good general info sites for MN:http://www.citypages.com/http://www.rakemag.com/http://minnesota.publicradio.org/http://www.exploreminnesota.com/activities/
my in-laws are from CA - san fran and L.A. and they love minnesota. you won't have any trouble finding skate parks if you look, you can snow board, but the hills here are nothing like the sierra madre, the biggest you will find is in the upper peninsula of michigan at www.mtbohemia.com;
they have a 900 ft vertical w/ 270 inches of snow a year. surfing, hmm...yeah, i know people go up to lake superior and surf, but you will need a wet suit or you will freeze, do a google search for "lake superior surfing", and you will find plenty of info. laidback - yes. artsy-fartsy: yes, tons of theatres, galleries, small concert venues, etc. lots and lots of this, you will have a never ending supply, the art scene is truly endless. organic foods: yep, lots of co-op's; and don't miss the sweet corn and veggie stands in august, they are everywhere. there are many farms by my house ( i live in BFE on 5 acres) and one of them sells veggies and sweetcorn in the summer on an honor system. there is a tupperware container where you put your dough, and you take what you like (sorry for the sidetrack).
minnesota nice - okay, good question. basically, people can be overly nice and it's really quite humorous. that scene is fargo where the guy is shoveling snow and he talks to the cop for like 10 min's - that is minnesota nice. people will talk to you about anything and be your best friend while doing it. i am from wisconsin, things are slightly different there, maybe a little more liberal in some respects, but anyway, don't worry about it. you will be fine. some people that are not well traveled can feel trapped in minnesota, but i think you can say that for anyone growing up in an area and not traveling outside of it. i have been to most corners of this country and a few other continents and i find the people here pretty tolerable. you of course do get the country folk, but they are damn near everywhere, and they are mostly really nice. this is my background - farming/blue collar life, so whatever. you will be fine. just don't expect the big city and you will not be let down. the metro has a pop of 3.5 mill, so nowhere near LA, NYC or Chicago. BTW, if you need a big city fix, Chicago is a 6 hr drive through wisconsin (very scenic), interstate the whole way. you can stop off at cheese chateauís, etc, they are a trip, very entertaining. there is a place by eau claire that i love because you can stop and buy gas, beef jerky, strong liquor, powerful fireworks and cheese all in one stop. this is truly wisconsin/midwestern.
activities overall: you cannot get board in minnesota, unless you are looking for a glamorous east coast/hollywood experience. what i mean by that is that there is a lot to get into here, tons of organized events which are easy to tap into - music, food, art, entertainment, etc. some people get side tracked by the smallness of the overall metro, but that is okay, they can find what they are looking for on the coasts, or possibly in chicago. if you are into outdoor experiences, there is a lot for you: fishing, camping, boating, hiking, climbing, birding, hunting, etc.
i was planning to go to san diego for school for a bit, but i now think i am going to stay here and go to hamline (i'm married, one kid, one on the way, career, mortgage, etc), so it is sorta funny you asked. i was almost in your neck of the woods, now you are coming to mine.
good luck; if you need help or have questions, you can email me or post. later.
p.s. i'd like to directly answer your question on culture: there is a cultural difference, but it is all relative to what you are used to. i would say that the culture here is more like san fran's and less like LA's. fiscally conservative and socially liberal is the main stay. lots of WASP's, but nice, inviting ones. again, don't worry, you will find what you are looking for, it's like Jerry said..."Nothin' shakin' on Shakedown Street. Used to be the heart of town. Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. You just gotta poke around."
I think I'll like it as well.
Big city, solid music/arts/cultural scene.
I've heard the people are nice. I'm concerned that one of my friends that went to Carleton, and another that had friends at Mcallister mentioned that "Minnesota Nice" leaves a lot to be desired.
Will there really be that big a cultural difference between the West Coast and the upper Midwest?
Between Purple Rain, and Fargo I really am not sure what to expect. Do you think a prototypical West Coaster (outdoorsy, skate/surf/snowboard, laidback, artsy-fartsy, organic foods type) thrive out in the Twin Cities?