Day Trip: Austin
Austin may be best known for SPAM and the Hormel Co., but there is more to enjoy if you take the time
All photos, unless taken from Instagram, are courtesy Discover Austin Minnesota
Austin, Minnesota, is about 1.5 hours straight south of the Twin Cities, and while its biggest claim to Minnesota lore might be its free-admission, interactive, brightly colored SPAM Museum—which, admittedly, is worth a visit—people who have visited know there is more to see. Here are just a few places to stop by in this southern Minnesota town.
Tours through Discover Austin
There might not be a better way to see all of the city’s hidden gems than through a tour. Contact Discover Austin Minnesota, and they can connect you to a variety of options. Looking at the long list, two of my picks would be the Austin City Tour (what better way to learn about quirky histories and underrated spots?) and the Wind Farm Tour. The tourism organization can also help you explore the greater area with options like Four Daughters Vineyard and the Alpacas of Oak Knoll Farms.
Although Austin has a population of about 24,000, it boasts two breweries which both opened up in 2018. The Angry Hog Brewery is a wink and a nod to the home of Hormel, and you can grab a pint of similarly joshing names such as the Giggling Piglet Cream Ale—which is what they call the gateway from mass produced domestics to craft beer. The taproom lets its food industry background of Jimmy’s Fish and Seafood and Fine Meats show through for a non-pretentious, blue-collar sort of feel—the kind that welcomes you after a long day.
A little more downtown is Gravity Storm Brewing Cooperative. Anyone can become a patron-owner for special benefits, but the doses of tiki decoration and pop culture are all due to founder Brian Davis. Currently on the rotating tap list is St. Somewhere, a sweet stout with flaked oats, and Fins, a pre-Prohibition lager with flavor that makes an impact.
Right across the SPAM Museum is a quaint shop that is part bookstore and part candy store, with the remaining space filled with local crafts and the largest collection of Berenstain Bears books and memorabilia according to Guinness World Book of Records. Sweet Reads puts a spotlight on local authors, but most of it is organized genre. Find history and travel inside the locomotive display and books on nature by the tree branches inside the store.
Jay C. Hormel Nature Center
Visit the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center to learn more about the ecology in Austin, or head straight for the trails. Bike trails connect to the center, but on the Nature Center’s trails, it’s all walking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing by forest, pond, and prairie. Stop by Thursdays in the winter from 3 to 6 p.m. for free ski or snowshoe rentals, weather permitting.
The Hormel Historic Home
The Hormel Historic Home might not be the size of some of the state’s grandest mansions, but the 1871 brick home holds plenty of history. When George and Lillian Hormel bought the home in 1901, they emphasized the Italianate style that already shone through with a large scale remodel that added a stucco exterior, columns, European materials, and German influences throughout the house. Come for a self-guided tour—activity stations are often set up for young children in various rooms—or check the calendar for one of its history, entertainment, or food events.
ArtWorks Gallery Show
The Minnesota Black Fine Art Show, a partnership with Obsidian Arts and funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board, began the first leg of its traveling exhibit at Austin’s ArtWorks gallery on Jan. 11. Ten juried artists of African descent will be sharing their voice across a diverse set of media in Austin through March 23. The show will eventually make its way to Minneapolis, but why wait that long if you’re in the area?
Go retro at the Midwest’s largest roller rink, originally built in 1960. At 216 by 16 feet, the Rohler Rink would cover more than two-thirds of a football field, and its tempered masonite floor gives the perfect grip and smoothness so you can skate and blade to your favorite songs with ease.
Food with History
While there are a good number of food choices in Austin, here are a few with legacy. The Old Mill Restaurant’s building was originally built in the 1850s as, well, a mill. It was in operation in one way or another until 1933 and then was converted into a restaurant in 1949. Now visitors can enjoy more upscale fare including a legendary prime rib of beef, hand-pattied burgers, and homemade French onion soup.
Kenny’s Oak Grill has been family run for more than 50 years, and if you have been by Austin over the years, don’t be surprised if you see the same friendly faces working the restaurant. Just as the staff welcomes in everyone as family, they also end up being a family themselves. This is an old fashioned diner through and through, so enjoy the classics and take a look at the old time photos and posters on the walls.
For something that hits your comfort food craving, go for Tendermaid. This 80-year-old establishment doesn’t have a website, but four generations in Austin have grown up with it. Gnash on loose meat sandwiches and more, and if you’re daring, try to beat the record: 30 cheeseburgers, 84 ounces of water, a bag of chips, and a malt.
If you’re lucky: The Hormel Institute
The Hormel Institute is part of the University of Minnesota and the Masonic Cancer Center, and its research covers 16 different areas. There are only two weekends in the year reserved for open house tours to see the cancer research happening at The Hormel Institute. However, small or large group tours may be arranged before arrival depending on availability.