As I sit and watch the first snowfall of the season here in Duluth, MN, I immediately yearn for the warm summer days. After escaping to California this past year and missing out on last years midwest winter for the first time in my life, I don’t know if I am yet mentally prepared for what’s in store. I keep hearing it’s supposed to be a mild winter because of El Nino and part of me has my fingers crossed. If you are anything like me, I will ask for straight cash for Christmas, dump it in my savings and start dreaming about summer vacations. Although I may be freezing starting now until the beginning of summer, I must remind myself that summer will lead to hot and humid days but I have discovered the perfect summer getaway spot — Duluth. As every other state starts to boil, the lakeshore breezes keep you pleasantly cool. Here’s the first trip to add to your summer vacation list and exactly how you should spend your weekend in this port town.
Where to stay
I recommend checking Groupon, TravelZoo and Airbnb for an available cottage located right on the lake. Nothing beats watching the sunrise over the lake with a hot cup of coffee in hand and dipping your toes in the cool Lake Superior water.
When you arrive to the city Friday evening, drop your bags off at your new pad and head downtown to the cities main street, Superior Street, to 7 West Taphouse for cheap, but incredibly delicious gourmet-style burgers. Choose between a burger topped with pineapple, poutine, tater tot hot dish or whatever crazy combination makes your mouth water. As if the burgers don’t draw enough attention, the 46 choices of tap beer make this place even more enticing. Enjoy local Minnesota brews you have never heard of before!
Continue your Minnesota brew tour on over to Bent Paddle Brewery’s warehouse on the west side of town and later make your way to Canal Park to Canal Park Brewery. Find a table on the outdoor patio and enjoy the perfect view of downtown Duluth all lit up. If you still have more time and want to continue your brew tour, top off the night at Fitgers Brewhouse where you can enjoy one more brew while listening to live music.
If you are a sucker for sunrises, then you are in for a treat! The city is built on a steep hill and reminds me a tiny San Francisco, so there’s no better place to watch the sunrise then at the top of the hill. Wake early Saturday and drive your sluggish self to Hawk Ridge. Hawk Ridge is a bird observatory located at the top of the hill straight up from downtown Duluth. Since most people don’t rise before the sun, you’ll have the top of the hill all to yourself. Park your car so it’s facing directly towards the lake and wait. Watch the sky turn from orange to a deep neon pink right before the sun peeks over the horizon. If you look towards downtown you can watch the sparkling lights dim and eventually disappear. To make the experience even better, set your coffee maker to brew a new batch right before you wake up and fill a thermos so your can enjoy your coffee as you watch the sunrise.
Now that you’re awake an hour or two after sunrise and have had entire thermos of coffee, I’m sure you’ve built up an appetite. The best breakfast spot in Duluth is Duluth Grill where you can enjoy your favorite comfort foods such as biscuits and gravy, cinnamon roll french toast, and make sure to leave room for their delicious banana cream pie. You won’t regret it!
Stuffed and ready to take on the day, it’s time for some touristy activities. Follow your way north along London Road until you see signs for Glensheen Mansion. You’ll immediately spot an incredible 7-acre estate featuring beautiful gardens and a 39-room mansion built in the early 20th century. The mansion is fascinating because several of the items you’ll see in the house were left by the original owners, Chester and Clara Congdon.
Take a history and snack break after you tour Glensheen Mansion and head to the center of Duluth where Lake Avenue and Superior Street intersect. Stop at Fannie Rose Candies for some popcorn whether it be plain, cheddar or caramel, they are all yummy. Maybe even add one of their chocolate truffles to the mix! As you munch on your popcorn, make your way to Electric Fetus; a store that is “widely regarded as the pre-eminent indie record store in Minnesota.” Not only will you find a comprehensive vinyl and CD collection, but they also have nifty t-shirts and knick knacks. It’s the perfect place to pick up a souvenir!
If you have time and want to see more historical sites in the city then take a voyage on the William A. Irvin. You’ll see the ship docked in Canal Park. Hop aboard and learn about this vessel transporting iron ore and coal for 40 years through Great Lakes ports. Or explore the Duluth Depot which houses the “the best railroad museum in the country.” You will also find the Duluth Art Institute and historical artifacts from St Louis County and the area. You can even book a train ride that will take you along the beautiful shoreline.
After sightseeing, take a break at your cottage to get freshened up before going back out for dinner. I recommend making reservations ahead of time at Va Bene and here’s a tip — make sure to request a table on the veranda overlooking Lake Superior and the aerial lift bridge. You will be happy you listened as you sip your wine and enjoy the spectacular view.
After having a heavier breakfast the day before, maybe you’ll want something a bit lighter. Perk Place Coffeehouse & Bakery makes delicious coffee and their very own pop tarts that they like to call perk tarts! Ask for your coffee and perk tarts to go and drive back towards the shore. Head north up London Road toward Brighton Beach where you can sit and enjoy your treats on the rocks and then eventually climb your way along the shore.
If you feel like doing a hike and getting in some exercise before your travels back home, Amity Creek Trail Loop is the perfect hour and a half trek and not far from Brighton Beach. Read more about this trail and other hiking options in my past article Hiking Duluth.
After your hike, grab lunch on your way out of town at Northern Waters Smokehaus deli. Enjoy sitting on the deck in the warm sun and feeling the cool lake breeze before heading back to your more hot and humid home.
So if you are asking for a few Benjamins for Christmas, throw them in your travel jar and start saving for your first summer excursion to the northland!