I have been all over this big, beautiful state. I have visited Mound, New Hope, Crystal, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Center, and even Brooklyn Park. But let me tell you, not one of those shining lights approaches the brilliance that is Grand Marais.
It’s a fairy-tale town, a gem socketed into the shore of Lake Superior that everyone in the world, let alone Minnesota, had better visit at least once. It’s not so large a place that planning a pilgrimage there should prove daunting, but when you go you must visit a few special places. This is your guide to Grand Marais!
Grand Marais Light
You can see the nearly 100-year-old lighthouse from the shore, but those in the know navigate the breakwater for a better look at it up close. And if you head to the left instead, and don’t mind a little light clambering, you can set on Artists’ Point for a spell and stare out at the lake. This is where you have a picnic in Grand Marais.
World’s Best Donuts
Are the owners of World’s Best Donuts arrogant for naming their business what they did? No. They clearly traveled far and wide in search of better donuts than their own, found none, and claimed their rightful title.
Named after the Norse goddess of war, this 50 foot schooner sets out daily from the North House Folk School. It is the greatest way to see Lake Superior, without a sound save for the beating of wind against sails as you are borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Sven & Ole’s
Not many people know about Sven & Ole’s, because only eight percent of cars in Minnesota display the restaurant’s bumper sticker. The Backlund brothers founded Grand Marais’ preeminent pizzeria in 1981, and in doing so settled the New York vs. Chicago-style pizza debate once and for all. The verdict is neither.
Fireweed Bike Cooperative
Good people who rent good bikes. Grand Marais has a gorgeous neighborhood up on a hill, and the best way to see it is while careening around on a bicycle. Get a tandem bike so the sap in back can do all of the pedaling while you take it easy.
Angry Trout Cafe
The lake isn’t just for looking at. It is also teeming with fish for eating, and the most delicious of them are smoked and sold at the Angry Trout Cafe. The restaurant is a great place to have lunch or dinner anytime, but if you don’t bring a cooler to transport their herrings back to the Twin Cities your Grand Marais privileges will be revoked.
The Gunflint Trail
This never-ending asphalt ribbon cuts through the woods to the virgin Boundary Waters, an expanse of land that belongs exclusively to beavers and canoers. Even if you don’t plan on boating, take a spin up the Gunflint Trail. Its scenery beats the heck out of the south Minneapolis stretch of Highway 55.
Hungry Hippie Tacos
Who but Midwesterners could have had the genius to put sauerkraut in a frybread taco? The culinarians at Hungry Hippie Tacos smoke brisket and pork shoulder to perfection, and their homey dining room makes a perfect spot to shore up in for a while.
Anyone who can walk past a store with an enormous, unseeing walleye sticking through its roof simply hasn’t got a heart. It’s a beautiful shop with everything an angler could need. It is only at the Beaver House that you can purchase the Beaver Flick, a lure guaranteed to catch any fish. (Not to be mistaken for the disreputable motel in Reno, Nevada.)
Only 40 minutes northeast of Grand Marais, Grand Portage is home to the highest waterfall in Minnesota. It is also home to the Grand Portage National Monument where you can explore the area’s fur trading history and Ojibwe heritage. You can then explore ways to evaporate your retirement savings at the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino.
In nearby Lutsen you can ride the alpine slide on the side of Eagle Mountain. Hurtle down a curving concrete track in a little wheeled sled as you shriek like a cheerleader, disturbing the local squirrels. An alpine slide is great fun!
By David Scheller