Looking for 1-minute TikTok tours of Twin Cities hot spots? You're in luck

John O'Sullivan
John O'Sullivan leads a walking tour in St. Paul. O'Sullivan is the founder of Depot Adventures, and posts on TikTok as @oneminutetours.
Courtesy Depot Adventures

John O’Sullivan leads one minute video tours on TikTok to a growing number of followers. He spoke with Cathy Wurzer about his “bite sized” daily video tours of Minnesota and the Midwest. You can learn more at depotadventures.com or follow him on TikTok at “oneminutetours.”

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Audio transcript

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Beautiful part of Saint Paul, right now, with the rail yard right behind me over there, this kind of skunky looking pond. But this gate is blocking the entrance to a very significant site for thousands of years, which the Dakota called Wakan Tipi. People who have grown up here might know this as Carver's Cave as well, which is named after the white explorer who came through in 1776, and threw a stone as hard as he could. And he couldn't see where it went through. It's so dark. But he heard the splash of the water. It's since been estimated that there are three caverns inside this cave.

And they've had to brick it over. Because it used to be a place where people came to drink and party. But also, there was a kind of guerrilla folk festival, all sorts of cool things that happened in there. We've since come to understand, in communicating with our Dakota brothers and sisters, this is a place for spirituality. And so while it isn't a place for us to go party and drink and play music, my God, it would be an amazing place. We could open this up for the Dakota people and explore this bit of Minnesota's history a bit more.

CATHY WURZER: There's a reason he's good at doing this. He's the founder of Depot Adventures, a walking tour company he started in Australia and just brought back to his home state in Minnesota. Hey John, welcome to Minnesota Now.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Hi, Cathy Wurzer, MPR. I'm so excited to be on here. I'm a big fan.

CATHY WURZER: Well, [LAUGHS] thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for being here. Say, I'm curious about how you started as a tour guide? How did you get into this business?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: That was a product of timing. I finished university in 2008, which was strategically not a wise time to finish university. [LAUGHTER] So I finished in the middle of a global financial crisis, and figured that I would go overseas and wait out the bad economy for about a year or so. And then, I spent 12 years overseas, having just returned home in November. And so I was abroad for a long time, found this profession of being a tour guide. I've given tours in 30 plus countries in the world. And it's become my profession, accidentally.

CATHY WURZER: I'm going to assume that you've always loved to travel.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, I've always been a pretty adventurous and enthusiastic person. And so, I've never really been comfortable just in one place for too long. However, I am now in the stage of life now, in my 30s, with a family, where I need to settle down and have some more roots into place. And so for me, being in my home state, giving walking tours, and doing videos on TikTok is my way of scratching that itch of adventurousness.

CATHY WURZER: I believe you grew up in Mankato and went to St John's.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: That's right.

CATHY WURZER: OK. So, tell me about your-- where do you find your bits of your tours, the bits of history that you put together to collate into these great tours?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Well, I mean, the whole project started for me as just very transactional, trying to do marketing for my walking tours. I thought, you know, this TikTok thing, it seems to be a thing that I should pay attention to. I give three-hour, or 180-minute tours. And so already, I have 180 1-minute tours I can publish on short form video. And so it started out with me just literally doing recordings of me on tour, talking about what I already knew. Now that I've been doing it for-- oh gosh, it's been over a year now, I have come to find a way to work the content curation into my life.

And so, if I happen to be, for example, traveling out to the East Coast of America-- as I was, just a couple of weeks ago-- I find links to Minnesota the entire way and reverse engineer it. So I don't think, here's a video I want to record, let's go there. I just say, well, I'm going to go to Appalachia. How does this tie-in to Minnesota? And then, I just do lots of googling to find where there's an interesting link to Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: I got to say it sounds like a blast.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: It's super fun. I mean, I just--

CATHY WURZER: I know.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: I found out that, with the Appalachian one, that Minnesota would have been in-- sorry, Saint Paul would have been in Massachusetts, had it not been for a proclamation in the late 1700s. Because when the early American colonies were set, many of them did not have western borders. And so their western border just extended out and out and out. So our Twin Cities would be in Massachusetts, if not for a decision that was made to actually apply a western border. And so that's just-- I don't know-- super interesting stuff that I don't think most of us would know, without having a very specific need to post daily TikToks.

