From Rochester to Roseau, there are more than 10,000 reasons to love summer in Minnesota. And whether you want to sail, swim, fish, scuba, or sunbathe in the nude (really), we’ve found the best places for you to experience the BEST TIME OF YEAR.
Best Place to Fish (If You’re Not a Fisherman)
As one of the state’s best-known fishing meccas, Mille Lacs offers fertile waters for catching everything from walleye to perch. But the lake also happens to be one of the few big enough to accommodate fishing launches: large boats—often decked out with stereos, bathrooms, and grills—that can accommodate large groups who want to fish together. Best of all, you don’t need any experience—or equipment—to enjoy the trip. Most launches furnish bait, tackle, and a guide. Only the lies are up to you. For a list of launch providers, visit millelacs.com.
Best Place to Build a Cabin
If you’ve got a cool $3.7 million, you can buy a prime slice of lakefront property on Lake Minnetonka, where…what’s that? Your cabin fund was invested in Bear Stearns stock? Then take our tip and head up to Rainy Lake, near International Falls, where you can snap up spectacular lots right on the water for less than $200,000. The lake boasts crystal clear water, fantastic fishing, and plenty of space to stretch out. Plus, during the warmer months, you can paddle over to Voyageurs National Park to enjoy spectacular wildlife and nature walks.
My Lake Story
by Jack Gordon
The speed of it, that’s what was remarkable. In a flash—a finger snap, really—our little half-assed, three-person, amateur wildlife-rescue mission had turned into a self-organizing recovery operation involving at least 15 people, every one them absolutely committed to the mission. We didn’t have to ask for help. We didn’t even need to finish explaining ourselves.
You’d think that loons, even with official state-bird status, would be a take-’em-or-leave-’em kind of species, what with the hooting and wailing and yodeling and caterwauling at all hours. Then again, maybe they serve as a natural-selection factor for lake dwellers. If you don’t enjoy an eerie, prehistoric symphony at 2 a.m., after all, why would you want a cabin in northern Minnesota?
I knew there was a prevailing pro-loon sentiment on our own Cass County lake, but I had no idea how fiercely the birds are prized until Junior ran into trouble.
The whole thing began when Keith, my neighbor, spied the young loon through binoculars a few days earlier. Something was clearly wrong with the bird, and someone needed to help. So the three of us—my wife, Keith, and I—set out in an aluminum fishing boat to find him. We brought a long-handled net, needle-nosed pliers, and a pair of heavy work gloves. Acting on a hot tip from another neighbor, we tracked Junior to a small bay on the far side of the lake.
My plan to kill the engine and use the oars to approach him was deeply flawed, I realize that now. In the four months since his spring birth, Junior must have grown accustomed to motorboats. Who knows what we looked like, lumbering toward him with great, thrashing wooden wings out to our sides? A hungry pterodactyl, maybe, only less maneuverable.
But the oar business did attract the attention of some cabin people on shore. There were a dozen of them, easily, part of a get-together involving neighbors, visiting relatives…I never learned. The point is, they were engaged in something. They weren’t just standing around with nothing to do.
The bigger point is, I don’t think they were unusual. I believe that practically any lake people we ran into would have reacted the same way they did.
We pointed at Junior, swimming lazily about 10 yards offshore. Our recruiting speech, in its entirety, went as follows:
“We’re after this loon. He’s got some fishing line wrapped around his bill. He can’t eat, so he’s going to starve. We’re trying to….”
In that instant, our rescue force quintupled. No questions. No hesitation. The only talking was tactical, and not much of that. Two guys waded into the lake and began to herd Junior toward a dock, our boat more or less blocking any attempt to escape by sea.
We tossed our net to somebody on shore, who scooped the bird out of the water. We worked the boat in closer and handed the pliers to a woman who reached for them.
I was not about to give up the gloves, so I stood in the boat and held the loon on the dock while the woman slowly, carefully, unwound the fishing line from his bill, then from around his long, pointed tongue. The whole crowd hovered over the operation in silence. I’m pretty sure that everyone shared the same thoughts:
1. This is so cool I can’t stand it.
2. Hand over the gloves, you bastard. I want to hold the loon.
The fishing line came out of Junior’s gullet clean as a whistle: No hook, no hideous moment when the woman with the pliers encountered any resistance whatsoever. When we set out in the boat an hour earlier, I had given us maybe a 1 in 50 chance of netting the bird at all, never mind extracting the line without feeling that awful tug. Now the mission was an incredible triumph. Junior swam away, appearing none the worse for his ordeal.
