Here’s an embarrassing bit of personal information: I’ve lived in Minnesota nearly my whole life and have been to the North Shore a grand total of two times. Once to visit Wolf Ridge as a fourth grader, and this past weekend, when my husband decided it was time for me to actually SEE Lake Superior.
I’m by no means a Twin Cities elitist. It’s more a matter of habit: growing up, my family always headed east. Not to the coast, mind you, but to Wisconsin. Green Bay and Door County, to be exact. Both my parents grew up in the great Cheese State, so we took an annual trek to Lake Michigan every summer to visit aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Those summers were the absolute best. It simply didn’t seem necessary to go anywhere else each August.
So when Tom decided to plan a weekend-long vacation, he was bound and determined to find a place in northern Minnesota. We searched and searched, considering Grand Marais, Silver Bay, Lutsen, and finally settled on Duluth. “It’ll be a new experience! And only a three hour drive!” Tom promised. Sounded good to me.
When we arrived in Duluth, we promptly headed downtown. After wandering for a couple blocks, Tom turned to me and said, “I think we made a mistake. I’m so sorry.” We were surprised to find most stores vacant, with boarded-up, spray painted windows. A few chain restaurants seemed to be subsisting on street corners, but aside from the large US Bank building, it was surprisingly empty. We wondered where everyone was. This is a town that markets themselves as a family-friendly destination!
I told Tom there was no way we’d just ventured to an abandoned city. So we backtracked, instead heading along the more populated boardwalk. Low and behold, we discovered the rest of the tourists! I found it incredibly interesting that within a block the dynamic changed so dramatically. Gift stores and unique restaurants were abounding, and not one window was broken. It seemed as though a casino, situated right along the main drag, served as an unofficial border between the empty streets and the bustling family-friendly shops. We’d found our vacation.
Sure enough, the beaches turned out to be lovely and the weather was incredible. We dined at Fitger’s, famous for their home-brewed beer and wild rice burgers. Sold! We grabbed malts to go at the PortLand Malt Shop. Delicious! We stopped for coffee each morning at Amazing Grace’s Bakery and Café. Great jolt of caffeine! People were friendly and said hello as they passed on the boardwalk. Store owners gave great tips for places to go and things to do. It seemed that the downtown area was merely a blemish on an otherwise pretty city.
The trip north was a great way to see a different part of my beloved state. Next summer we’ll be onto a new Minnesota resort town, but I’ll continue dreaming about wild rice burgers long into the winter months.