Places To Go And Things to See in Minnesota

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Explore MN: Defining What Makes a Town Charming

Split Rock Light House near Silver Bay, MN.

Explore Minnesota with my list of Minnesota’s 17 most charming towns. There are a lot of places to go in Minnesota. While our bigger cities, like St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato have a lot of highlights, the real beauty in Minnesota is our quirky, unique small towns.

My favorite part is the variety of state parks to explore in Minnesota (thanks to the countless types of landscaping in the state), beautiful North Shore area long Lake Superior and Canada, over 10,000 lakes and the opportunity to have a flawless view of the Northern Lights.

Lake Superior National Forest

Frequently Asked Questions- Explore Minnesota

What is the number one tourist attraction in Minnesota?

The North Shore of Minnesota is one of the most beautiful places. North of Duluth, there are countless things to do and places to see for the entire family.

What is the most scenic part of Minnesota?

Minnesota has a variety of landscapes. The southwest features prairie land, the southeast has the great river bluffs and northern Minnesota boasts the Northwoods, Boundary Waters, North Shore and Voyageur National Parks.

What is the best month to visit Minnesota? When is the best time to Explore Minnesota?

Minnesota has all four seasons and has a unique beauty during each one. I personally love the fall colors during autumn.

Is there anything fun to do in Minnesota?

Read on for the full list!

Foggy late summer morning in the Owatonna country side.

Explore Minnesota: Places to See

(Also, this blog will be regularly updated with any changes or fun new additions to each place. I will reshare my blog post & date the change at the start of the post each time!):

  • Grand Marais
  • Stillwater
  • Lanesboro
  • Northfield
  • Mantorville
  • Two Harbors
  • Red Wing
  • Ely
  • New Ulm
  • Pipestone
  • Excelsior
  • Park Rapids
  • Bemidji
  • Taylors Falls
  • Waseca
  • Silver Bay & Finland
  • Owatonna

Disclaimer: Everything in my blog is based on my own opinions, experiences and perspectives. We are all different and my hope is you can go out and create experiences and perspectives of your own. I also have some affiliate links with Adobe, Back Country and Kayak.com throughout my blog and advertisements for brands I partner with and use such as Just Strong, Goli Vitamins and DIFF Eyewear. I make a very small commission if you purchase through the link & offer a discount code, at no additional cost to you.

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1. Explore Minnesota: Grand Marais

I’ve got to kick this list off with my favorite town to explore Minnesota-Grand Marais! Grand Marais is located along scenic Highway 61, off the shores of Lake Superior. Grand Marais is a beautiful place to visit no matter what time of year you go. In fact, I encourage everyone to explore this cozy, beautiful town many times in different seasons because each season will give you a new perspective and highlight of activities.

Explore Minnesota

Grand Marais is a small town located on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It has a population of 1,467 people and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Minnesota. The town is best known for its beautiful scenery and its many recreational activities.

Beautiful fall foliage around the Grand Marais area to explore Minnesota.

The town is located on the shore of Lake Superior and it was originally called Grand Marais du Nord (Big Marsh North) by French fur traders who came to this area around 1660. The first permanent settler was Father Louis Hennepin, who arrived in 1679 to establish a mission among the Ojibwe Indians.

Downtown Grand Marais view from the break wall.

Grand Marais is beautiful and is filled with hints of Scandinavian and Ojibwe culture that once flourished in the area. The downtown is a MUST see, with most businesses and restaurants facing the Lake Superior harbor with an endless view of the lake. This is a place I go to by myself, with friends, family and my kids.

The Panoramic views are EVERYWHERE and there is something for everyone here. There are also countless places to stay off Highway 61 that are beautiful, water front cabins not far from Grand Marais, if not only a few minutes from it.

Explore Minnesota

A Typical Day to Explore Minnesota

A typical day for me in Grand Marais is waking up, going to Java Moose for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, the walking to World’s Best Donuts for, well, the best donuts ever! We walk to the break wall in the harbor and either sit on the shores of Lake Superior to eat or we walk out to the light house. Then we get a morning hike in.

We love Gunflint Trail’s Pincushion Mountain (about 3 miles to the overlook-it’s worth it!) and the nearby state parks like Cascade State Park (which also has a beautiful picnic area across the park entrance on the Lake Superior shores) and Judge C.R. Magney State Park, famous for the Devil’s Kettle Falls. There are countless state parks off Highway 61, and most are adorned with beautiful waterfalls. There are also waterfalls not at state parks littered off Highway 61.

