Stay and Play

Top 20 Things to Do & See This Summer

You’ve been daydreaming of these lazy, hazy summer days long enough—when the puffy cumulus clouds dot a clear blue sky, a gentle breeze cools you off in the heat of the day, and the evenings are just about perfect. Make the most of this all-too-short season and take advantage of the unique activities and destinations Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin has to offer.

1—Visit Alexandria

The glaciers carved their way through Minnesota thousands of years ago creating a perfect blend of lakes, wooded hills, and open prairie in Alexandria, just two hours northwest of the Twin Cities metro. While in the area, stay at Arrowwood Resort on Lake Darling, complete with a 30-horse stable with riding ring and trails (45-minute guided trail rides are available to guests 8 and older), championship golf course, full-service marina, 38,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, spa, evening bonfires, and Camp Arrowwood for kids ages 4-12. Accommodations range from suites with private balconies to townhomes and cottages. Carlos Creek Winery and affordable boutique shopping in downtown ‘Alec’ is nearby.

2—Discover Historic Bluff Country

Take the scenic route along the Great River Road to Winona, a dual arts powerhouse and recreational paradise along the mighty Mississippi, offering everything from casual bike rides on bluff trails to white-linen dining before seeing nationally-acclaimed Shakespeare or impressive art inspired by the water at the Minnesota Maritime Museum. Whether you’re into paddling or Picasso,  Beethoven or bluegrass, history or hiking, Winona is the perfect blend of natural beauty, vibrant arts, and Old-World charm.

3—Stay in a Treehouse

Built on steep wooded bluffs above the limestone cliffs of the Mississippi River Valley, Hawks View Cottages provide adventurous travelers—prepare for stairs— with an opportunity to see the hilltops and birds up-close, all while staying in what feels like a luxury treehouse. Visit the nearby towns of Fountain City, Alma, or Nelson, and the tasting room and wine bar at Seven Hawks Vineyard.

4—Raise your Glass

Summit, Lift Bridge, Fitger’s, 612, Harriet, Lucid, Surly, Fulton, Angry Man, Indeed Brewing Co.—so many local brewpubs and microbreweries, so little time. Tours and taprooms are the least expensive way to experience Minnesota’s booming craft beer movement. Each beer—and each location—has its own vibe. Call or visit the company’s websites for tour times and taproom hours.

5—Escape to an Island

The allure of an island vacation is the isolation, and part of the charm is actually getting to the island. To get to Madeline Island, take the Madeline Island Ferry from Bayfield, Wis. (a 25-minute trip) and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Superior and several of the Apostle Islands. Once on the island, walk along beautiful wooded trails, rent a bike and explore the area, visit the museums, embark on a sailing adventure, or check out the restaurants and pubs. Lodging options range from camping under the stars to luxurious homes and condos right on the shoreline.


6—Go to a Fair or Festival!

Grand Old Day • June 2
Along Grand Avenue, St. Paul
Northern Spark • June 8
Lowertown, St. Paul
St. Paul Summer Beer Fest • June 15
Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul
Stone Arch Bridge Festival • June 14–16
Minneapolis riverfront
Minneapolis Aquatennial • July 12-20
Lake Calhoun, Hennepin Avenue, West River Parkway
Minnesota Fringe Festival • Aug. 1–11
Venues in Uptown, downtown, and the West Bank
WE-Fest Country Music Festival • Aug. 1–3
Soo Pass Ranch, Detroit Lakes
Uptown Art Fair • Aug. 2–4
Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue and “The Mall” in Southwest Minneapolis
Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival • Aug. 8–11
El Rancho Manana, Richmond, Minn.

Irish Fair of Minnesota • Aug. 9–11
Harriet Island, St. Paul
Twin Cities Polish Festival • Aug. 10–11
Along Old Main Street, Minneapolis
Como Park Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival • Aug. 18
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, St. Paul
Minnesota State Fair • Aug. 22–Sept. 2
Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul

7— ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game…’

Living in Minnesota, you now have two options for watching baseball in open-air ballparks—the Minnesota Twins, playing at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, or the St. Paul Saints, playing at Midway Stadium in St. Paul. The major league Twins now play in a beautiful new stadium with excellent sightlines of downtown (Target Field opened in 2010). There’s a wide variety of concessions—from hot dogs to walleye on a stick—the stadium is steeped in history, and in “Twins Territory,” the atmosphere is electric. The minor league Saints are nationally recognized for their in-game entertainment, with between-inning promotions, contests, and “ushertainers” making for a fun atmosphere. Where else can you get a haircut or massage, even rent a hot tub with friends— all while watching some really great baseball?

