Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Sometimes, flying direct just isn't an option, and you're stuck kicking around some airport terminal before boarding a plane to your final destination. Less than ideal? For sure. Painful? Totally depends on which airport you're trapped in. La Guardia's filthy, LAX is jam-packed, O'Hare is a known nightmare, and most mid-sized stopovers offer little more than Dunkin' Donuts or Panda Express.
But if you wind up with a layover at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, you're not only in for a breezy transfer experience – quick lines, easy-to-navigate layout, mostly on-time flights – but you have all the spoils for a damn good time. If you've got more than an hour before takeoff, you may as well latch the laptop shut and take full advantage of MSP's surprisingly vast, very un-airport-like selection of top-notch restaurants and cocktail lounges.
Sure, you'll find the usual fast-food chains and coffee carts, but MSP hosts several secondary outposts of favorite Twin Cities haunts – and they truly don't feel like cheesy, crammed mockups of the originals. There's Ike's Food & Cocktails, a retro-themed joint that serves up steaks, ribs, a seriously amazing burger, and a bunch of interesting small plates and apps, along with killer cocktails. For lighter fare, French Meadow Bakery & Café delivers unique and locally sourced salads, sandwiches, and entrées with a great wine selection set in an open, inviting space. Axel's Bonfire is another winner, with wood-fired Southwestern-inspired nosh and the restaurant's signature Bull Bites.
Rather stretch your legs than belly up to a bar? The terminal is huge, so there are many miles to cover, and the layout makes it so you can walk casually without getting stuck in a stream of hurried travelers or having your ankles nipped by baby strollers. Just be sure to stop by Surdyk's Flights, a fully stocked wine and gourmet cheese shop and tasting room based on the renowned, nearly 80-year-old Minneapolis liquor store.
If you must cram in some work during your stopover – or maybe you're only a few hours out from dinner and drinks with clients and would be wise to just chill – MSP has you covered there, too. Despite its size, several parts of the terminal are sectioned off into several smaller areas, almost like rooms or mini-terminals, so there's no shortage of spots to hunker down and not be bothered. The one knock is there's currently a fee for wireless access, but MSP plans to offer free service by the end of this year, according to the airport's website.
Obviously, you'll never plan a trip around a layover, but if you're bound to make a brief Midwest stop and can choose between Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, or Minneapolis, you'll know what to do. [Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport]