Minnesota’s Top Lakefront Patios

Anchor down and cozy up at these 10 quintessential waterside eateries this summer

From the northern shores of Lake Superior to the ever-busy boat traffic of lake Minnetonka, you will find culinary gems that offer not only great cuisine and stunning views, but an atmosphere that is uniquely Minnesotan. In fact, most of these spots are family-owned and family-operated, giving them a distinctly friendly nature that keeps customers trekking up their sun-soaked docks all summer long. Whether traveling by car, boat, jet ski, or paddle board, you’ll want to make sure to find your way to these 10 lakeside restaurants this summer.

1. Bar Harbor Supper ClubGull Lake

Boaters flock to Bar Harbor’s docks in the summer months

Image sourced from @barharborsupperclub on Instagram

Bar Harbor’s iconic red exterior and gleaming white lighthouse have been greeting passing boats from the shores of Gull Lake for decades. Constructed in 1937 by Erv Anderson, people were at first skeptical about his decision to place a large-scale project in such a peculiar spot. The building lies on the narrow channel connecting Gull Lake with Upper Gull, a no-wake zone through which boats pass leisurely. But perhaps this is exactly the genius of it. Inching along at a snail’s pace, it is nearly impossible for boaters to disregard the inviting red building on the channel’s shore. In its 80-plus years of existence, the Bar Harbor Supper Club has become a Gull Lake staple, and its recognizable cups christened with the BH logo can be spotted in the cupboards of cabins and cupholders of pontoons all across the area. Dock up and drop in for a delicious Harbor Burger and BH Cosmo at happy hour or spend a date night fine–dining on filet mignon while sipping a glass from the extensive wine list. The spot never fails to bring the community together in the summer months, with events like the Classic Boat Show, which showcases breathtaking vintage and classic wood boats each August. 

2. Charlie’s on PriorPrior Lake

Charlie’s on Prior offers gorgeous sunset views over Upper Prior Lake

Image sourced from charliesonprior.com

A bit further south, another lighthouse greeting comes from the shores of Prior Lake at the neighborhood restaurant and marina, Charlie’s on Prior. This establishment is widely regarded as the best lakeside dining experience in the south metro, with its dreamy lake-themed interior, waterfront bar, and massive outdoor patio overlooking Upper Prior Lake. The family-owned restaurant opened in 2015—on the grounds where former Prior Lake hot spot Captain Jack’s once stood—and was dubbed “Charlie’s” for the lake’s namesake, Charles H. Prior, a railroad pioneer who is credited with putting Prior Lake on the map in the late 1800s. The cuisine ranges from indulgent bites like the lake nachos and the fried avocados, to delicious entrees like the blackened walleye and cedar plank salmon. The restaurant was also famously co-founded by the owner of Lago’s Tacos in Excelsior, its menu featuring its very own offering of Lago’s Tacos creations. Find regular events including live music, patio games, and pop-up shops all summer long at this local favorite.  

3. Maynard’s—Lake Minnetonka  

The Maynard’s patio fills to the brim in the summer months

Image sourced from maynards-excelsior.com

Perhaps one of the most well-known waterfront treasures in the Twin Cities area, Maynard’s rests at the bottom of Excelsior Bay on Lake Minnetonka, and hardly experiences a dull moment during the summer months. Its outdoor patio fills to the brim with visitors of all ages on warm summer nights, open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Its menu features casual American fare, including the famed Italian waffle fries, and Minnesota favorites like the walleye sandwich. The lakeside joint has a character all its own, built in 1998 atop the historic grounds of the Excelsior Amusement Park, which was in operation from 1925 to 1973. This history has been well-preserved, and Maynard’s even incorporated an on-site ferris wheel into its 20th anniversary celebration. Maynard’s loves its community and regularly gives back to the town of Excelsior by hosting food-shelf fundraisers, sponsoring events like the annual Fourth of July fireworks show, and supporting a yearly pond hockey tournament to raise money for ALS research.

4. The Wharf—Cross Lake  

The Wharf offers full gas dock service during its summer season

image sourced from @thewhardcrosslakemn on Instagram

This pirate-themed lakeside gem finds its home in the channel between Cross Lake and Rush Lake, inviting visitors to “come as they are, by boat or by car.” They certainly do come. The family-owned restaurant has become a true symbol of the Cross Lake area, both a favorite of locals and a must-see attraction for out-of-towners. First purchased in 1998 by Gary and Gail Jensen, a couple who had just moved to the Cross Lake area from the Alaskan wilderness, the Wharf continues its family-operated tradition, today in the hands of Gary and Gail’s daughter, Katheryn. The joint offers casual seafood fare perfect for a mid-lake-day bite, including the walleye and the fish and chips basket, made with fresh-caught Alaskan cod. Tie up for full gas dock service and sip on the Wharf’s House Bloody Mary or Margarita until the sun sinks down, as the sunsets viewed from the dock are notoriously breathtaking. While open all year round, the spot takes on a whole new life in the summertime, and the summer calendar is packed with lakeside live music shows.

