Top Things to See and Do in Duluth, MN

Okay, so you’ve made it to the great white North, only to find that it’s very green and there’s that great big expanse of silvery blue that people keep talking about… This is Northern Minnesota and you’re looking at one of the biggest, deepest, coldest lakes in the world.  It’s the biggest of all the Great Lakes, and, thanks to all the shipwrecks and that famous Edmund Fitzgerald song, is pretty infamous.  It’s Lake Superior.  Here are my top recommendations for things to do in Duluth, MN and the surrounding north shore.

1) Go to Canal Park.  It’s touristy, but the view of the Aerial Bridge when it goes up and down to accommodate ships in the harbor can’t be beat.  There are some cute little food and ice cream stands to keep you fed while you gaze at the icy cold water and contemplate going in the retrieve that one really cool rock out there…There’s also the Maritime Museum, which is free, educational, and really interesting.  It’s also a good place to escape to when it gets too cold outside!

2) The Portland Malt Shoppe.  Not only is it the cutest ice cream shop OF ALL TIME but the sweets are delicious and it boasts access to the fabulous lake walk so you can enjoy your treat with a stunning view of the lake and the Aerial Bridge.  This place can get busy on summer evenings, so plan your visit accordingly.

Visiting the malt shoppe back in 2011 (and many times since)

3) The old Congdon Mansion.  This place is now called the Glensheen Estate and is the turn-of-the-last century home of a very wealthy family.  They built their dream home as fancy and forward thinking as possible.  It’s a glorious example of early twentieth century innovation and architecture…and bonus!  There was an infamous and bloody murder in the 1970’s so you just know that that place is haunted.  The estate offers all kinds of interesting tours for curious visitors, and while somewhat expensive, is well worth the cost.  Check out the website Here.

4) Brighton Beach is a small rocky beach that sits on the outskirts of the city of Duluth in a more residential area.  It is not too busy and is consequently a very good place to look for agates, enjoy the brisk wind coming off the water, and relax in a beautiful setting.  Some people are brave enough to actually get in the water and go swimming, but I’ve always found it much too cold.  My favorite part of the beach is all the old graffiti carved into the rocks by couples over the years.  Some of it is dated to the 1930’s!

5) The Mocha Moose in Two Harbors is my favorite little coffee shop to visit whenever I’m in the area.  It’s cute, somewhat hidden (you need to drive on the old highway to get there) and it always relaxed and welcoming.  If you’re lucky you can catch a live music session, and if not, you can sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous garden while sipping and munching.  I have a tradition of ordering the house drink- a mocha- and purchasing the hand crafted mug it comes in.  There is a potter who lives nearby who sells his mugs to the cafe for purchase, but I always just buy whichever one the barista makes my drink in!  

Mom and Auntie (and Max the dog) enjoying their goodies at the Mocha Moose

6)If you are headed up the north shore just continue on until you get to Gooseberry Falls State Park.  We’ve been coming here on our family vacations for as long as I can remember and it never gets old!  Park entrance is free and you can spend the day hiking, swimming, or just strolling along the trails.  There are a series of waterfalls that lead to a river, which leads out into Lake Superior.  Along the way are plenty of places to get in the water if you so choose.  I spent years climbing up and down just about every inch of this place.  It’s beautiful pretty much year round!  

7) Take a drive along Skyline Parkway.  This scenic drive will take you up the hill over the city and smack you across the face with stunning views of the city below.  There are multiple places to pull of the main road and get out of your car to take it all in.  At night the city looks especially magical with  all the lights shining off the lake.  Be aware though- since this area is densely wooded there is a very good chance that you will come across some wildlife!

There are so many wonderful things to do and see in Duluth it was hard to come up with just a few favorites!  I didn’t even get to the local roller derby team- Harbor City Roller Dames -, or my favorite spot for local brews (Fitger’s), but there are just some things that you will have to discover for yourself.  I have tried to list a good combination of off-the-beaten-track spots and some good old fashioned sightseeing musts.  Duluth is gorgeous in the summer and autumn, in my opinion, so most of my adventures take place in those seasons.  In any case, Minnesota is a pretty top notch destination for outdoor adventuring with the added bonus of the relaxed midwestern attitude. They don’t get the Minnesota Nice reputation for nothing!

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Cafe Life: Duluth, MN

If you spend some time driving up and down the [very steep] streets of Duluth, MN to find free parking, you will no doubt then spend some time walking up and down those same [steep] streets in order to find a cup of coffee. I did that, and I ended up sitting here at Duluth Coffee Company.  There is a sunny bench when you walk in, but to get to the coffee you venture into a dim and delicious-smelling back part of the shop where there is a counter to order at, a wall of guitars made out of what looks like drift wood, and Duluth-themed gear to bring back home.  The menu is straightforward and to the point: actual coffee drinks that promise a caffeine rush and plenty of flavor without making your teeth ache from a bunch of unnecessary sugary syrup.  Excellent.  I have ordered my usual, a cappuccino, and it’s excellent.  I also enjoyed not paying an arm and a leg for it (lookin’ at you, Colorado).  

There are a few locals chatting with the barista, and a mix of what I assume are other visitors.  I can tell that they are visitors because, like me, they pause to peruse all the Duluth-themed gifts for sale.  My friends back home would like that stuff, right?  It’s pretty quiet overall, with just a bit of conversation and some music.  It is a Sunday morning, and unlike some cities, this one seems to actually sleep in on Sundays.  The street outside- which is a main drag of the downtown area- has minimal traffic.  The temperature outside is somewhere around 68 degrees, and with the sun shining it’s a perfect morning to lounge around outside with coffee.  

Between the guitars made out of driftwood (and I see one made out of an old aluminum tin!), the collection of old coffee pots on the wall, and the handful of attractive people in here, I am definitely happy to set up camp and enjoy my drink.   This place could easily fall into the trope of tourist trap if it weren’t for the good coffee, interesting people, and comfortable feel that attracts regulars as well as visitors.  I don’t recognize any of the bands that are playing softly in the background, but I know that I like them.  My cappuccino is almost gone and it’s time for me to pack up and continue on my journey, so I will hurry up and post this now.  Cheers!