8—Experience Serenity, Luxury, Gourmet Cuisine at Canoe Bay

Less than two hours from the metro, Canoe Bay, located in Chetek, Wis., is a romantic, peaceful, luxurious retreat designed exclusively for couples. Since 1998, it has been the Midwest region’s only member of Relais & Châteaux, a prestigious collection of the most beautiful restaurants and hotels around the world. Spend time inside the sophisticated cottages (select cottages with fireplaces, private saunas, steam rooms, and oversized tubs), walking along the wooded countryside, canoeing on Lake Wahdoon, reading in the cozy two-story lofted library, or enjoying gourmet cuisine in the elegant yet rustic lakeside dining room (no jeans, tennis shoes, or athletic wear allowed), at the private wine cellar table, or at the chef’s table sampling from both the chef and sommelier.

9—Tour Amazing Luxury Homes

A passport becomes your all-access ticket to 17 of the area’s most luxurious homes, an invitation to tour the private sanctuaries of business entrepreneurs, talented professionals, savvy investors, and retired executives during the 13th annual Midwest Home Luxury Home Tour, June 7-9, 14-16, and 21-23. Admire spectacular craftsmanship and design—and gain valuable inspiration and ideas—as you walk through top-of-the-line gourmet kitchens, elaborate spa-like master baths, state-of-the-art home theaters (one including the world’s largest residential TV), impressive game rooms, dramatic wine cellars, and more.

10—Unleash Your Inner Child

Not only can you find some pretty amazing animals at the two metro area zoos—Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, located in St. Paul, and the Minnesota Zoo, located in Apple Valley—but you can also find a certain sense of innocence (don’t all zoos remind you of your childhood?). At Como, take the little ones on the rides at Como Town, watch seven charismatic gorillas in the new Gorilla Forest exhibit (opens June 6), and admire the all-new sunken Japanese garden addition, featuring the Conservatory’s Bonsai collection. At the Minnesota Zoo, don’t miss the return of two popular exhibits—“Africa!” (featuring giraffes, ostrich, bongos, wildebeest, addax and guinea fowl) and “All New Dinosaurs!,” complete with 20 animatronic dinos.


 11—Build Sandcastles and Memories at Dickerson’s

Enjoy quality time together during a good old-fashioned “weekend at the lake” at Dickerson’s Lake Florida Resort, located about 100 miles west of Minneapolis in Spicer. Owners Bob and Connie Dickerson take great pride in running a clean, safe, family-oriented resort and it’s evident—through the pizza parties, hayrides, campfires, and Sunday morning homemade donut “mixers”—that they love what they do. Guests have complimentary use of hydrobikes, paddleboats, kayaks, bikes, and trikes. Little ones lovebuilding sandcastles along the pristine sandy beach; adults love the chance to “unplug” and reconnect.

 12—Learn to Rock Climb

From first-timers to veteran climbers, Vertical Endeavors— with locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, and Warrenville, Ill.—offers something for every need, including climbing walls, bouldering, and top-roping with auto belays. The features are designed to help new climbers find theirfooting, and experienced climbers build their strength, balance, endurance, and coordination. In addition to a fun, supportive, and controlled indoor experience, Vertical Endeavors offers outdoor lessons and climbing trips tosome of the most beautiful areas in the country.

13—Bike, Fish, Relax in Bemidji

Bemidji—located 226 miles north of the Twin Cities—is known for wildlife, forests, pristine lakes and rivers (excellent fishing), miles of paved trails (excellent biking), and being the first city along the 2,552-mile Mississippi River (walk across the headwaters at Itasca State Park). It’s also known as a vacation hotspot, with family-friendly resorts such as Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge, located on the sandy shore of Lake Bemidji. Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge is the perfect blend of North Woods solitude and outdoor recreation—fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, treasure hunts, basketball, and more! Stay in a lakefront suite, townhome, or cottage.

14—Get Outside and Ride!

Minnesota has more paved bike trails than any other state in the country, with more trails opening every year. With so many different types of trails—through bustling cities and beside peaceful pastures, along scenic river bluffs and near unique attractions—it’s easy to see why some people call Minnesota “The Bike Friendly State.” If you don’t already own a bike, rent one for the day through Nice Ride, or a number of local bike shops and dealers.

15—Rent a Kayak or Canoe

Picture this: Peacefully drifting across the water, the sun shining on your skin, the water lapping at your boat, no worries, no stress. If you don’t already own a kayak or canoe, you can rent one from Wild Mountain/Taylors Falls Recreation. Start out at Minnesota Interstate Park, then float downstream on the beautiful St. CroixRiver to Osceola Landing. You can even arrange to have a shuttle take you back to your vehicle. A one-way trip is $45+tax for two life jackets and two paddles, which seems pretty reasonable considering the fact that you’re paying for the experience. Locally, you can rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboat (ranging from $12/hour for kayaks to $25/hour for double paddleboats) through Minneapolis Parks and Rec and take a fascinating journey throughout the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes with access to Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and Brownie Lake.


