Duluth, MN Weekend Getaway to the North Shore
Sweet lake breezes, chirping seagulls and the smell of fresh cinnamon-roasted nuts and popcorn for sale along the boardwalk may bring memories of a seaside getaway. But for this getaway, be sure to head north. Just a few hours north of the Twin Cities and on the edge of the North Shore, Duluth, MN provides a weekend getaway for just about any desire. Hike or sail by day, shop and dine in the evening or take a fishing excursion or historic tour. Duluth has near endless opportunities to fill a weekend away.
- Best Bets
- Things to Do
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay
- When to Go
- Getting There
Seaside Town in the Center of the Country
Duluth is named for an early fur trapper who came to the area to make peace with the Ojibwe and Sioux tribes, in hopes of establishing a trading relationship. It wasn’t long before business was booming in the port town. In the late 19th century, the city was the only U.S. port with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and by 1869 it was the fastest growing city in the country.
A stock market crisis caused the majority of the city’s residents to leave, but when financier Jay Cooke, for whom the nearby state park is named, convinced the railroad to connect St. Paul to Duluth, the town again became a central focus for business. By the end of the 19th century, Duluth had more millionaires per capita than any city in the world. It was also the leading port city in the United States, surpassing even Chicago and New York.
The city thrived in the early 20th century, shipping grain, high-grade iron ore and timber. In the 1950s though, high-grade ore was replaced by low-grade taconite, and ore shipments declined. By the 1970s, the American steel industry was challenged by foreign competition, leading to the closure of several plants in the city, along with related industries like cement and shipbuilding. It was the decline of the city’s industry that led some to say Duluth was “where the Rust Belt began.”
Since that time, the city has revived and focused on arts and tourism, opening the Canal Park district with hotels, shops, restaurants and galleries, today attracting more than 3.5 million visitors a year.
Duluth, MN Best Bets
- Book a room at the historic Olcott House Bed & Breakfast, or overlooking Lake Superior at historic Fitger’s Inn. Enjoy shopping and dining just steps from your room in the Fitger’s complex.
- Shop in Canal Park. Don’t miss Duluth Pack, and several galleries including Sivertson’s and Waters of Superior.
- Plan a Lake Superior fishing charter. Half or full-day charters are available. August is a prime month for most types of Lake Superior fish.
- Take private sailing lessons from certified instructors through the Duluth-Superior Sailing Association. Plan a captained or bare boat charter through Sailboats Inc. in nearby Superior.
- Stop for a beer tasting at Fitger’s Brewhouse for a tasting (try the Big Boat Oatmeal Stout), or order a flight to try them all, including the seasonal varieties.
Things to Do
A Day of Shopping
When the weather’s nice, Duluth’s famed Canal Park will be buzzing with activity, as shoppers dot in and out of galleries, gift shops and outfitters, joggers and rollerbladers cross by on the Lake Walk, families pedal by on surrey bikes and children chase the seagulls and toss stones in the Lake. Every half hour the ringing bell warns drivers that the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge will be going up, as fishing vessels and sail boats wait patiently to cross out to sea.
A trip to Duluth wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Canal Park. Canal Park offers quaint shops and is most known for its galleries, featuring works from local and national artists. Along Canal Park Drive, Sivertson Gallery offers Northwoods style art, unique jewelry, handmade soaps and candles. It is one of two Sivertson Galleries on the North Shore; the sister gallery is located in downtown Grand Marais.
Nearby Waters of Superior features hand-crafted housewares, like river rock welcome mats and pottery, glassware and other artwork. Women’s clothing brands include casual wear by San Francisco-based Bryn Walker and LA-based Chalet, and travel and outdoor clothing by Royal Robbins. Other brands include hemp-based clothing by Two Star Dog and resort and casualwear by Nomadic Traders.
Other galleries include The Blue Lake Gallery and Art Dock in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, featuring handmade pottery, paintings, glassware, wood craft and other art. While you’re shopping, stop at Northwoods Confections and Gifts for homemade chocolate and candy. Hepzibah’s Sweet Shoppe in the DeWitt marketplace and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory also offer handcrafted sweets. Also in the DeWitt-Seitz building, stop into Northern Waters Somkehaus for fresh smoked fish, fine cheeses, oils and vinegars and picnic supplies. On a sunny day, enjoy fish and cheese in the park as you watch boats sail by.
Another must-stop destination is Duluth Pack, the North Shore’s famed outfitter and clothing store. Named for its rugged leather and canvas backpacks, the store also sells canoes and oars, camping and cooking supplies, gifts like handmade soaps and décor. Clothing brands include Kavu, Marmot, Northface and Patagonia footwear. While you're there pick up a six pack of Dorothy’s Isle of Pines Root Beer - a classic BWCA root beer with a great story.
