Head Halfway North
With 500 lakes in five counties, the Brainerd Lakes Area is the imaginary Maginot Line that divides the workweek from the weekend and real life from vacation. And if you’re craving that giddy holiday whirl of buffet breakfasts, water parks, flea markets, fudge shops, and all-you-can-eat walleye dinners punctuated by equal amounts of fishing, golfing, stock-car racing, Jet Skiing, and partying, Brainerd is big fun for any age.
» WHERE TO STAY
Peruse the list of private cottages available through Vacation Rentals by Owner. Or, for a more pampered retreat, the classic Grand View Lodge offers everything from golfing and biking to a spa day and watersports. 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 866-801-2951
Go Down South
Here in Minnesota, we toss around “Up North” as though it’s a real place, yet for some reason, the term “Down South” has never caught on. Our bucolic slice of bluff country has a sweet rural gentility and a pleasingly slow pace. Since 1868, when Lanesboro was founded as a summer resort, the town’s fortunes have risen, fallen, and risen, with the result that it’s now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.
Activities might include a mostly easy bike ride or cross-country skiing on the Root River State Trail or trout fishing or kayaking on the Root River. Other highlights include treasure hunting at the Cornucopia Art Center and a performance at Commonweal Theatre.
Go Behind the Scenes
Gain fascinating perspective on the many corporations that call Minnesota home.
For SPAM-ophiles, this 16,500-square-foot museum is mecca. Put on a hardhat and participate in a simulated SPAM production line, watch the SPAM ballet, and more. Admission: free. 1101 N. Main St., Austin, 800-523-4635
> Afterward, head west on I-90 to Blue Earth, home of the 55-foot Jolly Green Giant statue.
See how single-engine, piston-powered aircraft are assembled, completed, flight tested, and delivered. Admission: free. 514 Taylor Circle, Duluth, 800-705-0230
Red Wing pottery has been cherished by collectors since the late 1800s. Learn how it’s made and shop in the factory store for pottery and gifts. Admission: $3 adults, $2 children 12–17, free for children under 12. 4909 Moundview Dr., Red Wing, 800-352-4877
See four of the largest and fastest papermaking machines in the world churn out 1,500 tons of paper daily. Visitors must be 10 or older; no photos allowed. Admission: free. 400 2nd St., International Falls, 218-285-5011
Watch snowmobiles and ATVs being made and view memorabilia from the company’s 50-year history. Admission: free. 205 5th Ave. SW, Roseau, 218-463-4999
Shop ‘Til You Drop
The Chocolate Ox
The Up North equivalent of 50th and France, Nisswa, just north of Brainerd, is always worth a spin. On hot days, cloudy days, autumn days, and snowy days, this is where generations of families come to see and be seen while shopping, eating saltwater taffy, or sipping a latte.
Edina-style highlights include the thoughtfully named Turtle Town Books & Gifts, The Chocolate Ox ice cream and candy shop, Stonehouse Coffee & Roastery, Lundrigans Clothing (a northern Minnesota chain), and countless gift shops, home décor shops, and souvenir shops.
Test Your Hockey Chops
Pay homage to our heritage on ice with a trip to Eveleth, home of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum. Be sure to check out the tale of the No. 4 Zamboni—it’s a slice of hockey history all true Minnesotans should know. At 107 feet long, the world’s largest hockey stick is a must-see.
Finding Fields of Dreams
John Burch Park, home of the Cannon Falls Bears
Pull up a piece of bleacher, dig into a bratwurst sandwich, and enjoy a game of amateur baseball on one of our favorite fields.
Home of the Chaska Cubs and a site for the Lions All-Star Baseball Tournament and the State High School Baseball Championships. 725 W. 1st St., Chaska
BARNEY TADSEN FIELD
Home of the Brownton Bruins and a host of the 2011 State Amateur Baseball Championships. Co. Hwy. 25 and S. 3rd St., Brownton
JACK RUHR FIELD
Home of the five-time state champion Miesville Mudhens. 14250 E. 240th St., Miesville
JOHN BURCH PARK
Home of the Cannon Falls Bears. 100 N. 7th St., Cannon Falls
Home of the New Ulm Brewers. N. 5th St. and N. German St., New Ulm
Home of the Marshall A’s. 305 Legion Field Rd., Marshall
LIONS MEMORIAL PARK
Home of the Bird Island Bullfrogs. 1160 Birch Ave., Bird Island
MEMORIAL PARK BASEBALL FIELD
Home of the Howard Lake Orphans. 100 10th Ave., Howard Lake
THE MINI MET
Home of the Jordan Brewers and a site for the State High School Baseball Championships. 14250 E. 240th St., Jordan