This article is supported by the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association.
Southern Minnesota is known for its exquisite nature and outdoor activities, but there are as many things to do indoors as there are outside. When the temperatures begin to drop, the region is an ideal destination to explore for its theaters, museums and culinary delights. Here is your guide to some of the top things to do in southern Minnesota this winter.
The Commonweal Theatre Company is one of the artistic gems in southern Minnesota, and one of the best theaters to visit during the winter. The focus at the Commonweal is on plays that highlight actor-based storytelling. Shows run the gamut from classics by icons like Tennessee Williams to productions by emerging playwrights. Many old Victorian homes have been turned into places to stay for a weekend of taking in the arts, making Lanesboro one of the top bed-and-breakfast destinations in the country.
Other notable performance venues in southern Minnesota include the Fairmont Opera House, built in 1902 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This theater space wows audiences with its well-preserved architecture, stage room, and of course what appears on stage. Upcoming shows this winter include “All is Calm,” and “Brass Roots Trio”. Additional shows on the calendar include “Craig Karges - the Extraodinist”, combining the art of magic with the science of psychology and the power of intuition and “Church of Cash”, a tribute to the music of Johnny Cash.
In southwest Minnesota in the small town of Dawson, the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association showcases live performances and entertainment. The list of performance groups that have taken the stage in Dawson is impressive, including the Children’s Theatre from New York and the Minnesota Orchestra. The theater season kicks off each fall and runs through the winter and spring.
Another venue to consider for a live show this winter is the Pipestone Performing Arts Center, which has been hosting performances for 20 years in the heart of historic Pipestone. With seating for 300 people, the center is located in an 1897 Sioux quartzite building, giving it an authentic feel for traditional plays like the Calumet Players’ “Making God Laugh.” For a more festive show, consider something like Al Opland Singers’ “Another Christmas Show (An Opland Holiday Tradition)” during the holiday season.
One of the biggest challenges for parents during the winter months is finding a place to take the kids where they can burn off energy and learn something new and exciting. The Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota opened in May 2015, and has quickly become one of the top attractions in southern Minnesota. Among the many highlights are a climbing fort space, infant and toddler play area, a farm gallery, a quarry play space, and an imagineering loft for kids interested in STEM fields. The museum also hosts a series of programs and events that align with children’s interests or particular time of year. These include LEGO leagues, art classes, costume contests during the holidays, special toddler programs, bookmobile visits and special needs accessibility playtime.
Located in Winona in southeast Minnesota is a museum packed with art by world-famous artists, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. All pieces here center around water and marine life. Visitors will find ocean-themed Picasso paintings and Monet’s still lifes of rivers. Other famous pieces include works by Paul Gaugin, Winslow Homer, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Georgia O’Keefe. One of the museum's most recent acquisitions is a smaller version of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze.
Southern Minnesota is also home to one of the most unique museums you’ll find in the United States. The Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum, which operated as the Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children in Owatonna, housed more than 10,635 orphaned or abandoned children from 1886 to 1945. Today, visitors can tour the orphanage-turned-museum and visit a restored boys cottage to relive the life and times of the children who grew up there.
Dining and Shopping
Culinary travel is becoming an increasingly popular way to explore a destination during the winter. Plan an entire trip around where you want to eat and drink in southern Minnesota. It helps when it’s not just a trip to a restaurant but rather a culinary experience that can include a warm fire on a cool afternoon or a place to sip wine while doing some shopping.
The first place you’ll want to put on your list is Brau Brothers Brewing Co. in Marshall, a small family brewery that grows its own hops and barley. And just want does small mean? It means that each batch brewed results in about 200 cases. But the brewery also thinks big, featuring the largest hopyard in the Upper Midwest. Be sure to try the house-smoked pastrami and house-made fries while the kids try one of 10 different sodas served out of a real fire truck parked in the taproom.
Another fun culinary stop is Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, which sits along the Chankaska Creek in Kasota, near Mankato. Chankaska’s wines are handcrafted and made from grapes grown on-site—featuring both reds and whites. The winery has a tasting room where you can order your favorite varieties and pair them with wood-fired pizzas or antipasto, sip wine on the tasting deck or snuggle up by a warm fire on the patio. Whether a stop during the week or to taste and take in live music on the weekend, Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery is sure to impress.
An unpretentious stop in the town of Sherburn is at the Cup N’ Saucer Cafe, a restaurant known for its locally sourced ingredients, delicious breakfasts and lunch menu. But the Cup N’ Saucer has so much more to offer. The husband-and-wife team host a six-course tasting menu one evening every month.“Make reservations for their monthly gourmet six-course dinner featuring fresh local and sustainable ingredients prepared by Seth and served by Elizabeth,” wrote one recent reviewer on TripAdvisor. “Unbelievably good! Worth the drive wherever you're coming from. Top notch food, low key, casual environment.”
Finally, a culinary tour of southern Minnesota should include a meal and shopping at Urban Finds and Bistro in the Medford Outlet Mall. This great store/restaurant is equal parts shopping experience and delicious place to eat. Sip a glass of wine as you wait for your gourmet pizza while wandering the story for urban and primitive antiques, kitchen gadgets, handmade jewelry, clothing and other boutique finds. And while at the Medford Outlet Mall, check out the other 29 great outlet stores for all your winter shopping.
Southern Minnesota has plenty of other fun indoor attractions, tons of upcoming festivals and events, and countless places to dine. And if you’re looking to stay overnight, there are plenty of affordable lodging options. Plan your southern Minnesota winter escape today.
From bustling downtowns to untouched wilderness, pine forests to bluff country and historic landmarks to modern-day attractions, Minnesota is incredibly diverse. If you’re looking for arts and culture, you’ll find it here. Places to reconnect with family and friends, we’ve got those too. So what is it that makes this state so unique? Browse this website, exploreminnesota.com, to learn more.