Minnesota, the North Star State is a water-abundant destination, home to a glut of charming locales. Surrounded by countless wilderness areas, the smaller towns are remote for a perfect respite from the city fumes, yet most are proximate to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Replete with natural and historic charm, Minnesota's most charming towns offer waterside relaxation and beaches, as well as fresh-air outings along the nature trails for a weekend respite to shop and dine amidst plentiful attractions for any taste.
The charming town of Biwabik with deep roots in iron ore mines in the north of the state is a gateway into Minnesota's true wilderness. The former home of the indigenous Ojibweis in the water-rich region is now a summertime destination for fresh air pursuits with easy access to the lakes with a swimming beach, campground, and boat launches. Biwabik downtown, just 60 miles north of Duluth, offers fun attractions like green parks for strolls and scenic dining with water views.
Hike through the Superior National Forest, or the lush pine glut of state forests surrounding Biwabik, and seek out the major biking trailhead of the paved Mesabi Trail. Enjoy canoeing from the Boundary Waters, and return in winter for cross-country skiing and the Giants Ridge ski resort, one of Minnesota's best, just ten minutes away. Check out the downtown area with a distinct Bavarian flavor, along with several annual events like one of the region's biggest 4th of July Festivals.
The small and pretty town of Ely is a beloved destination on the Vermilion Iron Range, at an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Settled originally as Florence, the town thrived with iron ore during the Lake Vermilion gold rush. Today, the 4,400-square-meter wilderness area is one of the world’s most-famous canoeing destinations and the most popular in the US for canoeing and fishing. There are rentals and shops for unequipped travelers, like Steger Mukluks and the Piragis Northwoods Company.
Immerse in a natural haven along several wilderness trails like the Echo Trail former logging road, and the Trezona Trail to the old iron ore mining operations. When the hunger pangs strike, head downtown with a share of restaurants and cafes, and quench your thirst at one of the independent pubs and bars. Enjoy the area’s northern beauty from the eye of an expert at the international photographer Jim Brandenburg’s gallery.
The waterfront community of Excelsior is a hip destination with Water Street and lakefront hugging the southeast shore of Lake Minnetonka. Stroll the postcard lakeside with a fun atmosphere and local attractions like ice cream shops, cute cafés, and boutique storefronts. Enjoy a popular paddle board route to Tommy’s Tonka Trolley for ice cream, or stop for a scoop at the Sebastian Joe. Dine on fresh tacos at the Lagos Tacos, followed by an excellent evening at the Excelsior Brewing Company. The town only 25 miles west of the Twin Cities is a quick escape with a resort vibe along the public shoreline and Victorian grandeur in the downtown district.
Head to the Excelsior Commons or Port of Excelsior historic waterfronts for maritime views, swimming beaches, and picnic areas. Join in on annual events at the Commons, like the vibrant lakeside Fourth of July Celebration and the "Art on the Lake" in June. Discover regional history on a tour from the Port via a "streetcar boat" that lay at the bottom of the lake for half a century. Steamboat Minnehaha was raised in 1980, restored, and turned into an exciting living history museum with guided weekend cruises.
Grand Marais is a waterside paradise in Cook County, translating as the "Great Marsh" in French, founded and named by the French explorers on the marsh during the early fur-trading times. The town thrives through outdoor tourism with an idyllic location near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Find the North Shore town 110 miles north of Duluth along the gorgeous Lake Superior and choose the Thomsonite Beach Inn & Suites for your nightly rest after all the scenic outdoor ventures.
Grand Marais is an art colony with talent depicted along the streets and throughout many galleries in town. There are numerous vibrant festivals like the July's Dragon Boat Festival with dragon-shaped boats and drummers. Come in August for the renowned Fisherman’s Picnic that commemorates shoreline potlucks from the heyday of logging and commercial fishing. Seek nature at the bounding Grand Portage State Park, the proximate Sawtooth Mountains, or along the nearby Gunflint Trail. Treat yourself or stock up on souvenirs along the charming downtown with stops like Drury Lane Books and Sven and Ole’s.
The small town of Grand Rapids with just over 10,000 residents and a name full of promises delivers on a gateway into the naturally-rich Northwoods of Minnesota. Grand Rapids is the hot spot for vacationers in the state for over a century, replete with cultural pursuits and outdoor adventures. Enjoy the scenic three-hour drive from Minneapolis, with the start of the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway right in Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids offers attractions for all interests, including golf courses, performing arts venues, public parks, and other cultural outlets. The small town is the famous birthplace of Judy Garland, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, with a museum in her honor. The Mesabi Trail also starts in Grand Rapids for the pedal-powered explorers along the famed 150-paved mile bike route that connects various scenic communities.
The lovely town of less than 1,000 has enough charisma to wow on a peaceful getaway in a small-town atmosphere along the charming streets aligned with historic buildings. Stop at the Henderson Road House for a morning grill-up before heading to the popular Henderson Classical Glass for an eye feast. Stock up on some beautiful glassware to feel like a royal in your kitchen upon return. The scenic early fall time is best for a zipline flying adventure with the Kerfoot Canopy Tour over colorful foliage.
