Whether you decide to experience the natural beauty of the North Shore, the fine dining in Stillwater, or the arts scene in Chicago, we'll tell you where to go and what to do.
(page 2 of 5)
Back to School in Grand Marais
For my mother, a typical act of bravery involves keeping a roomful of preschoolers occupied with nothing more than popsicle sticks and glitter glue. Which is why I’m surprised to see her reaching a gloved hand into a smoldering trash can at a pottery studio just outside Grand Marais. “Quick, it might flare up,” our instructor warns, as Mom tentatively grabs a pot. She extends her arm over a pail of chilly Lake Superior water and drops the hot earthenware vessel. Plunk! It sinks like the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Traveling breaks us out of our routines and comfort zones. It opens us up to new experiences and knowledge about our world—and ourselves. This becomes apparent when I describe our destination, the North House Folk School (northhouse.org), to my mom as we drive north. I tell her they offer classes on traditional artisan crafts, from sausage-making to blacksmithing. “They even have one called Build Your Own Casket,” I venture, hesitantly, knowing a milestone birthday is approaching. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” Mom remarks, never ceasing to surprise me.
Next time. Instead, we spend the next day creating raku pottery with artist Kristi Downing, whose personality is as colorful as her hand-dyed attire. We glaze pots to be kiln-fired and then dropped, molten-orange-hot, into garbage cans filled with combustible material. “Smoking” blackens the clay and the oxygen-deprived environment makes the glaze’s colors more intense. It's an unpredictable process, but no harm in praying to the kiln gods, Downing says, pointing to her wall-mounted effigies.
After a restful night at East Bay Suites (eastbaysuites.com)—we lucked out with the “studio” condo that includes an enclosed bedroom and a Murphy bed, perfect for quarantining snorers—we explore the harbor-side town. Most of the shops reflect the hamlet’s dual role of Boundary Waters launch pad (campfire cookware, mosquito netting) and artist colony (photography, ceramics).
We skip the knickknacks for the reasonably priced fine art and handicrafts. Many items feel rooted in their place, such as Stephan Hoglund’s jewelry (stephanhoglund.com) made with local minerals and agates, and Liz Sivertson’s paintings (sivertson.com) of woodland creatures depicted in glowing, Northern Lights–hues. Just be warned: the docents at the Johnson Heritage Post art gallery (johnsonheritagepost.org) can be aggressive with sales, and when a gorgeous knit-beaded bracelet is slipped onto your wrist, it’s tough to resist.
Grand Marais is so far from the Twin Cities that my cell phone thinks I’m in the next time zone. But when last night's hostess at the Crooked Spoon (crookedspooncafe.com) takes our order at Sydney’s (14 S. Broadway, 218-387-2632) the following afternoon, her warm recognition makes us feel at home. Packing up, Mom tallies up her new experiences: visiting Grand Marais, eating purple potatoes, and, of course, making the raku pots. Though she decorated each with the same glaze, one green turned glossy and speckled with copper; the other a matte, smoky olive. Similar, but different. Just what I’ll expect from our next visit.
Wake up in one of Grand Marais’s mom-and-pop cabins (Anderson’s, andersonscabins.com; Elsie’s, elsiescabins.com), B&Bs (MacArthur House, macarthurhouse.net; Pincushion Mountain, pincushionbb.com), or newer multi-bedroom condominiums (Terrance Point, Cobblestone Cove, gmhotel.net).
The “whiz-up” window at the 44-year-old World’s Best Donuts (worldsbestdonutsmn.com) opens at 4:30 a.m., but, come on, you’re on vacation. (The donuts are good, but won’t unseat A Baker’s Wife in Minneapolis).
Class at the North House Folk School. Perhaps you’ll make a pair of moose-hide moccasins finished with Anishinaabe-style bead embroidery?
Sydney’s fires thin-crust pizzas to provide a little healthy competition for the family-friendly stalwart, Sven & Ole’s (svenandoles.com), and defeats DQ’s desserts with its chocolate custard with house-made ganache.
Biscuits and gravy—and a slice of Bumbleberry pie—at the Pie Place Café (thepieplacecafe.com).
Summit Eagle Mountain, a moderately challenging 3.5-mile hike, to reach Minnesota’s highest geographic point.
Lunch at Naniboujou Lodge (naniboujou.com), under the spectacular ceiling painted with colorful Native American–influenced designs. Get the Danish cream dessert.
Hit the shops and galleries. Consider buying the iconic walleye-impaled bait-and-tackle shop, the Beaver House (thebeaverhouse.com), listed at $288K; leeches negotiable.
The Crooked Spoon has the town’s most upscale menu, with seared scallops and crab cakes. For Lake Superior fish, head to the Angry Trout (angrytroutcafe.com).
Bedtime reading from the novel you picked up at Drury Lane Books (drurylanebooks.com).
Borrow East Bay’s loaner bikes to hit any shops you missed yesterday.
Grab smoked-fish wraps from the Dockside Fish Market (docksidefishmarket.com) to fuel the trip home.
Concordia Language Villages aren’t just for kids. The adult week or weekend immersive programs pair language instruction with presentations on culture, history, music, and art. By the end of your stay, you’ll be giving mange tusen takk to the cooking staff for whipping up ethnic meals from the culture you’re studying. • concordialanguagevillages.org
Simply Sisters Retreat Center was built in 1891 for the St. Benedict’s Sisters convent in Richmond, located about 20 minutes west of St. Cloud. Today, the historic home, which has retained its vintage woodwork and stained glass, is a popular retreat for “power” quilting or scrapbooking sessions for up to 12 guests. • mnretreatcenter.com