True North: Hudson, WI

Stillwater’s less-touristy sister is easy to love
 

After finally making it through one of the most punishing winters in Minnesota history, we all damn well deserve a vacation. All meaning every last one of us, regardless of calendar or bank-account status. Enter the travel quickie—fast and, much like the arrival of spring, easy for everyone to love. Whether you’re into leafy-green hikes, parka-free, open-air shopping, or barstools with a sunshiny river view, two words: Hudson, Wisconsin.
 

I muscled some space into my schedule, grabbed my friend Hayley, and we zipped over from St. Paul in less than 30 minutes flat. As if being guided by some sort of day-tripper’s mega-magnet, we immediately discovered the $3, all-day happy hour at agave kitchen (agavekitchen.com), with its liquid spring flings of margaritas and raspberry lemon drops. “I love how it feels like you’re just another neighbor here,” Hayley remarked between sips. I get it. Hudson’s neither so touristy to be overrun, so small to be insular, nor so big to be overwhelming. After our server, who was a pro amount of friendly, helped us narrow down our ambitious to-do list, we were off.
 

First up: window shopping (though, yes, we are grown women who know full well that such an activity doesn’t pair well with any amount of day-drinking). We popped in and out of the shops on the historic main drag, a three-block stretch of Second Street where motorists readily stop for folks on foot. la rue marché (laruemarche.com), packed with vintage French-inspired clothes, shoes, jewelry, and gifts, proved a happy test of my willpower. Hayley broke down at lavender thymes (lavenderthymes.com), thanks to the world’s cutest knit knee socks, tucked amid the candles and toiletries and such. We headed up Locust Street to knoke’s chocolates (knokeschocolates.com), too, since people kept saying that visiting the place was mandatory—people who clearly dig gobs of colorful candy, dozens of ice-cream flavors, and handmade chocolates.
 

Photo by Berit Thorkelson

I believe the true Hudson mandatory, however, to be some form of appreciation for the sparkly st. croix river. It’s among the fewer than 1 percent of American waterways officially designated Wild and Scenic, thanks to a 1968 congressional act designed to protect and preserve our most outstanding rivers in their free-flowing state. lakefront park, a block off downtown, makes indulgence easy. Among the draws in its 20 acres: a paved trail, a couple of beaches, a pier that’s home to afton-hudson cruise lines (stcroixrivercruises.com), and a band shell hosting free thursday-night concerts all summer. Grab a lovely bird’s-eye view of the river valley (plus a bit of a workout) climbing the rather decrepit steps behind the fire station up to prospect park. (You can drive, too). If you perked up at the mention of hiking, get thee to willow river state park, a few miles out of town. The multi-tiered waterfall is a scenic way to cool off on hot summer days.
 

It was difficult to choose a dinner spot. There are so many restaurants downtown, and everyone we talked to seemed to have an opinion. We went renegade to try stone tap (stonetaphudson.com), due to the artfully restored interior and locally sourced food. It was fine, but  it left us wishing we would’ve listened to those who raved about the burgers at barkers (barkersbarandgrill.com) and the postmark grille (thepostmarkgrille.com), a fairly new Italian-American spot in a 1940s post office. Next trip. Perhaps the one good thing to come of The Never ending Winter is the license (and the will) to see just how many versions of this quick river town escape can be squeezed into a single spring.
 

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