A view of Lake Superior from downtown Grand Marais.

We will find a shore side spot to look for rocks (Colvill Paradise Beach is our go to, a few miles north of Grand Marais) and for lunch we love Hungry Hippie Tacos, Angry Trout or My Sister’s Place if you want to stay in town. Of course, the sunset is amazing here-and you have endless places to see it! If you want to drive south of Grand Marais, Sugarloaf Cove and Palisade Head give amazing views. You can also kayak, canoe or boat in Lake Superior as there are plenty of water access areas.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

I mentioned some highlights above, but other highlights are the neat shops downtown (Sweetwater Co., Drury Lane Book Store, Art Colony and more!), the North Shore Winery, Voyageurs Brewery, Sydney’s Frozen Custard, or take a guided canoe or kayak tours and the Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort (you can also ride the Gondola and Alpine Slide here).

Other beautiful scenic areas nearby not mentioned above are Taconite Harbor (by Schroeder), Temperance River State Park, Kadunce Creek and Trail, Hovland’s Horse Shoe Bay & if you want to drive north of Grand Marais, I HIGHLY recommend Susie’s Overlook or Mount Josephine Lookout Tower Trail by Grand Portage & Grand Portage State Park (High Rise Falls).


2. Stillwater

Stillwater is located east of St. Paul along the St. Croix River, only minutes from the Wisconsin border. Stillwater is a cozy, historic town that you can visit anytime of the year. My family actually spent some of winter break there during Christmas time because the entire downtown gets decorated like a Christmas village.

Why We Love Minnesota

Stillwater is a town in Minnesota that is known for its natural beauty. It has many lakes and streams that make it a perfect place to go fishing, canoeing, or kayaking. There are many other outdoor activities to do in Stillwater such as biking, hiking and snowshoeing. The town also has beautiful parks, museums and art galleries to explore.

Stillwater offers many opportunities for people who enjoy the outdoors or those who just want to get away from the city life for the day.

Overall Highlights Explore MN: Stillwater

For activities, you can rent a bike and cruise the path by the river, go to Carpe Noctum Candle Co. and pour your own candle, host a party at the Create & Paint Art Studio and experience the St. Croix River through any water activity you can think of (make sure to make a reservation as far in advance as possible)

There are countless wineries and breweries, delicious ice cream shops (Nelson’s Ice Cream & MN Nice Ice Cream), vintage candy shops, unique dining experiences at the Wild Hare and Velveteen Speakeasy and in the winter time, Stillwater hosts the ice castle. If you love nature, check out the St. Croix Boom Site, where you can swim and hike to a waterfall (5 minutes from their downtown area).

Other neat places nearby are Willow River State Park in WI, William O’Brien State Park, Afton State Park and Interstate State Park. Each of these parks are absolutely stunning in the fall time! As you can see, Stillwater is definitely not short on fun activities to do.

Explore Minnesota


3. Lanesboro

Lanesboro is a small town with a population of just over 1,000. It’s located in the heart of the scenic Root River Valley and is surrounded by beautiful forests and farmland.

It was founded in 1852 and named after its first settler, John Lanes. The town has been home to many famous people including artists, actors, musicians and more. Lanesboro is hidden in the bluffs and rolling hills along the Root River. If you are heading to Rochester, MN, it’s worth the 40 minute drive east!

Why We Love It:

Lanesboro is a definite hidden gem because it’s such a small town (sometimes overshadowed by bigger places like Rochester and Winona), but it has so much to offer. I adore their downtown area. Like Stillwater, it’s located off Root River, with a biking and walking path running by the river as well.

The topography itself is interesting here, featuring limestone and caves. When we visited Lanesboro, we shopped downtown (they have beautiful Amish shops), sampled their local ice cream and coffee shops, had lunch at The Pedal Pushers Cafe and walked the trails.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

You can get a true waterfront view by kayaking or canoeing the Root River. Twenty-five minutes beyond Lanesboro is Niagara Falls. You can take a tour of the bluffs with the Amish Tours, visit their beautiful Sustainable Dream Greenhouses and fall time they have Big Springs Farm Pumpkin Patch & Corn Maze.

