A ROAD TRIP FOR THE LOVE OF CRAFT BEER

A recap of Craft Beer Breweries visited on our “Consolation Corona-cation” USA road trip in 2020

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

A road trip

In the year of 2020, there were so many up and down moments including cancelling and rescheduling a very anticipated trip overseas to Italy. My husband and I try to go to Europe at least once a year if we can make it work and lets just say after everything we had already been through with the Corona pandemic, we really just needed a change of scenery! We weren’t ready to get on a plane yet, but we had some vacation time to burn and lets just say that we were watching (ahem binging) wayyyyyy too much Beach Front Bargain Hunt. So, alas we decided to take a completely random road trip to hit up some craft beer breweries that have been on our list and make our way out to the ocean on the east coast.

Planning for a road trip

As we started to plan for a road trip it had been years since both of us had gone on a legit road trip. If I said we didn’t learn a lot about what to do and what not to do, I would be lying! We learned a lot about the top tips for an enjoyable road trip. This road trip we had a few too many long driving days stacked next to each other. One of the most important things in having an enjoyable road trip is driving for a bit, stopping and doing some things then driving some more so it doesn’t feel like you’re in the car for-ev-errr!

The route

Disclaimer: some parts of the route were completely influenced by breweries. But, hey it was a brewery road trip so that makes complete sense! Otherwise, there would be a lot more straightforward routes that could be taken. But, we were in the business of checking out the brews in the not so popular spots. (And some popular spots too!)

Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota to Eau Claire, Wisconsin

We set out on our adventure after a full day of work road tripping to Eau Claire, Wisconsin for the night. From our house in the north western Minneapolis suburbs it took just under 2 hours to travel there. Once we arrived, we headed to a few breweries to have some drinks that evening. Details listed below in the specific brewery sections.

Click here for places to stay in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Eau Claire, WI through Madison, WI to Columbus, Indiana

We spent the night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and woke up the next day to make the trek to Columbus, Indiana. Why Columbus, Indiana? You guessed it! a bucket list brewery I’ve always wanted to visit! I’ll get into details about the breweries we visited later on.

Click here for places to stay in Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana to Virginia Beach

This was a hike! In other words, it was a very long driving segment. I don’t recommend it when you’re planning a brewery road trip to have very long driving days. But, after it was over Virginia Beach was one of the places we spent a majority of our time in. So, we had a break from driving days. Aside from brewery hopping we enjoyed some great food, golfed and took our dog to the beach. He had only ever been to lakes in Minnesota and he actually really loved the ocean. (Which I was so surprised by!)

Click here for places to stay in Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach to OBX (Outer Banks of North Carolina)

This segment of our trip wasn’t a very far drive and it was 100 percent fueled by binge watching entirely too much beach front bargain hunt during the early 2020 lockdown in the United States. We decided to stay in Kill Devil Hills, NC but also considered staying in Nags Head.

Click here for places to stay in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Kill Devil Hills OBX to Asheville, North Carolina

The drive from the OBX to Asheville wasn’t too bad. Especially after spending a few days on the beaches we were really excited to get to Asheville one of the best craft beer cities in the United States!

Click here for places to stay in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina to Decorah, Iowa

After spending a few days in Asheville and hopping to our fair share of breweries. (I mean it literally is a brewery road trip so I don’t know what you expect?) More on the breweries soon. (I promise!) We were ready to head back. I really wish we would have spent some time in Knoxville or Pigeon Forge area but we can always return! I really would like to go back to Asheville as I feel like we barely scratched the surface. But, when I really like a destination I usually always want to return.

From Asheville, we made a pit stop in Nashville which has one of my favorite breweries. The tap room wasn’t reopened yet so it was strictly a curbside beer pickup situation. The last time I was in Nashville I visited multiple locations.

Click here for places to stay in Decorah, Iowa

Decorah, Iowa to Rochester, Minnesota

Honestly, Decorah was all for specific breweries. Surprise, surprise right? I mean it was 2020 and we had been cooped up at home for so long so we were truly making the number of breweries we visited on this trip worth our while!

After our time in Decorah we headed to our last stop of Rochester, MN which is only a little under a two hour drive from home. But, since we were going to breweries we stayed one night before heading back the next morning.

Click here for places to stay in Rochester, Minnesota

The most important part: The Breweries

Eau Claire, Wisconsin: Lazy Monk Brewery

This is what I like to consider a “bonus” brewery. We were on our way to our main brewery we wanted to go to and we stopped in here. They were very hospitable and it had such a German beer hall vibe it was a really fun place!

Eau Claire, Wisconsin: The Brewing Projekt

The main reason why we chose to stop in Eau Claire to kick off our 2020 brewery road trip was to make the trek to The Brewing Projekt. Living in the Twin Cities, we have access to these beers in many liquor stores and they have come to be some of our favorites to try out. But, it always hits a little different actually have the beers you’re fond of in the tap room. I’m sure our experience was a little different given there were a lot of covid restrictions still. But, we were super happy to have taken a good chunk of time off and be at one of our bucket list breweries that the trip was really centered around. Cheers to that! My favorite beers they put out definitely are their Resist Milkshake IPA’s, Puff Tart, Puff Tart XL variants.

4 small beer taster glasses full of colorful pink and dark beers sitting on a wooden table with a beer fabric mask sitting by it

Columbus, Indiana: 450N Brewing

450 North Brewing Company really was one of the first breweries to make beers in the smoothie sour style. (Which I’m very much a fan of!) I feel like this brewery is a common stop on any brewery road trip. Because, the other kicker is they’re literally out in the middle of nowhere and do not distribute their beers at all. Because of these facts, the beers have become a hot commodity in the craft beer community. If you’re lucky enough to know someone that had access to their releases or if you could go to the taproom that’s the only way you could try out this brewery.

We ended up eating dinner here and having a few beers. It was a pretty relaxing vibe out on the patio while staring across the road at literal corn fields.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: Vibrant Shore Brewing Company

Virginia Beach was one of our longer stops during our brewery road trip. So naturally, we fit in some brews! This brewery was a pit stop in between the beach front where we spent most of our day and our hotel. It was nice to stop here to have a few brews while in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: Young Veterans Brewery Company

We stopped here after playing a round of golf. It was a smaller more intimate taproom and most of the clientele was locals. Compared to a lot of the places we went closer to Virginia Beach, that wasn’t always the case.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: New Realm Brewing

This was another brewery we visited post golf round. Their restaurant, beer and space were all amazing. There was a large outdoor area including plenty of space inside at tables as well as the bar.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: Commonwealth Brewing Company

This brewery really wasn’t on my radar until a friend of mine from a beer group realized I was in Virginia Beach. She recommended it highly so I knew we had to check it out. It ended up being our favorite brewery in Virginia Beach that we visited. Sometimes, the best plans are the last minute reccs you decide to jump on!

Norfolk, Virginia: The Veil

I had heard such great things about this brewery, although the location we visited was a second location for The Veil, the beer and food we had was worth the trek. We sat in an outdoor space as it’s dog friendly. At the time their menu was an elevated version of some Taco Bell favorites. (I had an amazing fancy crunchwrap supreme.) Their tap list was also equally amazing. It was a perfect late afternoon and evening although it was somewhat out of our way from where we were staying in Virginia Beach.

OBX, North Carolina: Weeping Radish Farm Brewery

Although we stayed for several days in the OBX on our brewery road trip there aren’t as many craft beer spots to hit up here. But while we were enroute to the Outer Banks, we stopped at the oldest micro brewery in North Carolina, Weeping Radish Farm Brewery. They have outdoor space and indoor where you can enjoy pub food and their German inspired brews.

Asheville, North Carolina: Wicked Weed

After leaving the outer banks, we spent what wasn’t long enough in Asheville, North Carolina. We definitely made it worth our time and went to a few too many breweries. But, I regret nothing! It actually really made me want to go back for an extended trip.

The name Wicked Weed was inspired by a quote from Henry the VIII “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed”. They really had a lot of different beers to choose from on the tap list. We had many flights and also enjoyed lunch there. The patio area where we were seated was well covered from the sun and dog friendly. Barkley our little brewery pup loved his time there.

Asheville, North Carolina: Wicked Weed Funkatorium

Located close to the original Wicked Weed brew pub is the funkatorium. Truly, the name is not lying their sours are very funky! If that’s your thing you will absolutely enjoy this brewery. But, if you’re into more sweet and fruit forward sour beers I would skip this stop. Again, their space for both indoor and outdoor seating was amazing and they also offered food. The outdoor areas again, the same as the brew pub were dog friendly.

Asheville, North Carolina: Catawaba

We visited the location in the south slope of Asheville. (Many breweries are located in this area of the city.) They had many mainstays on their tap list at the time, however I was the most bummed out that they didn’t have one of their peanut butter jelly time brown ale’s available. They always do the different variants switching up the jelly flavor. Hopefully the next time I visit they’ll have it.

Asheville, North Carolina: Burial

I don’t even know where to start in talking about Burial. This was one of the breweries that I was looking forward to visiting the most and it was everything and more. We started out one of our days here and the tap list had soooooo many delicious pastry imperial stout bangers. Sadly, I was semi responsible and didn’t get to try them all because it would have made for a realllly long day! We also ate lunch here and the food was amazing as well. Their outdoor space is really quirky and eclectic.

It would be tough, but if I had to choose only one brewery in Asheville to return to the next time we go, it would 500% be Burial.

Asheville, North Carolina: Hi-Wire

Despite their colorful and fun aesthetic, this taproom experience was one of the breweries we didn’t stay at too long while in Asheville. There was limited seating available due to COVID restrictions so we actually spent more time waiting in line to get a table and snag a few tasters than we actually did enjoying said brews. They have many different locations in the USA so, I’d personally skip it while in Asheville if I were you. There are a lot better spots to hit up (in my opinion!)

Hi-wire brewery sign and colorful outside located in asheville north carolina

Asheville, North Carolina: Bhramari

The beers here were good and it was so busy! We waited awhile and then finally got a table out on the patio. We were extremely unlucky to have an uncovered table and then it started raining. Just given that fact we didn’t stay here super long as we were really uncomfortable. But, the beers I had before it starting down pouring were definitely enjoyable.

Asheville, North Carolina: DSSOLVR

This brewery when we visited was newer so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But, we really enjoyed both their space and the beers that they offered on tap. The beer that really surprised me the most was a fruited sour beer that also had chocolate flavor to it. It really reminded me of my absolute favorite brewery in the midwest. I definitely will be returning the next time I’m in Asheville, that’s for sure!

Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Grist

Stopping at Southern Grist really was just a stop. At the time none of their taprooms were open but since it’s one of my favorite breweries, we had to stop to get some curbside goodies to bring home! You can read more about beer and things to do in Nashville here.

Decorah, Iowa: Toppling Goliath

Toppling Goliath is another Midwest banger brewery that we just hadn’t made the time to visit. So, on the way back home of course we made the stop. We’re able to get some of TG’s brews in the Twin Cities but some are only available from the brewery. My absolute favorite that I tried was their Cherry Fandango. We also ate here and the food was definitely tasty as well.

Decorah, Iowa: Pulpit Rock

Since we were in Decorah, we had to also check out Pulpit Rock. I’ll be honest I was somewhat disappointed in the beers that they had available at the time. That coupled with the fact that we had bees pretty much swarming us on the patio I’m not in a rush to go back! I have had some beers friends have gotten from Pulpit Rock and I really enjoyed them so it may have just been the luck of the draw. I always try to keep that in mind when visiting new breweries because so many places always have rotating availability of beers. I still really want to try the muffin man beer they offer!

Rochester, Minnesota: Forager

This definitely is a restaurant and brewery destination in Rochester. So, naturally we ate lunch here….I mean are you even a little surprised? Somewhat similar to Pulpit Rock, I had had some amazing release takeaway beers by Forager in the past. I mean think thick delicious smoothie sours with literal vanilla bean flecks visible in the beer. Swoooon! But, these beers typically are release only and only on tap close to the release date. Given that we visited not close to one of these releases their tap list was only so so at the time (in my opinion.) But, it’s definitely a great place to stop if you’re in Rochester.

