Mississippi River Valley: Arts & Wineries
Follow the Mississippi through southeast Minnesota's charming, historic towns and partake of local theater, art, wine, and other attractions along the way.
DAY 1 Red Wing
This charming river city is a popular getaway. If you can, plan your trip around a performance for a nice evening out. The beautifully restored Sheldon Theatre (1904) has a year-round schedule of concerts and plays. An old barn outside of town hosts a series of folk concerts; check with Stoney End harps/Hobgoblin Music to see what’s on the schedule. Another nearby highlight is Falconer Vineyards, nestled in a valley amid the bluffs. They also feature live music on their deck, where you can order pizza from their bistro. Enjoy an afternoon trip to the winery, dinner at one of the many good restaurants in Red Wing, and an evening performance or a stroll along the river.
DAY 2 Red Wing & Wabasha
Red Wing is a lovely city with a wealth of 19th-century architecture along its attractive main street. Near the levee downtown, the Historic Depot is home to a gallery of local artists; it also has visitor information. Also downtown, visit antique and gift shops, the historic St. James Hotel, and the complex of Red Wing Boots, with a small museum. At Red Wing Pottery, you can watch artists at work. After a morning exploring Red Wing, head south along scenic Highway 61, bordered by the Mississippi River on one side, and tall, forested bluffs on the other. This drive is part of the Great River Road Scenic Byway.
Lake City, on the shore of Lake Pepin on the river, is a possible lunch stop. Enjoy the riverwalk here. Farther south is Wabasha, where you can see eagles up close and learn about these majestic birds at the National Eagle Center. Browse downtown shops, and visit the outlet showroom of Loon Lake Decoy Company, featuring hand-crafted wildlife sculptures. Near the village of Kellogg is L.A.R.K. Toys, with an amazing piece of folk art, a working carousal of hand-carved, whimsical creatures. From here, enjoy a leisurely drive along the river to Winona.
DAY 3 Winona
This historic river town has a bounty of late 19th and early 20th-century architecture. The Winona County Historical Society has put together a mobile tour of five of downtown’s highlights.
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum on the riverfront features marine and landscape paintings, including some Impressionism. From the Garvin Heights overlook above the city, there’s a magnificent view of the river valley. Garvin Heights Vineyards sits in the bluffs above the city; stop and sample local wines. Plan a trip to coincide with the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Beethoven Festival, both held each summer, and enjoy a play or concert. Also, check for performance schedules at Theatre du Mississippi and St. Mary’s University Page Theatre.
TRIP EXTENDER: Bluff Country
If you have more time, add a day or two to your trip and head farther south to Bluff Country, a beautiful area of wooded hills, peaceful valleys and winding streams. The Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway, Highway 16, heads west from La Crescent. The small towns of Bluff Country are home to antique shops, art galleries, and B&Bs. Named one of America’s prettiest towns, Lanesboro is home to the excellent Commonweal Theatre Company, the Lanesboro Arts Center, and Scenic Valley Winery, featuring wines made from a variety of fruits. It’s also along the popular Root River State Trail, so bring or rent a bike to explore this scenic trail. South of here, in Spring Grove, check out the work of local artists at the Bluff Country Artists Gallery. There are many Amish farms in Bluff Country; some shops in Harmony feature their quilts and handcrafted furniture, and you can also join tours to visit the farms and make your purchases on site.