Suburbs get snubbed a lot — Pleasantvilles with no culture, no history, no nightlife. Not true in Hopkins. If there is a recipe for what’s trendy in big-city neighborhoods, Hopkins already has all the ingredients. To wit: bike paths, ethnic eateries, live theater, indie shops, a walkable downtown. Oh, and a new taproom. “A lot of communities have tried to emulate this,” said Hillary Feder, owner of Hillary’s, a personalized gift store on Mainstreet. “This is the original.” Indeed, Hopkins — first incorporated as the village of West Minneapolis in 1893 — was a proper town long before it got swallowed up by the sprawl. So exit Hwy. 169 at Excelsior Boulevard and follow the signs to downtown. Or arrive by bicycle. Four regional trails lead to Hopkins, where the Raspberry Festival is the big annual event, but there’s so much more to do.
Definition of a diner
Beware the portions at Hoagie’s Family Restaurant, a “breakfast all day” diner where the pancakes are plate-sized and most of the menu won’t set you back more than a five spot. It’s the kind of place where you can smell the bacon and eggs cooking before you set foot inside. Grab a booth or perch at the lunch counter to chat with the regulars who know the waitresses by name. Just be sure to stuff your wallet before you dig in. This classic is cash or check only. Open for breakfast and lunch. (824 Mainstreet, 952-935-2865)
Cyclists can easily start or end a journey in Hopkins, which sits at the intersection of several trails connecting Minneapolis, the Minnesota River Valley and Lake Minnetonka. It’s just five miles of paved trail from Hopkins to Uptown. Trails that go west toward the lake and river are unpaved. The wide, mostly flat pathways — built along old railroad beds — make for pleasant pedaling through urban areas, neighborhoods and greenery.
The bicycle trails run right next to the Depot Coffee House (9451 Excelsior Blvd., 952-938-2204) where you can refuel with a sandwich or something homemade from the bakery case. The renovated train depot also has open mic nights on Tuesdays and live bands every Friday. In downtown, stop by Munkabeans (1206 Mainstreet, 952-938-9056) for a treat. The coffee shop serves made-to-order sandwiches and snacks, including Sebastian Joe’s ice cream. The Hopkins Mocha comes with white chocolate and — what else? — raspberries.
Shop vintage utility
If Stillwater is the glossy example of suburban boutiques and antiques, think of Hopkins as its more modest and practical cousin. There are a half-dozen antique stores peddling all kinds of relics — Hopkins Antique Mall (1008 Mainstreet) might be the biggest — but there’s also a utilitarian vibe to the downtown drag. There are shops for clock repair, shoe repair, even knife sharpening. “There’s just about anything you could want,” said Barb Benshop, a dealer at Hopkins Antique Mall. It’s also a hot spot for kids and parents, with colorful toy store Kiddywampus (1023 Mainstreet), the boutique Baby Grand (1010 Mainstreet) and maternity consignment store Nine (912 Mainstreet).
With a bright, airy atrium, art gallery and multiple performance spaces, the Hopkins Center for the Arts (1111 Mainstreet, www.hopkinsartscenter.com) is the cultural hub of downtown. It’s home to Stages Theatre Company, which is celebrating 30 years of performances for children and young adults. But it’s not all about the kids. The center’s calendar also includes an art-related book club, live music and, in September, a literary conversation with superstar author Joyce Carol Oates. Don’t have time to catch a performance? Take a few minutes to wander through the first-floor art gallery or gaze at the pieces on display in the atrium. Recent exhibitions included fantastical multimedia sculptures and paintings of cathedrals.