With Minnesota Public Schools off for MEA weekend, you and your family might find yourselves with some extra time on your hands. Why not enjoy the last breath of fall with a quick trip outside the Twin Cities? Here are five easy day-trip destinations where you’ll find something for everyone—whether traveling with kids in tow or going solo. (Note: Check location websites for COVID-19 information.)
About an hour outside of the Twin Cities, Red Wing is a charming Minnesota town along the Mississippi with a historic feel, but not lacking in things to do. The small-town character is the perfect reprieve—and the bluffs, trails, and shopping won’t leave you wanting.
Activities: Check out the Red Wing Arts gallery or Artisan Collective for a taste of local culture, or visit the Red Wing Shoes flagship store and museum. For artists, the Anderson Center at Tower View is a national landmark with a sculpture garden, permanent collection of art, and studio classes.
Shopping: Stop by Duluth Trading Co. for quality goods or hunt for your next best bargain at Boxrud’s Consignment. Fair Trade Books will satisfy your inner bookworm, and you can spend hours browsing the stacks.
Food: Hanisch Bakery is a must. Try Bev’s Cafe, the oldest restaurant in town; Kelly’s Tap House, which offers a full menu ranging from burgers to pizza to appetizers; Mandy’s Coffee & Cafe for a fresh cup; or Stockholm Pie’s Pie Plate Café & Coffee for some of the state’s best pies.
Rated as one of the “Top 10 Prettiest Towns” by Forbes magazine, Stillwater was named after the calm waters of the St. Croix River. It’s one of the oldest towns in Minnesota but still remains up-to-date and modern, with tons to keep you busy.
Activities: For kids and creative types, pop into Kari’s Create & Paint Studio, a walk-in studio where you can paint your own canvas or pottery. Walk down the historic Main Street or check out the Washington County Courthouse, the state’s oldest. Want to get outside? Visit Pioneer Park or Lowell Park for great views, experience the remodeled Stillwater Lift Bridge, or bike the Stillwater or St. Croix Loop trails.
Shopping: For outdoor gear, visit 45 Degrees. Homegoods? Check out Al Fresco Casual Living for Home & Garden. Clothing? Try Britta’s Boutique and Betty June’s for women’s fashion. Black Letter Books or the Minnesota Made store, a shop devoted entirely to locally produced goods, are also places to find something unique.
Food: Stop by Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop for a great meal and retro décor, Chilkhoot Café and Cyclery for good bites (and stroll through their bike shop while you’re there), or LoLo American Kitchen for more upscale eats. Newer spots to try include Lolito, Feller, and MatchStick.
Just across the border on the St. Croix is this small town of about 12,000. It offers a charming downtown as well as the chance to get out into one of the most visited parks in the state.
Activities: Check out the Octagon House, a home built in the 1850s that now serves as a museum showcasing what life was like in the early days on the St. Croix. Hike through Willow River State Park and admire the beautiful waterfalls. If you’d prefer to spend your time indoors, stop by Phipps Center for the Arts to see a show or check out their galleries to see the art they have on display.
Food: Barker’s Bar & Grill is a great bet, with plenty of options for burgers, sandwiches, and wings. Also, San Pedro Cafe for Caribbean. For more upscale eats, try Pier Five Hundred, which also offers beautiful views of the St. Croix River.
Rochester is Minnesota’s third-largest city and sits about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities. While world-renowned Mayo Clinic is a main draw, Rochester has plenty to do that will give you a taste of its unique character.
Activities: Take the kids to the Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester to explore or tire them out at Air Insanity, a 32,000-square-foot trampoline park. For something quieter, there’s the Rochester Art Center, a contemporary art center that showcases local and national artists. For history buffs, tour the Mayowood mansion (currently closed), the former home of Dr. Charles H. Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic, or take a trolley tour of Rochester. Want to get out and enjoy the last few moments of fall? Visit the Cascade Meadows Wetlands and Environmental Science Center to explore the trails or take a trip to Quarry Hill Park’s nature center, which is home to 35 kinds of animals, plus birds and fish.
Shopping: Start at Peace Plaza and stroll your way through downtown, exploring all the shops it has to offer, like Counterpoint Home, the Nordic Shop, and Primp. Or take a trip to the Apache Mall for 80 stores all under one roof.
For even more ideas, read: Destination: Rochester
White Bear Lake
Just a 25-minute drive north, Minnesota Monthly’s Best Minnesota Town of 2018 has something for everyone, including fantastic shopping if you’re looking to “treat yo’ self.”
Activities: For the artistically minded, visit Create Space DIY Studio and check out one of their workshops, where they’ll guide you through a project. Those wanting to get a breath of fresh air will enjoy the Tamarack Nature Center, a large nature preserve with plenty of trails, or see a show at the new Hanifl Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2018.
Shopping: Find all the music you could need at White Bear Lake Records, books at Lake Country Booksellers, gifts at the Farmer’s Daughter or the Goodkids toy store, and fashion at Truly, a women’s boutique.
Food: Check out Eat! for great breakfast, lunch, and dessert options. Grab coffee at the Anchor Coffee House or a burger at Burger Bar. Looking for something more light and fresh? Try Ingredients Café for sandwiches and salads. Plus, Grandma’s Bakery, a well-loved spot for sweet treats that has been around 40 years.
For even more ideas, read: 5 Places to Go in White Bear Lake