Rochester, Minnesota: Little Thistle

Little Thistle has such a great indoor/outdoor space. They refer to the outdoor space as their outdoor beer garden. At the time we visited they had a pumpkin flavored latte (PSL) inspired beer that was an imperial stout. So of course that was right up my alley! The name was even better, Live Laugh Ugg making a jab at those basic B’s that love their PSL’s, fall foilage and Ugg boots. But i mean if the Ugg boot fits you might as well own it and have a pint, am I right?

We drove over 48 hours, 3,000 miles, passed through 10 states and hit up 20 Breweries to round out our very first brewery road trip!

Brewery Road Trip Best Practices

If you’re planning on going on a road trip where the focus is breweries, be very thoughtful about it. For example, if you’re planning on going to a brewery or two do not get in the car and continue your road trip. Make that destination where you are staying for the night and be responsible, take a taxi or uber/lyft (mobile rideshare app) to and from your accommodation. I cannot stress this enough!

Brewery Road trip & beyond: Beer Travel

Where ever I travel, it’s my goal to drink local. Taste the local craft beer (and sometimes local wineries/craft cocktails.) I have more articles on Beer & Travel listed below:

Guide to Craft Beer in Italy

The Best European Beer Experiences

The Best Breweries in the Twin Cities (of Minnesota)

Where are you going on your next brewery road trip? I know I have several breweries that I am definitely willing to travel for! Of course, I’ll write all about it so stay tuned and be sure to follow my blog and accounts on social media.

YOUR GUIDE TO THE BEST CRAFT BEER IN ITALY

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

Craft Beer in Italy

If you’re looking for a craft beer guide for travels to Italy, you’ve come to the right place! Italy definitely isn’t your number one country or location you’d think of enjoying beer in. Wine, of course but not necessarily beer. There are so many different wineries so it’s only natural that beer isn’t as popular in Italy. Although we like to sample both, this article is dedicated to only craft beer locations within Italy. Throughout our trip of two weeks in Italy, we had some amazing craft beer which I was very pleasantly surprised by.

Craft Beer in Europe

Much like the United States and the Brewers Association there, Europe has a similar association called the Brewers of Europe. The Brewers of Europe is based in Brussels (naturally, right?!). On the Brewers of Europe website, there is a great resource (by country) as to the specific countries brewing association as well. In Italy it’s the AssoBirra.

Italian words to know for drinking Craft Beer

Birre = Beer/Beers

Bottiglia = Bottle

Alla Spina = on tap

Birra Artigianale = Craft Beer

Birrifico = Brewery

This is helpful as we saw these terms on tap lists or posted in craft beer bars several places in Italy. It was somewhat easy to figure out after awhile, but why be confused if you don’t have to be! But more important, lets get to the beer.

Italian Craft Beer

While in Italy, drink as the locals do! Throughout travels no matter where you are, trying local craft beer is a must. It’s interesting to see how different beer styles across Europe have different characteristics and flavor compared to in the United States. One thing that both myself and my husband agreed upon is that the IPA’s (India Pale Ale’s) in Italy tasted a lot sweeter. Not bitter like many of the United States IPA’s are known for. (He absolutely loves an IPA that kicks you in the teeth with hops and is incredibly bitter!) Whereas, I prefer the sweeter IPA’s so I was a huge fan of the IPA’s in Italy.

However, there are much more European styles available (that are amazing!) such as Tripel’s or Bocks. These in the United States aren’t as good and are few and far between to even find unless they’re imported from Europe.

Read on within this guide for amazing beer bars we loved throughout our trip and some additional recommendations for a great craft brew in Italy. Cheers!

Craft Beer in Venice, Italy

Pub Da Aldo

Located in a less touristy corner of Venice, this is a local gem! Offering a wide variety of beers with seating along the canal. It was the perfect end to the day to have a few brews and watch boats drive by along the canal. We did notice there were many locals here for bachelor & bachelorette parties. But, it was also a Saturday night.

The bartender/beertender didn’t speak much English so that’s when you really know you’re at a local gem. We just blundered with our attempt at Italian and pointed to the beers we wanted after surveying the goods in the glass cases.

Il Santo Bevitore

We really enjoyed our time at this pub. Not only were the options for tap beers & bottles extensive they also offered delicious cicchetti options. Cicchetti is a part of Venetian culture. You can compare it to Spanish tapas. Typically it’s a small bite or snack that you will eat alongside an apertivo or happy hour beverage.

Another great thing about Il Santo Bevitore was talking to the beertender on staff. She asked us where we were from and talked extensively with us about beer and beer we liked. As we talked more about craft beer she provided some recommendations. Unfortunately we weren’t able to actually go to any of them. But, I am definitely interested in doing so in the future. Local recommendations in my opinion are the best!

The recommendations she offered are a little outside of Venice proper but, if you’re in transit they’re definitely worth mentioning.

The three recommendations she provided are listed below:

CRAK brewery which the taproom is actually located outside of Venice in Campodarsego.

Lucky Brews is a brewpub located almost an hour outside of the city of Venice in Vicenza. Actually somewhat closer to Verona. (But kind of in between Venice and Verona.) So, if you’re enroute to Verona it would be a great place to stop.

Ophelia is also located in Vicenza. So, maybe hop to Lucky Brews and Ophelia for a fun afternoon or evening? I know it’s on my radar for a return trip because we’re definitely going back to Italy.

Check out places to stay when you’re in Venice here.

Craft Beer in the Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre compared to the other cities we visited really didn’t have as many options for craft beer. But we were extremely lucky that a great craft beer bar was literally right outside of the door from where we stayed in Riomaggiore. There were also a few little wine/bottle shops that carried some bottles of beer as well from the breweries I mention below.

Bar Netto Brasserie in Riomaggiore

Although technically not located within the Cinque Terre (5 villages along the coast.) In La Spezia which is about 12 km and a 20-25 minute car ride or quick train ride from Riomaggiore then a short walk from the station in La Spezia there are two breweries located close to each other. La Spezia Brewing Company & Birrifico Golfo. We had some of the Birrifico Golfo Beers at Bar Netto in Riomaggiore.

Craft Beer and bruschetta at Bar Netto in Riomaggiore Italy
Bruschetta & Craft Beer in the Cinque Terre, Italy

This was just literally right outside our doorstep while we stayed here in Riomaggiore.

Craft Beer in Florence, Italy

In all honesty, I didn’t have much on my radar for Florence. Before arriving, I did research on beer bars or breweries and only had a few on my radar (Archea Brewery & BrewDog.) We actually didn’t end up going to either of them! Brew Dog has many locations so we decided to skip that one. It also stated on Google that it was closed. However, we were very happy with the more local craft beer pubs we went to listed below.

Birreria Articolo 17

We found this beer pub through a quick google search and it was a great pick as almost all of the beers on tap were Italian. It was also one of our first stops in Florence after a travel day and partial day in Pisa. So, it was a perfect place to relax and have a few pints. We arrived at what I would consider a reasonable happy hour time but by the time we were leaving the locals were arriving and the bar was getting busier.

Birreria Fiorentina

This literally was a place we stumbled upon. It’s outside of the more touristy area of Florence and it was near our hotel. After walking by several times, the last night we were there we popped in for a pint. They had a lot of different Italian Beers both in bottles & cans as well as on tap.

I opted for a tiramisu imperial stout that was absolutely delicious! After being in Italy for a bit and having some amazing tiramisu & tiramisu gelato I definitely had to try the beer. The brewery that makes this beer Lambrate is actually based out of Milan. We didn’t visit Milan during our time in Italy but you can bet after that amazing brew it’s definitely on my to do list for next time!

This bar definitely was more of a locals bar and I love going to places like this while traveling. We stayed a bit outside of the action while in Florence, we stayed here. This beer bar was literally just across the street and a great find to stumble across.

Craft Beer in Rome, Italy

Being the capital of Italy and one of the larger cities in Europe, I wasn’t surprised that Rome definitely had more places offering craft beer in Italy. I could have just visited beer bars during our whole time in Rome and not make it to them all. However, below are the ones we sought out and experienced.

Be.Re

This pub is somewhat close to the Vatican. It boasts 20 taps and also offers food and other bar drinks as well. It was the perfect place to relax after visiting Vatican City for the day at St. Marks Basilica for a happy hour drink or as the Italians say apertivo.

Open Baladin Roma

This was the first brewery/brew pub that we visited in Rome mostly just due to proximity to our hotel. Open Baladin is located in the Campo Fiori area of Rome.

They had a wide selection of beers available on tap as well as a shop inside that was selling beer in bottles for take away. They had quite the selection and even offered a food menu. We had arrived close to when they opened but as we hung out for awhile the place was packed by the time we left with fellow travelers and locals alike.

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa

This was my favorite beer bar we visited in Rome. Nothing fancy (the beer list was denoted with masking tape & sharpie!) but a fantastic tap beer list. We sat outside and enjoyed a handful of great beers. The crowd was a great mix of tourists & travelers as well as locals. Located in the Trastevere area of Rome giving it much more of a homey and chill vibe.

Queen Makeda Pub

Out of all of the beer bars we visited, this one probably I was the most disappointed with. I considered omitting it from my Italy craft beer guide altogether. It just really wasn’t what I was expecting at all. In all honesty it was a major let down. Online I had researched that they had 40 some taps, but the actual list once we got there was much less. Another thing and this may have been because of the pandemic but I was expecting a happy hour food with small bites on a conveyor belt. (Much like sushi restaurants.) The beer we had, however was good so at least that wasn’t a disappointment!

Illuppolati Fraschetta Birraria

I had heard a lot about this beer bar through recommendations and fellow craft beer girls that share my love of beer (and travel!) how unique it was and that it was a must stop in Rome. We were really excited to check it out. But, unfortunately once we got there we realized it had closed & there were for sale signs on the outside. Insert sad face emoji here.

Rome is so huge! Depending on what you want to do and how long you’re there should help you to decide where to stay. We stayed near Piazza Navona & Campo Fiori. It was a really great central location. (It even had an elevator and the best air conditioning!) While in Rome we stayed here.

Read more about traveling & craft beer:

Throughout our travels abroad, in the United States & even while home I’m always seeking the best craft beer. If you enjoyed this Italy craft beer guide here are some more beer focused articles. Read more about my favorite beer experiences while traveling and about the best breweries while at home in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The Best Beer Experiences in Europe

The Best Breweries in the Twin Cities

THE GREAT MINNESOTA DRINK TOGETHER: A COMPLETE REVIEW OF 2021 STATE FAIR BEERS

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

The Minnesota State Fair

Lets be real, the main reason I go to the Minnesota State Fair is to sample all of the beer! The Minnesota State Fair is really well known across the entire country. The State Fair in Minnesota is second according to attendance following the state fair of Texas. In comparison, the State Fair in Minnesota is only 12 days, running from the last Thursday in August through Labor Day. In comparison where Texas’ state fair is almost an entire month usually at the end of September through October in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. So I’ll let you be the judge which State Fair is probably the best (wink, wink!)

Beer at the Minnesota State Fair

Every year (well except for 2020 but we really don’t even want to go there!) there are many mainstay beers that return to the Minnesota State Fair as well as new fun beers to try. Many local breweries come up with state fair exclusive beers that definitely entices me to come to the fair every year.

However, there wasn’t always beer at the state fair. This is a newer update for the local craft beers to be offered at the state fair only as of 2015. Prior to this, the fair was only licensed due to liquor laws to only serve 3.2% beer. I’m so grateful for the progress because heading to the state fair to try the new beers every year is one of my favorite things to end the summer with. Below I’ve listed out a few key historic milestones achieved in regard to serving alcoholic beverages at the Minnesota State Fair.

A historic timeline of alcoholic beverages at the state fair:

2003: Minnesota made wine is available for sale at the Minnesota State Fair

2007: The legalization of non 3.2 beer at the Minnesota State Fair

2010: The Minnesota State Fair assumes responsibility of the liquor, beer & wine licenses at the fair.

2015: Brew pubs (or my beloved craft breweries) are allowed to serve their beers at the Minnesota State Fair. Woooo Hoo!

Present: All of the amazing new drinks and returning delicious beers offered at the state fair are communicated to the public prior to the state fair months in advance. Giving people (like me) a chance to plan ahead and make a list of all the beers we want to try! Cheers!