[LAUGHTER]

CATHY WURZER: You know, I must say I did not know that. I can imagine that doing this kind of work would make you see things in a whole new light. Has it opened your eyes to different things?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Maybe it's my upbringing, and maybe this is just a personal thing. But I kind of think I undersold my home state, growing up here, especially in South Central Minnesota, lots of just flat farmland, not a lot to see. Everywhere that wasn't here, seemed more interesting. And so I left. And I spent a long time away from here. And I took for granted that 45 minutes from where I grew up is works of art, in the form of petroglyphs, from 12,000 years ago. There's so much to appreciate about this state that we live in, that I am so grateful for having the opportunity to discover now in my 30s.

CATHY WURZER: What do you think, why do you think TikTok is so popular? Why do you think people gravitate to your videos?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: It is a super compelling app. It's wildly addictive, in a kind of uncomfortable way, the amount of time that it can suck away. But one of the things that it does is when you open the app, it's not like another thing, like YouTube or Facebook, where you tell it what you want to see. I want to go look at this friend or watch this video. It just puts a video in front of your face, that it thinks you're going to like.

And that's what makes it so interesting, is that there is no need for you to tell it anything. It just reads into the videos that you watch more of, and then puts more of those videos in front of your face. And so in my case, all of my videos are about the Twin Cities, or about Minnesota, generally. And so, if you're from Minnesota, you're going to watch it. And then, the TikTok algorithm will then tell you that, oh, here's more videos of this guy. And so that's kind of the strategy. That's how it's exploded.

And I think that in an era where search engine optimization, and marketing, and email spam, and all the rest has taken over our lives, TikTok is a really authentic platform. You open it up and you see people talking from their bedroom, who are talking while they're out on a hike, or with their dog. And it feels a bit rougher. It feels rougher around the edges, in a way that doesn't feel too sleek. And I think that's why it's connecting. I think that's why my videos are connecting as well.

CATHY WURZER: Because you're literally just giving us, here you are, boom. This is what I am. This is where I am. And you just give a little bit of history. And it does, it feels very personal.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Thanks. I have a shooting style that I've written down actually. And so one of the things-- my goals for the video is that I wanted it to feel like you were actually on my walking tours. Because I still, I continue to give walking tours now. And really, I'd like for people to book them, ultimately. And so what I do is, if I make a mistake, I leave it in. I do it all one unbroken take. And I always do it on location. So I'm always in a place. That's why in the clip you played before, the audio is a little bit rough. Because I want it to feel a little bit like it's just a guy holding a phone in front of his face. Because that's what it is.

CATHY WURZER: Say, before you go, give me one hidden gem in the Twin Cities.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Ooh, I hesitate to do this because I love it so much. And it's going to blow up. But there as a cocktail bar that is just around, it's just around the corner from the Hewing Hotel, in the North Loop of Minneapolis. And it's called the Cobble Social House. And it is unmarked. So a lot of people go around the corner to the Monte Carlo. It's a famous restaurant there.

But you walk down this cobble-lined street, there is no sign for the bar. There's no name for it. You just look for a neon eye looking at you. And you go in and have some of the best cocktail bartenders in the world over there, the kind of people who will make a drink just for you, when you tell them what your flavor preferences are.

CATHY WURZER: And we should say that not only do you deal with history, you just deal with interesting things in the Twin Cities.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that bit of information came from the fact that I have a tour, called Booze Makes History Better. And so I professionally go to four bars and drink with customers. It's a pretty good life.

CATHY WURZER: That's not bad at all. I like that. I should think about that. John, I wish you all the best. It was fun talking to you. Thank you so much. Now, for folks who-- you got to go on TikTok, right. But do you have another website that people can contact you on.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: I'm on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, all as One Minute Tours. So you just look for that. But if you want to come on a tour with me specifically, my company is called Depot Adventures, like a bus depot. So they can go to depotadventures.com. And I do tours seven days a week, in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Thank you for stopping by.

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.

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