Find the town near highway 169, enviously tucked along the Minnesota River on a hillside steeped in time. Stroll the main thoroughfare, a nationally registered historic district in its entirety, and stay until Tuesday during summer for the iconic Classic Car Roll-In. Try the nostalgia-dripping soda fountain at the Main Street drug store, and shop for antique treasures in a local store set up from an 1850s log cabin. Do not forget to take a selfie with a mural backdrop on a bench honoring Minnesota's own Prince.
Lake City spreads along the border between Goodhue and Wabasha counties along Lake Pepin, a wide section of the Mississippi River. Originally a port settled by Jacob Boody, the town thrived through regional transportation and its own grain market. Lake City is an attractive destination amidst scenic surroundings with an active lakefront, and home to the waterskiing inventor, Ralph Samuelson. Go swimming during summer or learn to waterski in the town that has mastered the sport to a "t".
Enjoy your favorite water pursuits, along with hang gliding, sailing, and golfing in the area, or head for a relaxing paddleboard ride from Pearl on the epitomized Lake Paddleboat. Seek historic charm and maritime views along the lovely waterfront, complete with a sprinkling of modern attractions and amenities. Enjoy the laidback Nosh Restaurant & Bar with good eats and have a restful night at the hotel Willows on the River to recharge for the next day of scenic activities on the lake.
The list of the most charming towns in Minnesota would not be complete without the state's Bed and Breakfast Capital, Lanesboro. Choose from a vast array of accommodations in this southern part of the state for a unique and cozy stay that will suit any taste and budget. Start the day with a float down the river on a tube, followed by an artsy afternoon along Lanesboro's walkways replete with galleries.
Explore the quaint downtown with a rustic mid-American vibe along the architecture-laden streets, and a population of under 1,000. The small-town charm extends into the vast nature with scenic strolls through southeastern Minnesota’s bluff country. Seek the best water views along the popular Root River State Bike Trail, right through Lanesboro’s 19th-century heart. Peruse through a wealth of local restaurants and shops, with recreational pursuits like swimming, floating, and fishing, just a hand's reach away.
Visit New Ulm and feel transported into Germany, just 95 miles from the Twin Cities in southern Minnesota. The quaint town settled by German immigrants in the mid-19th century is a perfect cultural respite for a taste of Bavaria seeping from historic sights, heritage insights, and traditional events. Head to Hermann Heights Park with the 102-foot Hermann Monument that celebrates the person responsible for German independence. Enjoy picnicking at the nearby Johnson Park, followed by a visit to the authentic Glockenspiel with three daily performances.
Seek out more history at the Brown County Historical Society Museum and end the night at one of the local bars over a pint, like the August Schell Brewing Company, the state’s oldest family-owned brewery. There are tons of shops including the longtime charming Domeier’s with interesting finds, and MN Eis for ice cream and classic German spaghetti. The charming "City of Festivals" offers a unique range of annual events with admission-free fairs, classic car shows, and cultural festivals. Experience the Bavarian Christmas with lights and traditional holiday events.
Nisswa exudes charisma from all pores, initially named the "Smiley Township," with a homegrown feel on a delightful getaway from the city. The town with a charming name derived from the Native American Ojibwe word for the "middle” is set surrounded by waters and the immense Gull Lake. It is a popular tourist destination for coffee lovers with a glut of charming cafes that help replenish energy for all the activities.
Stop by the region-renowned Stonehouse Coffee to sample delicious coffee and buy some fresh store-roasted beans. Check out the atmospheric Adirondack Coffee, the first gourmet coffee shop in central Minnesota, and swipe your card on repeat at the nearby popular Zaiser’s shoe store. Work off that chocolate snack from the Chocolate Ox on a ride along the Paul Bunyan Bike Trail through town and landscape around with water views.
The birthplace of Minnesota with a population of 19,000 people has a long history and the most charismatic landscape for those who visit today. Established in 1848, the lovely enclave nestled along a bluff on the St. Croix River is a short drive from Wisconsin. Stillwater offers an idyllic waterside location to escape from the city into a deeply historic downtown replete with modern attractions.
Visit the most-notable landmarks like the ancient courthouse and lift bridge, and stroll along Main Street, through Minnesota’s 166 years of history. Stillwater is the ultimate weekend getaway amidst dramatic natural vistas like no other, with river views to one side and rocky outcrops to the other. Explore the scenic landscape on a stroll along local shops and restaurants, and join in one of the many festivals and events, with the most charming during Christmas time.
The North Star's charm resonates along these vibrant townscapes that will imprint in memory as the most charismatic on the coziest getaway from the city. Visit beach resorts, the birthplace of Minnesota, or even other countries for scenic strolls through historic centers with colorful architecture and modern attractions. Choose one, just a quick jaunt away from the Twin Cities, and be charmed amidst a regional destination for art lovers, or during endless ventures in nature.