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Hidden Minnesota

Need a reason for a road trip? Got a taste for adventure (or just fudge)? Here are 10 small towns—from Ely and Walker to Luverne and Lanesboro—that feature artisan gems, tasty eateries, historic treasures, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. Grap a map and go.

Hidden Minnesota

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VISIT NEW LONDON

Undercover Art Town

At first glance, New London has the same quaint traits as many a small town: historic buildings, warm-hearted residents, a postcard-like setting. But beneath its Leave It to Beaver exterior, the City on the Pond buzzes with enough creative energy to power all of central Minnesota, if not the entire state. You just have to know where to get plugged in.

Start your artistic adventure at Kaleidoscope Gallery, a cooperative operated by nine local artists. Browse the array of pottery, paintings, baskets, and jewelry, and say hello to whichever of the artists happens to be manning the front desk that day. For more pottery, head up the hill to Mayor Bill Gossman’s studio, an intimate nook housing his wood-fired porcelain and stoneware gems. Be sure to take a peek at the massive three-chamber, wood-burning kiln he built in his backyard.

Avoid an art overload and duck into Heritage Falls Market. There, enjoy a free cup of locally roasted coffee and pay heed to your heritage by browsing the huge cache of Scandinavian goods. At Quilted 4 You, watch custom-designed quilts be made, then wander across the hall to Dancing Goat Studio, where Kim Wendlandt sells her recycled-book purses.

Get back on the art track at Pottery Workshop, where New London’s established and aspiring potters sell their creations. Tote your new ceramic wares to The Happy Sol, a women’s apparel and gift boutique. Mix and match accessory options at Bead Jam, which boasts more beads than a Girl Scout swap meet. More browsing can be found at Mill Pond Mercantile, the region’s queen bee of home décor, gifts, baking goods, and more. Refuel with an espresso drink from Java on Main and a freshly baked treat from New London Bakery, or head to McKale’s Family Restaurant for the daily lunch special and a slice of homemade pie.

If you’re there on a Friday, stay for the Little Crow Ski Team show at 7:30 p.m. in Neer Park. The team, which has won multiple national and regional championships, includes barefoot skiers, jumpers, and members talented (and crazy) enough to build a 22-person pyramid—on the water.
 

Where to go:  Kaleidoscope Gallery, 326 Main St. S.; Gossman Pottery, 313 First Ave. SE; Heritage Falls Market, 42 Main St. S.; Quilted 4 You, 28 Main St. S.; Dancing Goat Studio, 28 Main St. S.; Pottery Workshop, 17 Central Ave. W.; Bead Jam, 13 Main St. N.; Mill Pond Mercantile, 24 Main St. N.; Java on Main, 31 Main St. N.; New London Bakery, 21 Main St. N.; McKale’s Family Restaurant, 10 Ash St. SE; Little Crow Ski Team, 311 Second Ave. SE
 


DRINK THIS!

Glacial Ridge Winery
One of seven stops on Minnesota’s Heartland Wine Trail, is just two miles south of New London and produces some mighty fine vintages. Stop in for a tour, stay for some wine. 15455 County Rd. 131, Spicer; glacialridgewinery.com

Live Music
Every Thursday from June till the second week of September, Glacial Ridge hosts free concerts on their outdoor stage, ranging from rock to bluegrass to jazz. Bring a chair, grab a glass, settle in, and savor summer.

Tour and Taste
After getting a science lesson on the art of wine-making, pick out a few of your favorites to sip the afternoon away: $8 gets you a full wine-flight plus a commemorative Glacial Ridge Winery wine glass.

Stomp the Yard
On September 10, put your toes to the test with the annual grape stomp. After you’ve had your fill of squishing and squashing, stick around for a glass of wine (made without the help of feet) and live entertainment.



VISIT LITCHFIELD

History on Hold

Once dubbed the “Queen of the Prairies,” Litchfield packs more charm and history into its small-town setting than many of its big city neighbors. From the preserved main-street storefronts to the mint-condition, century-old Victorian homes to the ongoing renovations of the original opera house, history matters here. Come see why.

 Mainstreet Café
226 Sibley Ave. N.
This local haunt dishes up the heartiest homemade breakfasts in town, never skimping on portions. The bacon is especially good: crispy and delicious.

Deann’s Country Village Shoppe
115 Sibley Ave. N.
Unexpectedly spacious, DeAnn’s is a homemaker’s paradise, offering everything from candles and greeting cards to kitchen supplies and baby clothes. It’s like Martha Stewart magazine come to life.

Cricket Meadow Tea
113 Sibley Ave. N.
Do as the British do and enjoy a spot ’o tea with your lunch. The food is made fresh using local, organic ingredients, and the shop’s signature Sunny Harvest bread tastes like heaven with a drop of honey. 

Forest City Stockade
Highway 24 and 309th St., Forest City
Play pioneer for an hour or two and see what life was like for the first Meeker County settlers. For a true blast-from-the-past, attend the 28th annual Summer Rendezvous, held August 20-21, which includes food, demonstrations, wagon rides, and other family-friendly events.

Very Vintage
109 Sibley Ave. N.
The original tin ceiling and wood-planked floor of this 1880s building are just as fabulous as the antiques they house: well-preserved Post and Life magazines, delicate teacups, retro housewares, and countless other treasures of yore.

Litchfield Opera House
136 Marshall Ave. N.
Built in 1900, little Litchfield’s opera house used to be the belle of the burg. Today, volunteers have come together to restore the building it to its former glory. Stop in and take a peek at the before-and-after photos—you’ll see why.

Sibley Antiques
100 Sibley Ave. N.
Some say it’s cluttered, others haphazard, but everyone agrees that this corner antique store is your best bet for mindless browsing. Just be careful not to get lost among the knickknacks and thingamabobs.

Parkview Café
311 Sibley Ave. N.
For a midmorning sugar boost, get a malt from Parkview Café. Once you’ve decided on a flavor (try the grasshopper), head to Central Park across the street to savor your treat beneath a shady tree.

The Grand Army of the Republic Hall & Meeker County Historical Society Museum
308 Marshall Ave. N.
Brush up on your Civil War history at one of the last authentic G.A.R. Halls in the country. Photos, battle maps, paintings, and original furnishings fill the front of the historic building, while the Meeker County Historical Society Museum takes up the rest. See how our ancestors lived in 1868, hear a tune on the 1914 Edison Amberola phonograph, and boost your patriotism while perusing war propaganda dating back to the Civil War.

Anderson Gardens Arboretum
Lake Ripley
Take a moment or two to soak up the last rays of the day in Litchfield’s miniature Garden of Eden: a petite, well-maintained oasis brimming with shady trees, blooming flowers, cozy benches, and a romantic gazebo overlooking the lake.

Peter’s on Lake Ripley
405 W. Pleasure Dr.
World-class ribs in central Minnesota? You betcha. And, if you time it right, you’ll even get a show thanks to the sunset over scenic Lake Ripley.
 


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