That really was a giraffe you spotted last time you approached Brainerd on 371. And he was surrounded by alpacas and monkeys and other wildlife more commonly associated with African savannahs and Asian grasslands than middle Minnesota. New roadside wildlife park Safari North even has a petting zoo. 8493 State Hwy. 371, Brainerd, 218-454-1662, safarinorth.com
From walleye to black bears to wolves to white-tailed deer, if you don’t spot any wildlife while you’re in Brainerd, it’s because you never left the spa.
In an area known for its nature, Northland’s preserved swath of it is almost redundant in its beauty.14250 Conservation Dr., Brainerd, 218-829-8770, northlandarb.org
Locally brewed beers are where it’s at these days, and Brainerd has plenty of them. Here’s a list of the area’s best breweries. Hop to it!
- JACK PINE BREWERY The first in the region, Jack Pine’s taproom is no fuss, no frills with plenty of pine surrounds and loads of great beer. Tours are free on Saturdays; bring a nonperishable food item for the food shelf and get three samples on the house. 7942 College Rd., Ste 115, Baxter, 218-270-8072, jackpinebrewery.com
- GULL DAM BREWERY All six of Gull’s inaugural beers use locally harvested hops from Brainerd. You can’t miss this charming brewery/taproom in Nisswa; it’s the one with the water wheel and the firepit outside. 23836 Smiley Rd., Nisswa, 218-963-2739, gulldambrewing.com
- BIG AXE BREWING CO. This new brewery, which promises to be open by summer, is also a gastropub with creative, locally sourced food and a sweet patio. 25435 Main St., Nisswa, 612-239-8541, facebook.com/bigaxebrewingco
- LEECH LAKE BREWING If you’re traveling farther north, head to this little brewery in Walker for a growler of Loch Leech Monster Scottish Ale before you take off to fish camp. 195 Walker Industries Blvd., Walker, 218-507-0496, leechlakebrewing.com
BLUEBERRY WAR OF 1872
Shortly after two Ojibwe men were hung for suspicion of murdering a girl who went missing, troops were called in from Fort Ripley when a group of Ojibwe were seen approaching the town. It turned out they were just picking blueberries, and no blood was shed in the Blueberry War of 1872.
Dive into buttermilk pancakes and rhubarb strawberry pie at this Up North family-friendly joint. Founded in 1965, A-Pine Restaurant is the spot for diner-style dishes as you come and go to and from Brainerd. 33039 Old Hwy. 371, Pequot Lakes, 218-568-8353, apineplaza.com
From pontoons to fully tricked-out waterski boats, Beyond Rentals even delivers. From $245 per day, plus fuel. 4758 Co. Rd. 77, Nisswa; 19571 Love Lake Rd., Brainerd; 218-963-7700, boatsandbeyondrentals.com
If you live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, your kiddo should surely know the difference between a jib and a batten. Enroll kids between the ages of 8 and 16 in a weeklong sailing camp through the Gull Lake Sailing School. The adventure ends with a race at the end of the week. 19696 Love Lake Rd., Brainerd, 218-831-8945, glyc.com
BRAINERD-SMITH, ANNA ELIZA
Brainerd’s namesake and the wife of Northern Pacific Railroad Company president John Gregory Smith, who opted to name the township after his bride when he first decided to use it as a railway station for train maintenance and repair in 1870.
BUNYAN, PAUL, THEME PARK
Situated on an old farmstead called, well, “This Old Farm,” Paul Bunyan Land’s 20-plus rides aren’t the sprawling heft of mechanical humanity of Disneyland, but there is a 26-foot-tall talking Bunyan statue. 17553 MN-18, Brainerd, 218-764-2524, paulbunyanland.com
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to visit Brainerd without staying in a cabin nicer than your actual home or a posh summer resort that puts the one in Dirty Dancing to shame. Let our annotated guide to the area’s best area camping show you the way.
