I was invited to travel through Minnesota as part of a paid campaign through Explore Minnesota and this post is a part of the output from that experience. All opinions in this post are my own.
It was with Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” in my head that I said yes to spending part of my summer in the state of Minnesota as a “10-Day Minnesotan” for Explore Minnesota and their Instagram campaign using the hashtag #OnlyinMN.
I grew up listening to NPR, and Keillor’s soothing voice forms the background of some of my earliest memories. I was eager to learn if the spirit of his broadcasts was really indicative of what life is like there. Are the people as nice as they always seemed during his show? Is life as idyllic?
Previous 10-Day Minnesotans in my position have been Pei Ketron, Eric Ward and Allan Edward Hinton.
My itinerary began in Minneapolis and St. Paul where I was a guest at Hotel Ivy.
Minneapolis and St. Paul are separate and distinct cities, but they are so close to one another that without a truly prolonged visit, it would be difficult to understand the nuances. In the end, on the day I left, I almost wished I had just spent my time there. But I’m also grateful for the cross section I did get, a really good overview of the southeast corner of Minnesota.
In Minneapolis, I visited:
- Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen
- Minneapolis Farmer’s Market
- American Swedish Institute
- Weisman Art Museum
- Matt’s Bar for a Jucy Lucy
- 50th & France in Edina (great shopping!)
- Agra Culture
- Grand Ole Creamery
- Stone Arch Bridge
- Mill Ruins Park
- Isles Bun & Coffee
In St. Paul, I enjoyed driving up and down Summit Avenue to look at the beautiful historic homes, but I also visited Groveland Tap (to see if their Juicy Lucy was better than Matt’s Bar). The staff and fellow patrons made it a long and wonderful night and their beer menu did not disappoint. I opted for a flight so I could try several types of local beer.
I loved being a guest at Hotel Ivy, just the latest in the list of SPG properties I’ve been able to get to know! The lobby bar Venetia has a great liquor program with talented bartenders. My meal at Monello restaurant just off the lobby was proof that “the hotel restaurant” has firmly crossed into a new phase in which fine dining is the standard, not the exception. But it was Constantine, the speakeasy in the lowest level of Hotel Ivy, that really made me cross from like to love. When a Hanakasumi Body Treatment at IvySpa Club was added to my stay, I really didn’t want to leave. In short: The hotel more than merits its place in the ranking of SPG’s Luxury Collection.
I did have to leave, however, and my first stop outside the Twin Cities was Stillwater. Like many towns along the St. Croix River, Stillwater has a history closely tied to logging, hence the annual Log Jam Festival, with many historic homes once belonging to lumber barons. In fact, the Rivertown Inn where I stayed is one such home that’s now been turned into the area’s most elegant bed and breakfast. Breakfast is quite a fancy affair and can begin with French press coffee service in your room at 8 a.m., should you so choose. The food is very gourmet and the chef a delight to talk to.
While in Stillwater, I also visited:
- Len’s Family Foods, where a great mural covers the façade
- Mara Mi
- The Wedge & Wheel
- Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop
- Gondola Romantica
When I left Stillwater, I hugged the St. Croix for a while before turning toward Afton where I stopped at Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor before continuing on to Afton State Park. After hiking around and meeting some local families enjoying the yurts that the park offers for rent, I drove to Hastings where I enjoyed the small town’s beautifully preserved Main Street before continuing on to the Anderson Center just outside of Red Wing. This arts center and sculpture garden is a serene place that both showcases art and is also home to artists who inhabit restored buildings on a beautiful piece of property sheltered by ancient soaring trees.
In Red Wing, I stayed at The St. James Hotel and visited:
- Memorial Park for sunset
- Uffda Shop for Scandinavian gifts
- Hanisch Bakery for heath bar and maple bacon donuts
- Bev’s Café
- Fair Trade Books
- Pottery Museum of Red Wing
- Sheldon Theatre
- Red Wing Shoes (home of the world’s largest boot!)