You can hike or bike to Root River State Trails and visit the Sylvan Park & Riverview Campgrounds. State parks nearby are Forestville & Mystery Cave State Park, John A. Latsch State Park, Whitewater State Park and Carley State Park. Twenty-three minutes North East of Lanesboro is the Berry & Bloom farm in Chatfield, which is a wildflower farm! This is a must see for so many reasons. You can also pick berries and fall time they have a lovely pumpkin patch.


4. Northfield

By Cannon River in Northfield, MN

I have been going to Northfield since I was a kid and now I get to take my kids there too! Northfield is located about 25 30 minutes from the Twin Cities off I-35. Northfield is well-known for being the home of St. Olaf College and Carleton College. Northfield is located off the Cannon River.

Northfield is a favorite town in Minnesota. It is located in the southern part of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Northfield was founded by John Sargent Pillsbury, who also donated a large amount of money to build the Carleton College. The town has many parks, including a beautiful park called Riverfront Park.

Why We Love It:

Northfield has the small town charm with a large menu of different activities for anyone. No matter who you are and who you are traveling with, there is something for everyone here, any time of the year. There are a variety of places to go, experiences and a beautiful downtown area.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

During spring time, we visit Lorence’s Berry Farms to pick our own strawberries and raspberries. Fall time, we visit Fireside Apple Orchard for delicious apple donuts and to get a bag of fireside apples. Anytime of year, we visit the downtown area for the River walk Market Fair (goes from May to early October), to try one of their countless breakfast shops and to shop their vintage clothing stores.

We love the Cannon River Winery, Loon Liquor Company and Reunion Restaurant- a MUST try if you come here! There is also a Japanese Garden called the Garden of Quiet Listening located on the Carleton College campus and we always check out Tin Tea boba shop.

If you are an outdoors person and love waterfalls, you CANNOT leave Northfield without venturing a few miles east to visit Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and hiking to Hidden Falls. This beautiful park really shines fall time, but is beautiful anytime of year. We visit this park for picnics countless times throughout the year.


5. Mantorville

Mantorville Opera House.

I am going to be bold and say I think Mantorville is the most hidden neat place in Minnesota. This town is small with a population of just over 1,000 residents, located about 15 minutes west of Rochester, MN & nearby Kasson, MN. The south branch of the Zumbro River also passes through Mantorville.

Why We Love It:

My kids love Mantorville because they know every time we go, they will get good food, freshly made chocolates and spend a day at the park by the river. You can park your car and just walk everywhere in this neat, historically well-preserved town. I love the friendly atmosphere of this small town and the sense of community that you feel when you walk around.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

The Hubbell House is a delicious restaurant whose home is in a building that used to be a bar & hotel from the late 1800’s (I wasn’t kidding when I said this is a HISTORICAL town). A lot of the buildings, like the Opera House and Hubbell House, still remain in their original cobblestone walls, making it a historical wonder to walk around. You can visit small art shops and historical museums.

We always go to the County Seat Coffee House for breakfast then after 11 am, visit the Chocolate & Ice Cream Shoppe. We like to go to Riverside Park (sometimes during the summer the ice cream truck lurks here) that has a beautiful park & also an awesome red covered bridge that reminds me of the one from Beetlejuice. Mantorville is about 20 minutes away from Rice Lake Sate Park.

Mantorville Park

6. Two Harbors

Two Harbors is the first town heading North on Highway 61 after you drive through Duluth. The first true North Shore town you will visit going northbound, it certainly sets the bar high for the rest of your drive & gives the perfect welcome to the North Shore of Lake Superior! This town is similar to Grand Marais- yet so VERY different.

One of our favorite stops in Two Harbors.

Why We Love It:

The two harbors is a beautiful town in Minnesota. They are known for their fishing and tourism. It is a perfect destination for anyone who wants to explore the beauty of the great lakes.We stop here every time we venture to the North Shore because there is so much to see and do.

There are countless places to park and enjoy the view of Lake Superior & out of all the North Shore towns, Two Harbors has the most options for places to eat and stores to stock up on some items if you are camping or traveling. They are also home to a bed and breakfast place that’s a LIGHTHOUSE!

