Stay & Play

Need an escape, but don’t want to go far?  Look no further, here are some of the best in local activities and overnights.


Spring is in the air: Birds are singing, plants are growing, and 60 degrees feels like a tropical heat wave. It’s the perfect time to start planning memorable nights out, overnight jaunts, or weekend getaways. Whether you’re looking for love, adventure, family bonding, or simply a change of scenery (after all, we have been cooped up in our homes all winter), we found some fun destinations within a one-tank drive of the Twin Cities metro.

✣ That’s Entertainment!

When the weather warms up and you want to take advantage of it, see a show on the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat, an integral part of the U of M theater department. Summer breezes blow off the Mississippi River, the St. Paul skyline glows in the distance, and the atmosphere is one of yester-year: wholesome, family-friendly, and nostalgic.

The interactive style of Showboat productions, based on old vaudeville traditions, are suitable for guests ranging in age from “7 to 107,” says Jennie Germain, communications coordinator.

Bring the kids to any Tuesday evening show throughout the season and receive special pricing with the purchase of one regular adult ticket.

This summer the University of Minnesota Showboat Players present Is There a Doctor in the House? June 19 ‑ August 29. An adaptation of Molière’s French classic The Imaginary Invalid, the story follows an obsessive hypochondriac through a comedy of misdirection, mistaken identity, and misdiagnosis. With a healthy dose of good ol’ fashioned fun, Is There a Doctor in the House? is a guaranteed cure for the summertime blues.

Another cure for the summertime blues is a St. Paul Saints baseball game outside at Midway Stadium. Tailgate in the parking lot before the game, then watch a talented minor league ball game and lively between-inning competitions such as Sumo wrestling, human bowling, and wheelbarrow races. The Saints mascot is a giant pink pig in a skirt, and a real pig—this year’s pig is named Boar-ack O’hama—brings balls to an umpire to signal the start of the game.

A Saints game is all about quirky fun: Sister Roz offer backrubs, there’s “free haircut” night, and a silver-faced, red-caped Saint Carol paints faces with humorous comments. Nearly every night is a sellout and the crowd is loud and boisterous. It’s almost impossible not to have a good time at a Saints game.

Another venue where it’s nearly impossible not to have a good time is the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.

“It’s probably the best one-stop entertainment value in the Twin Cities with dinner and a show included in one great price,” says Kris Howland, public relations director. “Add the complimentary, on-site parking and it makes it easy to plan a highly-charged, entertaining event with family and friends of all ages.”

Chanhassen Dinner Theatre actors belong to the same professional union—the Actors’ Equity—that Broadway performers belong to (only about six Equity dinner theatres remain in the country), resulting in high quality performances like this summer’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, playing through June 20, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing June 26-September 26. (If you’re planning on bringing the kids to one of these two shows, be sure to call about dinner theatre “Kids In Free” tickets during specified performances.)

While entertaining audiences is what they do best, the actors and designers are also passionate about educating future thespians. This year marks the 15th season of First Act Theatre Camp for kids ages 8-18. This fun camp
(for all experience levels) features week-long, half-day sessions throughout the summer.

If your idea of a fun night out includes “laughing until your side dish hurts,” then a performance of the popular off-Broadway musical Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping, is right up your alley.

The show, produced by the nationally-recognized production company Troupe America, runs from February through Sept. 6, 2009 at the Plymouth Playhouse, an intimate 211-seat theater located in the Plymouth-based Best Western Kelly Inn (below the Green Mill Restaurant).

The play, inspired by the best-selling book Growing Up Lutheran, is hilarious and witty (and true!). According to the Plymouth Playhouse website, “It’s 1969. The world is changing and the ladies of the church prepare for changes of their own below the House of God.”

Make a night of it with the Stay & Play Weekend Package. For $159.95 per couple, you can enjoy dinner at the Green Mill, see a great musical comedy, and stay at the Best Western Kelly Inn.