Camp Holiday Resort & Campground Eighteen miles east of Brainerd in Deerwood, Camp Holiday spans two lakes and has a main lodge with laundry facilities and a game room. BONUS Volleyball and basketball courts, WiFi, pets allowed. 27406 Round Lake Rd., Deerwood, 218-678-2495, campholiday.com
Crow Wing Lake Campground Tucked between the eastern shores of Crow Wing Lake and Highway 371, just 10 miles south of Brainerd proper, CWLC’s a sprawling, high-amenity campground with plenty of rustic flair. BONUS Heated pool, boat and watersport rentals. 2393 Crow Wing Camp Rd., Brainerd, 218-829-6468, crowwingcamp.com
Crow Wing State Park Campground Just a stone’s throw from Fort Ripley on the eastern shores of the Mighty Miss and smack in the middle of Crow Wing State Park, this site offers hardcore hiking.BONUS A group campsite and lake access. 3124 State Park Rd., Brainerd, 218-825-3075, dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/crow_wing
Sullivans Resort This well-manicured mix of lodge-style resorting and tent camping sits 10 miles north of Brainerd on the revered fishing waters of North Long Lake. BONUSWiFi, heated pool, boat rentals. 7685 Co. Rd. 127, Brainerd, 888-829-5697, sullivansresort.com
Portsmouth Campground Easily the most unique camping experience around Brainerd, this tentery is on Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake, which, at 352 feet deep, has solid scuba diving. BONUS 25 miles of mountain biking trails and yurt (aka “glamping”) rentals. 307 3rd St., Ironton, 218-546-5926, dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/cuyuna_country
True North Base Camp A slick high-adventure camp debuting this summer for biking, hiking, and paddling enthusiasts, True North is just west of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area with waterfront on Cuyuna Lake.BONUS Gear and watersport rentals. 825 SW 1st St. S.W., Cuyuna, 218-833-2267, truenorthbasecamp.com
A weekend at a privately owned Brainerd-area cabin is just a few clicks away. Here are three to try:
For $250/night Carlson Cabin is a three-bedroom log home on the edge of deserted fishing favorite, Camp Lake.
For $1,250/night A seven-bedroom Craftsman home overlooking Lake Ossawinnamakee (due north of Pelican Lake) that’s fully appointed: Sauna! Cable TV! Jet Skis!
For $2,500/week This sunny spot between two lakes (Gladstone and Little Lake Hubert) has plenty of room for kids to run wild. A bonfire pit overlooks your view of the nightly sunset.
Just north of Little Falls and the offshoot of “Fort Ripley” (established in 1849 as Minnesota's second U.S. military post), 53,000-acre Camp Ripley is one part Minnesota National Guard training facility and one part DNR State Game Refuge. 15000 Hwy. 115, Little Falls, 320-616-2699, minnesotanationalguard.org/camp_ripley
CHOCOLATE OX, THE
“As a kid, there’s something about the promise of a summer lake vacation that speaks of long days and endless ice cream. When I walk into The Chocolate Ox, with a few coins and crumpled bills jammed in my pocket, that feeling is crystal clear, no matter how old I get. The bright colorful candies of all ilk and persuasion, the ice cream case in front of which we pace back and forth, deciding, and the overall commitment to pure joy embodies one thing: vacation.” 25452 Main St., Nisswa, 218-656-0031, thechocolateox.com —Stephanie March
Paved over an abandoned railroad corridor, the Paul Bunyan trail has great views of the lake (and is peppered with rest stops). More experienced off-roaders should head half an hour northeast to theCuyuna Country State Recreation Area for a mountain biker’s playground. paulbunyantrail.com, dnr.state.mn.us
The Portland-based alt-rock band’s drummer John Moen was born in Brainerd.
Where to find the best fries, flapjacks, and waitresses who call you hon’.
