Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior.

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Minnesota

Minnesota is well known for its vibrant cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which boast thriving arts scenes, delicious food, and diverse communities. It is even the home state of music legends like Bob Dylan and Prince. But away from big city living, Minnesota invites visitors to explore its delightful small towns like Grand Marais on the north shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, the shoe town known as Red Wing, and the pretty little town that introduced the world to waterskiing. Discover the rich heritage of towns like New Ulm and Lindstrom, indulge in a little retail therapy in Excelsior, and plan your next getaway to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes."

Grand Marais

Grand Marais Light against the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains on Lake Superior
Grand Marais Light against the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains on Lake Superior.

Grand Marais is a charming waterfront harbor town on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, home to less than 1,500 residents. For panoramic views of the surrounding lake and area, walk along the breakwater to the historic Grand Marais Lighthouse—a square skeleton-style lighthouse built in 1885. The Lightkeeper’s House, constructed in 1896 and listed on the National Register of History Places, is located near the lighthouse and is now the Cook County History Museum, allowing visitors to learn about the region's history while exploring a 19th-century home. While there, hike the 1-mile out-and-back trail to Artist’s Point, a flat rock peninsula on the lake, to enjoy the stunning lake views that have inspired artists for years.

Another worthwhile hike in and around Grand Marais is the Devil’s Kettle Trail, a 1.9-mile out-and-back trail in Judge C.R. Magney State Park that takes visitors along the Brule River to the mysterious Devil’s Kettle Waterfall. Why the mystery? A large rock outcropping splits the Brule River into two, and one side of the river plunges 50 feet down a cliff into Lake Superior while the other side disappears into a deep hole. No visit to Grand Marais is complete without a visit to the small red-and-white shop known as World’s Best Donuts—a local landmark since 1969.

Red Wing

The beautiful Minnesota town of Red Wing at dusk.
The beautiful Minnesota town of Red Wing at dusk.

Red Wing, tucked along the banks of the Mississippi River, has a rich history in the shoe business. Visitors can explore the town by visiting historic downtown Main Street, and find the famous Red Wing Shoes flagship store. Invented by a German immigrant who saw a need for sturdy, durable work boots for workers in logging and mining. The 1905-era iconic work boots are as old as the town itself and were the footwear worn by American soldiers in World Wars I and II. Downtown Red Wing also has a variety of eclectic shops, antique stores, and dining options, like the Uffda Shop for imported Scandinavian goods, Red Wing Confectionary, and Pottery Place Antiques, one of the largest antique shops in Minnesota.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love the serenity and natural beauty of the He Mni Can-Barn Bluff, a prominent landmark overlooking the town and the river. Considered sacred by Indigenous people, the bluff is the site of many burial mounds.

Lake City

The marina at Lake City, Minnesota.
The marina at Lake City, Minnesota. Image credit Yuan2003 via

Lake City is on the shores of Lake Pepin, the widest lake on the Mississippi River. The small town is also the birthplace of waterskiing, invented in 1922 by an 18-year-old daredevil who used boards for skis and a clothesline as a tow rope. Today, Lake City still celebrates Ralph Sameulson, the inventor, and pays tribute to the sport of waterskiing the last full weekend every June with a city-wide party, classic car show, concerts, and a water skiing show. There are plenty of outdoor aquatic activities on the lake, including boating, fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Lake Pepin Kayak & Paddleboard Outfitters offers rentals and many trip suggestions, from adventure creeking through obstacles to sunrise paddles surrounded by wildlife on The Frontenac Pond.

Downtown Lake City is where visitors will find bistros, unique attractions, and one-of-a-kind shops, like the Chickadee Cottage Café and Gift Shop for classic American breakfasts or afternoon tea.