Explore Minnesota Highlights

There is so much I can say about Two Harbors, but I will start with places to eat. If you are a beer person, Castle Danger Brewery is a must-see. Two Harbors is home to Betty’s Pies, right off Highway 61. There is also the Rustic Inn Cafe, Louise’s Place, Vanilla Bean Restaurant and McQuades Pub & Grill that are absolutely delicious. South of Grand Marais is one of my favorite coffee places, Mocha Moose, right off Old Highway 61

. For places to see or things to do, there is Gooseberry Falls State Park, one of the more well-known state parks of the North Shore. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is not too far north of Two Harbors, another iconic destination of the North Shore. There is also Iona Beach which shores look pink from a distance. This is a quiet secluded area if you want to just enjoy the magic of the waves crashing to the shore.

If you are looking for a hike, consider Sonju Trail and Lighthouse Point Trail, off the Two Harbors break wall. You can also check out a less-known location called Kelsey’s Beach, across from Betty’s Pies.

Looking for Scenic Stops Along the North Shore? Check this Post Out:


7. Red Wing

The Red Wing is a city in Minnesota, United States. It is the county seat of Goodhue County, and also the largest city in the region. It has a population of just over 26,000 people. The Red Wing area is known for its beautiful nature and family-friendly atmosphere.

Red Wing was founded by General Henry Hastings Sibley and named after nearby Red Wing Creek. The town was first settled on May 14th 1854 by James Mapes who built the first log cabin there.

Why We Love Minnesota

Red Wing has it all: Beautiful views, a family friendly town and no shortage of delicious places to eat. It’s also a town we drive through on our favorite scenic byway cruises to the Lake Pepin area or the southeastern bluffs of Minnesota. Click on the blog post below to get more details on the route. Red Wing is also home to the National Museum of Shoe History, the Red Wing Shoe Company, and the world’s largest statue of a shoe.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

Every time we pass through Red Wing, we make sure to pay a visit to their historic down town. Before our hike, we visit the Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop. You can get delicious breakfast and lunch here, then right next door treat yourself to some of the most delicious bakery items you can dream of. Other great places to eat are the Red Wing Barrel House, Nineteen Bar & Grill, Bayside Tap & Steakhouse and The Smokin’ Oak Rotisserie & Bar.

For a unique experience, stop by the Wisteria Twig & Tea Room. Not only can you try their famous Ham Salad Sandwiches, but you can make a reservation for a four course, high tea experience.

If you are looking for a nature retreat, you can check out Sorin’s Bluff or He Mni Cann/Barn Bluff Trailhead for bird’s eye view of Red Wing like you’ve never experienced it before. You can also check out some neat trails at Memorial Park. Frontenac State Park is also nearby! If you have little ones with you, consider going to Colvill Park along the Mississippi River that hosts a large playground, Discovery Garden and a water park in the summer time.


8. Ely

Kawishiwi Falls

Ely is a small town in northeastern Minnesota. It’s situated on the northern shore of Lake Superior, and it has a lot to offer for visitors and residents alike. Ely was founded in 1868 and was incorporated as a city in 1887. The town grew quickly and prospered because of its location near abundant natural resources such as timber, water power, and iron ore. Fast forward to today and Ely is one of the most beautiful MN towns for various reasons.

Why We Love It:

It’s not easy to get here, but that means that it feels like you’re getting away from it all when you finally arrive. If you are a fan out fishing, skiing, the outdoors, hiking, nature photography- Ely truly has it all. Ely is also a popular starting point for an adventure into the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

When we traveled to Ely from Grand Marais, we stopped at the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. I absolutely recommend this experience, as you get up close and personal to the animals.

There is also the Dorothy Molter Museum (aka the Root beer Lady) that’s neat to see if you enjoy history. For nature lovers, check out Shagawa Lake, Trezona Trail and Kawishiwi Falls. Kawishiwi Falls is at the end of a rougher hiking trail (uplifted tree roots, rocks to climb over, dirt trails) but it’s well wort it to view this hidden gem.


9. New Ulm

Photo credit to https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks

New Ulm, MN is a small city in Southern Minnesota. The population is only about 18,000 people. However, this little town has a lot to offer for those who visit. It has a population of only 7,812 people and is best known for its German heritage. New Ulm was established in 1854 by immigrants from Germany who were looking for a better life. The town’s name was given by the Germans because they wanted to build their new home near the elm trees that were plentiful in the area.

