Photo courtesy of Explore Minnesota Tourism
The North Shore drive in Minnesota
We’re proud to call Minnesota home because there is so much to do, see, experience and taste. We’ve highlighted four drivable relaxing, invigorating, and delicious areas of interest to help you plan your next vacation. Adventures await no matter which way your compass points you.
Snapshot: The North Shore
The Scenic Cafe, photograph by Eric Sturtz
The most iconic of our 10,000 lakes is Lake Superior—and the 142-mile drive along its jagged North Shore is a rite of passage for every Minnesotan. Since the North Shore area is vast, and if you only have a few days, you may want to focus on Duluth and the Two Harbors areas, which are awash in trails, parks, shopping, history, restaurants, and breweries.
The beauty of road trips means you can stop whenever you want, and no northbound journey is properly christened without a stop at Tobie’s Restaurant and Bakery in Hinckley for a gooey caramel roll. The family-owned restaurant has been around for several generations and takes pride in its tagline, “Minnesota’s famous half-way stop,” and pastry cases loaded with delicious reasons to stock up for the road ahead.
You know you’re completing the three-hour trip to Duluth when you catch that first unmistakable glimpse of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior. Pull off the highway for a much-deserved local cold brew—Lake Superior Brewing, which has been micro-brewing since the ’90s, is just a few blocks off the shore. The $1 sample pours are easy on the wallet and allow you to make a dent in the beer menu—don’t leave without trying the highly lauded Kayak Kolsch. And fill a growler before you go, Lake Superior Brewing’s craft beers are only available at the microbrewery.
When you’re ready to get your blood pumping, nearby Spirit Mountain is open year-round with activities for all ages, such as the 26-mph alpine roller coaster that sails along winding tracks delivering views of Lake Superior you won’t get elsewhere. Maximize those unique sights with a trip on the 90-second zipline, which takes you on a 700-foot journey downhill and gives you an immediate lift back up, so you’ll have a second chance to catch the view. Spirit Mountain also has disc- or mini-golfing, mountain biking, and a wealth of trails—more than enough options to fill a Saturday.
To get close to the water, take a stroll along Duluth’s Lakewalk. A variety of shops and vendors form a backdrop to this scenic shoreline boardwalk. You’ll discover iconic outdoor outfitter Duluth Pack, which prides itself on quality handbags, leather packs, and luggage, guaranteeing quality for life. Browse 200 kinds of root beer or more than 500 soda variations at Fizzy Waters, where you can also score hard-to-find vintage candies. The pathway takes you to notable stops like the Aerial Lift Bridge and lighthouse. For a glimpse into Superior’s maritime history, check out the restored 1937 iron ore and coal ship the SS William A. Irvin, which broke records in its time for unloading 13,856 tons of iron ore in just under three hours—a record that likely can’t be broken as ships today have automated systems for unloading. Every October, William A. Irvin is transformed into a haunted ship with zombies, ghosts, and eerie whispers behind closed doors. Rumor has it that the ship is actually haunted by real ghosts—keep watch for a mysterious girl in a white dress.
If you have a chance to extend your trip farther north, take Minnesota Highway 61—the North Shore Scenic Byway. It’s a little slower than the freeway but so worth it and will give you easy access to the shore and breathtaking vistas at every curve in the road. Grab a bite to eat halfway between Duluth and Two Harbors at New Scenic Café. Wander through its colorful, fairy tale–like garden for a couple of Instagram-worthy photos before heading into the shore-side restaurant. The Two Harbors–born chef, Scott Graden, takes pride in his seasonally rotating menu, which is loaded with fresh, local fare like grilled pheasant, juicy walleye, and smoked rainbow trout.
After you’ve boosted your energy, head about 26 miles north to chase waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls, a 1,682-acre state park known for its river gorge and waterfalls. Miles of paved trails are used for hiking and biking and allow easy wheelchair access in the summer; during the winter, they’re dedicated to skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. The park is home to 22 species of birds and more than 46 kinds of mammals—ideal wildlife watching for adults and kids. Venture a little farther north and you can also see Split Rock Lighthouse all in the same day.
When you’re ready to call it a day and relax in a hot tub or find a cozy blanket to wrap up in while looking at Lake Superior, Bluefin Bay Resorts in Tofte, just south of Lutsen, awaits. About 50 miles from Gooseberry Falls, Bluefin Bay offers panoramic lakeside dining, a spa, outdoor and indoor pools and hot tubs, and scenic trails. Another lodging option is to stay in one of the six Odyssey Resorts—located in Duluth, Two Harbors, Lutsen, Walker, and Grand Marais. Each location offers a range of amenities and activities such as hiking, biking, beach events, waterskiing and tubing, and ice fishing.
