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Nickelodeon Universe inside Mall of America Ackerman + Gruber for Racked

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The Complete Guide to Mall of America

Everything you need to plan a trip to America’s largest mall — which is so much more than just a mall.

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Mall of America. Located in the town of Bloomington, Minnesota, it’s a place you’re intrinsically familiar with, like Disneyland or Texas, even if you’ve never actually set foot in there. However big you think it is, think bigger. Stats on the mall are both staggering and patriotic; it is the size of nine Yankee stadiums or 347 Statues of Liberty, and could fit each of Mount Rushmore’s busts in its individual wings.

However traditional you think it is, think again. While on one hand it’s a place where the decades-old Great Steak and Potato Company still exists, on the other it’s a forward-thinking, environmentally friendly phenomenon.

And however you think you can conquer it, you probably won’t. At 5.6 million square feet, with one loop on one floor clocking in at over one mile, it’s a shopping bonanza that’s massive by design but somehow doesn’t feel completely overwhelming.

walkways in the mall of america with holiday lights
Kids exploring the underwater tunnel at the Minnesota Sea Life Aquarium in Mall of America
An overhead view of people sitting on couches in a busy walkway at Mall of America

And yet, it’s so much more than a mall. Here, you can buy a mattress, massage, manicure, or text messaging plan from any carrier. You can get married in its Chapel of Love, load up on armfuls of baby clothing, and later become an AARP member, experiencing the full spectrum of life under its skylight-lined roof. You can spin upside down on rides, swim with sharks, or get a shave while just-bought jeans are hemmed at an on-site tailor. At Mall of America, it’s all an indoor dream come true.

While you can’t expect to experience everything in one trip, if you follow our guidelines, you’ll shop, drop, and hopefully leave in time for your connecting flight.


Table of Contents

Peruse the full guide or use the index below to find exactly what you’re after, whether it’s a day-by-day itinerary, a short list of the best stores, or tips on how to take advantage of the mall’s discounts.


Escalators criss-crossing in mall of america

The Basics: Getting There, and Getting Around

Located just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and six miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Mall of America is extremely easy to get to. The twenty-minute Metro Transit Light Rail trip between the airport and the mall costs $1.75 (or $2.25 during weekday rush hours) each way, or layover visitors could opt for a taxi. Uber now has an official partnership with MOA, hosting pickup and drop-off zones throughout.

If you choose to drive yourself, there is ample parking, and the mall includes parking suggestions near every store, restaurant, and experience in its directory. Nearby hotels may offer shuttles, too, so be sure to inquire directly.

The mall consists of four floors: Levels 1 and 2 are primarily shopping, but the open atrium at the center of Level 1 is where the Nickelodeon Universe theme park is located; Level 3 is a mix of shops, two food courts, and the majority of MOA’s restaurants; Level 4, the smallest floor, has a handful of restaurants as well as a movie theatre.

Don’t bother studying the map; you’ll know what’s east and south but when you’re actually walking around, it’s tough to determine which way is which. Instead, try to embrace it. You’ll turn right four times yet somehow not end up where you started, and that’s part of the fun.

A few tips: It’s often quicker to go down to the first floor and cut across the Nickelodeon Universe than it is to walk back through the mall’s corridors. Use the Ferris wheel as your North Star. There are very few directional signs, and it’s the only thing you can see from all corners of the mall to help point you in the right direction.

To help find what you’re looking for, download the Mall of America app (which we found pretty helpful), utilize MOA’s text concierge (1-952-479-4839), and of course, keep our guide handy.


A girl looks at a cutting board souvenir Minnesot-ah! in Mall of America

The Stores You Cannot Miss

The largest mall in North America has plenty of must-sees, but the biggest mall doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest stores or widest selection. Square footage per shop can be smaller than your regular mall, which in turn can mean less merchandise and decreased sale offerings. Places like Madewell and Anthropologie stick more to their core offerings, bringing less third-party items to these stores than their urban counterparts; even the stock at H&M and Urban Outfitters here feels restrained.

If you’re looking to outsmart Midwestern shoppers by garnering steals on swanky goods, look elsewhere, as most stores don’t cater to luxury audiences. Still, who says being deliciously pedestrian is a bad thing? There’s at least one of everything you can dream of, a plethora of style options, and a handful of stores you truly can’t miss, even if you’re only popping into the mall to grab one thing.

Crayola Experience Store
If you’re the type of person who is soothed by things organized neatly, this souvenir shop outside the colorful attraction will be your Container Store-style happy place. You can pick candy from delightfully color-coordinated bulk bins, build your own crayon box, or even fill a vintage-designed tin with a lifetime stash of Purple Mountains Majesty, if you see fit.