It was too easy, of course. The loon had seemed all right, though surprisingly docile. But he must have been very weak to let us catch him that way. Later, I found out that he didn’t make it. I knew that there would be no special quality to my sense of mourning. I had a lot of company.
Jack Gordon is a frequent contributor to Minnesota Monthly. He lives in Eden Prairie.
Best Lake to Catch Your Limit
Leech Lake almost lost its reputation as a great fishing lake a few years ago, when cormorants were migrating to the Midwest in droves, and the birds were killing walleye and yellow perch at a devastating pace. But after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to reduce their population, the fish bounced back quickly. Thanks to high natural reproduction and local stocking programs, Leech Lake and its pristine water has been reestablished as a great numbers lake. Troll the reed beds early in the season if you’re hoping to hit your limit.
Best Place to Swim
Bad Medicine Lake lacks nutrients. That may be bad for certain types of critters, but it’s good for you, since it means the lake, southwest of Itasca State Park, is extraordinarily clear; instead of phosphorous-and-nitrogen-rich runoff, it’s fed by cool, clean ground water. Indeed, its transparency is more than 30 feet deep in spots—greater than one-third its maximum depth. And while Bad Medicine is famous as a rainbow trout fishery, the lake is also a great spot for swimmers and scuba divers, says Don Tschudi, who has owned the Bad Medicine Lake Resort & Campgrounds for nearly 50 years. “You don’t have to worry about that swimmer’s itch,” he says.
Best Place to Sail
Framed by 400-foot-high bluffs and coursing with the engorged Mississippi River, Lake Pepin doesn’t feel like a lake so much as a chute, a Brobdingnagian wind tunnel. Yet, it’s here that the river slows just enough that sailboats can maneuver with relative abandon, and it feels almost Baltic in its exotic wind-battered expanse and various ports to call on. You’re just an ordinary, comfortable tourist here until you leave land, and a man with a boat becomes a man against nature—a mariner in Minnesota.
1. Boundary Waters Blues Festival
August 21–23, Ely
World-class blues and, wait for it, a wheel of meat, on Fall Lake.
June 27–29, Lake City
Food, parades, and water-ski shows celebrating the eponymous invention.
3. Bean Hole Days
July 8–9, Pequot Lakes
Anything that begins with the “Burying of the Beans Ceremony” has to be fun.
4. Bullhead Days
June 6–8, Waterville
Fireworks, parades, carnivals, and best of all, fried-bullhead street vendors. Enough said.
July 23–27, Duluth
The celebration of Finn culture comes to Duluth. Notable guests: Osmo Vänskä and Finland’s prez.
My Lake Story
The Inland Sea Society
by Heather Mcelhatton
Sea glass is pirate-lucky. That’s what my father said. Anything strong enough to survive the sledgehammer fists of Lake Superior and still beam like a smoked jewel had to be something worthy of a man’s pocket.
We hunted for those smooth opaque chunks of glass up and down the lake’s shoreline and we were vigilant. We sifted through scratchy tidal wracks and untangled bleached driftwood tossed up on the beach like Paul Bunyan’s broken finger bones. I picked up every color I found: opal white, carnelian red, and Vesuvian green, but it was blue I was after. Any blue.
Blue sea glass was the hardest to find and always smashed into the smallest pieces. The man selling black minnows by the road told me that round blue pieces were actually the eyes of dead sailors, which had turned to glass from crying. Great sloe-eyed sturgeon, some as big as Buicks, carried them in their mouths to shore so people could find them.
When my father and I found a piece of sea glass, we gave it a story. Usually a disaster. The slightly curved piece might have come from a luxurious yacht, lost at sea. The transparent green glass was likely the sole survivor of a single-engine plane crash, the sharp red shard, possibly plastic, was obviously part of a taillight, testifying to the need for stronger drunk-driving laws.
My father called Lake Superior the Minnesotan Ocean, and said we were citizens of a great and scarcely understood Inland Sea Society: people at the center and still outside. He thought anyone who lived on an actual ocean was thickheaded. “They can keep their fancy beach houses,” he’d say, “right along with their hurricanes and shark attacks. We don’t have sharks here. Why would anybody live near sharks? All you can run into in these waters is a tasty, defenseless dinner.”
