The Oxbow Hotel, Eau Claire
photo by steven buri
When I was younger, my friends and I went on a lot of impromptu weekend trips. We’d race out of work Friday night, roar up I-35 to the North Shore, and hike into a campsite piercing the darkness with headlamps, so we could wake up on Saturday with the whole day before us. The trips always felt so short. In no time at all, it was Sunday after breakfast, and we’d be breaking camp and starting the long trek home, each footstep feeling heavier and heavier as our minds began mentally crafting Monday’s To Do List while we plodded down the trail.
A few years ago, I decided that three was the new two when it came to weekend getaways. If you left Thursday after work for a three-night trip, you’d get two full dawn-to-dusk days to enjoy your destination. This approach was actually relaxing. When I got back to work, I often struggled to recall my computer password.
Unfortunately, schedules don’t always permit for that extra day. But I’ve found another workaround: the Quickcation, which I define as a short trip that’s far enough away to clear your head, but close enough that traveling there doesn’t feel like more work than work. (Or, worse than work, feels like hell, which is how I’d describe being trapped in a Sunday afternoon traffic jam on I-35 South when temps are in the 90s and your car doesn’t have air conditioning.)
With this philosophy in mind, for this year’s Weekend Getaways feature, ace travel writer Berit Thorkelson and I headed south (ish) to three thriving river towns—Mankato, Northfield, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin—that Minnesotans don’t tend to think of as tourist destinations.
They should. On our visits, we experienced numerous delicious discoveries and Instagrammable moments: fresh-from-the-oven caramel rolls, antique treasures, and craft cocktails made with house-distilled liquor, as well as scenic trails, a sculpture tour, boutique hotels, and a Carnegie Hall–worthy jazz performance. If you live in or around the Twin Cities, all three of these destinations are within a two-hour drive. And as long as your car’s AC is in working condition, even a one-night visit can be rejuvenating.
photo by erika ludwig, hair and makeup by margo gordon