St. Paul is a beautiful and historic city. It’s old, by Midwest standards, and retains much of its history through cobblestone streets, red brick warehouses, palatial mansions, and soaring political and religious monuments. It’s a striking blend of old world and new.
Basically, it’s a great city to photograph, so we put together a quick guide for capturing some the best photos in the city and of the surrounding greenspace.
Downtown St. Paul features a diverse mix of styles. Deco and Moderne high rises and 19th century warehouses sit side by side with Mid-century and modern skyscrapers. The angular streets give unique views of these buildings, and the unique way they relate to one another.
Start at Rice Park and head east. The park itself (older than Central Park in NYC) is surrounded by buildings you won’t want to miss. Fifth Street gives you great views of the Lowry Building with the First National Bank Building (with its iconic red “1”) towering in the distance.
Other notable buildings to capture:
1st National Bank Building: 332 Minnesota St, St Paul, MN 55101
St. Paul Hotel: 350 Market St, St Paul, MN 55102
St. Paul Pubic Library: 80 W 4th St, St Paul, MN 55102
Landmark Center: 75 5th St, St Paul, MN 55102
Continue east, and you’ll eventually find yourself in Lowertown.
Lowertown’s dense collection of late 19th and early 20th-century warehouses make a fascinating backdrop for any photo. From the alleys or straight ahead, layering as the reach toward the skyscrapers of downtown. Lowertown is an urban village that might best capture the heart of yesteryear; of St. Paul’s past.
Mears Park is at the heart of Lowertown, and a great starting point.
180 East Fifth: 180 E 5th St, St Paul, MN 55101
Park Square Court: 400 N Sibley St, St Paul, MN 55101
Straus Lofts: 350 Sibley Street, St Paul, MN 55101
Custom House: 180 E Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, MN 55101
Union Depot: 214 E 4th St, St Paul, MN 55101
CHS Field (ballpark): 360 N Broadway St, St Paul, MN 55101
But if there is any neighborhood that captures the grandeur of St. Paul’s past better than Lowertown, it’s Cathedral Hill. Though the years the neighborhood has seen ups and downs, and it now sits as one of the most picturesque parts of the city.
The most prominent building is the Blair Arcade, 165 N Western Ave, St Paul, MN 55102, a majestic mall that wowed the city when it was built back in 1889 and still stuns today.
Other notable buildings to capture:
The Commodore: 79 Western N Ave, St Paul, MN 55102
Dacotah Building: 374 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102
Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church: 217 Mackubin St, St Paul, MN 55102
Summit Avenue, one block south of Selby Avenue, is where you’ll find the longest stretch of preserved Victorian mansions in the country, including the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Ave, St Paul, MN 55102, which might be one of the most impressive homes in the Midwest.
If you follow Selby you’ll end up at the Cathedral of St. Paul (the cathedral from which the neighborhood gets its name, and pictured above), at 239 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102. It’s one of the grandest buildings of the city. The twin domes of the Cathedral and Minnesota State Capitol look over downtown, and you can get a great shot of both of them together from the edge of Selby at John Ireland Boulevard.
Shots with people (and their dogs):
You’ll find the masses at any of St. Paul’s outdoor festivals. Music in Mears starts in June (go here to find more on upcoming music: www.musicinmears.com) in aforementioned Mears Park.
St. Paul’s Lowertown is also home to a highest density of dog-walkers, for those puppy-obsessed photographers looking to add Fido to their photos.
We also talked about Rice Park, pictured left, which acts as a sort of town square in the center of downtown and plays host to a diverse selection of the city’s populace. Throughout the summer, live music defines the evenings. Workers, students, travelers, and nomads make it a colorful mix of people, and great for people wathing. Come cold weather, it is home to the St. Paul Winter Carnival, a testament both to the resilience of St. Paulites and the beauty of the city in winter.
Grand Avenue, the city’s shopping district, is an always bustling mix of people where you can capture the population in action. It’s a lively mix of locals and tourists, students and workers, dog walkers and strollers mingling amongst shops and restaurants.
Set up at Grand and Victoria, Grand and Snelling, and Grand and Cretin intersections for best results.
The Green Line LRT, which runs along St. Paul’s University Avenue and passes many unique and interesting neighborhoods anchored therein, is always full of interesting faces as well. From Little Mekong (University and Snelling) to Little Africa (University and Snelling) you’ll find a cross-section of St. Paul diverse population with a colorful and pedestrian-friendly backdrop against which to frame your photos.
It’s a city, yes, but it’s a city with the most Mississippi shoreline in the country. You can get some fantastic shots of the America’s most mighty and mysterious river from Raspberry Island, which is accessible from the Wabasha Street Bridge, and Harriet Island (not actually an island), at 251 Plato Blvd W, St Paul, MN 55107. From there you can capture both the shoreline and bluffs, and the way the city has been integrated (almost forced) into the landscape.
Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 4th St E, St Paul, MN 55106, lets you leave the city behind almost completely. You might catch a family of deer nestled among the trees, and various species of grassland birds swooping in and soaring overhead. Leading along the bluffs heading east you’ll find caves, ponds, swamps, tall grasses and shrubs, oak and cottonwood trees, bushes, and flowers of all types. Much of it rests on what was was a busy rail yard, and you can still see a few of the remnants of civilization slowly being reclaimed by mother nature.
Hidden Falls Park, 1415 Mississippi River Blvd S, St Paul, MN 55116, also allows you to step away from the bustle of the city and get lost in the landscape that originally defined the area. If you can find the the “hidden” waterfall, your bound to get some great shots, but just the hike getting there will yield some spectacular photos of the river and surrounding greenery.
There is much to see in the Silver City of St. Paul, and plenty of Instagram, portfolio, wall-mountable, or just-for-fun photos to be taken in and around the historic and beautiful streets. Bring your camera (and an extra roll of film/extra SD card) and see what you can find.
All photos in this article were taken by Adrian Schramm.