If your first thoughts when reminiscing about summer don’t take you to a lake, you have been doing your summers wrong! Minnesota is teeming with a trifecta of summer fun statewide, with its gorgeous lakes, delicious and unique food selection, and up-and-coming brewery scene.
We’ve compiled three days’ worth of these summer treats to help you experience Minnesota the way the locals do, or if you live here, to ensure you have a summer to remember.
This tour loosely follows Interstate 35 from north to south, but feel free to start wherever you choose and create your own adventure.
DAY 1—NORTH SHORE
If you’re starting your trip in Duluth (the north end of I-35), drive about an hour up the shore to begin your day on Lake Superior. (If you can’t wait to eat, stop at the Duluth Grill and order a hearty plate of corned beef hash and eggs to fuel up.) Hike or bike along the Gitchi Gami State Trail and catch a view of landmarks like Split Rock Lighthouse and the spectacular waterfall at Gooseberry Falls State Park. Snap some pictures and soak in as many beautiful hiking opportunities as possible as you make your way down the shore; the gorgeous and lengthy Superior Hiking Trail connects with the Gitchi Gami at both of these sites.
You’re going to need some hearty food to make it through the rest of your adventurous day along the North Shore. Fuel up at the Rustic Inn Cafe, a local favorite, with menu highlights including the cranberry and wild rice waffle and the Logger’s Skillet, a hash-brown assortment of Italian sausage, cheese and more, including a full side of pancakes. And be sure to save room for pie!
After brunch, continue down the shore to Castle Danger Brewery and kick back in the taproom surrounded by the beauty of the area. The brewery hosts a variety of live music performances and allows outside food to be brought in while you sample the beer selection. Try the summer seasonal Summer Crush ale to get the full “summer” effect.
Lastly, venture back to Duluth’s harbor and rent a watercraft to explore the greatest of the Great Lakes. Be adventurous and kayak, canoe or even take a sailboat excursion along the harbor to discover why it’s Instagrammed so often. Sunset kayak tours are offered through The Duluth Experience, and sunset cruises can be booked via Moon Shadow Sailing and Vista Fleet.
If you’re in the mood for a night cap, head to Fitger’s Brewhouse for some food and beer to reward yourself after an epic day. Other options include Canal Park Brewery (try the Pils Popper), Bent Paddle (try the Paddle Break Blonde) and Thirsty Pagan Brewing (try the Stoned Surf IPA).
DAY 2—MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AREA
After checking out of your hotel, head about two hours south for a day of urban exploration. Start in the capital city of St. Paul with brunch at the Happy Gnome on Selby Avenue. Try the Bloody Mary bar along with an artisanal cheese plate, or chow down on some apple-bacon pancakes.
Next, cross over to Minneapolis for a combination of gorgeous skylines and soaking up some sun on the calming Lake Harriet. There are walking and biking paths around the lake and other areas to explore, including a rose garden and a mysterious elf who allegedly lives in a tree on the south side of the lake and replies to letters left for him (just look for the tiny door).
Lake Harriet also features a band shell for concerts in the park, food at the Bread & Pickle and lots of rentals, including paddleboards, pedal boats, double-kayaks, and single and tandem bikes. Another popular spot nearby is Minnehaha Park and Falls; be sure to grab lunch at the Sea Salt Eatery if you go.
End your day with a visit to Sociable Ciderwerks in the eclectic Northeast neighborhood. Sociable specializes in cider that even beer lovers will love. Varieties named after biking accessories—Fat Bike, Freewheeler and Spoke Wrench—flood the tap list, and each have unique flavors but remain crisp, refreshing and not full of sugar.
DAY 3—SOUTHERN MINNESOTA
Before hopping back on the highway to venture south, have a hearty breakfast at The Buttered Tin in St. Paul’s hip Lowertown neighborhood. This quaint and cozy restaurant has all your breakfast favorites and some great new tries, such as the huevos rancheros Benedict and falafel burger.
Once you’re fed, head about 45 minutes south to the charming town of Northfield. Best known as the site of the defeat of the notorious Jesse James Gang, it’s now a shopping destination as well. Highlights include The Rare Pair, A Bag Lady, Eclectic Goat and Swag.
From Northfield, continue south to Faribault, home to the historic Faribault Woolen Mill, where throws, scarves, clothes and even puppy blankets are for sale. Tours are also offered every Friday and second Saturday of the month.
After you’ve picked up some local flair, get your daily brew at F-Town, which serves up glasses of beer with quirky names such as Nutso and Flex Less. Brewery tours are offered on Thursdays and Saturdays.
From F-Town, you can easily get to the Cheese Cave and have yourself some delicious, locally made cheese. Faribault’s esteemed blue cheese of three different kinds (they also serve artisan sandwiches, like the raved-about grilled cheese or southwest beef panini) are the perfect snack as you continue exploring southern Minnesota.
We can’t forget the lake on this leg of the trip, so we saved Albert Lea, dubbed “the land between the lakes,” for your last stop on the journey. Experience Fountain and/or Albert Lea Lake and all of the activities on them: fishing, boating, waterskiing, or just relaxing and taking a dip.
Be sure to soak up the natural landscape around these lakes at Myre Big Island State Park and Edgewater Park. There are also special events like the Bayside Water Ski Shows on Thursday nights, June through August. The Pelican Breeze II offers guided boat cruises from June to October, with themes nights and other surprises. Or bike along the Blazing Star Trail for a memorable end to your trip.