Perhaps the easiest and one of the most relaxing escapes from the twin cities’ hustle and bustle is to hop in the car and go for a drive. Thankfully, Minnesota is blessed with some beautiful areas close to, and even inside of, the 494/694 loop that are well worth a visit. These are the most fun, scenic options the area has to offer.
Highway 61 southeast to Hastings and Red Wing
St. James Hotel
406 Main St.
Red Wing, MN 55066
Distance: roughly 55 miles
After a leisurely drive along Highway 61, or 52, to historic Hastings, continue southeast through rolling farmland to the gem that is Red Wing. Both small cities offer boutique shopping downtown and are great places to cruise and explore. Have lunch at the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing, then head back to historic 61 for a beautiful trip through the Mississippi River Valley. Although the much-touted highway is beautiful throughout, the southernmost portion boasts the best views.
Highway 36 or I-94 to Stillwater
223 Main St. North
Stillwater, MN 55082
Distance: from the Minneapolis side of the metro, roughly 30 to 40 miles; from the St. Paul side, 15 to 30 miles
Hours: May to October Mon to Thurs – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fri and Sat – 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Expect a totally relaxing day in the beautiful St. Croix River Valley with rolling hills, scenic bluffs and the charming river city of Stillwater. In a picture-perfect valley between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the St. Croix River sits between limestone and sandstone bluffs, which open up to sparkling Lake St. Croix. The area has long been a favorite day escape for Twin Cities residents, especially for wine-filled pit stops. Pull off at Northern Vineyards for a delicious lunch with a spectacular view six days a week.
Highway 7 or I-394/Highway 12 to Lake Minnetonka
Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge
3746 Sunset Dr.
Spring Park, MN 55384
Distance: roughly 30 miles from St. Paul and the east metro suburbs
Hours: Mon to Sat – 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sun – 11 a.m. to midnight (starting in mid-April); call for winter hours
Close to home especially for residents of the central core cities and west metro, this enormous lake offers a slow-motion escape from the city itself. One beautiful bay after another will calm your nerves and have you driving the speed limit, or even slower. Shop or dine in downtown Wayzata or Excelsior, or at a score of other options as you drive around the lake. Its most popular restaurant is undoubtedly Lord Fletcher’s in Spring Park, which during the summer season is jammed inside and out. While the sail and powerboats won’t be out until the weather warms a bit more, cruising the Lake Minnetonka area is always a relaxing way to spend a spring day.
Highway 169 to Belle Plaine and St. Peter
U.S. Highway 169 at County Road 13
Belle Plaine, MN 56001
Distance: from the southwest metro, roughly 30 miles
Hours: daily – 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Highway 169 is all you need to know for this getaway. Cross the Minnesota River from Bloomington to Shakopee, and follow the route south through Jordan to Belle Plaine. Highway 169 offers a four-lane highway all the way to Mankato, with much lighter traffic than the interstate. Emma Krumbee’s in Belle Plaine is a slow-cruising highlight with an extensive complex complete with a general store, floral shop with greenhouse, bakery and restaurant. Continue south to St. Peter, passing by Le Sueur and the Jolly Green Giant. Home to Gustavus Adolphus College and its spectacular Christ Church overloooking the town, St. Peter features a charming downtown area with local shops, casual dining options and relaxing coffee shops perfect for a pit stop. Stop to take a stroll through the floral shop and greenhouse, farmers’ market or Emma Krumbee’s adjacent apple orchard. Krumbee’s is must-stop destination famous for pies, bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls and signature pecan caramel croissants.
Minneapolis: City of Lakes
Stella’s Fish Cafe
1400 West Lake St.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Distance: roughly 30 miles one way
Hours: Sun to Thurs – 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Fri and Sat – 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Starting at Minnehaha Falls Park in South Minneapolis, drive west along beautiful Minnehaha Parkway past Lake Nokomis to Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. These fabulous city lakes are jammed with runners, bikers and dog walkers on warm, sunny days. Some of the largest and most impressive Twin Cities homes surround Harriet, Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, the latter where you can search for the Mary Tyler Moore house. Drive into uptown Minneapolis afterward for a beverage or bite to eat, exploring Calhoun Square at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, or hit the roof at Stella’s Fish Cafe for a great view of downtown, not to mention delicious food. Fresh seafood including fish, oysters and lobster are hallmarks at Stella’s, and its rooftop bar and dining area are jam-packed during warm weather evenings.Related: Great Weekend Getaways
New York City native Marc Friedman has called the Twin Cities home for nearly 30 years. His urban upbringing has him constantly exploring Minneapolis and St. Paul for locally owned dining spots and neighborhood shops. Marc’s passions include travel, an industry which he has worked in his entire career, indie movies, a strong cup of tea with milk (his Mom is from England), dark chocolate, red wine and the Daily Show. His work can be found at Examiner.com.