Staying at a hotel makes sense when you want to play a little longer than usual. Stay all night at Shooting Star Casino Hotel and Event Center in Mahnomen, Minnesota (approximately 4.5 hours from the Twin Cities, 70 minutes from Bemidji).

In addition to 1,100 slot machines, a bingo hall, blackjack and poker, there is an on-site daycare, Fun Zone arcade, four restaurants, the Sereniitee Spa, a hotel and RV park, and a regular lineup of big-name entertainers. Country music’s Craig Morgan will be performing Friday, April 10 and comedian Howie Mandel will be performing Friday, May 8.

Another fun casino experience is Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel southwest of the cities in Morton, Minnesota. The casino recently finished a $25 million expansion project, including a nonsmoking, multipurpose event center for conventions and entertainment, a six-story nonsmoking wing, a remodeled and expanded pool area with pool-side rooms, an updated and redesigned buffet, and new technology and slots on the gaming floor.

Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel now offers 1,250 video slots (the majority with ticket in / ticket out technology), 28 tables, (poker, blackjack, and specialty games), a 375-seat bingo hall, four restaurants and lounges, three entertainment facilities, a 378-room onsite hotel, a Kids’ Quest childcare facility (staffed by trained professionals), and an 18-hole championship golf course—Dacotah Ridge Golf Club.

✣ Cities to See

What’s not to love about a picturesque place full of historic buildings, gracious homes, and beautiful parks? A spring or summer visit to Hastings, about 20 minutes from St. Paul, should be on everyone’s to-do list. The pace is a little slower and the people are small-town friendly; combine that with fantastic restaurants, antique and specialty shopping, and a plethora of recreational options (biking, golfing, hiking, and bird-watching), and you’ll understand why so many people love this scenic rivertown.

Plan your visit around the annual cruise-ins, when classic cars cruise into downtown Hastings every other Saturday from May 30 to October 3 from 5-10 p.m. Come during the weekend of July 17-19 for Rivertown Days, including a music fest, carnival, arts and crafts fair, flea market, water ski shows, dock dog competition, and tournaments, or relive your childhood memories at a restored pioneer village and antique show from July 25-26 during the Little Log House Antique Power Show. Threshing demonstrations, tractor and truck pulls, a spinning wheel, and quilting demonstrations are all part of the fun.

With 400 fishing lakes in a 25-mile radius, it’s easy to see why Bemidji is a hotspot for serious (and novice) anglers, but Bemidji is so much more than a fishing mecca. “The First City on the Mississippi River” offers a wide range of vacation activities like golf, canoeing, hiking, and biking, an impressive summer lineup of festivals and events, and a vibrant arts community.

“We have more visual, performance and literary artists than would seem to be our share,” says Gayle Quistgard, executive director at Visit Bemidji. “Whether it’s the pristine natural surroundings, the relaxed pace, or the educational atmosphere, many artists create their life’s work quietly tucked away inside their studios.”

Bemidji is also home to frequent musical performances ranging from casual coffeehouse shows to grand symphony concerts, wonderful theater by Bemidji State University’s theater department, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, and Bemidji Community Theater, and impressive visual artwork on display year-round on the outdoor, downtown Artwalk, as well as in numerous galleries.

Drive a little and play a lot in the northeast region of Minnesota. Grab your bikes and hop on miles of trails that wander throughout the region, surround yourself in the unspoiled backcountry of the Arrowhead Country wilderness via canoe or kayak, or drop a line and wait for the fish to bite. Communities throughout the region celebrate the season with unique festivals, events, and wildlife viewing opportunities. For those looking for a vacation with a little more horsepower, rev up your engines at one of the local dirt track races or on one of many ATV trails. At the end of the day, historic resorts and hospitable lodging properties and campgrounds will leave you relaxed and ready for another “MinNEcation.” Areas in this region include Grand Portage, the Iron Range, Orr/Pelican Lake, Crane Lake, the Ash River Trail, Kabetogoma Lake, International Falls (Ranier and Rainy Lake), Lake Vermilion, Ely, the Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, Lutsen-Tofte, Two Harbors, Duluth, and Grand Rapids.