*Disclaimer: Most of the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) % and IBU information was found via the app Untapp’d. I’m unsure of it’s accuracy, however it will give you a rough idea of how heavy the beer is so you can plan ahead for your trip(s) to the fair. Some of the information per communications from the state fair was different compared to Untapp’d and I listed the differing details below if that was the case.

2021 Beers

The beers I tried this year wasn’t exhaustive of the new beers for 2021. Usually, I visit only one day during the fair and try all of the new beers that sound appealing to me & the new food items. There are many more new beers and drinks that are available each year. If you’re like me, you make a list of the ones you want to try! Here are all of the beers I tried as well as my thoughts on all of them.

August Schell Brewing: Grain Belt Blu, Schell’s Sangria & frozen toppers

Although not a new beer to the Minnesota State Fair for 2021, this is a classic. Grain Belt & August Schell are OG’s in the beer scene for Minnesota and getting a combo beer with a frozen topper has become a tradition at the state fair. There are way more Grain Belt and Schell’s brews available here but I usually gravitate to Blu & Sangria.

Beer Style:

I chose the Blueberry Lager (Grain Belt Blu) but there are more options (as shown in the photo below.)

ABV:

4.7% ABV

IBU:

0 IBU’s

Color:

A deep purple to blue color, much like a blueberry. It always reminds me of when the girl turns into a blueberry on the Willy Wonka movie, I don’t know why?

Location:

Grain Belt Blu is located many different places throughout the Minnesota State Fair, however, only one location offers the frozen beer slushie toppers. This is only offered at the Schell’s Pavillion. A light refreshing drinker with a sweetness. The slush top is absolutely perfect when enjoying it at the State Fair if the weather is hot and humid like it was when we were there this year. My husband tried the new slush top offered this year, Choc’d up on the Cream Ale offered.

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

A seasonal offering from Grain Belt brewed in New Ulm. You can get this in cans outside of the Minnesota State Fair Beers from May to September. It’s one of my favorite easy drinking summer beers while out on the golf course or on the lake. A true Minnesota summer beer staple in my opinion!

Cheers of two beers one blue blueberry beer with a cream ale with frozen beer slush tops under a sign showing all of the available beers at the minnesota state fair in 2021
2021 Minnesota State Fair Beers from Grain Belt & Schells

Schells Brewery- The Starkeller: Cherry Go Round

Beer Style:

Sour-Fruited Berliner Weisse cherry beer

ABV:

6.4% ABV

IBU:

5 IBU’S

Color:

A hazy brownish pink/red

Location:

At the State Fair in 2021 you can find this beer right by the Schell’s pavilion kind of tucked into the corner on the side of the Lulu’s public house building. We posted up at a table by the Schell’s tap station, drank those beers then it was really convenient to grab this sour beer and take a walk to find something delicious to eat.

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

Brewed in New Ulm, Minnesota. This brewery is the experimental series for sour beers affiliated with Schells Brewery. I like sour style beers but this was very puckering. I got a short pour and it was a little too much for me. Although, it was right after having a very sweet Grain Belt Blu so there’s that to consider as well.

Holding a dark red hazy looking beer up to the bar in cheers at the Minnesota State Fair in 2021
New 2021 Beer: Cherry Go Round

Bauhaus Brew Labs: The Shandlot Golden Tea Edition

Beer Style:

Shandy/Radler

ABV:

4.5%

IBU:

15 IBU’s

Color:

Golden Yellow

Location:

Located at the Ball Park Cafe

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

Overall, I was really impressed with this beer! It was light and truly captured the essence of iced tea and lemon but not being overly flavorful on either side making it a really great balance of what an Arnold Palmer should taste like, just in beer form! I feel like every other beer that has tried to mimic an Arnie Palmer has fallen short. This truly hits the mark while also being light and refreshing!

Liftbridge: Mini Donut Beer

Beer Style:

English Brown Ale (with the most delicious brown sugar cinnamon rim)

ABV:

4.7% ABV (Per Untapp’d) yet on the list of beers from the Minnesota State Fair it stated 5%.

IBU:

18 IBU’s

Color:

Light browinish tan in color

Location:

Located at the Ball Park Cafe

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

An exclusive Minnesota State Fair Beer staple! Not overly sweet as it’s a brown ale. It has almost a bready flavor and is complimented with the perfect sweet cinnamon & sugar rim. This is one of the beers every year that my husband and I each get our own pour as we’re unwilling to share! It really is THAT good.

Liftbridge Mini Donut beer with the cinnamon sugar rim

Modist & Dangerous Man: MN Brew Together Peaches & Cream Milkshake IPA

Beer Style:

Fruity Milkshake IPA

ABV:

6.5%

IBU:

0 is what Untapp’d states, however I disagree since this in an IPA. But, it’s definitely more fruit forward than smack you in the mouth with hops. I mean that’s a way more scientific description anyway, right?

Color:

A dense golden orange color

Location:

Ball Park Cafe

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

Super thick, fruity, yet sweet with some creaminess and a little bit of hops. Literally all of the things that make a great beer in my opinion. Modist & Dangerous Man are two local Minneapolis breweries that are my absolute favorite. Some of their Minnesota State Fair beers in the past haven’t really met my high expectations. But, this 2021 beer was absolutely amazing! So. dang. good! This would be one of my top recommendations to try. It was definitely in my top two for the new brews I tried this year. I love milkshake IPA’s that are creamy sweet and fruit with just the right amount of hops, this beer truly KNOCKS it out of the park! (See what I did there, Ball Park Cafe, wink, wink.)

The Ball Park Cafe at the Minnesota State Fair: always amazing beers here!

Mankato Brewery: Triple Berry Cheesecake Lager

Beer Style:

American Lager

ABV:

5%

IBU:

10 IBU’s

Color:

A translucent pink color

Location:

The Hangar

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

A lighter option yet full of flavor! An easier drinker yet I really had all of the berries come through as well as the sweetness of the cheesecake without it being overwhelming or heavy. A perfect state fair beer when the weather is hot!

Insight Brewing: Waffle Dog Breakfast Ale

Beer Style:

American Brown Ale

ABV:

5.7% ABV (per Untapp’d) yet on the publication of new beers from the state fair it lists it at 7%

IBU:

0 per Untapp’d

Color:

a lighter but hazy brown color

Location:

The Hangar

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

More of a roasty flavor vs. maple. I was expecting more maple and was a little disappointed that flavor didn’t come through as much for me. It was a little more bitter than I would have hoped. This beer had more of a malt forward flavor but the sweetness of the cinnamon and maple does come through although very slightly. Untapp’d listed the IBU’s at 0 but I’m not sure that’s accurate. (Insert shrug emoji here.)

Both beers at the Hangar

Big Wood Brewery: Cotton Candy Milkshake IPA

Beer Style:

Milkshake IPA

ABV:

5.1% ABV

IBU:

15 IBU’s

Color:

a light pastel hazy pink color with a brighter pink candy rim

Location:

Located in the Hideaway Speakeasy within the Minnesota State Fair’s Upper Grandstand you will find both a cocktail and beer dedicated to the sweet pink cotton candy that reminds so many of us of our childhood. The cocktail Cotton Candy Bubble Trouble was delicious, albeit very sweet.

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

This beer was a repeat from the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. (It was actually my favorite new brew that year!) I really loved the cotton candy milkshake IPA brewed by Big Wood Brewery. So, of course I had to have it again in 2021 as it’s a State Fair exclusive beer. When in Rome, or rather St. Paul, Minnesota.

Lupulin Brewing: Blue Razzamatazz

Beer Style:

Fruit beer

ABV:

5% ABV

IBU:

10 IBU

Color:

A hazy darker pink magenta color

Location:

Coasters

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

This was a little more tart than I was anticipating. I was expecting more of a sweet beer but was definitely caught off guard. We didn’t try it at the State Fair, however the prior week another Lupulin beer was offered in their taproom and now is available at the state fair, the Key Lime Hypezig. In comparison of the two (blue razzamatazz and the Key Lime Hypezig) I preferred the razzamatazz.

Waconia Brewing Company: Golden Cookies & Cream Ale

Beer Style:

Golden Ale

ABV:

5.6% ABV

IBU:

20 IBU’s

Color:

a light yellow (it looked like a standard light beer/lager)

Location:

Coasters

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

I really enjoyed this beer! It was in my top three favorites of the new state fair brews for 2021. It was sweet but not overwhelmingly sweet and definitely crushable. It reminded me of almost a white stout since it was more dessert-esque.

The two beers we tried at Coasters while sitting in a “tilt a whirl” booth

Big Wood Brewery: Caramel Apple Craft Seltzer

Beer Style:

Not a beer, it’s a hard seltzer

ABV:

5 %

IBU:

Unsure, Untapp’d lists it at 0

Color:

Electric bright green

Location:

Andy’s Grille

My thoughts on this state fair beer:

I was so surprised how much I loved this! It was super light (despite the shocking green color!) and the caramel rim was a great touch. It wasn’t overly sweet! This also surprised me. I was expecting a really sweet drink but was very pleasantly surprised. It was a very drinkable, light, crushable drink.

New “Beer” at the Minnesota State Fair: Caramel Apple Craft Seltzer

Recap on 2021 New Beer at the Minnesota State Fair

Of the beers I tried this year, overall not one of them was a huge disappointment. In years past, there have been some beers that I was anticipating really loving and they were a total flop! But, honestly that happens you truly can’t like them all and that’s the fun in seeking out and trying new brews and new breweries. There definitely were favorites over others but I was pleased with most that I sampled. But, the standout favorites for 2021 would have to be the Triple Berry Cheesecake Lager & the MN Brew Together Peaches and Cream Milkshake IPA.

One that I missed: I would have liked to have also tried the Tropical Berry Smoothie Sour by Modist located at the Ball Park Cafe. Hopefully that’s a repeat for next year!

Read More about Craft Beer:

The Best Breweries in the Twin Cities

The Best Breweries in Duluth, MN

Craft Beer & Travel (Coming soon!)

Beyond the MN State Fair

Comprehensive MN Travel Guide (Coming soon!)

THINGS TO DO TO HAVE THE BEST TIME IN THE TWIN CITIES

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

About the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities in Minnesota consists of Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Typically, if you’re a local you prefer one over the other. If you know, you know!) Across this metropolitan area in Minnesota, it inhabits over 3.1 million people. About half of the states population is located in the greater Twin Cities metro area. There are many great things to see, do, eat and drink across the whole metro area. So, lets not waste any further time and dive right in to the juicy details!

Minneapolis

Minneapolis is located to the west of the two cities and is generally considered “the younger” “more hip” of the two. Many dive bars and craft breweries are located in the Northeast area of Minneapolis (sometimes referred to as “Nordeast”). In Minneapolis, a lot of the buildings, restaurants and establishments are newer in comparison to its counter part twin city of St. Paul. But really, there’s something for everyone across both Minneapolis, St. Paul and the vast amount of suburbs in between and beyond that make up the metropolitan area.

St. Paul

St. Paul is the capitol of the state of Minnesota. There are many very historic neighborhoods & private colleges located in St. Paul. To me it just has a lot more of an established, older almost European vibe in some of the areas. With Victorian homes and so much history, it’s an absolutely gorgeous city to visit and explore.

What to do in the Twin Cities: Minneapolis

Minneapolis sky way

The sky way in downtown Minneapolis consists of over 80 city blocks and 9.5 miles of continuous indoor bridges and system to walk inside within an enclosed environment. It connects many different businesses and is really convenient especially in the cold winter months. Businesses accessible via the skyway consist of corporate offices, restaurants, bars, retail stores and really pretty much anything you could think of.

Some of the downtown Minneapolis hotels are on the skyway system making them a great place to stay! Just a few of these hotels include: W Minneapolis at the Foshay, The Marquette Hotel, Hilton, The Chambers Hotel, Loews Minneapolis, Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, Radisson Red, The Westin, Hotel Ivy.

Nicollet Mall

Nicollet Mall essentially is a mile long outdoor pedestrian mall in downtown Minneapolis. A very hopping area during our gorgeous summer months. There are many outdoor patios from bars and restaurants to enjoy along this area. It’s a great place to spend an evening or afternoon to go for a stroll during the spring or summer when visiting Minneapolis.