No matter where you stay on the North Shore, or what time of year you visit this four-season getaway, there’s so much to do and see that you’ll have more than enough reasons to plan another trip to explore.
Snapshot: Red Wing
Only an hour’s drive southeast from the Twin Cities, Red Wing’s Main Street, cradled along the bluffs on the edge of the Mississippi River, exudes small-town Minnesota with friendly shops like Red Wing Confectionery, which has cases of locally made chocolates and truffles, and an ice cream counter. Main Street is also sprinkled with antiques shops, and places to grab a drink or bite to eat. Check out the historic brewery district, where small-batch Red Wing Brewery produces the beer it sells exclusively at the brewery. You can also get some of the brewery’s homemade root beer—buy it by the growler or the glass. You’ll also find the iconic Red Wing Shoe Store, plus little shops like Fair Trade Books, Whimsy’s Closet, and Uffda Shop, which offer an eclectic mix of durable fashion, local artwork, and gifts that reflect the area.
The charm of Red Wing may inspire a stay at one of the area’s six bed and breakfasts. From the Octagon House Retreat Bed & Breakfast, one of the few octagon houses in the United States, to the Golden Lantern Inn, original home of one of the earliest presidents of Red Wing Shoe, these cozy retreats are operated by locals who can share tips about the area.
Take the short drive to Lake City for a guided tour aboard the replica 1800s riverboat, Pearl of the Lake. The cruise covers the area’s geography and its role in the freshwater pearl industry. Call ahead to reserve your spot—it fills up fast. Whether you’ve got a day or a weekend to fill, the Red Wing area has plenty to experience.
Snapshot: Granite Falls
Bypass the stop-and-go Up North cabin traffic with a drive west toward Granite Falls to Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort (see more in Weekend Win). You can stay at one of the 160 rooms at the hotel, which has a fitness center, sauna, indoor pool, and hot tub—and enjoy the casino’s table games, slot machines, entertainment, and dining options. Prairie’s Edge has enough to fill the weekend without ever leaving the resort.
If you do venture out, drive three miles to Granite Falls and see the historic Fagen Fighters WWII Museum. Aircraft on display include fighters, bombers, trainers, and gliders. War artifacts and tours round out the kid-friendly museum experience. The drive through Granite Falls means you’ll also see unique landmarks such as the hydropower-generating Granite Falls Dam, and the historic Granite Falls Bridge—notable for being one of the few suspension bridges in the state.
Or drive 16 miles from the casino to Grandview Valley Winery, which sits on a 7.5-acre vineyard and is known for its local craft beer menu and fresh-ingredient homemade pizza. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, so call ahead before making a stop.
For live entertainment, check out Prairie’s Edge Casino and Resort’s Firefly Lounge, or plan your trip over June 23–25, when Granite Falls hosts parades, contests, dances, and rodeo events for the 28th annual Western Fest Stampede Rodeo.
Snapshot: 50th & France
Photo by Emily Davis
Spend a day exploring 50th & France with fresh eyes, and visit the new places popping up. You’ll inevitably discover new reasons to love a place so close to home. Stores like upscale shabby-chic Burlap and Brass, Kisa Boutique for statement-making clothing and accessories, Equation for fashion and home, and Scout & Molly’s for trendy contemporary clothing, have all recently set up shop in this district.
Known for its shopping, 50th & France is also a notable spa destination. Why not schedule a spray tan while you’re here? Salon goGLOW offers a safer alternative to getting that bronzed glow, and its new Edina location among dress shops and hair salons is the ideal one-stop glam experience. If you’re looking to create a spa day, head to newly opened medi-spa Aesthetic Institute of Edina. It has a full range of services: facials, peels, laser treatments, and fillers.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, try one of two new Asian restaurant additions: Coconut Thai and SotaRol. Coconut Thai features recipes that have been passed down from owner and head chef Nong’s family in Thailand for generations. Try the kabocha squash curry or vegetable massaman curry, and the not-to-be-missed dessert: fried bananas with toasted coconut ice cream. SotaRol is known for its sushi burritos, but also try “sotaritos” and bowls—including the Tater Tot bowl, which reminds us there are other ways to eat hotdish. No matter where you go, you’ll leave Edina with a newfound love of a familiar area.