But I knew there was a lot more in that water than just fish. There was strewn cargo and big waterlogged white pine. There were entire Holsteins and 40 brand new Model-T Fords, which had once gone overboard in a storm and were still down there in the muck. There were sunken ships on the lakebed, with sleepy green windows and hulls rusted as brittle as tea leaves. Some still had their skeleton crews on board.
Over time, I found enough blue glass to fill a whole Mason jar, which might not sound like a lot, but it is. More than 200 sailor eyes winking in their small cathedral of blue air and light. Still, every year it seemed there was less and less sea glass on the beach. My father blamed the recycling fad and wondered if kids 10 years from now would find any glass at all.
When my father died, I took a ferry to the middle of the lake and dumped all that sea glass back into the water. Every pirate-lucky piece. I don’t know why exactly, only that I wanted there to be sea glass on the shore in 10 years. It seemed like something a member of the great Inland Sea Society would do.
Heather McElhatton is a radio producer and author of the novels Pretty Little Mistakes and Million Little Mistakes.
Best Classic Minnesota Getaway
Lake Vermilion is the littlest big lake in Minnesota; it’s the state’s fifth largest, but it’s so broken up by its 365 islands and dozens of bays that it actually has the most shoreline. What that means is plenty of elbowroom for you and the eagles: You’d never guess there were several dozen family-style resorts here. Rise early, toss the tackle in a boat, and putter out to a cove of your own, where rocky, pine-studded peninsulas emerge from the mist and the muskie are starved for attention. There’s a reason the first new state park in Minnesota in 30 years might be created on these shores. It’s peaceful and it’s wild—and nothing feels more Minnesotan.
Best Place to Sunbathe in the Nude
You see London, you see France? Then you must not be at Twin Lake in Golden Valley, where almost nobody bothers with underpants. Nude sunbathing is technically illegal in Minnesota, but don’t tell that to the throngs of folks who shed their Minnesota modesty (not to mention their unmentionables) at the site known accurately—if not charmingly—as Bare Ass Beach. As you might expect, you’ll find a motley crew here. But if you’re tired of tan lines and sand in your swimsuit, perhaps its time to put Twin Lake on the top of your to-do list.
Best Place to Host a Family Reunion
Where do you go when you need to please the entire family—but you still want to have an utterly, absolutely Minnesota-sort of vacation? You head to Bay Lake, near Brainerd, where the Ruttger family has been taking care of other people’s families for more than 100 years. Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge offers all the amenities you’d expect of a modern resort—golf, tennis, fishing, a beach, indoor and outdoor pools, an extensive kids program, even a day spa (Aunt Judy needs her rosemary mint body wrap, after all)—while managing to evoke an intimate feel and old-school charm. Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, 23039 Tame Fish Lake Rd., Deerwood, 800-450-4545, ruttgersresorts.com
5 Easy Metro Picnic Ideas
1. Lake Harriet
Broder’s Cucina Italiana, with the best hoagies in town, is located just a few blocks south of Harriet. Add olives, cheese, and a cannoli for a true feast. Broder’s, 2308 W. 50th St., Minneapolis, 612-925-3113
2. Lake Josephine
Grab a Maverick’s roast-beef sandwich—the best in the state—and drive due north until you get to Roseville’s pretty Lake Josephine. Maverick’s, 1746 N. Lexington Ave., Roseville, 651-488-1788
3. Lake Calhoun
Have a James Beard–nominated chef fill your picnic basket. Lucia’s Bakery—with sandwiches, soups, and cookies—is just a few blocks east of Calhoun. 1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis, 612-825-1572
4. Lake Como
With its ornate pavilion, Lake Como seems almost Parisian when you’re eating Ngon Bistro’s spring rolls and Wild Acres–duck salad on its shores. Ngon Bistro, 799 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-3301
5. Cedar Lake
Pick up a very deluxe, true Neapolitan pizza from the Calhoun Village Punch Pizza—a short hop from Cedar Lake or Lake of the Isles. Punch Pizza, 3226 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-929-0006
Best Place to Have a Romantic Getaway
Ringed by myriad resorts and abundant recreational opportunities, Gull Lake is among Minnesota’s most popular family destinations. But one classic resort also makes it the state’s most romantic spot: Built in the early 1900s, Grand View Lodge captures the charm of a bygone era, when cocktails were served with little plastic swords and dancing followed dinner. Grand View is the perfect place to while away the lazy days of summer. Stroll through the lush gardens, follow the illuminated path down to the sandy beach, or revive yourself with a massage at Glacial Waters Spa. The historic, timber-lodge dining room still serves such classic fare as dry-aged steaks and seafood dinners. The dancing is up to you. Grand View Lodge, 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 866-801-2951, grandviewlodge.com
My Lake Story
by Steve Rushin
“The Lakes” didn’t exist when I was in grade school in Bloomington. There was only “The Lake”—Bush Lake—and summer meant riding there in the back of Mr. Wagner’s orange VW Bug, “Band on the Run” on the radio, tuned to KDWB.