5. Grandma’s Saloon & Grill—Lake Superior  

The outdoor deck offers sweeping views of the Aerial Lift Bridge and Lake Superior

Image sourced from grandmasrestaurants.com

This Canal Park haven has a history just as exciting as its views of Lake. It all started when Italian immigrant Rosa Brochi opened a boarding house to the sailors in the Great Lakes port of Duluth in 1869. Her care, hospitality, and commitment to service earned her the affectionate nickname of “Grandma” despite her young age, and her reputation was cemented across the area even after she returned to Europe. A century later, her two grandsons returned to the site of the old boarding house to open a restaurant in her honor and continue her tradition of exceptional service. There are now three locations across the state, but the original Canal Park building, situated at the foot of the historic Aerial Lift Bridge on the point stretching out to Lake Superior, remains at the heart of it all. Its sweeping views of the lake are almost oceanic, and its nationally recognized menu with specialty pasta, Minnesota-grown wild rice dishes, and renowned homemade onion rings attract visitors from all over.

6. The 502 Restaurant & Bar—Leech Lake  

Chase on the Lake’s beautiful 1920s-style exterior, a near-identical model of its original structure

Image sourced from chaseonthelake.com

From the shores of the third largest lake in Minnesota—the 111,527-acre Leech Lakethe 502 Restaurant & Bar in Walker welcomes boaters to its historic location within the Chase on the Lake resort. Opened in 1922 by Lewis and Louisa Chase, the Minnesota Historical Society credits the resort as being one of the major catalysts for the rise of lakeside tourism in Minnesota. At the time dubbed “the New Chase Hotel,” (as there was already an existing Chase Hotel on Walker’s Main Street) the unprecedented lakeside venture soon began drawing visitors from across the state. Its four-story, 1920s-style exterior stands as a symbol of the city and has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy fresh flatbreads, a crispy chicken sandwich or almond-breaded walleye from the open kitchen. The drink selection features an extensive wine list and specialty craft cocktails that make the perfect patio companions.

7. Lola’s Lakehouse—Lake Waconia  

An aerial shot of Lola’s Lakehouse, including its extensive marina on the shore.

image sourced from lolaslakehouse.com

Just a quick drive southwest of the cities, Lake Waconia is a great summer escape for city-goers, and its waterfront bar and restaurant, Lola’s Lakehouse makes for the quintessential lake day hangout. Its sleek white exterior has garnered a reputation as one of the chicest lakefront locations in the Twin Cities area, and Lola’s hosts everything from banquets to wedding receptions. But apart from these upscale events, you’ll find swarms of boaters coming up from the marina for happy hour cocktails, a slice of wood-fired pizza, or delicious walleye tacos, among the many options on the extensive lunch, dinner, and drink menus. A rotating cocktail of the month and events like the summer lakeside music series and Sunday brunches keep this vibrant waterside destination a favorite all year long.

8. Long Bridge Bar, Grill, and Marina—Detroit Lake  

The live music stage where musicians perform all summer long at Long Bridge Bar, Grill & Marina

image sourced from longbridgedl.com

A night of dining and drinks at Long Bridge Bar, Grill & Marina may make visitors question whether they are on a lake in Minnesota or on a tropical island vacation. Located on the shores of Detroit Lake, the island-themed destination aims to “bring a taste of the Caribbean to Detroit Lakes.” The Caribbean-themed menu includes a Caribbean mai tai, Tropical Caribbean grilled chicken, and coconut shrimp, among other options. Decorative fake palm trees, twinkling string lights, and a live music stage with “no worries” painted across its backdrop greet boaters from the marina and set the tone for a full day or evening of island-style unwinding.

9. Kelly’s Lake House Bar & GrillLake Pepin 

Located on Lake Pepin, the largest naturally-occurring lake on the Mississippi River and the self-proclaimed birthplace of water skiing, Kelly’s Lake House in Lake City is a summertime hot spot for Minnesotans and Wisconsinites alike. Complete with a full bar, pool tables, darts, a live music and karaoke stage, and a large deck overlooking Lake Pepin, a full day can be spent at this lakeside joint without a dull moment. Fare from their log smoker is the clear standout, featuring creations like the Hickory-Cherry Brisket Sandwich and the Homemade Smoked Polish Sausage Sandwich. The massive tap list features a rotation of 83 draft beers, 30 of which are always Minnesota-made brews.        

10. Bayview Bar & Grill—Mille Lacs Lake  

Enjoy happy hour with Bayview’s extensive beer list

image sourced From bayviewbarandgrill.net

It would be remiss to list waterside eateries without mentioning the second largest lake in Minnesota (behind only the Great Lake Superior), and its cozy little nook of Bayview Bar & Grill, located at the south end of the over 132,000-acre Mille Lacs Lake. The family-owned bar and grill has been in operation for more than 120 years and prides itself on its personal relationship with customers. Drop your anchor at the easily accessible boat docks and lay back on the sun-soaked deck with a brew from the extensive beer list and a slice of specialty pizza to enjoy the seasonal live entertainment every Saturday night. Find out why the joint is known to transform into “the top party spot on Mille Lacs” in the summertime.

 

As an Associate Editor on Greenspring Media's Custom team, Emma contributes to multiple publications, including Real Food and Drinks, Twin Cities Living, and Minnesota Monthly. A true Minnesotan, Emma spent most of her life in an ice rink, training as an elite figure skater. When she is not writing or skating, you can find her at a yoga class, thrifting, drinking overpriced coffee, or spending the day on the lake.