Long a treasured getaway for people who need a break from the Twin Cities but can't bear to leave their refined palates down south, Duluth has developed into a surprisingly hip destination for travelers. About three hours from Minneapolis, it boasts delicious takes on homegrown Minnesota dishes, romantic bed and breakfasts, and gorgeous natural vistas. Here's what you should eat, drink, and do along the stunning shores of Lake Superior.
With a tap list ranging from full-throated IPAs and cold-pressed brews to Pilsners and golden ales, Bent Paddle has a top-notch beer selection that also features seasonal creations. It also hosts tours, pop-up food events from local chefs, live music, and yoga classes.
The Breeze Inn can meet all your pub food needs, and if you want something a little more outside the box, it has a bunch of options. There's a daily soup special served with pretzel breadsticks, crispy green beans, a green olive and cream cheese burger, and a variety of takes on Minnesota's best culinary invention, the cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger.
Step inside a century-old, 39-room mansion that was the site of a double murder in 1977, in which the heiress to the family fortune had her husband kill her mother. The grim history, opulent architecture, and vast art collection make for an interesting visit, but do yourself a favor and walk the web of trails along Tischer Creek and the paths around the picturesque grounds.
Nature is justifiably one of the biggest draws to the Superior/Boundary Waters region, and there are a legion of ways to enjoy it. One unique feature? The Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, which allows visitors to traverse 4 miles of trails while seeing hundreds of birds including falcons, eagles, and vultures.
Lake Avenue Restaurant features a little bit of everything. For brunch, there are omelets, apple pannekoeken, and the Tunisian hangover cure, featuring eggs, tomato and poblano gravy, sweet potato pancakes, and chickpeas. Dinner has masterpieces such as bone marrow, manchego-stuffed dates, whitefish casserole, and prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin. And be sure to treat yourself to a cocktail -- the list features inventive creations and twists on classics like the Negroni and Sazerac made with locally distilled spirits.
For a truly excellent happy hour and perfectly shaken libations, look no further than the Red Herring Lounge. Featuring a tightly curated menu of modern twists on Prohibition-era cocktails, all Red Herring Lounge drinks are stiffly backed with local liquors and include other out-of-the-way ingredients such as coconut rum cream, mint bourbon, and kombucha.
For a quick excursion from Downtown Duluth, take a drive along the lakeshore to the New Scenic Café. The seasonal menu manages to be simultaneously approachable and exotic, with influences including Indian, Japanese, Norwegian, French, and Italian cuisines. True to its name, it has a gorgeous flower and herb garden as well as local artists' works hanging on the walls.
For some grade-A java, start your day off with Duluth Coffee Company. The staff at DCC not only serves up a terrific cup of coffee but also truly invests in the process, micromanaging the quality of the brew from start to finish. All beans are imported green and roasted with care by owner Eric Faust then steeped to perfection. Don't forget to grab a bag of grounds on your way out.
The OMC stands for "Oink, Moo, Cluck," and that's almost all you really need to know about the place. There are a bunch of variations on the proteins, mostly in the barbecue vein with house-made sauces, and drool-worthy sides like duck fat fries, cheesy jalapeño grits, and a Cajun-style queso and chips. Do yourself a favor and finish it off with homemade whoopie pie or the malted caramel sundae, which is made with Bent Paddle Black Coffee beer.
Zeitgeist Arts is a complex featuring theater, cinema, and a cafe. In the eatery, you'll find burgers, salads, and rice bowls, with activities including poetry readings and a mimosa-fueled yoga class. The theater, Teatro Zuccone, features musicals, plays, and improv comedy from local company Renegade. At Zinema 2, you can see some of the latest indie movies as well as one-off midnight screenings of cult classics.
Every batch of Vikre's gin, aquavit, whiskey, and vodka is brewed with a unique blend of botanicals foraged for the surrounding forests, lending it a unique whiff of Superior terroir. You can buy expertly mixed cocktails or full bottles of Vikre's purveyance at the distillery, which is perched right on gorgeous Lake Superior.
If coffee's not your thing, you're in luck! The Snooty Fox Tea Shop has an array of offerings from chais to yerba mates. And if you don't want hot drinks, there are iced teas, kombuchas, bubble teas, and more. If you prefer a more DIY approach, you can also take classes to learn about brewing your own kombucha at home.
Northern Waters Smokehaus is a more polished version of barbecue, letting you clean your sticky fingers with a cloth napkin. Deliciously seasoned pork meets delicately prepared Lake Superior fish on the menu, a match made in culinary heaven. You can also purchase perfectly smoked salmon, bacon, pastrami, and other foods in the beautifully appointed shop.
Nipping right at Bent Paddle's hoppy heels is Blacklist Artisan Ales. Rather than the thicker, darker, and IPA-centric focus of other taprooms, it goes straight for the lineup of more traditional (and higher-ABV) Belgian ales. Blacklist also hosts beer and yoga evenings, art shows, and local musical acts.
If you grew up listening to and loving public radio stations, you must stop by Take it With You Live Radio Theater. Broadcast from the The Underground Theatre, you can watch a 60-minute live performance of this monthly broadcast about a fictional bar, and sip a Bent Paddle offering in the process.
Cutting carbs? Then definitely don't go to the superior Lake Superior Bakehouse. Filled with creative baked goods such as cherry cheesecake rolls and cranberry pecan baked oatmeal, Lake Superior Bakehouse also has items for savory palates with pork-stuffed bao, tomato tarts, and fresh brioche. You can also occasionally find its work at pop-ups at other key local hotspots such as Bent Paddle Brewing.
In addition to learning about all the creatures of the lakes, you'll see electric eels, a zebra shark, piranhas, and a pair of otters named Agate and Ore among the many species here. There are feedings of the various animals every day, as well as an exhibit devoted to shipwrecks.
Take a spin around the West Duluth Skyline Parkway, which can be enjoyed at any time of day. It offers gorgeous views of the pristine Downtown skyline and vast shores of Lake Superior, as well as a bunch of places to stop for a hike or meal.
Named for a 19th-century missionary, Ely's Peak is supposedly where male members of the Ojibwa tribe would undergo coming-of-age vision quests that involved 10 days of fasting and meditation. The hike up rewards you with a lovely vista and a great workout, but you can also take the tourist train up if you want the view without an elevated heart rate.
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Becki Iverson is an overstimulated millennial with multifarious passions she somehow finds time to catalog at her blog, Compendium. Follow her on Instagram @beckiiverson for snapshots of how her brain operates, or Facebook for a shortcut to her long-form musings.