Just up the Lake Walk, the Fitger’s complex offers a variety of specialty shops, including Wintergreen Northern Wear, offering outdoor clothing for men and women; Andi’s Closet women’s clothing and accessories; United Colors of Benetton men’s and women’s clothing; Snow Goose gifts; Trail Fitters outdoor gear; and Fitger’s Wine Cellars, offering local wines and beers, as well as numerous favorites. The Brewhouse Beer Store offers Fitger’s own brews to take home. Stay for a tasting to find your favorite.
After an afternoon of shopping, watch the Lift Bridge or enjoy a walk along Lake Walk. Canal Park also offers carriage rides May-October, with no reservations needed.
Beyond a relaxing day of shopping, Duluth is a prime spot for adventure. Lake Superior is an excellent location for sport fishing for lake trout, salmon and walleye. Several area charter services are available for half and fall-day excursions on the Lake, as well as the St. Louis River. Check the Duluth Charter Fishing Guides Association for a list of experienced captains. In general, fishing is good May through September, with August being a prime month for most types.
The Vista Fleet cruise line offers a three-course sunset dinner Thursdays through Saturdays, Spring through Fall. Check for the summer Champaign cruises, including a five-course dinner and Champaign.
Another way to explore the Lake is via kayak on the Lake Superior Water Trail. The trail begins at the mouth of the St. Louis River in Duluth, and once completed it will extend around the entire Lake. Completed segments offer carry-in and water access, kayak campsites, parking and rest areas along the lake. Look for kayak guides or rentals at local outfitters.
Guide services, such as Outdoor edVentures, offer not only kayak tours, but other adventure sports like dogsledding, rock and ice climbing, and canoeing. Learning centers like Wolf Ridge also offer tours and instruction geared for families.
In the winter, nearby Spirit Mountain offers 22 runs, 22km of cross-country ski trails, and a year-round alpine coaster. Beyond Spirit Mountain, there are 10 cross-country ski trails within Duluth, and numerous others up and down the North Shore. The Duluth Cross Country Ski Club, duluthxc.com, offers a list of trails and downloadable trail maps. Ski rentals are available at ski centers such as Sprit Mountain and Snowflake Nordic Center, and at several outfitters and resorts. In addition to skiing, Duluth also offers miles of snowmobile trails, including the Munger and 153-mile North Shore Snowmobile Trail, and managed snowshoe trails. Many outfitters, ski areas and resorts, such as Beacon Point, rent snowshoes.
Great Sailing on the Great Lake
Standing on the Lake Superior shore, it’s easy to forget you’re not at the ocean. Containing 10 percent of the world’s fresh water, the Lake is large. Though it has a reputation for offering formidable sailing conditions and cold water – averaging 40 degrees – its breathtaking scenery and cool breezes keep sailors coming back.
Whether you’re an experienced sailor, novice or never set foot on a sailboat, Duluth has options for sailors of all levels of experience. Duluth-Superior Sailing Association and Sailboats Inc. in nearby Superior, Wis., are two places to go for sailing lessons. Lessons involve both classroom and on-water training, and Duluth-Superior Sailing Association also offers advanced/race training. Sailboats Inc. also offers captained and bare boat charters.
Before heading out, talk to an experienced sailor or instructor, or check out a guide to the lake, such as Bonnie Dahl’s Superior Way, known as a Lake Superior sailing “bible.”
A popular destination on the Lake is the Apostle Islands to the east. The chain’s largest island, Madeline, offers a quaint getaway and is a popular sailing destination. Or enjoy the tree-lined North Shore as you sail north.
For an evening out, The Duluth Playhouse features local and professional artists performing such hits as White Christmas, Chicago and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as new musicals and plays. At the Renegade Theatre Company performers offer a full mainstage theatre season, plus children’s performances and improve. In addition to theatre, Duluth is also home to a symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra and opera company.
Several museums offer an afternoon of activity and learning, including the Great Lakes Aquarium highlighting ecosystems of the Great Lakes, and the modest Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center where visitors can monitor shipping traffic as ships approach and depart the canal. The S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat is open for tours May through October. Glensheen, a 39-room 39-room Jacobean Revival mansion built in 1908, is open for tours year round, with special holiday tours in December.
For a great view of the Lake and Lift Bridge, visit Enger Tower Park in the middle of town. The park is named for a successful Norwegian immigrant, and is centered by a garden and stone tower overlooking the harbor. The park was dedicated in 1939 by the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, and now includes a Japanese peace garden.
Or view the scenic North Shore by train. The North Shore Scenic Railroad offers tours between Duluth and Two Harbors daily. Special trips include the Pizza Train, elegant Dinner Train, Murder Mystery Train, beer tastings, fall colors tours, and the Polar Express during the holidays.
