During an era when the Wright brothers were making history, motorcars were in vogue, and photography was in its heyday, Stillwater was coming into its own. It was the early 19th century, and this sleepy rivertown was forever transformed as a lumber boomtown—thanks to its prime location on the St. Croix River. Later, when the lumber industry moved away, Stillwater became a region of tourism, with the river once again playing a key role in the city’s popularity. Today, visitors can find a slice of the past in historic sites like the Lift Bridge, stately Victorian homes, and Minnesota’s first courthouse—built in 1870.
Main Street boasts quaint boutiques, charming restaurants, numerous antique shops (the Midtown Antique Mall alone has over 100 dealers on three floors), and the largest collection of antique, out-of-print books in the country.
Stillwater visitors can tour the river on a paddleboat, see the St. Croix up-close from a canoe or kayak, or glide across the water on a gondola. Those wishing to admire one of the most beautiful stretches of the St. Croix River Valley from dry land can walk or bike along miles of trails. Forbes named Stillwater one of America’s Prettiest Towns, due to its “small-town beauty that offers plenty of year-round options.”
When you’re heading west from Minneapolis on Highway 7, stop at The General Store of Minnetonka, a 20,000-square-foot shopper’s paradise featuring cabin decor, Minnesota souvenirs, kitchen gadgets, funky retro toys, unique jewelry, and a cafe with homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches. After spending time at The General Store, head to your next destination—Excelsior—where meandering streets are lined with a quirky collection of restored getaway cottages and contemporary architecture, and beautiful Excelsior Bay of Lake Minnetonka as the backdrop that ties it all together. The wide thoroughfare of Excelsior’s Water Street gets dressed up with flower containers and flags in the balmy days of summer, and nearby shops lend whimsy and personality to the neighborhood. “Folks like strolling into the independent shops and chatting with the owners. That’s something you just don’t see much anymore,” says Bill Damberg, a member of the Excelsior Downtown Business Group and owner of Brightwater, Clothing & Gear.” People go out of their way to make you feel at home.” The area is also steeped in history, which you can relive on a restored streetcar during a visit to the local museum or aboard a vintage steamboat. According to Damberg, “Excelsior is one of the best-kept secrets in the Midwest.”
3. WHITE BEAR LAKE
If lakes could talk, White Bear Lake would have a lot to say.
White Bear Lake became a sort of de facto gangster haven during the Prohibition era. Gangsters in Chicago who felt the need to get out of town until “things cooled off,” would frequent White Bear Lake.
The history of the lake becomes even more interesting when you add in the fact that the private Manitou Island, connected to the shore by a small bridge, was once the summer address of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
White Bear Lake was a popular summer resort area from 1870 to 1910. According to the Explore White Bear website, a railroad trip to White Bear Lake in the late 18th century was considered a trip “Up North” to those living in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Some of those beautiful Victorian-style summer homes, built in the 1800s, still exist today.
Today the lake offers stunning vistas and coves, the perfect 2,416-acre playground for yachts and sailboats, and excellent shopping and dining options. Downtown White Bear Lake is just about one of the cutest downtown areas around.
There are a lot of words you could use to describe Uptown: artistic, vibrant, free-thinking, charming, walkable, safe, bike-friendly, interesting, funky, welcoming. However you choose to describe it, Uptown has a definite Minneapolis-local flair and dynamic energy unlike any other neighborhood in Minnesota. People are free to express themselves here. In Uptown, alternative is mainstream.
Surrounding the intersection of Hennepin and West Lake Street and bounded by Lake Calhoun on the west, Dupont Street on the east, 31st Street to the south and 28th Street to the north, Uptown is the place to go for a day of shopping at local book shops, specialty shops, vintage stores, or unique boutiques, enjoying the beauty of Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles (only a few blocks away), taking in a good foreign or independent movie at one of two landmark theaters, grabbing a cocktail with friends, or going out to eat.