› The 371 Diner has your full-on 50’s feel with great malts and fries. Plus it’s right on the way in or out of town, perfect for a real non-fast food burger before hitting the road.14901 Edgewood Dr., Baxter, 218-829-3356, 371dinerbaxter.com
› Sawmill Inn, Brainerd’s oldest restaurant, has been kicking since 1908. This is honest food by honest people, with a breakfast buffet and legendary logger skillets inspired by the old lumber camp cooks. 601 Washington St., Brainerd, 218-829-5444, sawmillinnbrainerd.com
› The Barn claims to have the best pies in the North, and they’ll find no argument here—those meringues reach epic heights. It’s a classic joint, where you can order a Maid Rite loose-meat burger, and it’s cash only. 711 Washington St., Brainerd, 218-829-9297
DRIVER, GOLF: [see “golf”]
DRIVER, DESIGNATED: [see “Zorbaz”]
Curious adventure-seekers sleuth their way around Minnesota’s only wooden maze, aptly named theCSI: Wildwedge-Amazing Mystery Maze. With nearly a half-mile of twists and turns, parents can choose to get lost with the best of ’em or, better yet, watch from the observation deck as their little ones burn off any leftover energy from the drive up. 32792 Paul Bunyan Trail Dr., Pequot Lakes, 218-568-6995, wildwedge.com
EDDY'S LAKE MILLE LACS RESORT
If a retro getaway isn’t your cup of tea (see “resorts” if it is), head to the newly renovated Eddy’s, which has 64 rooms and four separate cabins. 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd., Onamia, 320-532-3657, eddysresort.com
“The best spots to fish totally depend on the time of year the fish migrate. If someone’s looking for walleye in the spring, you’ll find them considerably shallower. In the fall and winter months, they’re usually hanging a bit deeper. The two most popular lakes are the Gull Lake chain (especially Round Lake) and the Whitefish chain.” —Dan Eigen, Walleyedan’s Guide Service
FISHING, FLY: Brook trout run through Stoney Brook, the stream that flows into Gull Lake at its western edge. Access it through Fritz Loven Park. cityoflakeshore.com
With more than 15 golf courses, the Brainerd Lakes area is a golfer's mecca. We put on our knickers and broke out the old Billy Baroo to putt you the top four:
The Classic at Madden’s The star of Madden’s on Gull Lake’s four courses, The Classic bills itself as the “most unique and tour-quality experience” in the Midwest. That may sound exaggerated, but it’s hard to argue with how effortlessly the course blends its wilderness setting with walkable fairways that boast a high-skill course rating of 75.5 (meaning most golf pros would score that; also meaning triple digits may be in your future). $120 weekend rate. 11672 Co. Rd. 18W, Brainerd, 218-829-2811, maddens.com
Deacon's Lodge at Breezy Point Resort Nestled into a peninsula-like, 500-acre mix of forest and wetlands on Pelican Lake, Deacon’s Lodge was designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer. While it doesn’t quite have the on-paper difficulty of The Classic, it was named one of Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses. $119 weekend rate. 9348 Arnold Palmer Dr., Breezy Point, 218-562-6262, breezypointresort.com
The Pines at Grand View Lodge Grand View Lodge at the north end of Gull Lake is labeled the “most-awarded golf resort in Minnesota,” with accolades from Condé Nast Traveler and Golf Digest. $120 weekend rate. 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 218-963-2234, grandviewlodge.com
The Dutch Legacy at Cragun’s Resort There are fewer than 50 Golf Digest five-star–rated golf courses, and in 2009 The Dutch Legacy became one of them. Designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Jr., this course blends in so well with the natural surroundings that it’s been named an Audubon Signature Sanctuary course. $99 weekend rate. 1100 Craguns Dr., Brainerd, 218-825-2789, craguns.com
Head to Aitkin for the best disc golfing course in the area: Nordland Tall Grass is heavily wooded, short, and challenging. Call ahead for reservations. 109 1st St. SW, Aitkin, 218-343-4410, facebook.com/ntgdgc
Have actual pirates plundered the Whitefish Chain of Lakes? Does it matter? The point at the mini-golf courses of Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf and the adjacent tracks of the Billy Bones Raceway is to suspend disbelief in favor of family fun. That mast rising out of that water feature is a sunken treasure. That wax pirate in that tree is a real threat. And that eight-year-old girl, the one who just sank a 20-foot putt on a hole that cost you seven strokes, is your own daughter besting you. If you’re smart, you bought the “Pirates Cove Package,” which includes a go-cart race with 18 holes of mini-golf (for only $12.95!). That race around the “pirate fort” is a race for your life, or at least your ego. 17944 and 17992 Hwy. 371, Brainerd, piratecove.net; billybonesraceway.com
For a scenic hog ride soaked in Dakota history, follow the chain of highways around Mille Lacs Lake. Plenty of lunch options stand out along the way.