Photo credit to https://www.newulm.com/visitors-community/things-to-do

Why We Love It:

There are many places that you can visit in New Ulm and have a great time. The Landmark Center is one of the most popular places to visit in the area and it has many different activities for all ages to enjoy. You can also go to any of the beautiful parks throughout the city like Hildebrand Park or just take a walk downtown and explore all of the shops and restaurants that are there.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

New Ulm is home to Flandrau State Park, which has 8 miles of trails to ski winter time, and extensive trails and a swimming area during the summer. There are also various campsites here. German Park has beautiful flowers and the Angel of Waters Fountain.

The Hermann Monument is a must-see & was actually listed one of the top 15 places to visit on a USA road trip to view the fall colors. The Hermann Monument is a 4,000 pound statue with winding stairs you can climb for a beautiful view. Good places to eat are Morgan Creek Vineyards, Backerei Coffee Shop and MN Eis Ice Cream and Sweets Shoppe.


10. Pipestone

Pipestone is a small town in Minnesota. It is home to the Pipestone National Monument and it’s also an important site for Native Americans. Pipestone’s population is only about 1,500 people. The town is most famous for its quarries of red pipestone, which was used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.

Why We Love It:

I love the Native American history in Pipestone & being able to first hand witness the land that was so sacred to the Native American culture- historically and today. Of course, the beauty in Pipestone is unreal with their red rock formations. If you are going on a road trip heading west through MN, towards South Dakota, Pipestone should definitely be a stop on your road trip.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

The #1 highlight I want to share if you exploe Minnesota is Pipestone National Monument. Pipestone National Monument is a sacred place for the Dakota people. It was first established as a national monument in 1937 and it became a national park in 1961. The site holds many cultural and spiritual values for the Dakota people that make it an important destination for their pilgrimages.

You can walk the trails to relive some of the most historical moments of Pipestone National Monument and see a beautiful waterfall. You can also check out Three Maidens as you are driving into Pipestone National Monument. Split Rock Creek State Park is also near Pipestone, with a beach area by the lake to swim in.


11. Excelsior

At the beach in Excelsior.

If you are a lake lover but want to stay close to the Twin Cities, Excelsior is often referred to as a lake lover’s dream. Excelsior is located along one of the most popular lakes in the Twin Cities area, Lake Minnetonka, 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis & is always alive with things to do- especially summer time.

Why We Love It:

Life is busy & for my family, we can’t always make the 4 and a half drive to the North Shore when I am spontaneously craving the lake life. If you live in the Twin Cities (for us, we are an hour south), this drive is much more feasible, making for a nice day trip.

Overall Highlights: The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is one of the neatest draws to Excelsior, featuring 160 acres of botanical gardens (I advise you make a reservation first!). Water Street Historic District houses Minnesota’s oldest hotel from 1853, the Excelsior House Hotel and countless cute shops and places to eat.

If you are someone who loves to get out on the water, Excelsior has plenty of boat rental companies and offers opportunities to fish, hike and picnic in the park. Lake Minnetonka draws crowds for their 4th of July celebration and also hosts Wayzata Beach, Big Island Nature Park and Silver Bay. Minnetonka Orchards, Christmas Lake and their farmers’ markets are also cool things to check out for a day trip or weekend getaway.


12. Park Rapids

In the Northwoods of Minnesota surrounded by the pines and several lakes is the adorable small town of Park Rapids, MN. Park Rapids is 40 minutes away from it’s more well known counterpart, Bemidji. We recently rented a cabin here to enjoy the fall colors and Park Rapids. It was the perfect weekend getaway and we left in love with this cozy, peaceful town.

Why We Love It:

We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and all the different lakes in the area. From Big Sand, Gilmore, Little Sand, Dead Horse Lake and many others, the lakes are clear, clean and the air is fresh. If you love the outdoors, Park Rapids is not short of things to do.

We also were in awe of their downtown area and how much there is to do there. They definitely have a vintage theme going in- from candy shops, antique stores an comic shops. Park Rapids is also near Bemidji & not too far from several scenic byway drives, like Wilderness Drive and Lady Slipper Scenic Byway in Chippewa Forest.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

If you go to Park Rapids, consider getting a cabin on the lake (there are several!). There is a trail head for North County Trail located in Park Rapids that eventually passes through 61 acres of Chippewa National Forest.

Also nearby is Itasca State Park, home of the Mississippi River Headwaters. Other highlights of the park are Preacher’s Grove, Peace Pipe and the must see Wilderness Scenic Drive. I think this has been the most beautiful fall drive I have seen in Minnesota!

