From tree-lined avenues with late Victorian charm to clusters of homey cafes and artsy boutiques, Minnesota claims its share of classic American main streets.
Visit these charming downtowns ideal for leisurely strolls, unique shopping, and wrapping your hands around warm cups of coffee or chilled microbrews while taking in the local vibe.
Check out Water Street and the lakefront in this upscale, hip community hugging Lake Minnetonka. Here you can paddleboard and reward yourself with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream at Tommy’s Tonka Trolley, try the beers at Excelsior Brewing Company, or opt for a smooth whiskey and live music at Jake O’Connor’s Public House.
Nestled along the St. Croix River and facing Wisconsin, this beloved downtown offers riverfront dining, gondola and tour boat rides, and hands-on Italian cooking, summer barbequing and other classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Leave plenty of time for shopping at boutiques filled with antiques, books, home decor, German Christmas imports and culinary tools along one of the state’s oldest main streets.
Tucked away along the Minnesota River Valley not far from Highway 169, this little hillside town feels like a step back in time, with a soda fountain in its Main Street drug store, an antique shop in an 1850s log cabin, and a new addition, a mural and bench erected in memory of Minnesota's own Prince. The entire street is a nationally registered historic district, and the town hosts a Classic Car Roll-In every Tuesday in the summer.
Bountiful baskets of flowers flowing from lamp posts, the Mississippi River meandering in the background and the venerable St. James Hotel have helped Red Wing land on lists of the world’s top historic destinations. Don’t miss the Red Wing Shoe Store & Museum (home to the world’s largest boot), the Uffda Shop that reflects Minnesota’s Nordic heritage, and the historic depot that still welcomes train passengers and doubles as an art gallery.
Start the day with coffee or creative soups from Brewed Awakenings before following the Yellow Brick Road to the shops at historic Central School at Pokegama and Fifth Street. Learn about logging, hometown girl Judy Garland, and don’t forget to snap a photo with the Paul Bunyan-sized Adirondack chair.
Few towns reflect Minnesota’s love of the outdoors quite like Ely. Canoe- and kayak-topped cars are parked along Sheridan Street, where specialty shops such as Steger Mukluks, Piragis Northwoods Company and others are ready to outfit visitors for year-round wilderness adventures in the Boundary Waters. To enjoy an expert’s eye for northern beauty, browse the gallery of internationally known photographer Jim Brandenburg.
If it’s a rainy summer day, expect this town to be hopping even more than usual with Brainerd Lakes area visitors who come for “up north” souvenirs at the Totem Pole, Rebecca’s whimsical purses and dollhouses, a breezy read from Turtle Town Books, and sweets galore at The Chocolate Ox. Don't miss the famous turtle races held throughout the summer.
About two hours north of the Twin Cities, this town along the Mississippi River inspired a young Charles Lindbergh. Today’s visitors can soak up the town’s proud history from its downtown murals along Broadway and First Street. A vintage marquee lights up each night at the Falls Cinema, live music drifts out of the Great River Arts building, and you can dine among local souvenirs at A.T. The Black and White. Listen for the river pounding over the dam and echoing whistles of trains chugging by.
Stroll down shady Lincoln Avenue, not far from the Otter Tail River, to find a good read and fun cards at the century-old Victor Lundeen Company; catch a concert at A Center for the Arts; savor a beef commercial sandwich at The Viking Cafe; and find whimsical and sassy gifts at The Market.
Main Avenue shops and restaurants are so popular in this northern Minnesota town, it’s super-sized in width to allow parking in the middle of the street as well as the sides. Try the wild rice casserole at The Good Life Cafe, browse craft and quilt stores, find patio chairs and cabin decor, and watch Aunt Belle’s Confectionary cook up a kettle of buttery caramel.
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website lisamcclintick.com. A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.
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