Whether you live here or are just visiting,the Grand Avenue / Summit Avenue neighborhood in St. Paul is an absolutely “must see.”
Otherwise known as Summit Hill in St. Paul, this neighborhood is famous for its regal Summit Avenue, a boulevard boasting the best preserved collection of Victorian mansions in the country. (And once named one of the 10 Greatest Streets in America by the APA.)
Just one block over, the neighborhood also features miles upon miles of quaint shops and restaurants lining Grand Avenue.
As a local, this 1-2 punch has always made the area one of my favorite parts about St. Paul. In this guide, let me share with you a map of places to visit, a quick overview of the area’s impressive history (after all, there’s 8 National Historic Landmarks & Places here!) and a rundown of all the restaurants, bars, shops, and attractions you don’t want to miss!
Map of Places to Visit around Grand Ave & Summit Ave in St. Paul’s Summit Hill Neighborhood
A Quick History of Summit Avenue
If you recall from our crazy story about the men who founded Minneapolis, the first settlers of Saint Paul consisted mostly of illegal squatters who had been kicked out of Minneapolis.
This includes the area that is now Summit Avenue, and so begins the interesting tale of Summit Avenue’s history…
- Early 1850s: Summit Avenue began its life as a rural dairy farm, with the farmland mostly supplying the growing areas near Downtown and West 7th St. Paul.
- Late 1850s: The first wealthy families moved to the stunning bluffs of Summit Ave. A photo from 1859 shows just six houses on Summit Avenue. (The first believed to have been built by the founder of Macalester College, Edward Duffield Neil, and located where the James J. Hill House sits today.)
- 1861-1865: Development of Summit Avenue slowed due to the American Civil War. (Who’d have guessed, but wars aren’t good for the neighborhood!)
- 1880s: Construction started back up being the 1880s, thanks to the installation of a cable car around Selby Avenue and eventually a street car on Grand Avenue. (More on that later…)
- 1891: James J. Hill builds his famous mansion for $931,275 dollars in 1891 – an astonishing $22 million in today’s dollars.
- 1890s to 1920s: James J. Hill’s descendants continued building mansions along the street
- 1920s to The Great Depression: Construction continued through the roaring twenties until The Great Depression, at which time the number of mansions along Summit Ave peaked at 440 total homes.
This many mansions lining a single street wasn’t entirely unheard of for the era. But what was unusual? St. Paul’s incredible preservation of them.
Most similar streets, like Prairie Avenue in Chicago or Park Avenue in Minneapolis, were torn down during the 1950s in favor of bland apartment buildings. But Minnesota’s historical societies managed to preserve Summit Avenue better than any other street of its type in the entire United States.
Today, Summit Avenue is the most well preserved collection of Victorian Mansions in the United States, with approximately 85% of the homes originally built still meticulously preserved. (373 homes out of the original 440)
A Quick History of Grand Avenue
On February 22, 1890, the city of St. Paul installed a newfangled piece of technology known as an “electric streetcar.”
The electrified route was first met with skepticism. Many residents feared that flying sparks would electrocute their horses, start nearby buildings on fire, or attract lightning and burn the whole city to the ground.
The public breathed a collective sigh of relief after St. Paul’s first snowstorm of the year (there was another theory that the snowfall would ruin the electric lines) and the electric streetcar technology eventually caught on.
Over the next several decades, the existence of a streetcar line on Grand Avenue allowed residents to build a cluster of shops, restaurants and homes in the area. Much like today, the development served as a playground for the nearby residents along Summit Avenue and the entire Summit Hill neighborhood.
By the 1950s, the Twin Cities last streetcar had been removed, but the character paved by the streetcars along Grand Avenue remain to this day.
Basic Layout of the Neighborhood
The Summit Hill neighborhood revolves mostly around the two main streets, Grand Avenue and Summit Avenue.
- Summit Avenue stretches 4.5 miles from East to West, and touring the area is as simple as driving from one side to the other.
- The same advice applies to Grand Avenue, which is 3 miles long and runs parallel to Summit Avenue. Again, a full tour is as simple as a straight shot down the whole stretch.
If you do make this entire drive, you’ll notice that the majority of the action lies east of Ayd Mill Road. This just so happens to be the official boundary of the neighborhood.
Outside of the two main streets, the neighborhood consists mostly of single family houses.
Summit Avenue: Duh! It’s what this neighborhood is named after! A drive (or better yet, a bike ride or hike!) down the 4.5 mile street is not to be missed. The Minnesota Historical Society also hosts a great 1.5 mile walking tour starting at the James J. Hill house. Speaking of which…
James J. Hill House: This 36,500 square foot mansion is without question the crown jewel of the Summit Avenue mansions. Built by the 1800s railroad tycoon, the house is a true stunner. The paid MNHS indoor tour is also wonderful, but even just walking around the outdoor grounds (free of charge) is worth a visit.