Walker Art Center & Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

The outdoor sculpture garden behind the Walker Art Center is open year round. However, in the spring and summer the main sculpture that has become an icon of Minnesota, the Spoonbridge and Cherry has a water fountain from it making it even more fun to see. In the neighboring Loring Park, year round events usually occur in this green space. Loring Park and the Walker Art Center is located nearby the beautiful and iconic Basilica of Saint Mary. The basilica of St. Mary was the first basilica in the United States! Truly a landmark and cultural icon for Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota and the United States.

Spoon bridge & Cherry in June Minneapolis, MN

Stone Arch Bridge & Mill City Ruins Park

The Stone Arch Bridge has one of the best views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline. Near the bridge, Mill Ruins Park is on the west side of Saint Anthony Falls and features history of Minneapolis. These ruins highlight the history of flour milling and a handful of these factories that were abandoned. It’s a really fun area for a stroll from downtown Minneapolis. The Stone Arch Bridge is one of the busiest and most popular pedestrian bridges across the river in the area but definitely worth the trip!

View of downtown Minneapolis from the Stone Arch pedestrian bridge
View of downtown Minneapolis from the Stone Arch pedestrian bridge

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls is located within Minnehaha Regional Park. A true outdoor oasis in the middle of an urban setting. You can view the falls from above or take the staircase down to get closer to the falls. From there you can continue on the trail past the falls for a hike. Be weary in the winter this area can get really icy. It’s best if you’re planning on taking this route in the fall, spring & summer. However, the falls are so beautiful both when flowing and frozen. You really can’t go wrong visiting during any season! Expect it to usually be pretty busy as this is a very popular spot in the Minneapolis and metro area. If you’re planning on visiting on the weekend getting there early to secure parking is imperative.

Woman sitting on brick ledge over looking the frozen minnehaha falls waterfall in minneapolis minnesota in the spring
Minnehaha Falls in the spring

Loop the chain of lakes (run, bike or walk)

A perfect evening or afternoon can be spent looping the lakes in Minneapolis. The Lakes of Bde Ska Ma (formerly Lake Calhoun), Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet & Cedar Lake are close enough together and linked with the paths to either run, bike or walk. If you don’t have a bike but want a rental, Wheel fun rentals are available in this area.

Lake Harriet Bandshell

The Minneapolis park and recreation offers music and movies in the park at the Lake Harriet Bandshell during the warm summer months. It’s a great time to bring a blanket, snacks & drinks to enjoy a lovely evening in the park with friends or family. Even beyond the Lake Harriet bandshell, other Minneapolis parks show movies and offer music events as well during the summer. Each year there is a full calendar that’s published giving information on what movies will be shown where and when. So you can definitely plan ahead!

Biking

There are many bike paths located all over the Minneapolis area as well as the state of Minnesota. If you don’t have a bike or don’t want to rent one, you could always get a group together and do a pedal pub in Minneapolis or rent a Nice Ride bike or a bike through Wheel Fun Rentals. There are so many options to bike all over the Twin Cities and Minneapolis has been ranked as one of the most bikeable cities in the country.

US Bank Stadium & Target Field

Home of the NFL team The Minnesota Vikings, US Bank Stadium is a gorgeous stadium and venue. Typically, there are several concerts that are hosted in the venue throughout the year as well as Viking’s games during the football season.

Target Field is also located in Minneapolis, downtown and is the ball park for Minnesota’s MLB team the Twins. When there isn’t a game or event going on, there are tours available where you can see the venue by booking a 90 min guided tour. Target Field also books out as a venue for events and occasionally they will host an outdoor concert series during the summer as well.

Woman smiling on field at one of the end zones at us bank stadium home of the Minnesota Vikings football team in Minneapolis MN
US Bank Stadium on field prior to the game

Guthrie Theater

While you’re in Minneapolis, if you’re hoping to go to a theater performance, The Guthrie Theater would be the place to go. You can secure tickets in advance but not only going there for a performance the Guthrie also offers a store and tour of the magnificent facility.

First Avenue

An iconic concert venue located in Minneapolis since the 1970’s has seen many up and coming artists that became well known. This is where Minnesota local, Prince got his start. (Speaking of Prince, there’s also a a museum located in the Southwest suburb of Chanhassen called Paisley Park.) The venue First Avenue is located on 1st Ave in downtown Minneapolis. Even if you aren’t planning on catching a show there, the outside walls with the well known star mural is worth a visit as it pays tribute to many iconic music artists.

Craft Beer Breweries all over the Twin Cities

Many of the craft beer breweries in the Twin Cities are located in Minneapolis. Northeast Minneapolis is known to have a lot of dive bars and breweries and is a really fun place to hang out. However, there are many that are spread across the suburbs and St. Paul as well. Click here to check out my favorite breweries across the Twin Cities. Trust me, I’ve been to nearly all of them and scoped them out for you!

Man wearing DRINK LOCAL shirt in the background with a golden pint of beer next to him sitting on a table closer a bowl of beer stating BACK CHANNEL BREWING CO filled with a light pink sour beer sitting on the wooden table

Midtown Global Market

A very fun internationally themed market with stalls inside selling food & other goods from different vendors. Coming to Midtown global market is a way to truly travel all over the world without even leaving Minnesota. This is a great thing to do when the weather is cold or not the greatest as you can stay inside.

Eat some great food

Minneapolis is known for being the home of the juicy lucy burger. There are a few restaurants in Minneapolis that claim to be the original creator of the juicy lucy. That just makes it more fun because then there are many places across the twin cities you could try! I definitely have my favorite not only because of the juicy lucy there but there’s also an appetizer that is so delicious that I always have to get as well. Take a peek here and see if you can determine which location is my favorite. You definitely want to try a juicy lucy out while you’re in the Twin Cities if you’re a fan of cheeseburgers, just trust me on this one.

Beyond cheeseburgers, the options for food are endless with so many places offering brunch, great taco restaurants, barbecue, pizza, ethnic food and many of them are great local gems to try. Definitely seek out some non chain restaurants although the Twin Cities has an abundance of chain restaurants as well.

Scope out a great view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline

Although Minneapolis has a smaller downtown area in comparison to other metropolitan cities, its skyline is spectacular. While you’re here, taking in a view of the downtown skyline is something that you definitely want to experience!. Here’s a list of locations of where to go to get the best vantage point.

View from Plymouth Avenue Bridge to Boom Island Park lighthouse and Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Boom Island lighthouse and view of downtown Minneapolis skyline

What to do in the Twin Cities: St. Paul

Hotels in St. Paul: A few pictured below Hyatt Place St. Paul Downtown, InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront, Covington Houseboat

State Capital in St. Paul

The state capitol is truly a gorgeous building as it was built in 1905. You can learn about the history of the architecture by taking a guided tour of the building.

CHS Field & Xcel Energy Center

Located in the fun Lowertown area of St. Paul, CHS field is a baseball field that hosts the triple A minor league team, the St. Paul Saints. Triple A baseball games are in a much smaller venue and way more interactive vs. MLB games. In addition, CHS field hosts other fun events such as the summer beer dabbler. Plus, the Lowertown area that CHS field is in can’t be beat!

The Xcel Energy Center is the home to Minnesota Wild the NHL hockey team for Minnesota. The venue is otherwise referred to as “The X”. This venue is attached to the St. Paul Rivercenter and throughout the year hosts other events such as conventions and concerts. Its location is close to a lot of bars and restaurants including the Science Museum of Minnesota.

#Only in MN sculpture located at CHS Field in St. Paul Minnesota
CHS Field

Can Can Wonderland

Can Can Wonderland is located right next to one of my favorite breweries that is highlighted in the top 5 breweries to visit in the Twin Cities. It’s a really fun vintage flair arcade for adults. There’s unlimited arcade games, a pour your own beer (and cocktails) station and a full bar with food. In addition to the arcade games, you can also choose to play mini golf. The themed mini-golf round is so fun and all of the holes are really interactive. This is definitely a fun place to spend an evening or a rainy day.

Man playing mini golf at can can wonderland adult indoor arcade in St. Paul Minnesota
One of the many themed holes at the mini golf course at Can Can Wonderland

Science Museum of Minnesota

The Science Museum of Minnesota is located in St. Paul near the Mississippi River and the St. Paul Rivercenter/Xcel Energy Center. Many of the exhibits and experiences here are interactive making it a fun destination for anyone. Some exhibits are permanent while others only temporary. Be sure to take a look at whats currently being offered before you visit.

Minnesota History Center

The Minnesota History Center located in St. Paul is a museum and library that has exhibits available showcasing the state of Minnesota’s past. Many of them being very engaging and interactive.

Historic Summit Avenue

A gorgeous Avenue filled with historic victorian homes. Many of them mansions, make up a stretch of 4.5 miles along Summit Avenue. There are walking tours available that do not go inside of the homes. Every other year there are tours inside of 10-12 of the houses put on by the Summit Hill Association. This easily is the prettiest street in all of the Twin Cities. Depending on when you visit, even if you’re not able to go inside of the houses on a tour, taking a self lead walking tour to view the homes from the exterior is an option.

Shadow Falls hike

The Shadow Falls hike located in St. Paul Shadow Falls Park is such a hidden gem. It’s a short hike with a gorgeous waterfall. Just be weary, in the spring and winter it can be incredibly slippery, muddy & wet. Be VERY careful! The last time I did this hike it was in the early spring and I almost biffed it numerous times into the mud! This small little slice of paradise is located between the University of St. Thomas and and the Mississippi River. You never would guess it’s even there as you start off in a very residential type setting.

Woman standing in front of the waterfall in Shadow Falls Park in St. Paul Minnesota
In front of Shadow Falls

Visit Historic Fort Snelling

Fort Snelling is an iconic location located in St. Paul. It’s a former military fort that has a lot of history. It’s only open for visitors certain times of the year and not every day. If you’re planning on visiting be sure to check in advance what the hours are.

St. Paul Farmer’s Market

The St. Paul Farmer’s Market in Lowertown/Downtown St. Paul is such a fun thing to do after heading to brunch in the area. After strolling amongst the vendors with vegetables, fresh flowers & local homemade goods head to one of my favorite breweries that’s nearby for a pint or two.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

Como Zoo has many different attractions. There are the zoo animals, the gardens, art and different events/attractions. The best thing about Como Zoo is that they are open 365 days a year! This zoo is also free admission, but they do take donations if you’re so inclined.

Keg and Case Market

Keg and Case West 7th Market is an indoor food hall with many different merchants available. There are events that take place here frequently. In 2019, it was voted the best new food hall by USA today. The venue is a former historic brewery so it definitely has the industrial vibes going for it but it’s been revamped and revitalized. This is a good place to go to try the local food and beer of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair only occurs once a year at the fairgrounds in St. Paul. “The Great Minnesota Get Together” occurs from the end of August through Labor Day. Prior to the kickoff of the fair each year, they publish the new food items and more importantly the new beers. Many local Minnesota breweries plan all year to release state fair exclusive beers. Coming in second place as the largest state fair in the United States, this is definitely an event to travel for. (Texas is the largest in the USA, go figure!) Throughout the year, there are other events at the fair grounds.

At the entrance of the Minnesota state fair

What to do in the Twin Cities: suburbs

Mall of America

The state of Minnesota is home to the largest mall in the Unites States. Mall of America opened in 1992, which has over 400 stores and attracts nearly 40 million people each year. Located close to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in Bloomington, Mall of America is a place where you could spend many days. The Mall of America now has hotels attached to the mall, many restaurants, a theme park, an aquarium and of course sooooo many stores and shopping. You can even get here using public transit from the Minneapolis St. Paul airport. One of my favorite times to go to the Mall of america is during the holidays. The decor puts you in the holiday spirit!

Woman standing holding a coffee wearing a winter jacket at Mall of America in Bloomington MN with holiday decor behind her

If you truly want to stay and play, your options attached to the mall include The Radisson Blu Mall of America or JW Marriott Mall of America.