✣ Weekend Getaways

There’s a sense of pride, of family history, of responsibility in upholding a tradition when a resort is family-owned. At Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort in Brainerd—co-owned by four Kavanaugh brothers, John, Dave, Mark, and Tom (their parents started the resort in 1969)— that pride is evident in everything they do, from the beautiful landscaping to the warm hospitality of the office and everything in-between. It is most evident, though, in the bonds they create with regular and new guests.

“Once a week we do a cookout with all of our guests. It’s a chance for us Kavanaughs to get out and chat with everyone,” says Tom Kavanaugh. “Even as we’ve grown as a resort, going from 9 cottages to 50 units, we’ve always tried to maintain a family atmosphere.”

Guests love the family atmosphere almost as much as they love the resort’s amenities. All one to three-bedroom units sit on or look out at beautiful Sylvan Lake. There are tennis courts, basketball courts, two beach areas, a sand volleyball court, a playground, an indoor and outdoor pool, and 4,000 feet of paved walking and biking trails that connect to a seven-mile, city-wide system. Head out on Sylvan Lake in a rented boat or pontoon or a paddleboat or kayak. Another fun aspect of the resort is the weekly Kavanaugh Rubber Duck Races. There are up to 70 racers each week, with prizes awarded to the winners.

“It’s a formal racing event,” Tom says. “It’s not quite as popular as the turtle races [in nearby Nisswa], but people really like it. We have a lot of fun.”

If your idea of the perfect getaway revolves around romance, quiet, and seclusion, Cove Point Lodge is the answer. Approximately 80 miles north of Duluth in the city of Beaver Bay, the lodge is a popular spot for honeymoons, anniversaries, and peaceful vacations. Relax with a glass of wine and a phenomenal meal at the Lodge restaurant, followed by a walk along the rocky Lake Superior shoreline. If it’s chilly, warm up near the lobby’s enormous stone fireplace or in the hot tub or sauna. If you want to get out and explore, there’s no shortage of things to do in the area. Cove Point Lodge is right down the road from the Superior National Forest (with varied terrain and scenery) and Lutsen Mountains, as well as a number of state parks.

Whether in search of romance, family time, adventure, or relaxation, Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, in the Lutsen/Tofte area, has it all. Guests have access to a year-round outdoor pool and spa, indoor pool and spa, saunas, tennis court, and for hikers or off-road bikers, free shuttle service to and from area trailheads. Borrow a bike and pedal down the Gitchi-Gami trail, arrange a Lake Superior charter trip in search of salmon or lake trout, or golf at the 27-hole Superior National golf course. Top off the evening with a romantic dinner at Bluefin Grille or a massage at the Superior Waters Wellness Center.

Down in northwestern Minnesota, the prairie meets the forest in the Alexandria area, where the glaciers carved their way through Minnesota thousands of years ago creating a perfect blend of lakes, wooded hills, and open prairie. There’s no better way to explore the beauty of this area than a vacation at Arrowwood Resort. Bring the kids to the Big Splash Indoor Waterpark while you rejuvenate at Arrowwood’s Darling Reflections Spa. Play a round on Arrowwood’s scenic 18-hole course, embark on a horseback riding adventure, and round out your stay by roasting marshmallows by an evening bonfire. Lodging options include lodge rooms, suites, or four bedroom townhomes.

Plan the ultimate weekend getaway in a serene, romantic, luxurious spa-like atmosphere at The River Road Inn, located just upriver from historic Stockholm, Wis. Go hiking along the Maiden Rock bluffs, check out the National Eagle Center, or explore historic towns, boutique shops, or restaurants before returning to a lovely converted carriage house offering panoramic views of Lake Pepin. “Return from a day of cycling, art galleries, or boating to convenience and luxuries such as spa baths, Wi-Fi, or even spa-treatments,” says innkeeper Kathleen Burk. “Star-gazing from a private deck provides the perfect end to a beautiful day.” ∞