This weekend, we escaped our usual weekend routine in the Twin Cities and headed south along the Great River Road for a weekend getaway in search of beautiful fall foliage. The past few years we've gone up to the north shore, but I was itching to do something a little different and was very happy we did.
The Great River Road is designated as a national scenic byway and follows the course of the Mississippi River for over 3,000 miles and through 10 states. A series of different roads and highways are well-marked with white signs displaying the green pilot's wheel logo for easy navigating the river valley's rich history and natural beauty.
When: Before the snow falls or after it melts. We went the 2nd weekend of October, hoping to see the beautiful fall colors and it did not disappoint!
The Veranda at the St. James Hotel
Sorin's Bluff at Memorial Park
The Hungry Peddler
The Charmant Hotel
Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm
Saturday: We left on Saturday morning to make it in time for breakfast at The Veranda at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing. On Saturday and Sunday, they serve their usual breakfast menu until 11am, and then they switch over to a buffet until 2pm. While the buffet looked tasty and had plenty of options, I am glad we were able to order our own entrees. After trying the Crunchy French Toast and the Eggs Benedict, I would recommend both for your visit!
After breakfast, we strolled along the waterfront, stopped by the Red Wing Depot, explored the town's cute shops, and made sure we stopped to see the World's Largest Boot at Red Wing Shoe Company. Then, we made our way up to Sorin's Bluff at Memorial Park to look out over Red Wing, Lake Pepin, and the mighty Mississippi!
We enjoyed the scenic drive down towards Winona on the way to our next destination - Elmaro Vineyard. I had a few friends head here for a bachelorette party over the summer and I'd been trying to find a good weekend to go so this was perfect. They offer a complimentary tasting of three wines, or a tasting of seven wines for five dollars. Once you've found a favorite wine (mine was Sweet Cheeks) - order a glass and enjoy one of their charcuterie boards, while you take in the view from their patio. It felt like I was in Napa!
The fall colors were absolutely majestic as we finished up our driving for the day. We checked into our hotel and relaxed a bit before heading to dinner at the Hungry Peddler. This old-time tavern first opened its doors in 1976 and is a classic Wisconsin establishment - bread and veggies upon seating, a house beer brewed by Capital Brewery, and plenty of food! We had fantastic service, our steaks were cooked just right, and the prices were very reasonable. I would absolutely go back the next time we're in La Crosse and highly recommend it to anyone making a stop in La Crosse.
Sunday: We slept in this morning and made our way to breakfast inside the Charmant Hotel. I had made a reservation through OpenTable and we were seated promptly. We probably would have been find without a reservation on our visit, but on busier weekends, I assume there's a longer wait. The Cornmeal Pancakes and Croque Madame Tartine were both delicious. Our waitress mentioned that the toppings on their Cornmeal Pancakes change with the season - but that wouldn't change my mind about ordering them again. The building was once an old candy factory, and sits on the site of the first building in La Crosse. It felt as though there was a new surprise behind every corner - an adorable coffee shop, a charming parlour room, and a fabulous rooftop. They also do a great job showcasing the city's history and using local vendors for art and menu ingredients. I didn't want to leave!
We left the Charmant, strolled through at Riverside Park, and stopped into the Bodega Brew Pub to grab a pint and watch some Sunday football. My guy is a die hard Vikings fan so after cheering them on to a win against the Jets, we left La Crosse for the final stop on our getaway - Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm in Waseca, MN! We easily could have came back the same way we got there, but I'm all for a change in scenery and it didn't add much time to our day.
Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm is a super fantastic, family-owned, outdoor dining experience. You bring your own dining essentials (seating/blanket, beverages, and any other food you wish to enjoy + a garbage bag to take out anything you bring in). They feature seven different pizza pies for you to choose from and they'll ring the bell when it's ready! While you wait, you can walk through the trails on the farm, listen to some live music, and enjoy the wonderful company. Be sure to check their hours before you head their way - it was one of their last days open for 2018, but you've got to get there when they reopen in the spring.
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 stayed at the Candlewood Suites La Crosse and found our stay to be very pleasant. If you're looking to spice up your vacation by staying somewhere local or special, I'd recommend looking at the following places:
The Charmant Hotel in La Crosse, WI
Carriage House Bed & Breakfast in Winona, MN
Hawk's View Cottages & Lodges in Fountain City, WI
St. James Hotel in Red Wing, MN
Round Barn Farm in Red Wing, MN
Next Time: With limited time, there were a few things I wasn't able to cross of my list, so I'm already looking forward to going back!