Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Editorial credit: Danita Delimont /

7 Of The Quirkiest Towns In Minnesota

Minnesota, with its quaint towns and unique attractions, offers a host of eccentricities that captivate visitors and residents alike. From the small-town charm of Darwin and its World's Largest Ball of Twine to the historical originality of Northfield, where the failed Jesse James bank robbery is celebrated annually, each town holds its distinctive flair. This journey through the heart of Minnesota explores the vibrant and sometimes peculiar elements that make these towns truly stand out. Read on to unravel the offbeat appeal and unexpected treasures that contribute to the state's rich cultural landscape.


A fisheye shot of the biggest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota.
A fisheye shot of the biggest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Sam Wagner /

Darwin, Minnesota, with less than 500 inhabitants, is known for having the "World's Largest Ball of Twine" (although there are multiple claims to that title). The twine, rolled by Francis Johnson, is an eye-catching roadside display that symbolizes the town's overall fun-loving creativity. To celebrate the unique attraction, the town hosts the annual Twine Ball Day celebration.Additionally, residents often demonstrate their artistic flair and individuality by transforming standard mailboxes into unique sculptures. These creative mailboxes line the streets of Darwin, turning the ordinary task of checking the mail into a delightful and visually stimulating experience. The designs vary widely, featuring a range of themes from animals and characters to abstract and imaginative concepts. The artistic expressions on these mailboxes not only add a touch of whimsy to the town's streets but also reflect the community's pride in its creativity and willingness to embrace individuality.

The town isn't only about its eccentricity. Visitors may also want to explore the outskirts of Darwin, where they will find Darwin Falls, providing a tranquil escape into nature. The falls are an example of the pristine beauty of the region, providing visitors with a serene and picturesque environment. The natural allure of Darwin Falls makes it a must-visit for those seeking a peaceful retreat and a connection with the town's natural surroundings.Visitors can have a well-rounded (pun intended) visit at The Twine Ball Inn adds to the town's unconventional character. This lodging option embraces Darwin's peculiar identity with twine-themed decor, offering visitors a unique and immersive experience. The inn combines commercial accommodation with a touch of the town's claim to fame, making for an amusing stay.


The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.
The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Image credit: Steve Cukrov -

Austin's quirkiness is attributed to its fascinating Spam Museum, a testament to the town's relationship with the iconic canned meat. Visitors can indulge in an immersive journey into its history and cultural impact by perusing the displays that tell the story of the uniquely American invention, now available in at least 44 different countries. Say what you will about the preserved pork; it has been a staple in tough times, including during WWII, to keep American soldiers fed.

Also in Austin, sewn into the urban fabric, the Paramount Theatre stakes its claim as a beacon of entertainment, showcasing a rich performing arts history. Further, the town's true appeal is accentuated by the bucolic Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. This sprawling expanse of prairies, forests, and wetlands not only preserves the region's ecological wealth but also invites visitors to engage in its serene beauty. Moreover, the Historic Hormel Home, an architectural pearl, stands as a tribute to the town's heritage, chronicling the legacy of the renowned Hormel family. Austin's harmonious balance of history, nature, and culture crafts an unforgettable experience, setting it apart as a treasure in Minnesota's diverse landscape.


The loon statue in Vergas, Minnesota.
The loon statue in Vergas, Minnesota. Image credit: Liren Chen via

Vergas' residents celebrate it as the "Home of the Loon" because it features the impressive 20-foot replica of the Minnesota State Bird in City Park. Interestingly, the town claims it to be the world's tallest loon sculpture.Nearby the towering loon, perhaps not so much unusual as it is convenient, is the Long Lake City Beach and Wayside Rest, where visitors will find a small sandy beach, children's play area, restrooms, and picnic areas.

Also in the vicinity, Billy's Bar and Grill is known for serving great food in a friendly small-town atmosphere. Food and hospitality aside, you might notice one odd detail of many dozens of dollar bills tacked to the ceiling. Though the tradition is not uncommon, the reason for holding to it may be different for each establishment.In addition, the town features a variety of specialty shops, such as the Elm Street Boutique and Lost Highway Pottery, that showcase local craftsmanship and products. These establishments allow visitors to engage with the local culture and take home one-of-a-kind souvenirs.


Aerial view of Winona, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Winona, Minnesota.

Winona, Minnesota, is a town that thrives on its original appeal, and Latsch Island stands out as a true embodiment of this uniqueness. Tucked away in the Mississippi River, this tiny island has become a haven for the offbeat and creative. The whimsical atmosphere is palpable as visitors navigate the water to explore Latsch Island's eastern coastline, where an eccentric community of boathouses dots the shoreline. What truly sets Latsch Island apart is its open-air gallery of local art installations at the Latsch Island Recreational Area. Artists from the community have transformed this secluded spot into an ever-changing canvas, ensuring that each visit to the island is a new and delightful experience.