Debut
This brand new Mall of America-owned and -operated concept store offers clothing, accessories, and home goods from a shortlist of designers not represented elsewhere throughout the mall. With a design and focus that rotates throughout the year, it’s ever-changing; at press time, Woolrich heritage outerwear, Billykirk leather goods, and New York designer Todd Snyder’s collaboration with Champion were among the impressive roster of brands on display.

Lululemon Athletica
Sure, this brand is everywhere, but Mall of America’s outpost had the most robust sale section I’ve ever seen at a Lululemon in my life. With ample styles and a selection that was far from picked over, this one’s a worthy stop, whether or not you make it into the mall first-hand. (If you can’t find something at a store back home, consider calling here directly and having them ship it out!)

Minnesot-Ah!
This intensely Midwestern outpost is a one-stop shop not only for souvenirs you didn’t know you wanted, but also for ones you never expected they’d have. Pick up themed foods, throwback travel stickers, or even a tea towel dedicated to regional hot dishes, the state’s famous casseroles. Mall of America has a few state-themed stores, but don’t bother with the others — this Level 1 outpost has more unique offerings than Love From Minnesota and I Love Minnesota, two similar but inferior options on the third floor.

Nordstrom Rack
The Rack is your best bet for designer deals at the mall (but manage your expectations: Think Theory, not The Row). The designer breakout section is weak, so stick to the clearance racks and the accessories section, where you’re more likely to find treasure if you dig for it. A random assortment of brands like Kate Spade, Alice and Olivia, and Rebecca Taylor are mixed into the racks; I even spotted a pair of bold Prada sunglasses and a Rachel Antonoff dress that seemingly didn’t know how they ended up there.

If you come up empty, hop over to the flagship Nordstrom. As the only location in the mall that carries high-end lines from the likes of Gucci and Alexander Wang, it’s realistically the only other place that could have them on sale.

NYX Professional Makeup
The up-and-coming makeup behemoth, a favorite among Instagram and YouTube MUAs, hosts its only Midwest brick and mortar at Mall of America. Color-lovers can play around with the mind-bogglingly affordable collection of cosmetics in a wide array of textures and tones, which typically fly off the shelves at other shops that carry them.

Tory Sport
The burgeoning athleisure arm of Tory Burch is a favorite for top-notch fitness clothes that toe the line between preppy and quirky. There are only five locations nationwide where you can shop the collection in full (the others are all in New York and Texas), so you’ll want to dive deep into the patterned sweaters and crazy-soft leggings that’ll ensure you won’t be twinning with anyone at yoga or Soulcycle back home.

Your Favorite Store From When You Were 16
It’s probably been a good decade since you’ve stepped foot into Abercrombie or American Eagle, but if you can still fit into the tween favorites, prepare for shocking dressing room moments and sale rack surprises. The Instagram effect means that these early-aughts chains are as on-trend as the minimalist website or curated boutique you regularly shop at, deeming them worthy of a second look. (Pro tip: The American Eagle on Level 2 is significantly better than its outpost on Level 1.)

A ride at Nickelodeon Universe in Mall of America

Everything That Isn’t Shopping

There’s so much going on in the city of Minneapolis, which is really too bad, because you’re never going to make it there with so much on offer at the mall itself. With culinary treats, flight simulators, and record-breaking ziplines, you’ll want to try all of it before venturing back to the airport — or back to your in-mall retreat.

Lodging

There are plenty — plenty! — of hotels near Mall of America, but staying on-site is recommended for full Night at the Museum vibes. (The glory of being able to pop back into your hotel room to drop off bags, take a nap, or eat ice cream in serene privacy is not to be underestimated.)

Two hotels, the JW Marriott Minneapolis and Radisson Blu Mall of America, are connected to the mall via walkways. Both have indoor pools, robust amenities, and dining options, but the Radisson Blu is the better choice. It’s got a more style-savvy design, upscale rooms at reasonable prices, and quirky touches throughout.

Restaurants

When you’re in the thick of it, you’ll feel like you’ve walked past a million Starbucks, still can’t find that one salad place, and will settle for a DQ ice cream cone for lunch. Don’t play yourself, because MOA’s food locations are worth parsing through. Grab-and-go counters and dining options are located throughout the mall, but two food courts (the newer Culinary on North as well as South Street Dining) and sit-down restaurants encompass most of Levels 3 and 4.

If you’re looking for themed restaurants — Dick’s Last Resort, Margaritaville, Bubba Gump, Benihana, Rainforest Cafe — they're all here, but when you want actual fuel (and perhaps even nutritious food), here are your best bets.