HOME, THE DRIVE
Take a detour past the drive-through and make a memory on the way home instead. Drive to Little Falls and head into town for a little place called A.T. The Black & White. The main room has a cool, kitschy vibe with a huge mural along one wall, a vintage Rexall Drug sign lighting the back, and plenty of warmly aged millwork everywhere. But the menu has a more modern sense: crab cakes with chipotle dressing, a vegetarian black bean burger on brioche, a cheesy garlic burger on a pretzel bun, entrée specials that might include mahi mahi tacos, and a lovely list of wines and craft beers. You deserve this little stop without a drive-thru. After all, you’re still on vacation. 116 SE 1st St., Little Falls, 320-632-5374, attheblacknwhite.com
INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY, BRAINERD
The three-mile road course is considered the fastest in North America. Paul Newman won his first professional race here in 1982. And each year more than 100,000 people come for the National Hot Rod Association Nationals. (This year it’s Aug. 20–23.) If you haven’t been to the Raceway since you were a kid, it’s time to revisit and do it right. Here’s how:
- Hit the Wednesday Night Drags. Anyone with a street-legal car (truck or motorcycle), a valid driver’s license, a helmet, and $25 can drag the fastest track in the world. It doesn’t have to be a great car, either, which makes for excellent combustible engine comedy, especially if you enter your minivan.
- Try the driving school. Bring your own car (or minivan) for a go around the track. Or, better yet, take the wheel on one of their racecars—and go up to 135 miles an hour.
- Sport protective ear wear at race events. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes life audible later.
5523 Birchdale Rd., Brainerd, 218-824-7223, brainerdraceway.com
IVEN'S ON THE BAY
Why are you eating plain-Jane sundaes with mere hot-fudge whenIven’s on the Bay is making peanut-butter-bacon ice cream and then topping it with warm butterscotch caramel sauce and potato chips? Snap a photo, share it on Instagram, and your friends will go hog-wild for this sweet and salty lake monster. 19090 Hwy. 371, Brainerd, 218-829-9872, ivensonthebay.com
Along the road to Brainerd there's a so-plain-you-might-miss-it red and white building on Highway 24 in Clear Lake that's home to McDonald's Meats, a 100-plus-year-old butcher shop. Their proverbial bread is buttered with their real wood smoked jerky that comes in 23 varieties ranging from BBQ beef jerky to buffalo jerky to Cajun-smoked dried turkey strips. 8601 Main Ave., Clear Lake, 320-743-2311, mcdonaldsmeats.com
KARTS, GO: [see "golf, miniature"]
The real lure of Brainerd is the 460 lakes within 25 miles of the town center, each with its own identity. Here's a sampling.
- Gull Lake Boat-in Dining
- Whitefish Chain of Lakes Boating
- North Long Lake Windsurfing
- Lake Mille Lacs Canoeing
- Pelican Lake Hitting the beach
- Lake Hubert Bass fishing
- Bay Lake Island hopping
- Round Lake Walleye fishing
LOG VILLAGE, HISTORIC: Tool around Crosslake's preserved 1800s log village. 35404 County Rd. 3, Crosslake, 218-692-5400, crosslakehistoricalsociety.org
MOSQUITOES: Just kidding, there basically are none thanks to the fact that most big resorts on Gull Lake spray weekly to keep our unofficial state bird away.
+ Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site Nothing like sitting in the cockpit of (a replica) Spirit of St. Louis. Do it after touring the infamous aviator’s childhood home onsite. $8 adults, $6 children. 1620 Lindbergh Dr. S., Little Falls, 320-616-5421, mnhs.org
+ Crow Wing County Historical Museum Every northern Minnesotan history museum should dedicate an entire wing to logging. Suggested $3 donation. 320 Laurel St., Brainerd, 218-829-3268, crowwinghistory.org
+ Minnesota Military Museum You’ll find tanks, uniforms, and plenty of historical context, but watch for the personal artifacts from servicemen and women dating back to the Dakota War.$5 adults, $2 children. 15000 Hwy. 115, Little Falls, 320-616-6050, mnmilitarymuseum.org
+ Mille Lacs Indian Museum How did Ojibwe people get through a year in Minnesota? Visit the Four Seasons Room for a visual explanation. $9 adults, $6 children. 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, 320-532-3632, mnhs.org
NELSON, GEORGE “BABY FACE”: Chicagoland gangster who held up the First National Bank of Brainerd on October 27, 1933.
