I set the ball on the tee and straightened into my stance, ready to attack the next hole. “I like your setup,” my PGA instructor, Ryan Rindels, broke in. “But if you can get that left arm straighter, wider, you’re going to have more power.”
I adjusted and swung, eyeing the flag on the distant lush green. A few hundred yards away, a rock cliff waterfall crashed beneath sunny skies. I could almost feel the mist settling into the tropical atmosphere.
Before golfing, I had stopped by the spa and dined on a gourmet sushi lunch. Vacation mode was definitely sinking in.
Then, I stepped away from the waterfall — well, the computerized depiction of one, part of a simulated golfing range — exited the PGA lounge, and was whisked back into a familiar and frantic reality. A child sat on the floor, crying. A line grew at Starbucks. I was nearly knocked over by a running man in a suit, jerking his roller bag behind him like an unconstrained chariot.
That’s right: I was still at the airport.
By now you might be rolling your eyes. “So you found yourself relaxed?” you question. “In an airport?” Well, yeah.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — aka MSP — is already a 3,400-acre flight fortress stocked with artisan dining options, quality stores and masseuses digging their elbows into tired travelers. Now, an ongoing and unprecedented renovation is bringing exciting new offerings such as a luxury hotel with a spa, local food truck-inspired restaurants and sprawling beer gardens. The landslide of new eateries and shops that has begun piling up is turning MSP, more than ever, into a worthy destination before the trip.
Travelers have noticed. The 2016 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Favorites awards named MSP second for dining and third in both the large airports and shopping categories domestically. It was one of only two airports honored in all three categories. It took a top spot in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2016 Reader Choice Awards, where it scored high for shopping and dining options.
So if you happen to get stuck at the airport over the hectic holiday season, it’s tough to complain: You’ll be stranded in a haven for locally focused gourmet meals, plus relaxation, arts and entertainment.
To prove the point, I recently spent a day there. Amid all the choices, you might spend time differently, but here’s what I did:
8:30 a.m. — Security. I’ve got a special journalist pass with access to the entry point for employees, but the usual checkpoint lines aren’t terrible. The woman with the compactable stroller gets it right on the second try. Victory!
8:40 a.m. — Pit stop for a forgotten item. I’ve forgotten my ear buds, so I stop by G2G, a tech store in the airport’s mall area, for a fresh pair. “The orange ones are on sale for $12.99,” the cashier tells me. Deal done.
9 a.m. — Breakfast at French Meadow Bakery. After lolling through another line, I procure a Peoples Organic drip coffee, a (gluten-free) cinnamon raisin bagel and tiny tub of cream cheese at the Airport Mall location of this Minneapolis health-food spot. I settle into a sunny banquette and read the morning news.
10 a.m. — Time for the day spa. Nothing says vacation like a pedicure, OK? I first try the more central Concourse D XpresSpa, but their nail technician isn’t on hand today. Another location, in Concourse F, has a half-hour wait, but I sit it out in a massage chair, vibrating into mush — not the worst punishment. The cosmetologist does a nice job with my forest-green toes, although the paint job nearly turns into graffiti after a celebrity patron drops by to ask about the services. “Do you know who that was?” the cosmetologist hisses when the red-haired traveler walks away. “That was Donna from ‘That ’70s Show’!”
11:30 a.m. — Lock ’er up. I find a cluster of lockers and put away my coat, my computer bag and my handbag. For $4, you can rent a locker for a few hours to free up your hands while you zip around, or for $8, you can leave it there for the day. Smarte Carte caps you at 48 hours before they throw away all contents, but I have never heard of a delay that long.
11:40 a.m. — Get a little exercise. I hit the 1.4-mile “Start!” walking path, noted by green dots on overhead signs. I’m not sure what I was expecting here, but it’s just the same pathways I always hoof, only sans luggage. I walk it twice anyway.
12:20 p.m. — Browse a museum. When I’m done with the guinea pig wheel, I pause to linger at “The Art of Food” exhibit that sprawls along the pathway to the Concourse C gates. Here, you can dive into Minnesota’s edible past, with the artist connecting the dots from the state’s wild rice crops to General Mills and other wheat productions to beer and distillates — the most fun form of grains.
1 p.m. — Lunchtime. After all the runaround, I’ve worked up an appetite. I’m feeling like sushi today, so I head for Shoyu, a modern Japanese bar peddling broth-filled bowls, wok noodle dishes and — not as obvious on first glance — sushi. I know, you’re thinking, “Sushi at the airport?” But remember that this spot gets the fish straight off the plane. And these pillows of clean, plump fish are worthy.
2 p.m. — Work in style. I need to actually get some work done, so I pay for a stop at Escape Lounge, a new mod space away from the crowds, with a bar and food. I grab a couple of sparkling waters and a bowl of fruit — and a few sips of bubbly to get my money’s worth! — and log into my laptop for a while. I only wish there was a nap room.
4 p.m. — Hit the links. We’re back where we started the story. For $35, Rindels tweaks my stance and my swing for 15 minutes before I take some “batting practice” of my own.
5 p.m. — Shop around. The day is almost over, and I haven’t even popped into any shops yet. My first stop is Johnston & Murphy, to check out the fall collection of boots. I stick my head into local designer Hammer Made, and ponder snatching up a set of their unique cuff links as a gift. I pore over beautiful Tumi travel bags and luggage, dreaming about having enough money to actually purchase one. Then I stop by Aveda and end my circuit at Uptown, a boutique collection of local artist goods, and buy a couple of Minnesota postcards that are pretty enough to send from the town you live in.
6 p.m. — Say goodbye to Surdyk’s Flights. It’s a time of major transition at MSP, where a new horde of restaurants and businesses are joining the ranks and keeping things interesting. Unfortunately, at the same time, we’re forced to say goodbye to an old favorite — a familiar and reliable friend amid the swirling airport world. With that in mind, I stop by Surdyk’s, as I often do when I actually travel, for a glass of white wine, their fantastic charcuterie plate and a chat with the always-friendly bartenders.
Goodbye, Surdyk’s, but hello, new world.
Amelia Rayno • 612-673-4115