Shake Shack at Mall of America

For health-conscious food: Mini-chain Freshii offers grain bowls, quinoa wraps, fresh juices, and other light fare you’d rarely expect to find in the deep Midwest, as well as a bottle of Sriracha on each table for good measure. Grab an extra order of Energii Bites to gnaw on while roaming the mall’s corridors, and treat yourself to a plentiful portion of the kefir-based fro-yo.

For a quick but good meal: Naf Naf Grill, which serves its beloved falafel hummus bowls and Middle Eastern shawarma sandwiches by way of a Chipotle-style menu. If you prefer Italian food, pick up a hearty salad, bowl of angel hair pasta, or namesake wrap-like sandwich at Piada Italian Street Food, one of the other most reliable food stalls in the mall.

For business drinks: Round up the sales team post-convention at FireLake Cocktail Bar inside the adjoined Radisson Blu hotel for a selection of local beers, creative cocktails, and small plates in an atmosphere that’s bustling without being busy.

For a splurge-worthy burger: Since both offer locally sourced patties, it’s a tie between Shake Shack, the beloved New York-based chain serving up classic cheeseburgers and fries at Culinary on North, and Burger Burger, which offers more customizable flavors and toppings. Both milkshakes are equal opponents, too — Shake Shack has a themed Concrete dubbed “Malt of America,” while Burger Burger serves a full menu of liquor-spiked shakes.

For a dinner you can expense: At the base of the mall’s adjoined JW Marriott hotel is Cedar + Stone Urban Table, an upscale restaurant highlighting local ingredients and beloved Minnesotan flavors at prices you’d much prefer your company pay.

For sippable sweets: Local chain Caribou Coffee offers plenty of sugar-sapped coffees, but where you’ll really want to head to is Chatime Tea. The milk and fruit teas come in flavors like taro, matcha, and hibiscus, and can be customized with chewy boba and jellies, not to mention sweetened to your liking.

Kids playing in the aquarium in mall of america

Amusements

With a comedy club, nightly laser light shows, and an entire ground floor dedicated to a full-fledged theme park, Mall of America is as much an entertainment district as it is a shopping center.

Nickelodeon Universe hosts 27 themed rides in total, appealing to cartoon-loving children of all ages while simultaneously containing legitimate thrills by way of inversions, airtime, and 90-degree drops. Though the oppressive height requirements will keep adults out of the glorious SpongeBob SquarePants-themed bounce house (cue eyeroll emoji), both his upside-down Rock Bottom Plunge roller coaster and Avatar Airbender can take guests up to the tippy-top of the mall’s roof and straight back down again. (For less aggressive spins and twirls, try Brain Surge and the Fairly Odd Coaster.) If you can, visit twice, riding attractions during the day to appreciate them then again at night when the lights are dimmed for an after-hours feel.

Still, the coasters, log flume, and kiddie rides aren’t the full extent of what MOA has to offer. Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course within Nickelodeon Universe hosts four levels of ropes course climbs and balance challenges, even letting daredevils zoom past surrounding rides on North America’s longest indoor zipline.

FlyOver America takes guests on an eye-popping tour of the country’s greatest sights in a flight simulation theatre (that’s eerily similar to Soarin’ at Disney parks), and if you have extra time while perusing the miles-long mall, make a stop at Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, too. Though it first feels like more of a hands-on learning center than an up-close glimpse at underwater species, its 300 foot-long ocean tunnel aquarium is a spectacle that needs to be seen. Standing below sharks, turtles, and stingrays is even more shocking when you consider it’s in a shopping mall — and that they offer snorkeling, shark dives, and overnight sleepovers.

A little boy making Crayons at the Crayola Experience in Mall of America
Crayola crayons in a pile

There’s plenty of fun to be had at the Crayola Experience regardless of age (but be warned — if you attend alone like I did, prepare for parents to be confused as hell). Still, with a make-your-own crayon machine, printable selfie coloring pages, and a wax melting contraption that turns an old crayon into a costume jewelry ring, why wouldn’t you make it a priority?

And, of course, if you don’t want to shop at all — or need to keep yourself preoccupied while someone else does — it’s no trouble. Go for a spin at A.C.E.S. Flight Simulation Center, play a round at Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, or confuse yourself silly with the Amazing Mirror Maze or Mythbusters Exhibition. You’ll wonder why the best option for non-shopaholics at the mall back home are comfy chairs outside dressing rooms. Rotating exhibits tend to pop up, too, so check the website; a Paisley Park-sponsored gallery of Prince’s clothing was on display while we visited, and a Downton Abbey Experience offers a look at the show’s costumes and jewelry through early 2017.


a view of the second floor in mall of america

Discounts & Coupons

Coupon books are available on-site for a small fee at Guest Service desks, located by Level 1 entrances.

For a list of all sales currently going on at the mall, Head to Mall of America’s “Deals“ page on its website, which lists all promotions. It’s also got a convenient list of happy hour deals, should you be looking to save on food or drinks.

