Lake Minnetonka is practically synonymous with summertime—the docks, the marinas, the ice cream. But lakeside towns don’t go anywhere once the waves have frozen. Downtown Excelsior may not be as popular as St. Paul’s Grand Avenue or Minneapolis’ Uptown, but its off-the-beaten-path location has helped maintain its charm. Excelsior offers enough quirky, independent boutiques and unique eateries to pass a day quite agreeably—swimmingly, even—while avoiding chain stores and crowds.
The best place to begin a day in Excelsior is Patisserie Margo, where you can pick up a pastry before strolling down boutique row with a butter-stained brown bag in hand. If you’re dreaming of a warm-weather getaway, or just anticipating summer, peruse Big Island Swim & Surf Company for a well-curated collection of bright bathing suits and beachy accessories, including cover-ups and locally designed jewelry. Other distinctive Water Street storefronts include Martin’s, a mecca of upscale casual wear from contemporary brands—soft sweaters by Michael Stars and quirky flannel pajamas by P.J. Salvage ideal for cozying up next to a fireplace—and Gen, the only U.S. outpost of designer Figen Ozdenak’s Turkish clothing line, with stunning minimalist outerwear and complimentary Turkish coffee. For giftables, try Capers (207 Water St., 952-474-1715) for everything from Jonathan Adler stationery to wooden yo-yos to creamy lotions and lip balms.
For lunch, the classic dockside Maynard’s and newer Haskell’s Port of Excelsior are known for American bar food, but several international restaurants have cropped up all over town: Try Yumi’s Sushi Bar for California rolls, Lago Tacos for tostadas, or Jake O’Connor’s for fish and chips.
From left, clockwise: Martin’s, Photo by TJ Turner, Excelsior Brewing Company, Jake O’Conner’s, Photo by Sue Craig
Get some fresh afternoon air with a stroll down the wooded Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail, whose path stretches from Hopkins to the Carver Park Reserve in Victoria, passing through Minnetonka and Excelsior. Or hop over to neighboring Shorewood, where Badger Park offers an enclosed hockey rink and staffed warming house.
If it’s really a Polar Vortex kind of day, treat yourself to a pedicure—even if your toes won’t show through snow boots—or a warming body wrap at Bella on the Bay. Or take a step back in time by catching a matinee at the Dock Cinema, a three-screen theater that turns 70 this year. The coziest screen is located in the theater’s former balcony, with just a few tiered rows of seats.
The industrial lighting and exposed brick at Coalition make the former home of Biella feel more like a SoHo restaurant than a lakeside one, as do the trendy—and tasty—bites, such as pulled-pork bao buns with yuzu aioli and roasted chicken served over pozole broth with hominy. Phillip Becht, longtime chef of Northeast Minneapolis’s Modern Café, recently opened the latest addition to Excelsior’s dining scene, Victor’s on Water. The Italian-influenced restaurant brings white-tablecloth dining back to the city with daily handmade pasta and a piano bar in the basement.
Patrons of the Old Log Theatre can dine pre-show at the newly opened Cast & Cru before catching Outside Mullingar, an Irish love story. Now in its 75th season, Old Log is one of the country’s oldest theater companies, but new owners undertook a major revamp to preserve its history while keeping things fresh—much like Excelsior itself.
MNMO’s Quick List: Excelsior
Celebrate the Cold
Excelsior teams up with nearby towns Shorewood and Tonka Bay each January for its annual Arctic Fever festival, which packs enough fun into a weekend to make you embrace rather than eschew winter. Free events include snow sculpting, a winter bike race on ice, dogsledding, and more.
Touting itself as the only B&B on Lake Minnetonka, Bird House Inn at Excelsior Bay is right on Water Street, within walking distance of downtown. Each room has its own personality; some include kitchens, whirlpools, and fireplaces.
An Excelsior Local’s Favorite Day
Gemma Craig is an Excelsior native—and although she swears by summers at the lake, the Coalition waitress insists that there’s plenty of cozy wintertime fun to be had as well.
“There’s tons of great shopping on Water Street—I love Meridian and Primp—so I’d start there. Then I’d grab lunch somewhere downtown. Jake O’Connor’s switches their salads seasonally—they’re amazing—and the chicken pot pie is so warm and rich. After that, I’d do something active—there’s plenty to do around the lake in the winter. I love snowshoeing around St. Albans Bay, but you have to bring your own shoes. Then I’d definitely treat myself to a beer at Excelsior Brewing Company afterward. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday, so you can start your weekend early. And there’s always live music or something cool going on there at night.”