One part old-school supper club, one part dusty relic of summer camps of yore, pine-knotted Norway Ridge "only overlooks Kimble Lake" and serves a rugged menu of steaks, ribs, and walleye with a wink to a simpler time. 34757 Co. Rd. 39, Pequot Lakes, 218-543-6136, norwayridge.com
OLYMPIANS: Bill Baker, a gold-medal-winning member of the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, scrapped the skates for an oral surgery practice. Dr. William R. Baker IV, 1903 S. 6th St., Brainerd, 218-829-1728
ORAL SURGEONS: [see “Olympians”]
PIKE, ZEBULON: The explorer who first passed through Brainerd in 1805 during an expedition to find the headwaters of the Mississippi.
QUIET TIME: [see “spas”]
There’s something decidedly Dirty Dancing-esque about Brainerd’s eldest resorts. And while times have changed, and the resorts with them, they still honor their past.
- Grand View Lodge 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 218-963-2234, grandviewlodge.com Then: Established in 1916 as a resort for prospective buyers of the nearby lakefront property, owner M.V. Baker sold it after the stock market crash in 1929. The Cote family, who still owns the resort, temporarily transformed it into housing for parents of children at nearby camps. Now: Lodging has expanded to villas, suites, townhomes, and cabins, but the activities are the real draw. You’ll find happy-hour art classes, paddleboard yoga, wine tastings, and “dive-in” movies where guests watch movies on the big screen while floating on inner tubes.
- Cragun’s 11000 Craguns Dr., Brainerd, 800-272-4867, craguns.com Then: Founders Merrill K. Cragun and his wife, Louise, named it Paul Bunyan Inc. in 1934 to lure tourists. In 1940 they started developing a resort destination, and by 1947, there were 12 cabins. Now: The resort went year-round in 1977, so there are plenty of winter and warm-weather activities, including the recent addition of FootGolf—basically golf with a soccer ball and 22-inch holes.
- Madden’s on Gull Lake 11266 Pine Beach Peninsula, Brainerd, 218-829-2811, maddens.com Then: The Great Depression, an owner who left to fight in World War II, a devastating fire in 1964—you name it, Madden’s has persevered. Now: With four award-winning courses, golf is the name of the game at the 1,000-plus-acre resort. But there are lots of other activities including croquet, horseshoes, shuffleboard, trapshooting, paddleboats, and even seaplane flying lessons.
- Breezy Point 9252 Breezy Point Dr., Breezy Point, 800-432-3777, breezypointresort.com Then: Bought in 1921 by millionaire publisher of Whiz Bang Magazine, Wilfred Hamilton Fawcett, Breezy Point was a destination for early Hollywood elite like Clarke Gable, Carole Lombard, and Jack Dempsey. With room for 700, it was one of the largest resorts in existence at the time. Now: Although Hollywood’s long gone, Breezy Point still going strong with golfing, fishing, tubing, and its annual Ice Fest.
- Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge 25039 Tame Fish Lake Rd., Deerwood, 218-678-2885, ruttgers.com Then: Established by German immigrant Joe Ruttger in 1898, it’s the oldest resort in Minnesota still run by its founding family. In the pre-AC days, guests would come from Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri to catch some of our cool lake climate. Now: With a championship 18-hole golf course, an Aveda salon and spa, three eateries, and five stores on the grounds, you never have to leave the property.
T-Bones, rib eyes, BBQ, and burgers—no trip to Brainerd is complete without stopping for a meal at your classic supper club. Here’s where to go and what to get.
Bar Harbor Supper Club Gorgeous. The Jax of the North. Get: The walleye. 8164 Interlachen Rd., Lake Shore, 218-963-2568, barharborsupperclub.com
Ernie’s On Gull Lake Modern marina and supperclub brewhouse. Get: The prime rib. 10424 Squaw Point Rd., E. Gull Lake, 218-829-3918, erniesongull.com
Lost Lake Lodge A very small old-fashioned resort with a nice restaurant as an added bonus. Get: The breakfast, like corned beef hash and waffles. 7965 Lost Lake Road, Nisswa, 218-963-2681, lostlake.com
Deer Haven Supper Club Rustic with a classic “Up North” atmosphere. Get: The burger. 4309 State 6 NE, Remer, 218-566-2320
You need time for pampering.
