One of the things that I took home with me from California was a want to explore more. When I moved back to Minnesota, I realized that outside of the Twin Cities and a few surrounding areas, I hadn’t really explored my home state very much.
Last fall, I visited Duluth and Stillwater. Well, known (and loved) cities in Minnesota and absolutely recommended if you haven’t been. But this summer, I’m all about exploring some of those smaller, quaint cities around the state. Because who doesn’t love a little small-town charm?
There are quite a few of them (not complaining), so it will take me a bit to get to them. But that’s essentially the reason why I decided to turn this “concept” into a series. So you can get them piece by piece.
Part 1 will focus on Red Wing, Wabasha, and Winona, all in the beautiful River Bluff region of southeast Minnesota.
Red Wing, Minnesota
Let’s me start by saying once you get into the River Bluff region, the drive is part of the experience. The winding highway along the Mississippi River is beautiful. Which is why it’s dubbed the Great River Road Scenic Byway.
Pro tip: Create a great road trip mix on your way to Red Wing. There's nothing better than good tunes and pretty views.
Of the three cities in this post, Red Wing, Minnesota was by far my favorite. It’s a charming city with brownstone buildings making up its main street, and pretty limestone churches and quaint parks throughout town.
While I was there, I spent a few hours walking around, stepping into various stores of interest, and exploring one of the parks around the city. Which brings me to the “Recommendations” lists…
Things To Do In Red Wing, Minnesota
- Walk around Historic Downtown. It’s a small area so exploring by foot is the way to go. There’s also ample (free) parking so you can easily let your car sit for a few hours.
- Stop at LaGrange Park. It has a beautiful water fountain and waterfall that you’ll definitely want to snap a photo of.
- Take a peek at the Sheldon Theatre if it’s open. The stage is beautiful. And while you’re there, make sure to check out the schedule. If the timing works, it’s always fun to take in a show.
- Are you a book lover? Head to Fair Trade Books and get lost in a little bookstore for awhile. I don’t know about you, but I love bookstores. You never know what you’re going to find.
- Take a walk down by the Sea Wing Memorial. It’s a beautiful little spot down by the river. You might get lucky and see the American Queen Steamboat, which would be a marvelous sight to see.
Where To Eat / Drink In Red Wing, Minnesota
- If you’re in the mood for wine, head to one of the nearby wineries. Falconer Vineyards and Flower Valley Vineyards are local faves.
- Looking for a great patio? Head to The Veranda for riverside views. It’s a casual bistro on top of the St. James Hotel.
- If you have a sweet tooth, head to the Red Wing Confectionery for a bite (or two) of chocolate. No worries if you’re not a chocolate fan. They also have candies, ice cream, bakery treats, and more.
- If you want an old school pub vibe, definitely go to Jimmy’s (also in the St. James Hotel). Or head downstairs for dinner at The Port.
- If you’re looking for a wine spot in town, try Oliver’s Wine Bar. You can get wine, tapas, and more from this neighborhood spot.
Where To Stay In Red Wing, Minnesota
- St. James Hotel is a great location to stay if you’re in Red Wing overnight. It has three awesome restaurants within the establishment (noted above) so you really wouldn’t have to leave for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Book your room here.
- If you’re into B&Bs then Pratt-Taber Inn will be your go-to. It’s a restored 1876 bed and breakfast fashioned with old romantic charm. And it’s only a few blocks outside of downtown, so you’ll get easy access to everything that Red Wing has to offer.
If this town sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the setting place of a gem of a movie Grumpy Old Men. The movie put Wabasha on the map (perhaps just for Minnesotans), but the funny part is that very few scenes were actually shot in Wabasha.
Regardless, it’s a quaint town along the Great River Scenic Byway (also known as Highway 61) that’s a great spot to make a pit spot for a few specific reasons…
- Wabasha also has a small, charming downtown if you want to walk around. Similar to Red Wing, you’ll find more old brownstone buildings and storefronts, which I love. And how about this old clock from 1836!?
- The Wabasha Riverfront Trail is a hiking trail that starts right in front of the National Eagle Center. Since the trail runs parallel to the river, it’s also a great spot to get some mighty Mississippi views. Don’t miss the beautiful fountain here that stands as a memorial to the Dakota Indians and Chief Wapahasha II.
Winona is a college town that’s nestled in the picturesque river bluff country, making it another scenic spot that you’ll want to check out. One of it’s most noticeable physical landmarks is Sugar Loaf, which is a bluff topped by a rock pinnacle that overlooks the city. You can see it in the distance in one of the lake pictures below.
I didn’t spend too much time here, but I would recommend a few places to add to your itinerary:
- If it’s a nice day, definitely walk the trails around Lake Winona. It’s a beautiful scenic walk that has a lot of photo ops. A picnic would also be a great idea. Or you could stop at Lake Lodge if you wanted to kayak or paddleboard around instead.
- Windom Park is a pretty green spot in Winona surrounded by Victorian-era homes, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. But what I loved the most about this park was the pretty gardens and the sculptural fountain of Native American royalty, Princess Wenonah, that was donated to the city in 1900.
- Grab a beer at the Island City Brewing Company or get food at the Acoustic Cafe next door. They have live music every now and then so make sure to check out their website in advance.
And that’s a wrap on Part 1 of the Charming Minnesota Towns series.
What could have easily been included in this blog post is the small town of Lanesboro, MN in the Root River Valley. But there’s more to that story, so I decided to create a separate post.
Let’s go places,
What’s your favorite city in Minnesota? Share your recommendations with us in the comment section below.
All photos on this blog are mine. Feel free to share but please credit me with a link back to the blog. Much appreciated and thank you for your support!