New Ulm

Glockenspiel in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Glockenspiel in New Ulm, Minnesota. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock

New Ulm is a charming town about 95 miles southwest of Minneapolis. If the sign reading "Willkommen" doesn’t give it away, the town is known for its rich German heritage, historic sites, and a reputation for its cultural festivals. It's the home of Schell's Brewery, founded in 1860, and the largest brewery in Minnesota today. In town, the Glockenspiel Clock is a quirky 45-foot-tall exhibit whose 37 bells chime throughout the day while historical wooden figures from the town’s history rotate on a stage during performances. Another significant tribute to the town’s German roots is the 102-foot Hermann Monument within Hermann Heights Park, which celebrates a leader of German independence.

New Ulm is also known as a "City of Festivals," so timing is everything when planning a visit to the pretty town. Yearly events range from the Auto Fest on June 30, 2024, to the Bavarian Blast from July 18 to 21, 2024, where locals and visitors can enjoy a sauerkraut-eating contest, barrel rolling, live music, and a beer garden. HermannFest takes place in the shadow of the Hermann Monument on September 7, 2024, or book an overnight stay on one of the first two full weekends in October 2024 for one of the best Oktoberfest celebrations in the US and enjoy yodeling, stein holding, and axe throwing competitions.


A telephoto shot of rural Lindstrom, Minnesota, and the Iconic Teapot Water Tower.
A telephoto shot of rural Lindstrom, Minnesota, and the Iconic Teapot Water Tower. Image credit Sam Wagner via Shutterstock

Lindstrom, or "America's Little Sweden," offers a blend of outdoor activities and cultural attractions—many of which celebrate the town’s Swedish heritage. Named after founder Daniel Lindstrom in 1880, the town grew as more Swedish immigrants settled in Lindstrom to start new lives. The 20-mile Swedish Immigrant Regional Trail runs through Lindstrom and offers a mix of historical exploration with interpretative signs and hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities. A trip to the 125-acre Allemansratt Wilderness and Swedish Heritage Park is another perfect spot to enjoy the great outdoors. “Allemansratt” is a Swedish philosophy that means to grant everyone access to public or privately owned land. The park includes a 14-acre secluded lake, wetlands, a 5-acre island, a 33-acre peninsula, and an 1853 homestead.

The Karl Oskar House (Nya Duvemåla) was built in the 1860s and draws visitors from around the world; it is named after a fictional home in the novels of Vilhelm Moberg, who visited the area in 1948. The author wrote an acclaimed series of stories based on the region, and a statue of its main characters—Karl and Kristina—is in the west end of town. Finally, the town of Lindstrom pays tribute to its Swedish heritage and community during Karl Oskar Days from July 10 to 13, 2024


Aerial view of Excelsior, Minnesota.
Overlooking Excelsior, Minnesota.

Excelsior is a pretty waterfront town on Lake Minnetonka. The town is 20 miles west of the Twin Cities and was founded in 1853. It is a popular weekend getaway from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Downtown Excelsior is full of neat shops and eateries, so stroll downtown and enjoy a walleye sandwich on the patio at Maynards, visit the independent bookstore, Excelsior Bay Books, or stop by Tommy’s Tonka Trolley for a salty caramel or Oreo ice cream. Enjoy a glass of wine at Haskell’s with a view of the lake, or visit the taproom at the Excelsior Brewing Company to try a “pilot brew”—a beer that has not yet hit the market.

The Excelsior Commons and the Port of Excelsior are great places to enjoy the lake, whether swimming, spending time on the beach, paddle boarding, or picnicking. The Excelsior Commons is also a community hub where residents can enjoy yoga in the park every summer, free concerts from May through September 2024, and annual events like a Fourth of July Celebration.

Getaway to the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Minnesota is home to charming towns rich in history and natural beauty, where outdoor adventures await visitors at every turn. Enjoy panoramic views from the Grand Marais Lighthouse, waterskiing on Lake Pepin, or a picturesque getaway on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. Discover German roots and Swedish heritage in towns like New Ulm and Lindstrom. Attend a festival, support the local economy, and raise a glass to spending time in the beautiful state of Minnesota.

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