways:

Barbara Sorensen is a communications consultant in the Department of Public Affairs, Mayo Clinic

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Tags: activities, destination, events, Rochester, what to do

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