Lake Minnetonka

Located south west of Minneapolis, this is one of the biggest lakes near the metro area of the Twin Cities. There are many options to rent pontoons or boats to enjoy the lake as well as restaurants that are accessible via the water. A few of the most popular bars and restaurants from Lake Minnetonka include Lord Fletchers & Maynards. Lake Minnetonka is a popular spot to be most weekends and especially holidays such as the Fourth of July when many Minnesotans are living that lake life.

Valleyfair Amusement Park

Valleyfair is located in the Southeastern suburb of Shakopee. It’s smaller version of a six flags if you’re familiar with those theme parks. A theme park with standard roller coasters & rides as well as a water park section as well.

Other than the amusement park season Valleyfair typically offers an event around Halloween & an even with Christmas lights during the holiday season as well.

Minnesota Zoo

The largest zoo in the state of Minnesota is located in the southeastern suburb of Apple Valley. Located just a little south of Mall of America. If you’re traveling with kids, between the Mall of America and a day at the zoo it would make a perfect family weekend.

Canterbury Casino & Horse Racing

Located in what has now been rebranded as the “River South” area of the Twin Cities Metro, Shakopee. The main events that take place here are the horse races however, there is also a 24/7 casino and the grounds sponsors onsite concerts as well. All of the details on horse races & other events are located on their website.

Mystic Lake Casino

Located in the suburb of Prior Lake, MN is the casino hotel Mystic Lake. Mystic Lake is more than just a casino, it’s truly a destination in the southern suburbs. It features a hotel, casino, bars/restaurants, a spa and an upscale golf course. Mystic Lake even often has concerts and events onsite.

Top Golf

Top Golf locations are located all over the country. However, in Minnesota it’s nice to have this option especially in the cold winter months. This is a year round destination to golf. If you’re not into simulators in the winter, Top Golf would be the ultimate destination for you. All of the bays where you hit the ball from are climate controlled but it’s a way different experience than an indoor simulator. At Top Golf they also have a full bar and restaurant so it’s perfect for a fun afternoon or night out with friends.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

The arboretum is located in Chaska, a suburb Southwest of Minneapolis. They offer events and seasonal gardens to explore year round. It’s the oldest, largest and most comprehensive horticultural site within the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota’s state fruit, the honeycrisp apple is grown here after the development by the University of Minnesota.

During the winter, they host holiday light events as well as pictured below.

Things to do in the twin cities, visit the mn landscape arboretum in Chaska. Holiday light event in the winter
Winter Lights event

More Minnesota Travel Inspiration

For your trip to the Twin Cities, be sure to check out my Minnesota packing checklist by season to help plan appropriately.

If you’re visiting during the summer months, more inspiration for fun things to do here Minnesota Summer Bucket List.

For more Minnesota travel inspiration, check out my comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon!)

Was there anything I missed that you think is a must do in the Twin Cities? Click on the About Me section to send me an email or leave me a comment below!

THE ULTIMATE TO DO LIST FOR YOUR TIME IN BEMIDJI, MINNESOTA

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

About Bemidji

So, you’re heading to Bemidji, MN and you want to know what to do when you’re there. Here’s a little bit of info about the town before we dive into all of the fun activities!

Bemidji is the official first city on the Mississippi River. It’s characterized by the northwoods outdoors but with small town charm. It is the largest city, according to the most recent census located between Grand Forks, ND and Duluth, MN. Bemidji and is located approximately 218 miles from the metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul & about 233 miles from the Canadian border.

The Best time to visit Bemidji, MN

Truly you can visit anytime of year, but in my opinion the best (and my favorite times) are during fall and summer. In the fall, you will see beautiful fall colors. While in the summer the long lake days turn into perfect summer nights around the campfire.

The weather in Bemidji can be pretty unpredictable. But, in order to help you plan better I have a full packing guide available for your time in Minnesota during any season!

What to do in Bemidji, MN

Lake Bemidji

The lake truly is the focal point of the city. The mighty Mississippi River flows through Lake Bemidji near its beginning in Itasca State Park. Downtown Bemidji is near part of the lake and where many local events take place. The iconic Paul and Babe statue is located on the shore of the lake near the tourist information center.

Bemidji State University

Bemidji State University is a part of the MNSCU college system in Minnesota and on the smaller side enrolling around 5,000 students each year. In my opinion, Bemidji State University has to be one of the most gorgeous college campuses in Minnesota. (I may be partial since I attended here for my undergrad, though!)

Some of the really unique and awesome things about this university and it being right on the lake are the rentals offered for canoes and SUP (stand up paddle boards) in Diamond Point Park and also, being so close to the shore to just take a break and sit near the lake between classes and study.

I’m not sure if they still do this, but when I attended, the frozen lake in the winter was even used as an overflow parking area. That’s not something you hear frequently! It definitely was a unique experience.

Biking & bike trails

The opportunities to bike in Bemidji are abundant. There are many paved trails in Bemidji and beyond making it a great location to navigate to on a bike or to leave from. The Paul Bunyan Trail starts (or ends) in Lake Bemidji State Park. It has 120 miles of continuous paved bike trail.

Personally, one of my favorite bike rides to do in Bemidji is the loop around the lake. It’s approximately a 16 mile loop and goes through Lake Bemidji State Park. The last time we did this the ice was starting to come off of the lake and it was really warm for the time of year it was (April.)

Fishing & Watersports

There are so many lakes near Bemidji that it is definitely the ultimate destination for the fisherman (or woman) and spending time just boating and relaxing on the water is the perfect way to spend a summer day. If you don’t have a boat, there are plenty of opportunities to rent from nearby resorts. You could also choose to hire a fishing guide to take you out.

Visit the Paul Bunyan & Babe Statue down by Lake Bemidji

Be sure to brush up on the legendary story of giant Paul Bunyan (the lumberjack) and Babe his blue ox. Because Paul and Babe were originally from Bemidji, there is a commemorative statue down by the lake of these famous figures that have towered there since 1937.

After you check out Paul and Babe and get your obligatory photos, located right across the road is a fun place for an ice cream treat at Big River Scoop. Open seasonally, so be sure to check their hours to get a tasty treat while you’re in Bemidji, MN.

Lake Bemidji State Park

Located on Lake Bemidji having a bike trail that goes through the park as well as 11 miles of hiking trails makes Lake Bemidji State Park the perfect day while visiting. Be sure to visit Rocky Point Overlook to have a vantage point up above Lake Bemidji.

Bemidji Sculpture Walk

The Bemidji Sculpture Walk is an outdoor gallery located in downtown Bemidji, MN. Every year online they update a live Google Map. Each sculpture also has a QR code for a self lead tour you can learn more about each individual artist and the sculpture with your smart phone.

Parks

There are so many wonderful places to enjoy the outdoors in the Bemidji area. Diamond Point Park is one of my favorites, located right on Lake Bemidji and next door to Bemidji State University it’s a great place for a picnic and to get out on the lake. Cameron Park is another park that’s on Lake Bemidji and is a great place to swim or just hang out near the lake.

Bemidji City Park is a park that can be enjoyed in all seasons. It has a playground, skate park & softball fields, outdoor skating rink, an 18 hole disc golf course & 2 miles of trail.

Bemidji area resorts

There are traditional hotels available in Bemidji as well as some resort options to stay. Ruttgers is one of the oldest establishments in Bemidji right on the lake offering many amenities to both guests and locals alike. Due to the amazing recreation and abundance of lakes up north, there are so many resorts not in Bemidji proper but in the Bemidji area. Depending on what your needs are and what you’re planning on doing while in Bemidji you’re bound to find a great place to stay while you’re there.

Concordia Language Villages

This language “camp” for all ages draws many individuals to the area. Both to study but also to teach.

Funny story, my husband and I were in Ireland getting on a boat to go out and see the Cliffs of Moher from the vantage point of the water and we chatted with a few others on the boat. We were asking each other where we grew up and lived etc. I stated I grew up in Bemidji and a girl about my age said she worked there at Concordia! It was so cool to have that connection and a truly humbling moment to realize it really can be such a small world among vast cultural differences and beautiful countries across the world.

Visit Bemidji Woolen Mills

Bemidji having roots in the lumber industry, Bemidji Woolen Mills is the perfect place to stop and pick up some Buffalo Plaid. (Red and black checked flannel material.) The Woolen Mills has been in Bemidji since the 1920’s and continues to offer traditional clothing & gifts. Buffalo Plaid, Ragg mittens & wild rice are things that signify “Bemidji” and “Up North”.

Cross country/downhill skiing

If you’re visiting in the winter, Bemidji area has over 80 miles of cross country ski trails in the area. Bemidji, MN also has a downhill skiing at Buena Vista Ski Area. Located just 14 miles outside of Bemidji, Buena Vista offers events and attractions more than just in the winter. Renting out their facilities in the summer for weddings and in the fall offering covered wagon rides prior to the snowfall and ski/snowboard season.

Food & Drink

No matter what type of cuisine you like, Bemidji, MN has a wide variety of options. First things first, the best spots for breakfast are: Red Stu’s Breakfast Bar, Raphaels Bakery, and Country Kitchen. Fun fact, I worked at the Bemidji Country Kitchen for years! (from when I was 15 until I moved to the Twin Cities when I was 25!)

If you’re looking for some casual fare for lunch or dinner I would recommend the following: 209 bar, Corner Bar, Wilton LS, Keg ‘n’ Cork, New China, Keith’s pizza & Mi Rancho. Many of these are local bars (dive bars have the best burgers!) and casual establishments. There are some more upscale restaurants in Bemidji but I like to keep it local and keep it casual when I’m visiting.

I wouldn’t say Bemidji is really a beer destination per se, however they do have Bemidji Brewing Company. We’ve been a number of times when we’re in town visiting family and I have been really impressed with how their beer has improved over the years. Now, we always make a point to pop in to try a pint of whatever new brews they have available on tap. Their patio is also dog friendly!

Beers on Bemidji Brewing’s patio

Seasonal Events in Bemidji, MN

One of my favorite Bemidji area seasonal events is right after Thanksgiving, the Night we Light Celebration. It’s the day where all of the Christmas lights that are in downtown Bemidji are illuminated. The event includes the lighting ceremony & a parade. Many of the downtown businesses are selling hot chocolate or running specials for this event. It really kicks off the holiday season in the Bemidji area and is a really fun thing to do. I can remember this tradition from when I was little, throughout highschool and even into adulthood if I am back home in Bemidji for Thanksgiving.

Bemidji Jaycees water carnival is always around the fourth of July and when I was growing up it was down by Paul and Babe. It’s now on the South side of the lake at the Sanford Center parking lot but still a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. Carnival rides and all of the fun fair food treats! I always remember being so excited to go as a kid and we always wanted to go then watch the fireworks on the fourth of July over Lake Bemidji.

Bemidji, MN lake front during the holiday season. Trees with Christmas lights on them behind the Paul and Babe statues and lighted with green and red a #Bemidji with a Minnesota outline in front

Beyond Bemidji: Itasca State Park:

Before or after you’ve checked off what to to in Bemidji, MN you should head to Itasca State Park. The state park is located just 30 miles south of Bemidji and is the state’s oldest state park. My favorite thing about this state park is the fact that you can walk across the Mississippi River.

There is so much to do in Itasca State Park. Going to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, biking on the paved trails throughout the park, renting a boat/bike or kayak to enjoy the park, extensive hiking, taking a boat tour. You really can spend a lot of time here as there are so many services that are offered right within the park. There also are many lodging options throughout the park from camping, cabins, an Inn, Hostel and a lodge.

Beyond Bemidji: Chippewa National Forest

The Chippewa National Forest is located near Bemidji, MN in Cass Lake. It spans three different counties of Beltrami, Cass & Itasca. It is a very vast area spanning over 1.6 million acres! If you’re planning to explore this area, you definitely need to have a plan in advance. The most popular spots include The Lost 40, Stony Point, Star Island and other lake and recreation areas. You could spend a lot of time in this area taking in all of the beauty that Northern Minnesota has to offer.

More Travel throughout Minnesota:

Thinking of extending your trip? Check out my other travel resources within Minnesota including Things to do in Duluth, Minnesota & The Ultimate Minnesota Summer Bucket List.

I also have a comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon) for more details on other areas of the state to give you ideas and inspiration for an amazing Minnesota vacation!

