Nestled along the rocky shore of Lake Superior, Duluth is the perfect weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. We usually make it up here at least once every year and I've never been disappointed. It's a city you can visit any time of year; there's something magical about the North Shore after a light snowfall, the foliage here is breathtaking, and the summer weather is perfect for spending time outside.
Located within easy driving distance from the Twin Cities and across the border from Superior, WI, Duluth is home to over 11,000 students at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Over multiple trips to Duluth, I've put together the perfect itinerary that combines outdoor adventure, my favorite local businesses, and a bit of history.
Have you been to Duluth? What would you suggest people see? Share your thoughts with me on Instagram @theregoesjess.
Friday | Essential Duluth I recommend leaving Minneapolis on Friday morning, giving you plenty of time for the 2 hour and 20 minute drive to Duluth. Upon arrival, grab sandwiches at Northern Waters Smokehaus and head towards the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth's most famous landmark, to begin your stroll along the Lakewalk. Feel free to make a pit stop at the lighthouse for a great shot of the bridge. You'll get back on the path near Wheel Fun Rentals, where you can grab a bike if you prefer it to walking! There will be signs and statues along the path with fun information about the area. Don't forget to take a break to enjoy your sandwiches or skip some stones across the lake. We usually end our walk at Lief Erikson Park and the Duluth Rose Garden before getting a Lyft/Uber back to our car.
After you return to your car, head to your hotel to get checked in and freshen up for the evening ahead. Our usual stop for dinner on Friday is the number one spot I recommend when people ask me about suggestions in Duluth - Canal Park Brewing Company. Their Steak Sandwich is one of my favorite sandwiches... ever, and their fries are always perfectly cooked. They also offer fantastic brewery tours on Friday and Saturday evenings, and on Sunday afternoons. Wrap up your evening with cocktails at Vikre Distillery. We usually call it an early night on Friday so we can get some sleep before the long day ahead, but if you're looking to spend some more time out and about, check out Dubh Linn Brew Pub, an Irish Brew Pub with a great selection of beer and whiskey.
Saturday | Sights Along the North Shore Start your morning with some coffee (from your hotel or make a quick stop into Amity Coffee on your way) as you make your way to breakfast at Betty's Pies. You'll get hearty servings at great prices - just don't forget to grab a slice (or two) of pie to enjoy later today! If you'd prefer to eat before you hit the road, I recommend breakfast at At Sarah's Table Chester Creek Cafe.
Your next stop is Gooseberry Falls State Park. In about an hour you can walk the "Falls View Loop" (Map) to see the Middle, Upper, & Lower Falls. I was first introduced to to the CCC on a hiking trip with my uncle as a kid, so I especially loved stopping into the visitor center and learning about the "CCC boys" who built the park in the 1930s.
Just a few minutes north of Gooseberry Falls State Park is Split Rock Lighthouse, built on the edge of the rocky cliffs. The Minnesota State Historical Society offers short, 20-minute introductory tours throughout the day. If you're here in the winter, the lighthouse and historic buildings are closed but you can still explore the grounds.
Some might argue that Palisade Head is the iconic North Shore viewpoint and I'm not sure they're wrong. On a clear day you can even see Split Rock Lighthouse 10 miles south! There aren't any designated trails here, but I've always enjoyed wandering around and admiring the stunning views. Nearby Tettegouche State Park is home to High Falls and a number of trails if you've got the time.
On your way back to Duluth for the evening, be sure to stop into Castle Danger Brewery's tap room for a cold pint. You're probably hungry, and Castle Danger doesn't serve food, however they have chips, salsa, and pretzels for purchase and if you order some pizza from Do North Pizza, they'll deliver it to you at the brewery.
If you happen to be in Duluth between the middle of November and the end of December, make sure you stop by Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Festival Park. Bentleyville is a free walk-through holiday light display with more than 5 million lights, free cookies and cocoa, and visits from Santa.
Sunday | Historic Duluth and a Farewell Lunch This morning you're off to Glensheen, the most visited historic home in Minnesota. The 12-acre estate perched on the shore of Lake Superior tells the story of the Duluth region. The 39-room mansion features original furniture, portraits, and artifacts - it's a beautiful living history lesson! With 14 different tour options, I recommend their General Tour, but for any history buffs out there who have already visited, the Nooks & Crannies tour will give you a behind the scenes look at restricted areas and hidden details.
For lunch today, grab some BBQ at OMC Smokehouse. Short for Oink Moo Cluck, OMC Smokehouse focuses on sandwiches and shareable platters. You'll find Texas brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, and Nashville hot chicken and an assortment of sauces developed to enhance the meat's flavor - not mask it. Before you hit the road for home, give a final toast to the weekend with a pint at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. They have a beautiful taproom that features their current distribution lineup as well as some experimental versions of their beers.
You've done it - a fun-filled weekend within driving distance of home. There's so much more to discover in Duluth and along the North Shore, but I feel this itinerary really highlights my favorite places in the area. I hope you have fun!
Where to Stay: My philosophy when traveling is to find an affordable option that's in a central, easy to access location. The reality is that I tend to spend very little time in my hotel room because I prefer to be out exploring. We've stayed at multiple properties around town and have always had an excellent experience. If you're a first time visitor to Duluth or would like to stay somewhere local, I recommend the following: The Inn on Lake Superior | 350 Canal Park Dr, Duluth, MN 55802 "If you were any close to the lake, you'd be in it"
If you're wanting to pick up a few gifts or do some shopping in town, some of my favorite local businesses, artists, and stores in the area are: - Anna Bailey Build.ing | Beautiful reclaimed wood art, no brick & mortar shop but she's at a number of art shows every year. - Blue Arrow Boutique (Superior, WI) | Women's clothing boutique focusing on unique styles in limited quantities. - Blue Heron Trading Co. | My favorite spot for gourmet goodies, local products, and hard-to-find kitchen gadgets. - Britta Lynn Jewelry Designer & Metalsmith | Beautiful handmade jewelry. - DLH Clothing | Apparel line that makes it easy to show your Duluth pride. - Duluth Pack | Premium handcrafted, American made canvas and leather products; the oldest pack making company in the U.S. - Duluth Trading Co. | Quality workwear brand with other Minnesota locations. - Hucklebeary | Part retail store, part creative lab, part community studio - a great spot for gifts and cards. - Pichardo Boutique | Women's clothing boutique with a mix of trendy and contemporary style at great prices. - Tin Cup Design | One of my favorite Minnesota illustrators that I met at Duluth Winter Village* a few years ago. - Whimsy Children's Boutique | Clothing, gifts, and decor for the munchkins in your life. * If you're in town the first weekend of December, I highly recommend stopping by the Duluth Winter Village (at Glensheen Mansion) to browse local shops, enjoy seasonal food and drinks, see live animals from Cook's Country Connection, and sit around the bonfire on the shore.