Lake Harriet was the far side of the world, marked on maps with “Here Be Dragons,” at least to my family of indoorsmen, none of whom ever went “Up North” to those places that existed for us only on TV weather reports—the terra incognita of Willmar and Brainerd. Brainerd held a special fascination, redundantly combining two grade-school insults—“Brain” and “Nerd”—often directed at those of us who lived in the library.
By junior high, I no longer fit in the back of a Beetle, which was fine, because by then I was free to ride my maroon 10-speed “Up North,” to south Minneapolis. Lake Harriet became—and remained for many years after—the most distant place I had ever traveled under my own power. Getting there was an endless voyage, full of wondrous sights that I never forgot. I was a bicycling Sinbad—I was Schwinnbad—as I pedaled in awe past the two-story electrified cowboy hat in front of the Penn Avenue Arby’s, a hat outlined in lights like a dressing-room mirror.
That sign resembled—and still does, in my mind’s eye—something from the Vegas strip, if Vegas were a mecca of roast beef rather than casino gaming, and spangled waitresses plied visitors not with free drinks but complimentary Horsey Sauce.
And so I will always associate Harriet with epic summer journeys. But also with one winter epic. About 10 years ago, on a sub-zero night, my buddy Mike McCollow and I decided—spontaneously, during a short-lived self-improvement kick—to undertake a single continuous run around Harriet, Isles, and Calhoun, what we called a “Triple Freddy,” after aviation executive Freddy Laker. Mike would later open Gear, the running shoe and apparel store near Harriet, but at the time we dressed clownishly, in puffy coats and nylon shell pants that swished as we ran—Michelin men bouncing across a moonscape. My head was covered in the black balaclava of a bank robber, but I was smiling beneath it, happy not to be inhaling those summer clouds of gnats that go unnoticed until they’re in your eyes and up your nose.
The round lamps that lit the walking paths looked like snow globes turned inside out, for all the snow was on their exterior, blowing wildly, as if Orson Welles had just dropped one at the start of Citizen Kane. Which was appropriate, for I kept thinking about that night—as I always do around the lakes, especially when summer rolls around—of my own Rosebud: That maroon Schwinn, my Harriet Chariot.
Steve Rushin, a Bloomington native, is a former staff writer and columnist for Sports Illustrated. His work has appeared in Time, the New York Times, and numerous other publications.
5 Metro Beaches
1. Deephaven Beach
Tennis courts and trails for the sports nut. 19405 Lake Ave., Deephaven
2. Snail Lake Beach
Best for quiet picnics. 4200 Snail Lake Blvd., Shoreview.
3. Phalen Beach
The large sandy span is great for young swimmers. 1400 Phalen Dr., St. Paul
4. Bush Lake Beach
Features floating docks in the swimming areas. 9140 E. Bush Lake Road, Bloomington
5. Lake waconia Regional Park
Reserve the shelter for parties. 8170 Paradise Lane, Waconia
Best Place to Camp
These days, sometimes the closest thing you can get to really roughing it is parking on the opposite end of the parking lot from the Target entrance. Which is why you should plan your next camping trip to Savanna Portage State Park on Shumway Lake. Bring your trail mix, your tent, and your sense of adventure: There are no five-acre parking lots to spoil the 15,000 acres of rolling hills and lakes, and the fish you eat for dinner will be fresh out of the lake, not frozen, boxed, and shaped into dubiously appetizing “sticks.” An array of campsites and cabins allow visitors to choose between bare-bones simplicity or cozy comfort. Occupy your days with hiking, horseshoes, or bird watching. If spectacular sunrises don’t wake you up in the morning, the loons and the woodpeckers will. 55626 Lake Place, McGregor, 218-426-3271, dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/savanna_portage/index.html
Best Place to Disappear
Literary types may remember Lake of the Woods as the setting for Minnesota author Tim O’Brien’s 1994 book about a rising political star who discovers his wife has gone missing. As anyone who’s visited the area knows, such a disappearance is certainly plausible: With roughly 65,000 miles of shoreline and more than 14,000 islands, Lake of the Woods ranks among the largest lakes in North America—and one of the easiest places to find a backwater and vanish. Of course, Minnesotans can lay claim to only a small portion of waterfront property (most of the inland coast was ceded to our northern neighbor when the United States and Canada finally settled their centuries-long border dispute over the Northwest Angle in the 1920s), but that still leaves plenty of places where a wily (or inept) oarsman can disappear for a few days.