COMPREHENSIVE PACKING GUIDE FOR MINNESOTA IN ANY SEASON

A MN packing guide for year round travel (organized by season)

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

An overview on Minnesota weather

So, you’re headed to the great state of Minnesota and you want to know what is essential to pack for your trip. Minnesota experiences all four seasons and at times the extremes which is why this Minnesota packing guide by season is a valuable tool to planning a trip to this mid western state. Minnesota’s weather can be so unpredictable! (Cue the locals making comments about the great Halloween blizzard of 1991.) But, because of this, Minnesotans truly appreciate the change in the seasons and make the most out of our short but absolutely gorgeous summers!

Now, lets jump into packing for your trip to Minnesota! First, with a few packing pointers then I’ll dive into the specific details for each season.

Minnesota packing best practices

For any season in Minnesota, layers are your best friend! Keep that in mind when you’re determining exactly what to pack for Minnesota. Also, be cognizant of what activities are you planning on doing if you need extra protection from the elements or more warmth. I dress differently during winter when I’m going out to grab a beer or getting dinner compared to spending an afternoon playing ice golf, ice skating or snowboarding spending a majority of my time outside. For that reason, I categorized this Minnesota packing guide by each season and also further broke it down into regular daily activities and outdoor activities so you can plan (and pack) appropriately.

Keep in mind, that although this packing list is comprehensive, it is also subjective. When preparing to travel to another city, state, or part of the world I always encourage you to research the forecast in advance to ensure you’re prepared to your best ability. We all know how unpredictable the weather can be at times no matter where you are in the United States or the world!

Disclaimer:

I generally dress pretty casual, (like brewery t shirts and yoga pants a majority of the time.) but you get the idea based on my recommendations of what would work for each season, you can just tweak it slightly to incorporate your own personal style. (Just use my recommendations as a baseline.)

Let’s get packing

Be sure to start with a great set of luggage. I especially like hard sided luggage because it can get wet and be exposed to elements as well as the ease of wiping it down to clean/disinfect the surfaces after use. I’ve had this three piece luggage set since 2016 and for the price point and amount of times it’s been used, it’s a great option!

Another general item that may or may not be a bad habit of mine, but I always wear sunglasses regardless of the season. My eyes are very sensitive to light so even in the winter with the sun reflecting off of the snow it can be extremely bright! Regardless of the season, be sure to pack at least one pair of your favorite sunnies.

What to pack for Minnesota in the winter

Daily/regular activities:

A warm winter jacket is the main thing to pack for your time in Minnesota! I like down jackets or thicker jackets. Be wary of sizing because you want it to fit well but not be too tight to allow for the possibility of multipe layers underneath.

Personally, I prefer a longer jacket that has a hood. I have this one that keeps me really warm daily in the winter.

Waterproof shoes:

You always want to be sure to have warm and shoes that fully cover your feet so definitely be sure to pack at least a few options for your time in Minnesota. I love pretty much all styles of Sorels. Even the wedge ones are super grippy and great on ice in the winter! (Not to mention, really cute too!) Fleece lined boots are definitely not as cute, but are extremely warm. They’re definitely a winter staple to remain toasty warm. They are perfect when it’s really cold in Minnesota. Uggs are my go to, yes, they’re on the pricier side. But, I’ve had my first pair for over 12 years! The taller boots are great when I will be trudging through the snow a little (like when I take my dog outside on the regular.)

Hats:

You’re definitely going to want a good winter hat or two! I’d pack a neutral colored one and maybe one with a pop of color. I usually coordinate my hats with the jacket I’m wearing and also a scarf (or scarves) as well.

Scarves:

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always loved a tartan plaid scarf. The large ones are so warm and allow you to add to a very basic outfit with some pops of color. Below is one of my favorite go to options.

Mittens/Gloves:

I’ve always been partial to mittens. I just think my hands stay warmer vs. having all of my phlanges separated. These mittens below are my absolute favorite! I have multiple pairs and they last for years, I literally don’t use any other winter mitten. Technically they’re a liner that can be worn inside of a “chopper” leather mitten. But, I’ve always worn them independently and they keep my hands so warm!

Outdoor Activities (snoeshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating etc.):

In addition to everything above, you’re going to want to have some base layers, snow pants, wool socks, heavy duty winter boots & (although I’ve never tried them) heated winter jackets & vests are becoming increasingly popular. If you think you might fall in the snow or possibly get wet via an outdoor activity you should be sure to have waterproof mittens or gloves. (The ones I listed above can get wet really easily and I use them more so for daily wear.)

The main objective to dressing in Minnesota in the winter is layers so be sure to pack accordingly! You can always remove layers so if in doubt, layer up. Even when I’m just doing errands and not really outside for an extended period of time I always bundle up. Starting with a base layer, then a t-shirt or long sleeved shirt over with a sweater on top. You’ll always want to be sure you bundle up then be sure to add a scarf, hat, and jacket.

What to pack for Minnesota in the fall

Daily/regular activities:

Mid to light weight jacket a fleece jacket (or a similar weight jacket) is perfect during the fall. A mid weight zip up is so easy to layer with other clothing items. You can layer this either underneath or over other clothing items. It’s a great mid weight for the in between chill that you could experience during the fall in Minnesota. You definitely want to pack something similar to the below for your trip to Minnesota!

A down vest is a perfect in between seasons fall staple. It’s not quite cold enough for a full winter coat but you need just a little warmth. A down vest is perfect! You can add it on top of a long sleeve T or a zip up mid weight fleece or a sweatshirt/sweater. A down vest is the most versatile fall piece I constantly wear during the chilly weather transition.

A lighter scarf such as a pashmina is perfect for fall. You won’t necessarily need a really heavy scarf, but if it’s a little windy, you’ll want something.

sneakers or booties (these are both great for fall into winter). The main thing for fall is to avoid sandals or open toe shoes as it can get pretty chilly.

 

Outdoor Activities:

If you’re spending any time outdoors while in MN in the fall you will want to pack a winter hat and some light mittens or gloves in addition to all of the items listed above. Especially if you’re spending time outdoors in the evening it can get on the colder side.

What to pack for Minnesota in the spring

Daily/regular activities:

You will need a light weight rain jacket. This time of year tends to be rainy, sloppy and muddy as snow is melting and the ground is becoming exposed after the long winter months.

A mid weight jacket/sweater to layer underneath is very helpful as well on the cooler spring days. In addition to that, you will want t-shirts or lighter blouses in case you get a surprisingly really warm spring day.

Outdoor Activities:

You may want a winter hat or light gloves/mittens. However, unless I’m outdoors for a long period of time I typically skip them in the spring.

Definitely do not wear newer light colored shoes! Spring can get so crazy muddy in Minnesota. Be sure to bring a rain boot or something that can withstand puddles & mud.

Having a packable travel umbrella is a great idea as well!

What to pack for Minnesota in the summer

Summer literally is the season of all seasons in Minnesota. It’s the reason why most of the locals stay after enduring the winter. It’s warm, but generally not too crazy hot and we have so many lakes for all of the swimming, boating and outdoor activities. If you’re planning on traveling to Minnesota during the summer, check out my Minnesota Summer Bucket List for fun things to do!

Daily/regular activities:

Cotton tank tops, t-shirts, jean shorts or sundresses.

Outdoor Activities:

dry fit clothing (I seriously cannot stress this enough!) It gets really humid in Minnesota in the summer and especially if you plan on hiking or being out on the lake boating, kayaking or on a stand up paddle board you’re going to want something that’s comfortable, breathable and dries relatively easy. I would pack a decent amount of tank top options and some t-shirt as well, but that also is personal preference.

Shorts, yoga pants & jeans.

For the evenings or if it’s rainy and cool outside: cotton t-shirts, a mid weight jacket/sweatshirt and a light weight rain jacket.

A swim suit to enjoy all of the amazing lakes!

I always have a baseball hat or two packed for weekends when I’m hiking, camping, or out on the lake a bunch. The sun can get really intense off of the lakes and rivers and burn your face really easily. I usually prefer a trucker hat just because I feel they’re not as hot, but anything to shade your face will work just fine!

casual sandals (that can get wet), keens, hiking boots & sneakers are my staples in the summer. Especially for all of the time spent outdoors on the weekends.

Something that you might overlook when determining what to pack for your trip to Minnesota would be sunscreen & bug spray. These items are especially important if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors or at a cabin/on the lake.

Packing list by Season

Beyond what to pack for a trip to Minnesota

For more Minnesota travel inspiration, check out my comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon!)

ULTIMATE MINNESOTA SUMMER BUCKET LIST

Your checklist for the perfect summer in MN

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

Welcome to your best summer ever with this bucket list as your guide to plan activities during one of the best seasons in the state of Minnesota. It includes activities to do across the state for a summer to remember!

Minnehaha Falls

The falls are located in a Minneapolis city park. Truly fun in any season, but especially in summer when the falls are rushing and you are able to hike down and around the falls. Minnehaha Falls makes a great evening outing or afternoon to add to your Minnesota summer bucket list. There are many amenities here to enjoy so it makes it a perfect destination for some summer fun right in Minneapolis.

Take in a sporting event

Whether it’s your niece or nephew’s t-ball game, going to an MLB MN Twins game at Target Field, a minor league Saints baseball game at CHS Field or MNUFC soccer game at Allianz Field. Being outside in the Minnesota summer, taking in the game atmosphere, having a beer and some food is one of my favorite things to do during a warm summer afternoon or evening. I don’t think I’ve had a summer in over 10 years (aside from 2020, insert eye roll here) where I didn’t at least go to one summer sporting event. Which is why a sporting event is definitely a must do on your Minnesota summer bucket list!

CHS field in St. Paul is located in the fun Lowertown area of the city and within walking distance to one of my favorite breweries that I highlight in “The Best Breweries in the Twin Cities“. So, that’s almost like a two for one, take in a game and grab a pint before or after!

view of Minneapolis skyline from Target Field stadium home of the Minnesota Twins baseball team in the MLB
Downtown Minneapolis skyline from Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins baseball team

Canoe down the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls/Interstate State Park

From Interstate State Park, you can rent a canoe or kayak to float down the river. Included in your rental is a shuttle back to your starting point at Interstate State Park. You can, choose to just purchase the shuttle service if you have your own canoe or kayak. It’s cheaper if you book in advance. Make sure you pack sunscreen, wear a hat & pack snacks/beverages in a cooler. There are plenty of places to stop along the route, hop out and have a picnic and relax for a bit. We even brought our dog with and he absolutely loved it.

small black boston terrier pug with an orange life jacket on splashing in shallow water on the st. croix river in Minnesota during the summer

Take a bike ride

Minnesota has an incredible paved biking system all over the state. You definitely want to include enjoying some of them to your Minnesota summer bucket list. One of my absolute favorite bike rides includes looping Lake Bemidji & riding through Bemidji State Park.

The MRT (Mississippi River Trail) spans the Mississippi River for over 800 miles! Take in scenic views and break up different routes along the trail for a truly amazing experience.

Another great trail, that isn’t a part of the MRT and requires a fee to use is the Cannon Valley Trail from Cannon Falls to Red Wing, MN. This trail is historic as it’s built on the former Chicago Great Western Railroad. The trail is open year round for use but biking it during the summer is a definite must do experience.

In central Minnesota, the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area has extensive mountain biking trails as well as a paved bike trail. The lakes nearby are a beautiful shade of blue and you could enjoy them as well after ward by paddle boarding or canoeing.

woman standing in front of the lake bemidji state park sign with bikes nearby
Biking in Lake Bemidji State Park during the spring. (summer is gorgeous!) But when the weather is this great in April, you take full advantage!

Eat some delicious ice cream

Dairy Queens are abundant in Minnesota, however there are many amazing artisinal ice cream shops that deserve a visit for your Minnesota summer bucket list. Whether you’re a chocolate connoissuer or prefer fun and unique flavors you will find something for everyone at many different ice cream shops across the state.

Some of my favorites include: Big River Scoops (Bemidji, MN), Honey & Mackies (Plymouth, MN), MN Nice Cream (Minneapolis, MN), Milkjam Creamery (Minneapolis) & Gordy’s Hi Hat (Cloquet, MN) for amazing shakes & malts! Now, the hardest part is deciding what to order once you get there because you’re going to want one of everything.

