Get out of town and explore a small town.
Minneapolis, Minnesota has charm to spare: great museums, theater, a growing restaurant scene and a thriving craft brewing guild. And a light rail, from the airport into downtown, along with a public bike share program, Nice Ride, makes a car rental almost unnecessary. But if you decide to rent a car, or drive into the city for a vacation, spend a day 40 minutes south, in Northfield.
Northfield, known for cows, colleges and contentment, was recently ranked number 2 in best ‘micropolitan’ areas; with just about 20,000 people, the small town could rival Disney World as the happiest place on earth. At least on a crisp autumn day. Winter is rough in this part of the midwest, but we drove down to Northfield in a Toyota Highlander on a picture perfect day.
The family run Fireside Orchard and Gardens is a great way to start your day; just off the highway, it offers about 20 varieties of apples, including the crisp signature Fireside, along with freshly made donuts, local cheese and honey, and jams, apple butter and sweet corn in season. Apples are kept in a cool room to help them maintain optimal freshness.
On the road to ‘downtown,’ you pass St. Olaf College; just past downtown is Carleton College. Also, on the road is the headquarters for Mom Brands Cereal; as you drive by, you can smell the sweet cereal perfuming the air.
Our main destination was Carleton College, where my youngest daughter is freshman, and anyone is welcome to explore the campus, where an 880 acre arboretum attracts runners, hikers, bikers, dog walkers and cross country skiers. The lower ‘arb’ is of particular note to native plant lovers; no bikes are allowed in this part to conserve the natural habitat. Be sure to bring water bottles; there are no drinking fountains along the way.
Carleton has a small art museum (free) and several cafes that specialize in local food: produce, dairy and meat is locally sourced. And there are plenty of vegetarian options.
In downtown Northfield, there are more cafes, including Blue Monday coffee shop and Hideaway, which has wraps and paninis. The town has a number of shops with quirky names, like The Sketchy Artist, for art supplies, and Content books. The Cannon River runs through downtown; if you didn’t get your fill of walking, stroll along River Street.
If you bring bikes to ride around town (the Toyota Highlander we drove had three rows of seats; the 2nd and 3rd rows easily fold flat is you could throw in a couple of bikes) there are bike repair stations around with air and tools.
On Saturdays, June through October, Riverwalk Market Fair offers arts and crafts and local organic and sustainably grown produce. The market is only open 9am-1pm.
One thing Northfield lacks is fine dining, but Minneapolis and St. Paul beckon, just a short drive north.
Note: Toyota loaned me the Highlander; opinions expressed are my own.