Bloomington Coupons has many dining and entertainment discounts available to print, from $5 off general admission at the Crayola Experience to 15 percent off at Freshii, one of Mall of America’s better healthy options.

Bundling your attractions could save money in the long run. With the purchase of a wristband, Nickelodeon Universe lets you add on a handful of in-mall experiences for less than their individual cost. Purchasing admission online for most attractions prior to visiting is generally less expensive, too.

Nickelodeon Universe offers an $8 discount on unlimited ride wristbands after 5 p.m. and regular promotions like Toddler Tuesdays, which offers a five-hour child wristband for select rides for $11.95. Chaperones ride free at Nickelodeon Universe every day, nearly halving the cost of admission on junior rides.

And keep in mind, there’s never any sales tax on clothing purchased at Mall of America.


The entrance of Mall of America

I’m Here. What Now?

What to see and do — broken down into three itineraries — based off how much time you have.

If you have a couple of hours:

Beeline to any of our can’t-miss stores you’re hoping to visit; getting lost is practically unavoidable, but having a clear destination helps.

Hit at least one of Nickelodeon Universe’s rides. You can opt to keep it tame with Pepsi Orange Streak or El Circulo Del Cielo Ferris wheel, which will give a calm overview of the entire park, or test your limits with aggressive options like Rock Bottom Plunge or Avatar Airbender.

Visiting on a layover? Don’t lug a suitcase around. Instead, pop your bag in one of the mall’s oversized lockers, available at each directional entrance of the mall as well as inside of Nickelodeon Universe.

Enjoy a meal you’ll only find here, like Burger Burger’s John Wayne or Shake Shack’s Mall Of America-themed Concrete milkshake.

Download the MOA app, which is extremely useful, and lean into the text concierge (1-952-479-4839) for any and all help you may need.

A close-up of children singing, wearing ties, in a Christmas choir at Mall of America

If you have one full day:

Do all of the above, and make a note of your favorite stores from our must-see list. (Even if you hit the mall hard, you won’t walk past them all.)

Swing over the country’s coolest sights at FlyOver America’s simulation theatre, or truly go sky-high on the mall’s record-holding indoor zipline at Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course.

Pack in a few additional Nickelodeon Universe attractions, like the delightful “wild mouse”-style Fairly Odd Coaster and Brain Drain, a self-controlled spinner that’s best to endure prior to eating.

Visit the in-mall aquarium to explore its fantastic walk-through ocean tunnel, or instead head to Crayola Experience to DIY an array of souvenirs.

Taste one of the Midwest’s greatest exports: the cheese curd. Burger Burger and Cedar + Stone Urban Table offer up delicious fried versions, while the Wisconsin-themed Rybicki Cheese Shop carries them in bulk and individual-sized bags.

Hit perennial favorites that have massive two-floor footprints here, like Forever 21, whose lower level hosts an expanded plus-size selection, as well as the new 30,000-square-foot Zara.

Have lunch at Naf Naf Grill or Freshii, two of the Midwest’s best and healthiest quick-service options, to fuel the 10,000+ steps you’ll undertake. Opt for a more indulgent dinner elsewhere in the mall as a reward.

Stop into single-brand shops like Fjällräven, Henri Bendel, Ivivva, and Aerie, which might not operate standalone stores back home.

Santa in mall of America

If you have the entire weekend:

Do all of the above, but simply keep our hit-list of must-see stores handy instead of noting them ahead of time; you’ll eventually walk past them all.

If you can, stay on-site. Experiencing the mall as your home is a one-of-a-kind sleepover experience that you won’t want to miss out on.

Go all in at Nickelodeon Universe. Purchase an unlimited ride wristband so you can experience the log ride, Ferris wheel, and roller coasters at day and at night. Double down on attractions by enjoying both Crayola Experience and the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium. (Aim for late afternoon, when crowds may be lighter.)

Pop into the mall’s quirkier collection of stores like Ragstock, which carries super-affordable thrifted clothing in the back of the store, and Alpaca Connection, an all-furry-everything outpost with cozy winter wear and adorable mini versions of the llama-like animals.

Wander through The LEGO Store and American Girl, even if you’re not looking to buy from either place. Both oversized shops are a joy to parse through, and if you’re here this long and don’t stop in, you’ve missed out.

Last but not least, enjoy the characters of the mall, literally. Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory has a full-sized mascot wandering out front, balloon artists go from table to table at Margaritaville on stilts, and you can attend meet-and-greets with cartoon characters like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob SquarePants at Nickelodeon Universe. If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t forget a visit with Santa.

For more on what to do, check out this first-person account of what it’s like to spend an entire weekend there.

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