Head “Up North” (To the North Shore)

Up North by a Minnesotans definition, is pretty much anywhere in the state north of Brainerd, MN. Another descriptive factor is if it’s in the 218 area code. Having grown up a 218er, I refuse to give up that area code. If you know, you know!

Spend some time outdoors on the North Shore enjoying Lake Superior by taking the North Shore Scenic Drive. Before venturing further north, there are a ton of fun things to do in Duluth, the city that I refer to as the gateway to the North Shore.

Venturing up past Duluth, the North Shore offers a lot of great state parks, hiking opportunities, waterfalls, lakes and fresh air. The opportunity for fun is endless from just a long weekend to a week or more on the North Shore. It’s my favorite part of the state to have an outdoor adventure. Aside from dealing with the up north Friday rush; spending time away from the Twin Cities is a must for your Minnesota summer bucket list.

Beautiful tettegouche state park river and part of lake superior and the lush trees and green forest
Tettegouche state park with Lake Superior in the distance on the North Shore of Minnesota

Explore a State Park

There are many amazing state parks throughout Minnesota. Some are even an easy day trip away! I’m partial to Itasca State Park located in Park Rapids, MN with the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The state parks that are along the river on the eastern part of the state are so beautiful as well! It’s hard to have a favorite honestly. Along the bluffs of the river, not only in the summer but is spectacular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors! Some other favorites, such as Tettegouche are up the North Shore along Lake Superior.

Woman staring out onto the falls and river at Tettegouche state park in Minnesota in the spring

Boundary Waters

Otherwise referred to as BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area.) The boundary waters is one of the more remote areas within Minnesota. Unspoiled areas of wilderness where the cell service is lost and you can truly immerse yourself in nature. Whether you decide to do a full outfitted canoe trip into the BWCA and camp in one of the back country campsites or stay at a nearby resort and just take a day trip into the BWCA. There’s an option for everyone!

Most people will enter the boundary waters by way of the town of Ely, MN. There are several local outfitters that are experts. They will help you plan your trip and outfit the gear for you including guide services and obtaining the necessary permits.

Have a Lake Day

How would this even be a Minnesota summer bucket list without a lake day? Minnesota is known as the land of ten thousand lakes, but in reality there are actually more than 11,000 here. You can’t go far without spotting some shore line. When the days get long, hot, and humid grab your pals and cool off at the local beach. If you have access to one or you could rent a boat to take out on the lake. A really relaxing and serene afternoon or early morning outing to the lake is gliding across the water on a stand up paddle board (SUP). Many regional beaches and lakes will offer rentals for these as well.

If you’re lucky enough, you have a lake cabin or at least a relative or friend that has one or shares one with family that you can go to for a long relaxing weekend. So many Minnesotans retreat to the lake weekends filled with long days in the sun then late nights around the camp fire enjoying some beverages and roasting marshmallows for s’mores. It’s truly what Minnesota summers are all about!

beautiful pink and colorful light blue sunset over a glass calm lake and trees towering in Northern Minesota in the summer
Lake days in Minnesota during the summer are the best when they end like this!
colorful paddle board with a paddle on it and an open beer in a coozie on a calm Minnesota lake in the summer
A few of the best things: good beer & lake time!

Cool Down with some Craft Beers at a local brewery

There are so many craft breweries all across the state. A bulk of my favorites are within the Twin Cities area. Check out my favorites here. And if you’re up for a brewery adventure or an all day event, more details on how to organize a brewery crawl using public transportation in the Twin Cities.

If you’re heading up North to Duluth, be sure to catch a few brews at one of my favorite establishments detailed here.

We take patio season pretty seriously in Minnesota so you should definitely hit up an epic one as a part of your summer bucket list.

Minnesota State Fair

The “official” end of summer is the Minnesota State Fair that occurs from the lasts Thursday in August through Labor Day ever year. They announce in advance the new food and Minnesota State Fair exclusive beers for the year to try. It’s a full review process where you make a list to ensure you try all of the new intriguing offerings as well as your favorite items. Some of my favorites include: Mini donut beer, Grain Belt Blu beer (with the slushy topping), Big Fat Bacon, Cheese Curds & deep fried pickles.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest and most well attended state fairs in all of North America. That alone totally justifies a spot on the Minnesota Summer Bucket List!

Woman wearing a baseball hat and a camo t shirt holding up a pink cotton candy beer at the minnesota state fair
In 2019, one of my favorite new beers was the Cotton Candy IPA

Beyond your Minnesota Summer Bucket list: More Minnesota travel info

Check out my Comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon) for more details on other areas of the state to give you ideas and inspiration for an amazing Minnesota summer vacation!

YOUR ULTIMATE TO DO LIST IN DULUTH, MINNESOTA

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

Where is Duluth Located?

Duluth is located in the northeastern part of the state of Minnesota. You could almost consider it the armpit of the state as it located right where the state juts even more to the east. Pretty much everything from Brainerd, MN north is considered “Up North” from a locals perspective. Duluth, Minnesota is a port city on Lake Superior with plenty of attractions and things to do whether you want to be indoors or out. Perfect for a get away any time of year!

I consider it the “gateway” to the North Shore as it’s always a stop for me whether it’s a few hours or a day before heading to the smaller towns and more of a remote experience on the North shore along Lake Superior.

Why Duluth?

Especially living in the metro area, Duluth is a great spot to head for a long weekend. It has a lot of great things to do, places to eat and drink but also has more of a chill outdoorsy smaller town vibe. The number one reason that keeps drawing me back is the fact that the views are amazing!

Duluth is such a great getaway from so many different locations in the state. Even if you’re not a local, it deserves some time to explore. You could choose to drive to Duluth or fly in as Duluth does have a small airport. I may be biased as a Minnesota local, but I typically like to drive just due to the fact that so many of the things you’re going to want to see you need a car to navigate to them.

Places to stay in Duluth

Duluth has many budget options as well as pricier more resort style options. Keep in mind that the swankier it is and the closer it is to Lake Superior will have an effect on the price point.

One of the newer hotels that has many amenities and is located near Canal Park and the Lake is Pier B Resort. Mentioned below under seasonal events, Pier B has a great view during the holidays of Bentleyville Christmas lights. If you’re really into craft beer like I am, check out Fitgers Inn for historic lodging in the same building as the Fitgers restaurant/brewery. If you love watching ships and you want to be close to all of the action and the aerial bridge, South Pier Inn would be the spot for you! There are several different lodging options in the Duluth area from more upscale to rustic.

Click here to explore more places to stay and plan your weekend getaway or a longer vacation to Duluth, Minnesota today!

Radisson Hotel Duluth-Harborview

Things to do in Duluth, Minnesota

Lakewalk Trail

The Lakewalk Trail is a great way to take in the scenic views of Duluth by walking near Lake Superior. This waterfront lakewalk trail starts in Canal Park. This walk spans 7 and a half miles. It is mostly paved with some areas having more of a boardwalk under foot.

I have such great memories of the lake walk trail from walking it with high school friends when we visited our friend at UMD to strolling down by the lake the day after my husband proposed to me.

The lakewalk is a great way to take in views of the lake and get some extra steps in!

Lake walk that starts in canal park along lake superior
Taking a stroll along the Lake Walk after getting engaged the previous day

Aerial Lift Bridge

The aerial lift bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in Duluth, Minnesota. This historic landmark has been renovated multiple times for different reasons but has been an icon in Duluth since the early 1900’s. Once the bridge is lifted, 180 feet of clearance is granted. The most surprising thing is that the bridge weighs 900 tons! This bridge is truly unique as there is only one other bridge in the world that is similar located in Roen, France. In the 1970’s the Aerial Lift Bridge of Duluth was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

An iconic and fun experience while in duluth is watching the bridge go up and a large ship to pass through. Click here for information on the ship schedule and when you can expect the bridge to be lifted while you’re in Duluth.

Canal Park

Canal Park is a really fun and lively area of Duluth. It’s comprised of many restaurants, bars, hotels & being near the aerial lift bridge makes this destination a no brainer for anyone visiting Duluth.

One of my favorite restaurants for years and years in Canal Park is Little Angie’s. Tex Mex is literally my favorite type of cuisine and it’s so hard for me to say no to it! (Plus, margaritas! YUM!) My absolute favorite thing on the menu is the chicken fajitas. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out what kind of sauce it is, but it’s dang delightful! I’ve never had better fajitas than at Little Angie’s.

Lake Superior

Being originally from Minnesota and surrounded by many lakes my entire life, I’ll still never get tired of Lake Superior. Of the great lakes, it’s the largest and most northern lake of them all. It houses over 10% of the world’s fresh water so I guess you could say it is the greatest of the great lakes.

Duluth sits near the mouth of the St. Louis River, at the western end of Lake Superior, which means there are many great site seeing opportunities. Imagine experiencing a sunrise or sunset over the waters of Lake Superior with Duluth off in the distance. You could experience Duluth, Minnesota from a different vantage point from the harbor and on the water in front of Park Point on Lake Superior. You could choose to book a boat charter to go fishing/sailing on the lake in the spring or summer.

Craft Beer in Duluth

Duluth has a number of great spots to have a pint or two. Many different craft beer venues make their home in Duluth, Minnesota making visiting a brewery (or two) a great thing to do while there. Check out my full post here on the best craft breweries in Duluth. I’ll be honest, I’ve spent the greater part of a handful of weekends in Duluth hopping from place to place.

Another fun event that occurs in Duluth is the All pints north beer fest. This typically is a rain or shine event and features many amazing MN breweries. It’s definitely a great excuse for a summer weekend in Duluth Minnesota!

Bars/cocktails in Duluth

I usually visit breweries over straight up bars. But, I have spent many evenings years ago at Dub Linn Brew Pub. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with an Irish pub! I just absolutely love the made from scratch food & Irish vibes. Their whiskey selection is very extensive as well if you prefer spirits.

Speaking of spirits, Vikre Distillery is a great spot for some fancy cocktails. They tend to mix things up seasonally in terms of cocktails as well as offering fun things like an outdoor ice bar when only outdoor dining was available. Bonus, it’s located really close to the aerial bridge and in canal park! If you’re walking around canal park or staying near here, you definitely should pop in for a refreshment.

Restaurants in Duluth

Of course, with exploring & adventuring comes having some great food to fuel up with. Eating is always one of my favorite things to do and that’s no different when I am in Duluth, Minnesota. Covering many different cusines, some of my favorite restaurants in Duluth include: Duluth Grill, OMC, Northern Waters Smokehaus, Hanabi, Little Angie’s.

Breakfast/lunch: Duluth Grill

Duluth Grill is a great spot for breakfast. Be sure to get there early as they’re a really hoppin’ place. They offer delicious breakfast fare, great coffee & brunch cocktails.

Barbecue: OMC

OMC stands for oink, moo, cluck and is phenomenal barbecue. I talk a little bit about it in my craft beer post as well. Due to the location being near Bent Paddle, it’s a great idea to grab some beers and food and get cozy in the taproom for a chill afternoon or evening.

flights of beer and barbeque take out from OMC smokehouse in Duluth MN
flights of beer and barbecue take out from OMC smokehouse in Duluth MN
Upscale Deli: Northern Waters Smokehaus

Northern Waters Smokehaus is amazing! I had this spot on my list to check out for far too long and it was definitely worth the wait. Everything we ordered was so good! If you’re a fan of fish, you definitely want to be sure to order a sandwich with smoked salmon on it. I was skeptical at first but I absolutely love any type of seafood and now it’s going to be hard for me order anything else on return visits.

Sushi: Hanabi

Hanabi actually has a few sister restaurants that are located in the north metro area that we go to every so often. I honestly was really surprised to have such awesome sushi in northern Minnesota. If you’re a fan of sushi, this is definitely the best spot in Duluth to go.

Tex Mex: Little Angie’s

I already touched on it a little bit above, but Little Angie’s is amazing Tex Mex! Not only ae their margs great I recommend the chicken fajitas & chile rellenos. You won’t be disappointed! The food is great, plus the proximity to the lake walk either before or after you eat is perfect!