Shopping on Grand Avenue: The 3 mile long Grand Avenue is home the best collection of quaint shops in town. (Pro tip: the bulk of the action is along the 1 mile stretch from Ayd Mill Road to Dale Street.) Check out our guide to the best shops on Grand Avenue.
Minnesota Governor’s Residence: The Minnesota Governor lives in a stunning home at 1006 Summit Avenue. You can’t miss the rod iron gates, huge Minnesota flagpole, or come winter… the beautiful Christmas decorations.
Summit Overlook Park: This park perched at the top of the crazy-steep Ramsey St. Hill is one of the most relaxing spots in St. Paul. Fittingly, it features a beautiful overlook of St. Paul and large lawn that’s perfect for laying out a blanket and relaxing the afternoon away.
Cathedral of St. Paul: The cathedral technically lies within the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, but we figured we’d include it on the list since it is on Summit Avenue, after all. Not only is the cathedral one of the most jaw dropping buildings in the entire city, but it’s open to the public (for free!) whenever mass is not in session. A walk around the inside to take in the unbelievable domed ceiling, jaw-dropping sculptures, and endless ornate details is one of our favorite activities whenever we have visitors in town.
F. Scott Fitzgerald House: Yep, the famous author used to live at 599 Summit Avenue. Since the house is now a private home, there are no tours and you can’t go inside. The spot is still a National Historic Landmark though.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Statue: The author also attended private school at the old St. Paul Academy, located at 25 Dale Street. There’s not much to see there today, although the history is commemorated with a small statue of the author sitting on the building’s steps.
Restaurants & Bars
While we usually split these two categories, to be honest, the Summit Hill neighborhood doesn’t have a ton of true bars, but instead plenty of delicious choices for dinner AND drinks. (If you’re looking for more of a true bar scene, most of St. Paul’s watering holes now sit in the West 7th neighborhood.)
In any case, here are some of our favorites:
La Cucaracha Mexican Restaurant: Located on the far eastern side of Grand Avenue, this is a locally owned Mexican restaurant with a neighborhood vibe. Shout out to their fantastic, fresh made chips and salsa.
Tavern on Grand: Fried fish is a classic in Minnesota, and Tavern on Grand is a casual restaurant and bar known for its Walleye dishes.
Saji-Ya: A Japanese/sushi spot that never disappoints.
Dixie’s On Grand: A neighborhood institution for the past 30+ years, Dixie’s specializes in southern cuisine with a menu featuring shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and beignets.
Emmet’s Public House: A sprawling Irish pub located right on Grand Avenue. As expected, they carry an impressive collection of Irish Whiskey and seasonal cocktails, but they also have a full food menu that tilts a little Cajun, of all things.
Coconut Thai on Grand: Classic Thai menu with a clean, casual dining room.
Grand Ole Creamery: Hugely popular ice cream shop, once visited by President Obama! Look for a line around the block during nice summer days. We’re especially suckers for their amazing shakes and malts, but all the ice cream flavors are delicious, too.
Grand Ole Pizzeria: Located right next door to the ice cream shop, this casual spot serves counter service pizza.
India House: Delicious, authentic Indian restaurant. Do not miss the garlic naan bread or the incredible Chicken Makhani (butter chicken). They’re also popular for their lunch buffet, although COVID put a temporary block on that.
Treats: Trendy and popular ice cream shop known for its cereal ice cream. Yes, you read that right – they literally blend popular cereal brands into your ice cream orders. And yes, it’s just as delicious as it sounds.
Punch Pizza: Delicious neopolitan pizza that gets our vote for the best thin crust pizza in St. Paul.
Brasa Premium Rotisserie: Brasa is a legendary restaurant in the Twin Cities known for its smoked rotisserie chicken.
Red Rabbit: Highly regarded spot for pizza, pastas, and other Italian favorites.
Hyacinth: A tiny, James Beard award-winning Italian restaurant that’s just as delicious as the press would lead you to believe. (Check out our full review here.)
Billy’s on Grand: A long time sports bar right on Grand Avenue, this spot recently got a revitalization when they signed the head chef from the legendary (but recently closed) Happy Gnome restaurant.
Cafe Latte: Cafe Latte is a cafe serving soups, sandwiches, and salads, cafeteria style. But most importantly? A wide selection of some of the best cakes in the city.
Salut Bar Americain: Salut Bar Americain is actually the neighborhood’s only French restaurant, with a French Onion Soup as perfect as you’d expect.
Chipotle: It’s a Chipotle. Enough said?
Dominoes: Do we really need a description for this?
Woullet Bakery: A favorite local bakery that specializes in all the classics, like cakes, pastries, and croissants. (The almond one is hugely popular…)
The Lexington: An upscale fine dining restaurant with a 75+ year history in the city of St. Paul.
Iron Ranger: Recently renovated space with a decent selection of craft beer on tap. Special shout out to the Porketta sandwich, our pick for one of the best sandwiches in the Twin Cities.