Before bedding down in Winona for the night at The Alexander Mansion, I visited Frontenac State Park and Lake City. But it was a sunset paddle on the Mississippi and Lake Pepin with Broken Paddle Guiding that was the highlight of my 5th day in Minnesota. We met at the Read’s Landing Brewing Company and we eventually ended our paddle there as well. It made me sad that I had to move on as it looked like a really wonderful place that I wish I had been able to frequent. Nonetheless, the paddle itself was fantastic and I now recommend Michael and his company to everyone that asks what they should do while in Minnesota.
In Winona, I visited:
- Minnesota Marine Art Museum
- Garvin Heights Park
- Garvin Heights Vineyard
- JR Watkins Museum & Store
From Winona, I left the Mississippi entirely and headed inland to the village of Lanesboro, but was pleasantly surprised to find that water is still a large theme in town. Their river is ideally suited for tubing and canoeing, and the Root River Trail also runs through town. So it’s a great place for those who want to be active during the summer months (I’m told it’s also great for those who love to cross-country ski in the winter).
I stayed at Habberstad House and I also visited:
- Old Village Hall
- Root River Outfitters (to rent a bike for the trail)
- Spud Boy Diner Car (my favorite place to eat in town)
- Pedal Pushers Café
- Another Time Ice Cream
- Lanesboro Museum
- Slant Avenue Mercantile
I wasn’t able to do an Amish tour because time ran out, but I hear that’s a highlight of the area. I’ve also been told the nearby Niagara Cave is a good place to visit.
Next I moved on to the city of Rochester, famed for being the home of the Mayo Clinic. I did wonder what else there might be to do in town if I didn’t arrive needing to be seen by a doctor. What do people who live there do? What do hospital staff do for fun? I found out when I got to know local photographers Alexandra and Bharath Wootla!
Together we visited:
- Plummer House
- Thursdays on First street festival
- Silver Lake
The next day on my own, I visited:
- Rochester Art Center
- The Shops at University Square
- Grand Rounds Brewpub
- The Taphouse
- Flapdoodle’s Ice Cream
During my two nights in Rochester, I was a guest at The International, a hotel within a hotel inside the Kahler Grand. It’s in a great location with close proximity to most of the best things to do in the city.
After Rochester, I made my way back up toward Minneapolis and St. Paul by driving through the town of Faribault.
There I visited:
- Faribault Woolen Mill (their 150th anniversary party is on August 15 and it’s open to the public)
- The Cheese Cave
When I arrived back in the Twin Cities, I checked into The Commons Hotel before meeting local photographer Waqar Ahmad for a Twins/Yankees game at Target Field. After the game, we met up with more local photographers who are all part of the Instagram group “Minnstameets” to enjoy the Aquatennial celebration. Sunset and the fireworks that followed were wonderful, and I really enjoyed making some new friends while still in town. We ended the night at the historic Monte Carlo restaurant, which has a super cool vintage vibe and great cocktails.
The next morning, my last in Minnesota, I met up with Waqar again and was able to meet Rita Farmer for the first time. We had a great conversation at Spyhouse Coffee (which I LOVED) before Waqar and I continued on to a local park for a few photo adventures before I had to go to the airport.
That last morning re-confirmed a theme that had been running through the trip all along: It was the people I met in Minnesota that made the experience so special. In Lanesboro, it was Gordon at the diner and local photographer Tyler. In Rochester, Alexandra and Bharath. In the Twin Cities, the entire Instagram community of local photographers enveloped me and welcomed me in a way that made me sad to leave so soon. Along the way, there were countless people at local businesses and at the B&Bs where I stayed that all made me feel a part of something bigger, though I was only a visitor passing through.
I pondered all of this as I wandered the halls of MSP before my flight took off. It’s a great airport with more shops and places to eat than any I can remember visiting. It’s a destination in and of itself. However, yet again, it was the people who made it special, this time the local woman who worked in the Aveda store. It’s a favorite brand of mine and yet she was the first to tell me it’s native to Minnesota. She also helped me get my Chi balanced, and paired with a glass of wine at Surdyk’s just before takeoff, I boarded my plane entirely content and happy–though maybe just a touch sad my 10 days in Minnesota ended so soon. Now I’ll listen to NPR with fresh ears and a deep appreciation for the Land of 10, 000 Lakes knowing there’s so much more to love than just a few bodies of water.