Glensheen Mansion

Constructed in 1908, Glensheen mansion is a large 20,000 square feet, 39 room mansion located next to Lake Superior. Historic grand estates, in my opinion are so intriguing. In 1977, there were murders that took place which gives this grand home an eerie vibe. There are several books that you can read to learn more about the murders & trials surrounding the crimes. You can purchase them here.

Currently, the historic home is managed by the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD). The grand estate hosts several events throughout the year and you can even choose to tour the grounds. There are different options of viewing the whole property or only a portion of it.

Enger Tower

Enger Tower is a fun stop to climb and take in views of Duluth, Lake Superior and beyond. Perched atop a location in Duluth that was once known as “Grand Mountain”, Enger Tower is an 80 ft tall tower located in Enger Park.

Keep in mind, the tower is only open seasonally and it does get pretty windy and cool up at the top. The tower is completely open and doesn’t have much wind break as it’s completely open to the elements. It opens in May and closes at the end of October. Essentially, it is closed during winter.

North Shore Scenic Drive

The North Shore of Lake Superior starts from Duluth all the way up to Grand Portage near the Canadian border. This scenic route includes 8 Minnesota State Parks & has earned a National designation of “All American Road“.

This drive is on Minnesota State Highway 61. From 35 in Duluth, you proceed onto highway 61 and it continues north east toward Canada. This stretch of road and the towns, state parks & views are what encompasses “The North Shore” in Minnesota.

The route from Duluth to Grand Portage is almost 150 miles, however, you don’t have to venture far from Duluth to see some gorgeous views. Like some of the State Parks listed below.

Jay Cooke State Park

Before you get to Duluth, about 10 miles south of the city is Jay Cooke State Park. With dramatic rocky landscape, the rushing river & the famous swinging bridge this state park deserves a visit regardless what season it is. I’ve been in the spring which was perfect for hiking, however, have heard that it’s the place to be in the fall when all of the leaves are changing. There are so many fun places along the side of the trails to go out on the rocks and see different parts of the river.

Despite being dubbed “the swinging bridge”, the bridge actually is pretty stable, it’s a 220 ft long suspension bridge crossing the St. Louis River. While we were there once we had the opportunity to watch some kayakers go over the rapids and under the bridge. I don’t know that I’d be brave enough to do that but it was really fun to be an onlooker!

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Now moving on to state parks that are north of Duluth. Just a little bit of a drive north from Duluth, you can visit several awesome State Parks near Lake Superior including Gooseberry Falls & Split Rock Lighthouse. Gooseberry Falls State park is located 40 miles north of Duluth, so within an hour drive making it a great day excursion to go to both from Duluth. Gooseberry Falls is especially gorgeous in the Spring & Fall. My husband and I actually got engaged here in the fall years ago so it holds a lot of special memories for us.

If you only have a few hours to explore, it’s easy to park at the visitor center and walk the falls trails. It’s an extremely easy hike as much of the path is paved as you make your way to Middle Falls. You can hike to upper, middle and lower falls all having a great view. Typically the water is the most active in the spring when the snow is melting and it’s getting warmer out. Another great idea while in the park is to plan ahead and pack some food for a picnic (Northern Waters would be a great option!) and drive to the picnic flow area at Gooseberry where you could enjoy your lunch and also explore the basalt rock shore and beaches along Lake Superior.

Split Rock Lighthouse & Split Rock State Park

Just about 6 miles more north from Gooseberry Falls is Split Rock Lighthouse and Split Rock State Park. So it’s about 50 miles from Duluth to Split Rock State Park. It definitely makes for an iconic photo opp of the rugged rocky landscape of Lake Superior with Split Rock Lighthouse in the distance.

Split Lighthouse itself, is a destination with a historic site and museum where you can actually tour the lighthouse. But, there is also another location nearby to get the pictures you want with the dramatic cliff and lighthouse in the background. In order to get these pictures, you’re going to want to go into the trailhead and camping area. (This entrance is prior to the turn off to the lighthouse if you’re heading there from Duluth.)

Directions to the perfect photo location of Split Rock Lighthouse: enter Split Rock State Park and take a right toward the campground. Park at the trail center. Continue toward the building to the left and take “Little Two Harbors Trail” for an epic view and photo location of Split Rock Lighthouse and Lake Superior.

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

If you’re into history, this Lake Superior Railroad Museum is located in a former train depot featuring vintage trains/locomotives. Some exhibits are indoors while others are outdoors.

But, what’s more fun is that the North Shore Scenic Railroad actually has train rides you can take departing from the historic Duluth Union Depot. The route includes, downtown Duluth, Canal Park, along Lake Superior and north of Duluth. There are several different themed train ride events that are available as well.

Duluth Curling Club or Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC)

Growing up curling, I spent a handful of weekends competing in bonspiels at the DECC. It definitely brings back fond memories. The town of Duluth has a very well rooted curling community & many of the Olympic curlers claim Duluth as their home ice.

The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) bulldogs hockey team also has their games at the DECC. This event center hosts conventions, expos, concerts and other large events in the Duluth area.

Seasonal Activity: Biking

Spirit Mountain is the only lift access mountain biking available. But, there are other biking trails in the Duluth area as well. These include: Mission Creek, Hartley Park, Lester Park, Piedmont, Mont du Lac and Pokegama. Keep in mind that most are Intermediate/Advanced with the exception of Spirit Mountain & Mission Creek.

Seasonal Fun: Spirit Mountain

Technically Spirit Mountain is a year round destination. But, in my mind I always think of snowboarding and skiing over anything else. Spirit Mountain is located a little bit outside of Duluth proper but it’s definitely one of the better places to go for downhill skiing and snowboarding in the state of Minnesota.

I’ve stayed onsite here in the ski in and out villas, they’re super comfortable and will accommodate larger groups or families. I’m a huge fan of ski in and ski out accommodations making it easy to put food in the crockpot or to pop in mid day for a sandwich.

Seasonal Events: Bentleyville

Bentleyville is an experience! Along the shore of Lake Superior, it is a Christmas Light event to make even the Grinch excited for Christmas. The holiday light display illuminates and shimmers off of Lake Superior making it a holiday must do.

Honestly, the best location to stay if you’re planning on traveling to Duluth for Bentleyville is Pier B. You can avoid the hecticness of parking at Bentleyville and hop on the shuttle from your hotel. Some of the hotel rooms even have views of the festive holiday lights.

The Christmas lights from Bentleyville shimmering off of Lake Superior. Photo taken from Pier B Resort.
Photo Taken from Pier B

Seasonal Events: Grandma’s Marathon

This annual road race is held in Duluth every June. Other than the marathon, the whole weekend has many events surrounding it in the Duluth area and the city is buzzing with people and energy. Registration begins in the fall for the event. I know many people who had ran this marathon many times, but running really isn’t my cup of tea. If you’re not a runner, there are droves of people that come to spectate the event as well.

Beyond things to do in Duluth, Minnesota:

Check out my comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon) for more details on other areas of the state and things to do!

Was there anything you thought I missed? Send me a message or comment to let me know!

THE BEST BREWERIES IN DULUTH, MN

Duluth, Your gateway to the North Shore & Lake Superior travel in Minnesota

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Duluth has a long history of beer brewing, but what are the current best breweries in Duluth, MN to visit? Read on to find out which ones are the must stop breweries for the best beer in Duluth, MN!

About Duluth, MN

Duluth is considered “up north” if you’re from the state of Minnesota. Pretty much the whole part of the state that uses the area code 218 is considered “up north”. Where the winters are cold but the summers are beautiful and the views no matter the season are top notch.

Duluth, Minnesota is an easy drive from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul by heading north on 35W. Depending on where exactly you’re leaving from in the metro area, the time of day (and if there’s traffic) the drive usually takes about 2 1/2- 3 hours. Holiday weekends in the summer and especially Friday evenings when everyone wants to get in some cabin/camping/lake time you better account for some extra transit time. Duluth is also really easily accessible from Bemidji or the Mesabi iron range (Grand Rapids, Coleraine, Hibbing) as a straight shot east on Hwy 2.

Duluth is a gorgeous town and a perfect weekend getaway from many locations in the state. From the dramatic shores of Lake Superior and rolling hills to perch a top and have a view out over the lake and beyond it’s truly stunning in every season. It’s located just across the bridge from Superior, Wisconsin. Duluth truly has something for everyone, the scenic views to take in, sites to see, things do as well as great restaurants & of course craft breweries! (I mean that last one is pretty much the main reason you’re here, right?)

So definitely make your way up to Duluth for at least a day and then continue on up the North Shore of Lake Superior for some hiking, skiing or camping (depending on the time of year!) The Duluth and North Shore area of the state boast so many things to draw in visitors.

The History of Beer in Duluth

The beer brewing industry isn’t a new or trendy thing in Duluth, it just looks a little different these days. Duluth has been in the beer brewing industry since 1859 which is right around the time . The current craft beer scene has definitely evolved. No matter what brewery you’re talking about one thing is the same superior ingredients (lake superior water) see what I did there?! make great beer. So, be sure to try some of these delicious brews your next time in town or enroute to a Lake Superior/North Shore adventure. Now lets get to the best part, the beer and best breweries in Duluth, MN!

The Best Breweries in Duluth, MN

Fitgers

Fitgers is Minnesota’s oldest brewpub so that in and of itself is really cool! (If you’re into beer and history that is.) Plus their food is really legit! One of my favorite things on the menu is their wild rice burger. Wild rice is abundant in Minnesota as it has more acres of natural rice than any other state in the country. This is definitely something that you could bring home as a unique souvenir from your time in Minnesota.

This brew pub also holds a lot of memories for me personally. It was one of the places I always had to go to when I was in Duluth even if it was just to grab a growler (when most places still filled growlers!) of my favorite apricot wheat beer. I remember going there prior to a beer fest with friends and I actually ate lunch there with my (now husband) prior to getting engaged at Gooseberry Falls just north of Duluth.

Fitgers actually has an Inn located in the same historic building as well. Click here to check it out! I’ve never stayed there but would love to at some point. I mean, what’s better than grabbing beer at one of the best breweries in Duluth, MN and actually staying really close? That’s a winning combination for a beer cation in my opinion!

Girl wearing a buffalo plaid down vest with sunglasses on her head sitting in a bar smiling cheersing with a dark beer
Cheers to dark beers at Fitgers in Duluth! (I had no idea in a few hours I would be engaged to my forever travel partner!)

Bent Paddle Brewing

It’s no surprise that Bent Paddle is one of the best breweries in Duluth, MN as it’s one of the most well known Duluth breweries across the entire state. They distribute much of their beer all across all of Minnesota. Again, this brewery holds nostalgia for me as their cold press black (coffee beer) was one of my go to selections for many years.

When they first opened they were in a smaller space but they have since upgraded. After getting engaged, we had a few celebratory beers here at the old location. I am still fond of their new space, they have one of the coziest taprooms. I just love their big booths although in a large space seem somewhat private and you can truly relax. Located really close to OMC Smokehouse, getting takeout from there and enjoying it with your brews makes for a perfect afternoon or evening.

Black List

Located off of East Superior street on the opposite side of 35W from Lake Superior and just a hop skip and a jump from the canal park area in Duluth, Black List is truly a destination that will appeal to anyone.

They offer beer, seltzer, snacks & even axe throwing. This would be a great destination for an event or party. Their “Kind of a Big Dill” pickle flavored beer is great in the taproom or to take home and make a bloody mary later.

Hoops Brewing Company

In my opinion, Hoops is my absolute favorite brewery in Duluth, MN. It’s located in the historic canal park area and had an amazing cherry pie beer when I was last there. I was very surprised how great their taplist was for being a newer Duluth brewery in comparison to some OG’s.

Like many taprooms, Hoops allows you to bring your own food into the beer hall and even offers suggestions. My suggestion would be to order sandwiches from Northern Waters Smokehaus. They will deliver directly to Hoops! Also, the smoked salmon is phenomenal! You really can’t go wrong with any of their wraps, sandwiches or salads. Just thinking about the sandwich I had there is making my mouth water. Seriously! It’s that good, don’t snooze on eating there while you’re in Duluth, MN at one of the best breweries!