Best Place to Go Deep
Forget Fiji and Palau. Let Cousteau have Cozumel. Scuba enthusiasts who truly want to take the plunge should plumb the Crosby Mines, ponds that shimmer in the woods near Crosby-Ironton. As lakes, they’re fakes: These jewels were once iron mines. Abandoned decades ago, the open pits of the Cuyuna Range filled with vegetation and wrecked Fords and, eventually, rainwater. A visit below the surface reveals a tableau no trip to the Great Barrier Reef can match: walleyes, bluegills by the dozen, piles of rusty mining equipment, and even a scene worthy of Dr. Seuss—a northern pike drifting through the branches of a tree. cuyunacountry.net
My Lake Story
Ladies in the Water
by Mary Jo Pehl
My sister said, “Do you think my life was ruined?”
We were in inner tubes, floating on a modest lake somewhere, far away from anything. Nearby were her three boys, clattering and rambunctious in the water, each seeming to have seven legs and 12 arms, and in their youth their skinny limbs seemed to clank like errant machinery. They left no thought un-uttered, nothing un-hollered as they brawled in the water. But Jean and I just float. I rarely allowed myself to just float. I was living in New York at the time and was home for one week that summer, and I had decided fiercely and steadfastly to be in...the...moment...dammit!
Jean’s question drifted toward me. My older sister is dark-haired, brown-eyed, and lean. She is the very opposite of me: blonde, blue-eyed, flesh a-plenty. She tanned effortlessly that afternoon on the water, the way she managed to do most everything. I, on the other hand, had slathered myself with SPF 60. With my pink-white skin, I consider that perhaps I ought to have worn a snowmobile suit in this summer sun.
We are talking about happiness, what it means, who we have decided deserves it, who we have deigned does not. Jean asked again. “Do you think my life was ruined when Timothy died?”
Timothy was her youngest child. He was not quite a year old when he died in the kind of accidental drowning that might warrant a Dear Abby cautionary tale: Please, Abby, tell your readers!
I idolized Jean when we were young. Everything about her was dazzling. She looked like Ali McGraw, and she made all her own halter-tops and bell-bottoms and macrame belts. My siblings and I grew up on a small lake—a glorified pond, really—and our summers were spent in the water. Often, I would sit near the shore on the bench that my father had made, watching as the neighborhood boys came over to swim with my older sisters and push each other off the raft. The only time boys ever talked to me was to ask about my sisters.
But this day, Jean hooked her foot on my inner tube so we wouldn’t float away from each other as my nephews splashed and yelled insults nearby.
“Well?” she asked, as her inner tube twisted away from me, so that I could see only the back of her dark head and her freckled shoulders.
The waves had urged us close to the shore, where we pulled on the lush branches of the trees bowing over the shoreline to try to propel ourselves to deeper seas. Sometimes it feels like our family has held its collective breath in the past 13 years, waiting to see if Timothy’s death was a talisman against anything bad ever happening to us again, or merely the beginning of a slippery slope. I didn’t want to admit that I, too, had had bouts of happiness since her son had died. I was afraid she’d be furious, as if I’d forgotten, or that I was audacious going on with my life. She’s still my big sister, and I’m not so sure she wouldn’t hit me.
Finally, Jean spoke. “I have been happy since then,” she said. The water twisted her away from me again and she watched the horseplay. “For everything that’s happened, I don’t believe the world is a terrible, awful place.”