The Uptowner Cafe: A breakfast, brunch and lunch spot with a classic diner atmosphere.
Bravo Bakery: A tiny little cake shop that some say has the best cream puff and Italian coffee in town.
Toppers Pizza: Toppers is a local pizza delivery chain with the strange flavors you’d expect from a Northern chain, like a “Wisconsin Curds N’ Bacon” pizza or “The loaded Tater Tot” pizza.
Bread & Chocolate: Very popular neighborhood coffee shop with plenty of tables for lounging and sipping. They also carry a big collection of cookies, treats, and sweets.
Caribou Coffee: There’s actually two Caribous in this neighborhood, both located at different spots along Grand Avenue. The first sits in a stand-alone building across the street from Grand Ole Creamery and India House, and the second lies in the small “Oxford Square” shopping center at the intersection of Grand Ave & Oxford Street.
Bruegger’s Bagels: Bruegger’s is a chain for New York bagels and coffee, with this location situated right in the middle of all the action on Grand Avenue.
Thirty Six Cafe: One of the few independently owned coffee shops on Grand Avenue. Thirty Six Cafe is famous for their souffle pancakes.
Starbucks: Starbucks has one location on Grand Avenue near the Grand Ave/Lexington intersection.
The Grand Avenue area boasts some of the best shopping in the entire Twin Cities, but with a down to earth neighborhood vibe rather than the mega-mall arrangements or upscale developments you’ll find elsewhere. That’s thanks to the setup of Grand Avenue, which is lined with a quaint and quirky shops for miles, many of which sit in converted Victorian homes or small strip locations.
Here’s quick rundown, although you might also like our article about the best shops on Grand Avenue.
Belle Via Jewelry: Belle Via Jewelry sits in one of Grand Avenue’s many Victorian homes, with a location at the far West end of the neighborhood.
The Wedding Shoppe: A popular bridal store known for its affordable wedding and bridesmaid dresses.
Balloon Bunch: This small shop specializes in balloon deliveries for special occasions.
Northern Brewer: A shop that’s all about the home brew! They carry all the equipment needed to brew your own beer at home.
Lama Bazaar: Lama Bazaar is a unique gift shop located in a hard to miss yellow and red painted house. Inside you’ll find lots of gifts, including tons of scarves, hats, and socks.
GoodThings: Probably the largest gift shop on Grand Avenue, GoodThings carries a wide yet carefully curated collection of every type of gift.
Running Room: A specialty store for runners. From shoes to gear, it’s all here.
Shoesters: A family owned shoe store focusing on high quality, supportive shoes and orthotics.
Allure Intimate Apparel: Allure is a family owned boutique specializing in bras and lingerie. They’re especially known for their knowledgeable associates, who provide expert bra fitting services.
Stogie’s on Grand: A small cigar shop on Grand Avenue.
JA Gerber Jewelers: An independently owned jeweler inside an old Victorian home.
Gold’N Treasures: A highly rated jeweler with an unassuming location in the basement of an apartment building.
First Grand Avenue Liquor Store: An awesome locally owned liquor shop with a great selection of craft beers and one of the largest walk in refrigerators around.
Cooks of Crocus Hill: Cooks of Crocus Hill specializes in all things food. From their packed showroom to their cooking classes upstairs, they’re a foodie’s dream.
Nothing But Hemp: A small shop specializing in CBD oil.
Mischief Toy Store: Known for the colorful “MISCHIEF” sign out front, this is one of the best children’s toy stores around.
Golden Fig Fine Foods: A must visit shop for anyone looking for unique snacks, mixes, and spices. Golden Fig Fine Foods is unique in showcasing entirely local products.
Oriental Rug Gallery: An authentic Persian Rug Dealer, their showroom features hundreds of rugs for sale.
Penzeys Spices: A specialty spice store with an unbelievable selection.
George’s Shoe & Leather Repair: A tiny shoe repair shop that also sells a few miscellanous shoe products.
Perrier Wines & Liquors: The easternmost liquor store on Grand Avenue, Perrier Wine & Liquors has a decent selection in their corner store location.
Grand Hand Gallery: One of the best art galleries in the Twin Cities, specializing in in pottery and woodwork.
Trade Winds: A independent clothing shop. Located right next to Paper Source and across the street from the always popular Cafe Latte.
JW Hulme: A leather handbag company that recently moved their showroom onto Grand Avenue, with a street-facing storefront.
Poppy Fun Fashion: Poppy Fun Fashion is a women’s clothing store known for its unique selections and helpful staff.
Red Balloon Bookshop: Located in an adorable location, this is our pick for the best children’s bookstore in St. Paul.
Grand Jete: This is a dance specialty store with an especially large selection of dance shoes and dresses.
Misc. Chain Shops:
- Pottery Barn
- J. Crew
- Paper Source
- Ace Hardware