As we continued to explore Minnesota’s Park Rapids, we checked out vintage stores. We also watched them make candy.

I highly suggest trying Bella Cafe or Espresso 34 for breakfast and coffee. You can also have a lovely Italian supper at Necces Italiano Restaurante. We enjoyed Beagle and Wolf book store as well as the lovely little sculpture walk. If you are someone who loves water activities and fishing-the Park Rapids area is HEAVEN.


13. Bemidji

Bemidji, MN is a city in the north of Minnesota. The city is home to the historic Beaulieu House Museum, which was built in 1881. It has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark and it is one of the most important sites in Minnesota’s history. Bemidji also has plenty of outdoor activities to offer, such as fishing and hunting opportunities.

Why We Love It:

Bemidji is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. It close to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and it has been called one of the best places in America for fishing. Not to mention, this is a gorgeous area to visit fall time to see the beautiful colors in the northern Minnesota woods.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

The Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox is a landmark of Bemidji where you can take “Instagram-worthy” photos. Lake Bemidji State Park is a notable stop to make & used to be the site where the Dakota tribe would fish and hunt. In the summer, this is a perfect place for a beach day. In the fall time, you can’t beat the trails, especially with the fall colors lingering over Lake Bemidji.

You can also kayak or canoe the 800 acres of Lake Bemidji, as well as hike various trails, like Bog Trail and the Paul Bunyan State Trail. As mentioned above, you can witness the headwaters of the Mississippi River at the Itasca State Park. I highly reccommend making this a stop if you explore Minnesota. If you have kiddos with, you can bring them to Paul Bunyan’s Animal Land to get up close to some furry friends. Downtown Bemidji offers a scuplture walk, lovely boutiques (like Yellow Mushroom) and Four Pines bookstore.

Places to eat are Tutto Bene, Table for 7, Cantabria, Sparkling Waters, and MN Nice Cafe.


14. Taylors Falls

Image provided by ExploreMinnesota.com

This city is known for its rich history, beautiful scenery, and small-town charm. The city of Taylors Falls is located north of the twin cities near the border of Wisconsin past Chisago City, and it has a population of around 1,500 people. Taylors Falls is located along the St. Croix River and is a beautiful town to visit in the fall.

I love Taylor’s Falls for it’s fall foliage colors, small town charm and the outdoor activities it offers being located right next to Interstate State Park. They did a great job restoring old, historical buildings into restaurants, coffee shops and other shops.

Why We Love It: This dreamy fall town gives off total Northeast coast vibes in the fall time. If you are in Minnesota and can’t make it to the NE coast or the North Shore, this is a perfect place to go! Taylor Falls has quirky stores, a massive sculpture garden, historical buildings and endless views.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

Interstate State Park is a huge highlight when it comes to exploring Taylor’s Falls. You can take a scenic boat tour to enjoy the views offered by the St. Croix River. This is especially beautiful in the fall time. There are also glacial deposits you can view near the Interstate State Park Visitor’s Center entrance. We also hiked River Trail to have the perfect overlook of Taylors Falls.

There is also the Taylors Falls Canoe & Kayak Rental. Taylors Falls is also home to the oldest Bed & Breakfast, called the Old Jail Bed & Breakfast, registered in Minnesota (originally a jail house). The average nightly rate is $165. You can also get lost in the 43 acre Franconia Sculpture Park.

Pleasant Valley Orchard that overlooks the lovely St. Croix River where you can pick your own strawberries (mid June to July) and enjoy fall activities like apple and pumpkin cooking during the autumn season. Of course, you can’t ignore the lovely downtown offering wonderful shopping and dinging experience. My favorite places are Juneberry (bakery) and Coffee Talk.

Plan your visit to Pleasant Valley Orchard here.

Book your stay at Old Jail here!


15. Waseca

What Waseca lacks in size as a small town, it makes up for tenfold by offering unique experiences for every traveler, every day. The town was founded in 1855 and it was named after Chief Waseca, who was the leader of the Dakota people. He originally lived near where Waseca, MN is now located. Waseca sits on the intersection of HWY 13 and HWY 14, about 25 minutes from Mankato, MN. It’s home of Clear Lake and Kiesler Campground, a place I used to camp at as a kid.