We paddled ourselves furiously to the shore where we’d set out. The boys pushed us, greatly exaggerating their labor. We packed up our sandwiches and sunscreen and towels and loaded ourselves into the minivan to head home. In that moment, I believe Jean may have been telling the truth.
Mary Jo Pehl is a columnist for Minnesota Monthly.
Best Place to People Watch
Back in the early 20th century, Lake Minnetonka was heralded as an escape for Minneapolis residents, a place of warm waters and wealth. Today, most lake patrons driving the half-hour from the Twin Cities are less interested in tennis lessons before tea than they are in grabbing cocktails at Lord Fletcher’s. Regulars know the center of Tonka’s social universe revolves around Big Island, where boaters tie their crafts together to create a party pontoon that bikini-clad coeds can frolic among. And, in what seems like another universe, shoreside cities and towns, such as Excelsior, Deephaven, and Wayzata, offer antique shopping for sweet old ladies and ice-cream treats for young families. For both residents and visitors, it can feel like a world apart—even if its just a car-ride away.
My Lake Story
Flirting with Disaster
by Amy Gage
When I was growing up in southern Minnesota, my best friend’s parents had a cabin on Lake Washington, northeast of Mankato.
The clapboard cabin was dated and rundown; that was part of the allure. We knew the curling tiles on the kitchen floor and the sagging mattresses in the bedrooms would never pass muster in our suburban homes. Here at the cabin, we saw adults let down their guard. Shirtless fathers drove speedboats with lowball glasses in hand. The prettiest women wore swimsuits that flattered their figures. Men recited limericks and told off-color jokes, laughing with an abandon they could never display at the office. And everybody appraised anybody who belonged to someone else.
What was it about the lake that brought out such playfulness and sensuality in otherwise sober adults? I chalk it up to the heat and Johnson’s Baby Oil, which we girls dribbled down our bodies, but also to the hedonistic flair of my friend’s parents. This couple brought a sort of European sensibility to our neighborhood, to our conventional lives. Today we might call it a “global perspective,” or joie de vivre, but back then it just seemed exotic.
They were the first family we knew to go skiing in the mountains, in Winter Park, Colorado; the first to buy sleek cars; the first to hire a cleaning lady, even though none of our mothers worked. And although theirs was not the only cabin built on Lake Washington, it was the first designated specifically for horseplay and weekend entertainment. This was not a fishing retreat. It was a frat house for adults.
I learned to water-ski in chest-high water beyond their dock, behind a 90-horsepower speedboat that left rowboats and fishermen bouncing in its wake. No one called those people “anglers” back then. No one talked about blood-alcohol levels either, despite the number of doctors and lawyers—all men, of course—in the weekend crowd.
Children learn by observing what they don’t understand, and we learned the dance steps of flirtation when we were at the lake. The golf-club pool was kids’ territory; parents had no power there. The lake was different, more grown up, more frightening, more alluring. And though we didn’t concede it, we all felt both eager and insecure.
I can’t recall the precise moment when the adults were right-sized, when they went from icons to human beings. But as I look back on those carefree weekend afternoons—the women sunning and setting golf dates, the men playing with an intensity that betrayed how hard they worked—I see that the click of awareness occurred sometime after what became known as “the speedboat incident.”
A few years into those pre-teen summers, a respected professional man and one of the prettiest wives in town got stuck in a boat out on Lake Washington for hours. Worried, embarrassed—and no doubt wondering what he’d find—the woman’s husband finally took up a rescue mission.
He motored around the coves of the lake before he finally spotted his wife and the other man. After he arrived, the man insisted the boat had stalled. The husband hopped in and turned the key. The engine started with a roar.
Amy Gage is a freelance writer who lives in Northfield.
Best Place to Build a Sandcastle
Why is the beach near 32nd Street on the east side of Lake Calhoun the best place in known creation to build a sandcastle? Because there are slides, swings, and four toddler-sized climbing forts. Because when the going gets tough, a wise parent can always zip down to Tin Fish, in the Lake Calhoun Pavilion, to retrieve some ice cream. Because big doggies and little doggies and even dressed-up doggies parade by at regular intervals. But, most of all, because after the sun sets in a glorious haze of daffodil-colored light over the lake, all the parents and all the toddlers can zip home to where all the invaluable baby gear is—and no one had to pack it all up to have a real day at the beach. 3200 E. Calhoun Pkwy., Minneapolis, minne-apolisparks.org