You don’t need to drive far to find quirky and desirable destinations for fall weekend getaways that are sprinkled throughout the upper Midwest. Take a look:
Relishing Red Wing
Sweeping views of the Mississippi River and the bustling city surrounding it don’t get more picturesque than this. And fall is colorful icing on the cake. Whether you’re here for one day or a few, Red Wing has plenty to offer adventure seekers and those who prefer to meander like the river it hugs.
For first-timers, there are a few nonnegotiables. A visit to Red Wing Shoes’ flagship store on Main Street, and a picture with its massive size 638½ boot, are musts. Don’t skip the free museum, or shoe shopping. The city’s other icon, Red Wing Pottery, is equally important and impressive. The Pottery Museum of Red Wing in the city’s West End District houses more than 6,000 vintage pieces of the stoneware, from crocks to patterns dating back to the 1920s, offering a fun (and free) walk through time.
Across the parking lot you’ll find the historic Pottery Place with a top-notch antiques store (which naturally includes Red Wing pottery as well as a stunning collection of glassware) and an outpost of Stockholm Pie and General Store, among other merchants.
The city’s dining options have never been better. Make reservations if you plan to eat at the popular Staghead; it’s worth it. Other restaurants getting high marks: Bev’s Cafe, Red Wing Brewery, Let Me Cheese U, Scarlet Kitchen and Bar (in the historic St. James Hotel), Liberty’s and the delightful Wisteria Twig Tea Room, which serves breakfast and lunch daily and a four-course high tea six days a week. Finish (or start) your day with something sweet — the legendary Hanisch Bakery and Red Wing Confectionery are within walking distance of each other downtown.
Walk off all that good food with a hike (or bike) on one of the area’s scenic trails. He Mni Can-Barn Bluff is the most popular, with paths of varying difficulties. Before you start your ascent, take the time to read about its history at the base. Memorial Park offers views, trails and a disc golf course, but you can drive to the top if that’s more your speed. Finally, Red Wing is at the end of the Cannon Valley Trail, a paved trail that eventually makes its way to Cannon Falls.
There’s no need to limit yourself to hiking. You’ll find golf courses, a robust mountain biking scene, boat rentals and fishing excursions, too.
If you’re more of a shopper than an adventurer, no worries. Plenty of stores dot both downtown and the West End District, catering to a variety of tastes and budgets. Stops at the Uffda Shop, Whimsy’s and Phileo’s are always worthwhile, ditto Fair Trade Books and Red Wing Olive Oils and Vinegars. Thrifters and antiques lovers will be right at home, too, with treasures galore — pottery! — to be found. Be sure to allot plenty of time; the number of shops might surprise you, and you don’t want to leave Red Wing empty-handed. It’s probably best to stay the night.
— Nicole Hvidsten
Lively, jammed-with-attractions Fargo is a role model for small cities everywhere, and makes for an ideal weekend getaway.
Architecturally, downtown boasts an energetic mix of vintage and brand new. The Plains Art Museum occupies a three-story brick-and-timber warehouse from 1904, with a collection that emphasizes regional and Indigenous artists as well as works by Helen Frankenthaler, Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly and other modernists.
The Fargo Theatre — an art deco beauty, complete with a jazzy marquee — dates to 1926 and programs an appealing mix of movies and concerts.
Then there’s just-opened Block 9, a sleek and sophisticated mixed-use complex that’s home to offices and residences as well as the stylish Jasper Hotel — run by the group behind the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood — and its equally snazzy ground-floor restaurant, the Nordic-inspired Rosewild. The adjacent Broadway Square is a gathering place for concerts, movies and yoga classes.
Eating well is easy. At funky, casual BernBaum’s, one of the Midwest’s top restaurants, spouses Brett Bernath and Andrea Baumgardner explore the delicious commonality between Jewish deli and Icelandic culinary traditions. The bagels? Fantastic.
Mezzaluna pays tribute to the classic supper club format. Meticulously composed pizzas are coaxed from a wood-burning oven at Blackbird Woodfire. Beer & Fish Co. sports an oyster bar. There’s even a first-rate ice cream shop, Silver Lining Creamery.
Find food trucks parked outside Great Northern Bicycle Co., which is housed in a historic, handsomely restored train depot. Bicyclists will appreciate the shop’s group ride schedule, while walkers should explore the extensive network of trails that run along the banks of the meandering Red River.
There’s a lively taproom scene, thanks to Fargo Brewing Co., DCR Brewing Co. and Wild Terra Cider, and the third wave coffee movement is represented by several appealing outposts, including chic Youngblood Coffee Roasters and a Twin Cities import, Black Coffee and Waffle Bar.
One-of-a-kind shops abound. Browsers can lose themselves among the books, stationary, toys and gifts at Zandbroz Variety. At Mint + Basil, co-owners Hope and Donny Goldammer have a flair for showcasing distinctive women’s apparel and accessories, kitchenware and candles. Well-stocked Vinyl Giant Records is an LP-lover’s dream, and its companion, Game Giant, boasts an impressive array of board games, puzzles and toys.
Another draw? Downtown’s compact, highly walkable layout — anchored by tree-lined and flower-filled Broadway, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare — means that no car is required. Well, at least after completing the drive from your hometown.
— Rick Nelson
U.S. history buffs have most likely made the trip to West Branch, Iowa, to check out the Herbert Hoover Library. But they may have overlooked another opportunity to pay tribute to a former president that’s almost the same distance away.
Shortly after Ulysses S. Grant led the Union to victory in the Civil War, the citizens of Galena, a picturesque town in northwest Illinois, built the general a furnished home much more appealing than the modest cabin where Hoover spent his childhood.
Grant didn’t actually spend much time at the residency. After eight years in the White House, he and his wife got the travel bug. They were more likely to be dining with Queen Victoria than shoveling snow off their Midwest property.
But the home, open for tours Wednesdays through Sundays as of press time, offers hints about Grant’s personal tastes, with much of the original furniture still intact. When I visited, the second floor was closed because of pandemic limitations, which meant tourists couldn’t check out the bedrooms. But there was still plenty to soak up on the ground floor, including seeing gifts Grant had received from world leaders.
Just a few blocks away is the 22-room Belvedere Mansion that’s more elegant — and kookier — than the former president’s quarters. Half-hour tours, which run every 15 minutes throughout the week, include a chance to see the original green drapes from the “Gone With the Wind” movie, numerous items acquired from the Liberace estate and a grandfather clock designed for an officer on the Titanic. It’s less of a history lesson and more like a visit to a flamboyant antiques store.
Make sure to spend the evening in downtown Galena. Planners have done a fine job of re-creating the look and feel of 1800s America without making visitors feel like they’re strolling through a tourist trap. I had a terrific dinner at the Log Cabin restaurant, a Greek-style steakhouse where the waiter boomed out the specials like he was auditioning for a remake of “Zorba the Greek.”
In nearby Spillville, get out and stretch your legs at Bily Clocks Museum, where you can observe a wide collection of elaborate, hand-carved timekeepers created by two eccentric brothers. The tributes to Jesus, Charles Lindbergh and American pioneers may be on the kitschy side, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be wowed by the craftsmanship. As an added bonus, you can pop upstairs for a tutorial on composer Antonin Dvorak, who spent the summer of 1893 in this house, eager to get away from the limelight.
If northeast Iowa was good enough for Dvorak, it’s good enough for you.