As soon as we left Forest Lake and drove approximately 10 minutes, turning off Highway 97 toward Scandia, it didn’t feel like we were in the “big city” anymore, it felt like we were out in the country. The air seemed cleaner, the grass seemed greener, and the pace seemed slower.
I began to understand why the first Swedish immigrants chose Scandia as their settlement back in 1850. Scandia is less than 40 square miles, but those miles are some of the most scenic miles around, aptly described by the city’s website as being “dotted with lakes, woodlands, farms, and low-density rural development.” Bonus that the St. Croix River and Big Marine Lake are also nearby.
We drove through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it downtown (or “historic village area”) on our way to the Gammelgården Museum, set on 11 acres of the prettiest land I’ve seen in Minnesota since my camping trip on Lake Pepin last summer. My mom, my two kids (almost 3 and almost 6) and I decided to visit the museum while my husband, dad, and brothers were out fishing. I wasn’t sure if the museum was kid-friendly, but I had read there was a playground, so figured we’d be alright.
The tour of the five outbuildings—the teeny little Immigrant Hus, elaborate (in those times, anyhow) Präst Hus (pastor’s house), three-story Ladugård (barn), Swedish Stuga (vacation house), and the 157-year-old Gammelkyrkan church, the oldest Lutheran church building in the state (still used as a church today for weddings and special services) was a little more educational/less hands-on than I thought—perfect for adults who want to learn about what it was like to build a life on the prairie; not so perfect for two little boys who would rather be playing outside—so we spent the majority of our time on the playground. While my mom followed the tour, the boys and I played and explored the expansive—and very scenic—grounds, complete with a little bridge over a pond. Even without going on the tour, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the museum simply for the beauty of the area. Tours are offered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1 and 2:30, $5 for adults; free for kids 12 and under. There are special events (some more kid-focused than others) scheduled throughout the summer as well. Check the website for more details.
After spending time in the modern Välkommen Hus and Scandia Butik (gift shop full of cute Swedish-themed gifts and knick-knacks and some of the best cookies I’ve ever tried), we decided to get lunch in town. We went up the road to The Scandia Café, an old-fashioned, home-style restaurant with the tagline of “We haven’t forgotten the food you remember.” The décor was cows, cows, and more cows (one local told me the restaurant’s nickname is the Scandia “cow-fe”—which I thought was perfectly fitting since I felt like I was out in the country), the service was excellent, the food was made-from-scratch and delicious, and the best part? We ordered two (generous) kids meals and two (generous) adult meals and our bill was a mere $22.70. The Scandia Café is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends. I can’t recommend this place enough. (I know I’ll be back.)
After lunch, we parked the car on the not-busy ‘main drag’ and checked out Designs of Sweden, a shop run by a couple who moved to Scandia from Jönköping, Sweden in 2008. They carry really unique gifts, ranging from one-of-a-kind kitchen towels and home goods to jewelry, t-shirts, and candles, to decorative Dala horses in every shape and color. If you want a unique Swedish-themed gift, this is your place.
While we were in town, we also saw more cyclists than we could count. I discovered that the Minnesota Ironman, the state’s longest-running bike ride, now winds through the hills and valleys of Scandia and Marine on St. Croix.
I wasn’t sure if the cyclists lived in the area, were practicing on the Ironman course, or like the early Swedish settlers—simply recognized a beautiful area and decided to explore.
Scandia truly is is the perfect close-to-home escape.