Adding to Winona's originality is the Frozen River Film Festival, an annual event that showcases the town's commitment to celebrating the unusual. In the heart of winter, residents and filmmakers unite to appreciate independent cinema, turning the cold season into a time of cinematic exploration and community bonding. Winona's willingness to embrace the extraordinary, whether in the form of artistic expressions on Latsch Island or the cinematic celebration of the Frozen River Film Festival, contributes to the town's captivating atmosphere. In Winona, the ordinary and the extraordinary coexist seamlessly, creating a place where every corner reveals a touch of the unexpected.

Fergus Falls

Otter Tail County Fair, Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Otter Tail County Fair, Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Barbarajo /

Fergus Falls, burrowed in the heart of Minnesota, would amuse any visitor with its array of eccentric sculptures peppering the town, adding an artistic allure. Among these, the iconic "Otter Tail County Dog" statue stands proudly, embodying the town's playful disposition. Beyond the sculptures, Fergus Falls is home of the Kirkbride Buildings, a colossal former mental asylum.

While no longer in operation for its initial use, its imposing architecture serves as a reminder of the town's fascinating past and sparks curiosity about its historical significance.Amidst the town's eccentricities, Fergus Falls is also home to some remarkable natural landmarks. The serene beauty of the Otter Tail River winds through the town, offering picturesque settings for leisurely strolls or peaceful moments of reflection.


'Welcome to Hackensack, Minnesota sculpture.
'Welcome to Hackensack, Minnesota sculpture. Image credit: Ron Cogswell via

Hackensack, Minnesota, is a tiny town of less than 500 inhabitants located slightly north of the state center. It is distinctive for its endearing, larger-than-life statue of Lucette, Paul Bunyan's sweetheart. The 17-foot-high depiction of the lumberjack's wife is the object of amusement for visitors and residents alike. Hackensack's dedication to its folklore doesn't end there; it's also home to the annual "Sweetheart Days" festival, a celebration of love and community that adds a touch of whimsy to the town.While Hackensack embraces its folklore with gusto, it also possesses a natural beauty and moments of leisure that come with family time spent at Birch Lake Park. The park is not only equipped with sports facilities, including a tennis court and bike trail, but it also has a children's playground and a beach. There is even a log cabin library on location, which is a historical uniqueness all its own. 


Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox sculpture in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox sculpture in Bemidji, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Danita Delimont /

Bemidji, a vibrant town in northern Minnesota, radiates a lighthearted oddness that lingers in the memory of all who visit. One of its most iconic features is the towering statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, standing as amusing landmarks that embody the town's deep connection to folklore. These statues have become iconic symbols of Bemidji, inviting visitors to snap photos and immerse themselves in the tales of Paul Bunyan's lumberjack adventures, adding a humorous touch to the town.Beyond the fun of folklore, Bemidji takes advantage of natural landscapes. The town rests on the shores of Lake Bemidji, offering a scenic escape for outdoor enthusiasts. The Paul Bunyan State Trail, stretching over 120 miles through Bemidji and neighboring Baxter, allows visitors to explore the area's beauty through hiking, biking, and snowmobiling, showcasing the region's picturesque scenery.


Skinner Memorial Chapel on the campus of Carleton College
Skinner Memorial Chapel on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Ken Wolter /

Northfield, Minnesota, along the Cannon River, has a unique connection to American history through Jesse James, a notorious outlaw and leader of the James-Younger Gang. Their attempted bank robbery at the First National Bank in Northfield was met with unexpected resistance from the townspeople, making it one of the gang's few failed endeavors. The town annually commemorates this event with The Defeat of Jesse James Days, a large outdoor heritage festival held the weekend after Labor Day. The festival features reenactments of the historic robbery on Division Street, along with a championship rodeo, crafts fair, car show, arts, carnival, and a parade. There are also live musical performances in the Entertainment Center tent on Water Street. Food stations in Bridge Square cater to visitors, and a pre-celebration horseshoe hunt on public grounds rewards the finder with the year's cash purse.

From the whimsical mailboxes of Darwin to the frozen wonders celebrated at Winona's Frozen River Film Festival and the historical reenactments of the failed bank robbery of Jesse James in Northfield, Minnesota's charm lies in its ability to embrace the quirky, the historical, and the artistic with equal enthusiasm. These towns, each a testament to the creativity and individuality of its residents, invite visitors to step off the beaten path and into the unexpected wonders that make Minnesota a truly captivating destination.

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