In addition to shopping, dining, and entertainment, Uptown is an urban oasis reflecting the attitudes, landscapes and spirit of a multi-disciplined and layered community. It is home to the Walker Library, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Calhoun Square, improv shows, theaters, annual City of Lakes Loppet cross-country ski event, Bastille Day block party, and the Uptown Art Fair, pulling in as many as 500,000 people during the first weekend of August. And while these annual events are popular, the Uptown area attracts visitors year-round simply because it’s Uptown—a little bit of this and a little bit of that in a normally out-of-the-ordinary environment.
While men no longer wear top hats and women prefer pants over petticoats, Hudson, Wisconsin is a river town that retains the character and architecture of decades past. Nowhere is this pride more evident than at the Octagon House, a distinctive, eight-sided house attracting thousands of visitors every year. Other historic homes in downtown Hudson, including the Queen Anne style William H. Phipps home, can be seen on the Historic Walking Tour.
Hudson is also home to Victorian-era bed and breakfast inns, excellent golfing, the Phipps Center for the Arts (dedicated to the continuing pursuit and development of the performing and visual arts), the 3,155-acre Willow River State Park, and unique gift shops and restaurants in a vibrant downtown area.
The jewel of the area, though, is the St. Croix River—a protected National Scenic Waterway. There are several beaches along the shoreline, and Lakefront Park is the location of numerous concerts, festivals, and picnic lunches.
6. LINDEN HILLS
Located just two blocks west of Lake Harriet and five blocks south of Lake Calhoun, the Linden Hills downtown shopping district at 43rd and Upton is perfectly situated for an afternoon of shopping (be sure to check out the independent children’s bookstore Wild Rumpus, complete with a kid-sized door and a menagerie of animals) before swimming in one of the lakes or going for a walk or bike ride along paths connecting to the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. This cute Minneapolis neighborhood is overflowing with charisma—and options. According to the Linden Hills Neighborhood website, linden-hills.com, “Sample fresh baked goods at the bakery and visit a variety of eclectic shops or enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at a variety of eating establishments ranging from BBQ to Asian-Fusion and everything in-between.”
7. CROCUS HILL
With more than 30 blocks of shopping, it’s easy to see why the picturesque area of Crocus Hill—including Summit Avenue, Selby Avenue to the north, and Grand Avenue to the south—is not only a tourist destination, but also a favorite of local residents. Blending beautiful historic homes (and stately mansions) and mostly independent shops, Crocus Hill is a mix of trendy and classic, impressive and Midwestern modest, stay-in-the-lines and “express yourself” bohemian all at once. Some of the more interesting destinations include Cheeky Monkey Deli—a “deli by day; bistro by night”—in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood (the environment is nice without being pretentious, the food is fresh, local, and seasonal, and there are gluten-free options); The Lexington Restaurant (a classy Grand Avenue icon); and The Grand Hand Gallery, specializing in fine American art, with a particular focus on artists from Minnesota and Northern California.
Nestled in Wayzata Bay, Wayzata is the perfect place for a quick metro get-away.
This historic community has a thriving downtown business district, high quality retail shops and beautiful, residential neighborhoods. It also borders Lake Minnetonka, a destination lake ever since the 1800s.
Walking is a must when you visit “the jewel of Lake Minnetonka.” Park your car and stroll around the charming streets as you enjoy the summer sun and gentle breezes coming off Lake Minnetonka. You’ll find plenty of parks and beautiful gardens, a public beach, golf courses, and a number of unique shops and boutiques (forget the big-box retail stores). Make the most of our all-too-short Minnesota summer and dine at one of the lakefront restaurants—like Sunsets—the picturesque focal point of lake life in the Twin Cities. There’s more to do in this quaint lakeside town than walking, shopping, eating, and dining. If you’re looking for a more active outdoor experience, bike, hike, ride horseback, or skate along the Luce Line Trail, a former railroad grade that loops through the northern edge of Wayzata along a 60-mile trail running from Plymouth to Cosmos; or rent a kayak, pontoon, or yacht, hire a fishing guide, or take a sailing class on Lake Minnetonka.