Where to Eat
Duluth has numerous restaurants rivaling metropolitan areas. Its Highway 61 “Culinary Highway” just outside of downtown is quickly becoming known as a destination dining location, offering inventive menus and items from casual lunches to fine dinners.
For steak, try Pickwick, a favorite among Duluthians since 1913. Restaurant 301 in the Sheraton offers an American style menu of steaks, pasta, sandwiches and salads. The recently renovated JJ Astor on the 16th floor of the Radisson offers a classic rotating top floor, with some of the best views in town. The menu offers favorites like pan-seared walleye, pork tenderloin, ribs, meatloaf, steaks and burgers.
Valentini’s in downtown Duluth and Bellisio’s in Canal Park both serve home style Italian. Valentini’s has an extensive menu of Italian classics, while Bellisios offers a wide wine selection.
Lake Avenue Café, also in Canal Park, offers such adventurous dishes as rabbit confit and ox tail lasagna, along with lambchops, pheasant breast and pork tenderloin on veal marrow risotto.
Grandma’s is a Duluth classic for casual burgers, sandwiches and salads. The lines will be long, but worth the wait. Nearby, Little Angie’s Cantina serves Mexican, with an outdoor patio in Canal Park overlooking the Ariel Lift Bridge and Lake.
Another casual favorite is Fitger’s Brewhouse, offering handcrafted beers, burgers and sandwiches, and live entertainment.
For breakfast, try Amazing Grace Bakery Café in Canal Park and Pizza Luce (yes! a popular breakfast and weekend brunch location).
A visit to Duluth wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Takk for Maten, offering the best pies – and a host of Scandinavian dishes – in town.
has a modern northwoods feel.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re arriving for a romantic weekend, a family getaway or a weekend with friends, Duluth has numerous lodging options.
AG Thompson House offers seven rooms in a 1909 Dutch Colonial house overlooking Lake Superior. The Inn sits on two acres and was designed by Minneapolis architect Edwin Hewitt, who also designed the Minneapolis Club, Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church and other well-known buildings across the state.
Nearby, the Olcott House was named one of the “Most Elegant” bed and breakfasts in the country by Arrington’s Bed & Breakfast Journal, a fitting title for this 1904 Georgian Colonial Revival. The Inn offers five suites in the mansion, plus one in the carriage house, and is located on the east end of Duluth, just five blocks from Lake Superior and the extended Lake Walk.
For a downtown rest, check into Fitger’s. Adjacent to the Lake Walk with rooms overlooking the Lake, Fitger’s offers classic style, with brick walls and classic furniture. The hotel provides easy access to shopping, dining and nightlife in the historic building, or enjoy ice cream at Bridgeman’s overlooking the Lake.
Nearby, Canal Park Lodge offers a modern northwoods feel on the Lake and within Canal Park. Complimentary breakfast includes eggs, omelets, waffles and other hot breakfast items, and onsite pool, fitness center and massage offer relaxation after a day of adventure.
Just outside of downtown and Canal Park, Beacon Pointe offers luxury suite, condo and penthouse rentals with amazing lakeside views. Rooms include kitchenettes or full-size kitchens, LCD TVs with DVD player, and some rooms include wood floors and gas fireplaces. The resort offers an indoor pool and hot tub, on-site bon fires and smores, a fitness center, message and rentals including kayaks, mountain bikes, snowshoes, and cross country skis.
When to Go
Duluth is a beautiful city to visit year round, but is most admired in the fall for the beautiful North Shore fall colors and crisp air. In the summer, the breezes off the lake bring cooler air than other areas of the state. And in the winter, Duluth is an excellent spot for winter sports, including both downhill and cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Duluth is easy to get to on Highway 35, south on Highway 61 from the North Shore, or Highways 2 or 53 from the Iron Range. Duluth also has an international airport, with service from Delta, United and Allegiant airlines, with non-stop service from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago-O’Hare, Las Vegas, Detroit and Orlando-Sanford.
For a more unique arrival, board Travel Dynamics International’s Clelia II, a 100-person cruise ship offering Great Lakes tours, beginning in Niagara Falls and ending in Duluth. The eight-day cruises board in Tornoto and stop at Niagara Falls, Manitoulin Island Ontario, Mackinack Island Michigan, Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan, and Thunder Bay Ontario before ending in Duluth (reverse cruises are also available).
Cruises take place June through September, and music, history, health, photography and technology-themed cruises are available. Guest rooms, which were refurbished in 2009, offer twin/queen convertible beds, marble vanities, teak floors and other amenities. On-site amenities include a restaurant and two lounges, gym, salon, boutique, hot tub and deck space for relaxing. Reservations include all meals, tours and excursions and open bar.
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