16—Enjoy a ‘Slice’ of the Country Life

Gather together some friends, bring snacks and drinks and plates and lawn chairs and a folding table and garbage bags and maybe a deck of cards or Frisbee, get in your car, and drive to Stockholm, Wis. on a Tuesday night for excellent rustic brick-oven pizza and even better scenery. Many of the ingredients at Pizza on the Farm (aka “the pizza farm”) are grown right there, just like how it was in the olden days. Show up early to stake out a good spot on the lawn and enjoy quality time with friends in really pretty surroundings. The cows and goats only add to the charm.

17— Visit Detroit Lakes

If you’ve never visited Detroit Lakes in the summer, you should. The area not only plays host to the wildly popular WE Fest country music festival each summer, it’s also “lake country,” with more than 400 lakes within a 25-mile radius. One of these lakes, Big Detroit Lake, is home to The Lodge on Lake Detroit, a lifestyle hotel focusing on experiences rather than “just being a place to sleep.” Enjoy cocktails and sunset serenades or lively jazz or blues music in the lobby (every Thursday from June to August), spa services at The Spa Within, a large beach, and a 13-mile bike path around the lake. Hire a fishing guide and try to land an elusive musky, or visit on Father’s Day weekend for the lakefront Shrimp Boil/Beer Tasting Event. The hotel is less than two miles from downtown Detroit Lakes.

18—An Artist’s Paradise: Grand Marais

Look out across the expanse of Lake Superior in a romantic renewal steam suite at the Best Western Superior Inn & Suites in Grand Marais, where private balconies capitalize on amazing views. Stroll along the cobblestone shore, relax under a canopy of stars, listen to waves lap against the coastline. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of Artist Point, downtown Grand Marais, and the North House Folk School, where resident artists teach summer classes. It’s also near hiking trails, waterfalls, and the beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  Visit July 13-14 for the Grand Marais Art Festival or August 1-4 for the Fisherman’s Picnic.

19—It’s Showtime!

Seeing a production at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is a magical summertime (or anytime, really) experience, combining one-stop entertainment (dinner and a show under one roof!), reasonably-priced tickets, and local theater talent in fun shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (running through Aug. 31, 2013).  Local designers, artists, and directors create every element of productions in-house, and all actors and musicians are professionals, making for truly impressive performances.

20—Escape to the North Shore

With the hills of San Francisco, the atmosphere of an East Coast harbor town, and warm Midwest hospitality, Duluth should be on everyone’s “must visit” list. About a 2.5-hour drive from the Twin Cities—home of the world-class Grandma’s Marathon (set this year June 22)­­—this pretty city is overflowing with outdoorsy activities, quaint restaurants and shops, and lakeside mansions built by lumber barons, but perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this busy port town is watching the ships and freighters come into port on Lake Superior, the biggest expanse of fresh water in the entire world. Visit June 14-15 for the four-mile Annual Park Point Rummage Sale, July 13 for the All Pints North Summer Brew Fest, July 20 for the Annual Bayfront Reggae and World Music Festival, or July 25-29 for Tall Ships Duluth 2013.

 If location is everything, then the developers of Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, 90 minutes north of Duluth, hit the jackpot. People travel from across the country to stay so close to the lake’s shore (keep your windows open to hear the lulling sound of water), the expansive lake views, the scenery, the close proximity to state parks, the complimentary activities, the variety of accommodations, and the friendly, helpful staff. This total North Shore resort experience includes on-site dining, an outdoor pool and hot tub/spa, indoor pool and whirlpool, volleyball and tennis courts, sea kayaking lessons, a naturalist program, complimentary use of canoes and mountain bikes (a portion of the paved Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail runs right past Bluefin), and some pretty amazing fishing, hiking, and golfing. Top off your stay with a massage at the Superior Waters Wellness Center before relaxing at a beach bonfire. Ahh, bliss.

Since the late 1800s, Lutsen Resort has maintained a tradition of hospitality and charm on the shore of Lake Superior. Relax on an Adirondack chair on the beach, unwind at the on-site WatersMeet Massage and Wellness Center, enjoy free activities with your stay—sea kayak instruction and tours, guided hikes, naturalist programs, fly-fishing classes, morning yoga on the beach, childrens’ programs, live music, disc golf, shuffleboard, a nine-hole pitch and putt golf course, and two large pools. The food is great (the on-site lakeside dining room has received Wine Spectator magazine’s “Award of Excellence” every year since 2008) and accommodations are excellent, whether staying in a lakeside lodge room or spacious luxury townhome.

Nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains—just a mile from Lake Superior—is the family-friendly destination of Caribou Highlands Lodge, offering complimentary activities for kids so parents can take advantage of activities like guided canoeing, pool volleyball, or water workouts. The lodge also features a heated outdoor three-season pool, an indoor pool, three spas areas, two saunas, tennis courts, volleyball, basketball, picnic areas, and game rooms. Accommodations include luxury log homes, townhomes that sleep up to 12, condos, and lodge rooms with optional whirlpools and fireplaces.