Why We Love It:

Besides childhood nostalgia, Waseca is a town that embodies both preserving history and testing out new, more modern traditions. It’s a place I can take a day trip with my kids to try Barney’s Drive Thru, then walk over to the park for the playground or across the road to Clear Lake to kayak or canoe. There are also skydiving tours offered in Waseca!

Explore Minnesota Highlights

As mentioned above, Barney’s Drive Thru is a classic, must-try drive through. There is a Waseca Water Park for kids to enjoy as well. Some notable places to eat are Mis Tres Flores, with a new addition of La Michoacana, a delicious Mexican ice cream shop.

Across the street is Lush Cakes, which has amazing salads, breakfast sandwiches and creative coffee specialties. (Try the Butterfly Latte- it’s blue and tastes so good!). For breakfast we enjoy Joanie Bean’s and The Boathouse on Clear Lake. The new addition of the Bar on Main is a must try as well-your experience is different every time you go!

For a very unique experience, you can try home made pizza at the 55 acre Pleasant Grove Farm. Explore the beautiful farmland, flowers, animals and pizza made from ingredients from the farm. About 1.5 miles SW of Pleasant Grove Farm is Half Pint Brewery for beer lovers! Also in the countryside of Waseca is Farm America, where you can go back in time and experience life on the farm in an old school way.

If you are willing to explore farther into the countryside, you can visit Indian Island Winery, located by Janesville, MN. Taste from a variety of wine flights, delicious cheesecake and mouth watering menu of pizza and breadsticks.


16. Silver Bay and Finland

I chose to merge these two destinations together because they are about 13 minutes apart, with Silver Bay on the shores of Lake Superior and Finland west of Silver Bay. If you visit one of these towns, I 100% suggest you visit the other. Both are lovely places to explore Minnesota.

Why We Love It:

I love both towns for the cozy nature scene and the views that you just can’t beat. We usually stop in Silver Bay on our way up to Grand Marais and we also like to stop in Finland on our way to Ely from Silver Bay.

Explore Minnesota Highlights

Some of my favorite things about Silver Bay are Black Beach (perfect for a picnic!), Palisade Head, Onyx Beach, Baptism River, Silver Bay Marina, Shovel Point, Caribou Falls Trail and Tettegouche State Park. All of these places are absolutely stunning! If you are willing to challenge yourself or are a thrill seeker, check out the North Shore Adventure Park. Definitely check out the Lemon Wolf Cafe.

In Finland, you can visit another lovely waterfall at George Crosby Manitou State Park & also try the Trestle Inn Cafe.


17. Owatonna

An hour south of the cities, off I-35 is a place I call home. Owatonna has grown tremendously over the past few years. Owatonna is named after the Straight River and the legend of Princess Owatonna, who was healed after drinking from the springs. The more I travel, the more I appreciate how much the small town of Owatonna has to offer. Take these next few highlights below from a local.

Why We Love It:

Owatonna is most well-known for hosting the largest county free fair in Minnesota, the Steele County Free Fair. Also- there are tons of trails and parks in Owatonna. If you love to bike and hike, you’ll enjoy Owatonna as well!

Explore Minnesota Highlights

Check out the RAD Reptile Zoo, located 10 minutes north of Owatonna in the Medford Outlet Mall. There is also the State School Orphanage Museum and Cemetery which also hosts the Art Center. On the fairgrounds is the Village of Yesteryear. Village of Yesteryear features log cabins from the 1800s, old general stores and shops, old school houses and churches, a Victorian home you can tour and the Historical Center.

Do you enjoy swimming? There is Lake Kohlmier and River Springs Water Park. My favorite nature areas are Rice Lake State Park, adorned with bright yellow leaves in the fall, and Kaplans Woods Parkway. Owatonna also has tons of wildlife management areas you can walk and butterfly gardens as well.

Owatonna has a cute downtown with the best places to ear. Walking downtown Owatonna, you will find food options of Mizuki Fusion, La Pupuseria La Paz, Old Town Bagels, Central Park Coffee, Wag’s Lunch Hall and Taste of the Big Apple. Foremost Brewery and Mineral Springs Brewery are also delicious options, with Foremost also having live music and a food menu.

There is also an amazing taco truck that parks by Anytime Fitness. If you like sweets, there is Costa’s Candies, Curly Girlz Candy and Russel Stover’s. For ice cream, check out The Blast, The Scream or Old Town Bagel.

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