Guest Blog Post by Expedition Kristen
Visiting Duluth in the Winter is Magical
Last weekend Nic and I went on a quick getaway to Duluth. We left the Twin Cities around lunch time on Friday and stayed through Sunday. Although the trip was only a few days long, it was so nice to have a change of scenery and go somewhere new.
Because of COVID, my husband and I have been working from home for the past ten months, like many other people. And, January in Minnesota is always difficult. It’s after the excitement of the holidays, yet the days are still short and cloudy, and the bitter cold can make walks with my dog a trudge. Time away was necessary for both of us. Read on for my ideas on a winter weekend getaway to Duluth.
Initially, we planned to stay at a bed and breakfast, but just two days before our trip the owner canceled because she was feeling ill. Due to COVID neither one of us wanted to take any chances. I’m very much a planner, so having no place to stay two days before leaving was not exactly how I wanted this to play out. However, because it is January and there are plenty of options, we had no trouble finding a place to stay. Within hours we had a new hotel booked.
Duluth has a ton of options from bed and breakfasts, to boutique hotels, Airbnbs and everything in between. When narrowing down your search, I suggest you first start with what part of town you want to be in. We chose to stay in Canal Park because we wanted to easily walk around and not drive everywhere. We grabbed take out, went to outdoor patios and sat in the harbor watching the waves crash. Being able to walk to all of that was really nice. You can find cheaper options on the outskirts of town, just know you’ll need to drive to get to most of the hot spots, and sometimes parking (especially in the peak summer months) can be a real challenge.
With all of that in mind, we chose to stay at The Inn on Lake Superior. There, you can expect large clean rooms, a great view of either Lake Superior or the Aerial Lift Bridge, free breakfast, access to lakeside fire pits and free s’mores and friendly staff. Note, because of COVID nobody will come in to tidy up your room during the day. If you need fresh towels or more coffee and soap, you’ll need to request it.
A few other places worth considering are:
There are so many great places to eat, it’s hard to pick where to go! We grabbed pizza from Vitta Pizza one night and brought it back to our hotel to have with wine. Another night we grabbed take out from OMC Smokehouse. I had the brisket sandwich and it was so flavorful and tender.
The only time we did indoor dining was at Fitger’s Brewhouse for a late lunch. We were in the corner and had plenty of space between us and other people. It’s still a little odd to eat indoors and I don’t prefer it, but it was nice to do it once. Nic and I shared the pretzel appetizer, and we both ordered fish sandwiches, which is locally caught from Lake Superior. Plus the Fitger’s brewed beer is great! I had the apricot beer and I’d recommend it. Some other notable places to eat include:
There is also a great brewery and distillery scene in Duluth, and many of them have outdoor heated seating right now. We grabbed drinks at Vikre Distillery one night. They converted part of the parking lot into a heated outdoor space with string lights and music. And the best part, their wooden benches are heated! It was amazing. Other fun places to grab drinks in Duluth include:
Stop by Free Air Life Co. for amazing clothing, jewelry and gifts. Their mission is “to find unique story-driven brands that appeal to niche markets combined with eco-driven and eco-conscious partners. To support eco-sustainability through proceeds or profits from sales of our products.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Many items in the store are made from local Minnesota businesses, focused on giving back to protecting the planet. For example, one of the hats I picked out is made by North 61, an environmentally conscious, family-operated company inspired by Minnesota’s North Shore. Their website says, “North 61 values people and planet above profit.” So spend some time shopping at Free Air Life. Co and you’ll feel good about where your money is going.
I also stopped into The Lake + Co., which has a pop up store in the heart of Canal Park. They are a socially conscious magazine and shop that supports adventure, innovation, conservation, and community. As you can see, I’m drawn to businesses that focus on adventure and putting planet earth first.
Lastly, we stopped into Bookstore at Fitger’s. My husband is always interested in checking out local bookstores, so we took a spin through there and he picked out a couple books for himself.
Pro tip: This bookstore is inside the Fitger’s mall. It’s on the lower level and the directional signs were not great, so it took us a few tries to find it. Also, know that masks are required inside all shops right now.
For an incredible step back in history, you’re going to want to visit the Glensheen Mansion. The Congdons were an impressive family of very forward thinking people. If you’ve never visited Glensheen, I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list. They reopened the weekend we visited after being shut down for a while due to COVID. Their Christmas trees and decorations are whimsical and beautiful, and you can even go snowshoeing on the property. Here are a few fast facts:
If there’s only one point to make about the Congdon family, it’s that they weren’t just a wealthy family. They were brilliant, creative, kind and so far ahead of their time in terms of their ideas and accomplishments. My husband and I agreed this was the highlight of the weekend. Plan to spend about 1.5 hours taking the tour throughout the house and walking around the property. We’d like to return in warmer weather to see the gardens.
Regardless of the weather, I highly suggest you spend at least a little time in nature while visiting Duluth. There is no shortage of hikes, overlooks, and parks where you can get some of the best views in Minnesota. We took a walk through Congdon Trail, which was beautifully wooded and covered in snow. Another day, we drove up to the Enger Tower for a breathtaking view of Duluth Harbor. We hoped to do more hiking, but because it snowed, melted, rained and froze a few days before our trip, the trails became packed down ice and were difficult to walk on. We kept our walks short and mostly to paved sidewalks whenever possible. A few places I recommend for less icy days however, include:
Although this trip was a quick one, it was so nice to take a few days to be in nature and relax. Because of COVID we rarely eat out, and we also don’t get take out that often because my husband enjoys cooking. It was so nice to try new food, check out the distillery and just have a change of scenery.
I don’t yet know what travel will look like in 2021, but I do plan to carve out more time for mini-getaways like this one. I think I learned in 2020 to view vacations differently. They don’t have to be two weeks in Europe or an expensive cruise. It doesn’t have to be tons of money or vacation time. Sometimes it’s taking a 2.5 hour drive and having a reason to get out of my sweatpants!