Cragun’s Gull Lake Spa The Great Lakes Hot Stone full-body massage is a bargain at $90 for an hour. 800-272-4867, craguns.com
The Spa at Madden’s Take in the view of Wilson Bay from a pedicure chair, where 50 minutes includes exfoliation, masque, hydration, and polish. $65, 800-642-5363, maddens.com
Glacial Waters Spa at Grand View Lodge The epitome of luxury is having your neck and shoulders massaged while sipping a warm champagne mimosa. The Grand Champagne facial also has a cool stone eye treatment, regenerating lip treatment, scalp massage and hand and foot work. $180 for 90 minutes. 218-963-2234, grandviewlodge.com
The Fine Line Salon & Spa at Ruttger’s Don’t sacrifice outdoor time—enjoy a Caribean therapy manicure or pedicure on the sunny patio at Ruttger’s Aveda spa on Bay Lake. 218-678-2157, ruttgers.com
Panache Salon Spa Just west in Baxter, this full-service Aveda concept spa offers everything from waxing and brow tints to massage, facials and a body wrap in Aveda’s signature Rosemary Mint. 218-855-1327, panachesalonspa.com
TURTLE RACES, EVENT
In downtown Nisswa every Wednesday, June through August. Heat winners get a ribbon and a free ice cream cone from Grandma’s Treat Jar, the Grand Champion gets a medal and $20 to Ganley’s, and winners of the specialty races snag gift cards to Rafferty’s Pizza. Hit the A&W after, and bring some wet wipes for your turtle hands.
Precipitation? Pfft. Here are three roofed to-dos:
- From greeting cards at Coco and Co. to souvenirs at Jo & Bill’s Gifts, you’ll find plenty of shopping to keep you occupied in Nisswa. [see also: “vintage jewelry”]
- [see: “museums”]
- The Mills Indoor Shooting and Archery center in Baxter’s worth a shot.
An antique Patek Philippe watch might not be the first thing you’d expect to find Up North, but R.W. Jewelers & Boutique is known for its reasonably priced vintage and estate collection. Owners Randy and Stacey Waidelich started buying their customers’ jewelry to help them through hard times, but the resale business has boomed. “We don’t look for anything,” Stacey Waidelich says. “It’s whatever the good Lord brings through the door.” 25545 Main St., Nisswa, 218-963-3306, rw-jewelers.com
WINE (AT CRU)
“I love everything about the country—the tamarack-fringed sunsets, the crystal canopy of stars, the broken opera of the loons—but the wine lists bore me. So, since one of the chief diversions of my evenings are finding something new, something surprising, something even, occasionally, thrilling, to swirl around the glass; I like Cru. It’s part of Grand View, and has excellent food, but, as befits its name, also has serious wine. It’s got well-chosen sancerres, affordable champagne from sustainable producers, legitimately cheap Austrian gruner veltliner, lots of top-rated American chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and a whole bunch of rare high-dollar collectibles for those celebrating reeling in very big fish. What’s more, they’ll pack-up what you don’t finish so you can drink it in a deck chair with your feet in the sand and the opera of the country in your ears.” 23521 Nokomis Ave, Nisswa, 218-963-8756, grandviewlodge.com —Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
X-RAYS: Fall off your horse/bike/boat/bar stool and break your arm/leg/confidence? No worries. Brainerd’s got a level three-trauma center at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center. 523 N. 3rd St., Brainerd, 218-829-2861, essentiahealth.org/stjosephsmedicalcenter
YURTS: [see “camping”]
Zorbaz on Gull Lake can be enjoyed with your raucous friends or with your family. Probably not both. At least not at the same time. Here's our advice.
—With your buddies: Zorbaz is an eternal party, but come sundown it gets ratcheted up to 11. If you’re on a pals' weekend, show up at about 8 p.m. as the dinner rush is thinning and there are tables out back to grab. Eat a solid base of nachos and pizzas and observe that the families and casual diners have been replaced with a crazed throng of coeds who’ve stepped directly out of a 1980s spring break movie.
—With the fam: Despite the bacchanal we just described, you can take your family to Zorbaz. You just want to make sure it’s for lunch or an early dinner because the longer the day gets the longer your odds of getting the kids out of there without leaving life scars.
8105 Lost Lake Rd., Nisswa, 218-963-4790, zorbaz.com