Family Weekend in Mankato

I’ll be honest. I would have never driven an hour and a half to spend a weekend in Mankato if it weren’t for my friends (and now their five-month old son) who lives there. Before the baby, my weekend trips to Mankato encompassed events typical for a college town—bars, dancing, and late night snacks all in one area along Front Street, just about a mile from Mankato State University.

Now that my friends have a little guy in tow, my latest visit introduced me to a new kind of Mankato—a city that’s welcoming for families to getaway for the weekend and experience the outdoors and new discoveries.

The drive from the cities is quick, even if you’ve got squirmy ones in booster seats behind you. Along the drive down Highway 169 in Le Sueur, you can point out the Jolly Green Giant that stands among the trees. The town is also the start of the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway where you’ll encounter bluffs and rocky landscape as you travel along the River. During our drive in late February, we spotted a few bald eagles making their migrations, so keep your eyes out!

The natural landscape continues in Mankato, where you can stop and admire the sites, go on a hike, or setup camp. We wished it was a bit warmer for our visit, but now that spring is officially on the way, you will want to add Minneopa State Park and Minneopa Falls on your to-do list, one of the most impressive natural sites in southern Minnesota.

Another outdoor destination a bit closer to town is Sibley Park (home of the popular Kiwanis Holiday Lights), where my friends and I took a walk with the baby while he slept soundly in his stroller. This park not only has farm-themed play equipment in exceptional condition, but in the springtime, it turns into a petting zoo! Ducks float in the pond, peacocks flaunt their colors, and the sheep are just begging to be pet (aren’t they the cutest?). During our visit, the park was quiet without the presence of the animals, but I look forward to returning and watching the baby interact with the critters.

Adults can play too! At Sibley Park in Mankato. Photo supplied.

The walk helped us work up an appetite so we went to Shogun Sushi and Hibachi to satisfy our fried rice and sake craving. Other spots to check out for a family dinner include Charley’s, Boulder Tap House (for beer enthusiasts), and Number 4, where on an past visit I ordered the Weekender signature Bloody Mary—a meal in itself. For dessert, Mom and Pop’s is as homey as it sounds, serving Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream from Madison. Its outdoor patio area is ideal for kids to eat and not worry about the mess.

If you get a night free of kids, head downtown where the action is, but my boyfriend and I opted for a quiet night around our hotel at the AmericInn. Right by the Mankato State campus, the hotel is in walking distance of several bars, restaurants, and cafes. We walked to a liquor store and on the way we discovered Insomnia Cookies. They deliver baked goodies until 3 a.m.! We stopped in to order some s’mores and double chocolate chip cookies.

The next morning we took the advice of friends and visited Friesen’s Family Bakery & Bistro on Riverfront Drive. On this Sunday morning, we easily found parking on the street, which was occupied by only one other car (ahhh…isn’t it nice to take a break from the Cities?). We ordered homemade sandwiches and soups, with bread made in-house. Despite my cookie indulgence the night before, I couldn’t help but order a chocolate chip cookie with my meal.

Just a block down the road we then checked out Coffee Hag. We intended on grabbing our beverages to go, but the darling baristas convinced us to stay for the jazz musician that would be starting in five minutes (what timing!). While sipping a chai tea latte, we listened to Hanna Cesario strum her ukulele. Leaving Coffee Hag was like trying to get out of bed on a Monday morning, but it was an idyllic end for an unexpectedly tranquil weekend away from the Cities.