Domeiers red brick store exterior in the snow

Holiday Shopping in Minnesota's Historic Downtowns

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Domeiers German Store in winter / Kyle Krenz

Holiday Shopping in Minnesota's Historic Downtowns

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

If chaotic Black Friday crowds or sprawling mall parking lots make you want to hyperventilate, head for Minnesota’s historic downtowns this shopping season. You’ll find unique stores, locally made gifts and a pace that makes your outing feel like a getaway rather than a to-do list.

Find something for everyone on your list in these charming towns. Or visit our shopping page for even more ideas, and make a weekend of it with a stay at a nearby hotel, resort or B&B.

Downtown Stillwater holiday shopping

Downtown Stillwater during the holidays  / Parker Photographics


Anyone who loves holiday entertaining and creating a welcoming ambiance will find plenty of inspiration while wandering Stillwater’s riverfront downtown. It’s host and hostess central, with a full slate of holiday cooking classes and gifts for kitchen magicians at Alfresco, Pinch 'n Rub Spice & Tea Hub and Stillwater Olive Oil Co. (with an olive oil-and-vinegar tasting bar). And Midtown Antiques Mall, one of the state’s biggest antique stores for scoring one-of-a-kind decor, furniture and vintage textiles, renders the town a treasure trove for collectible hunters.

Käthe Wohlfahrt, a favorite shop for travelers seeking souvenirs and Christmas heirlooms in Germany, also has its only U.S. location here.

Woman shopping at Duluth Winter Village

Winter Village at Glensheen Mansion, Duluth


Named the "Best Town in America" by Outside Magazine, Duluth is a perfect stop for finding gifts for those who love the northern lifestyle. Two perennial favorites are Fitger’s Brewery Complex and Canal Park, both lined with unique shops and ideally located for Lake Superior views and grabbing a shuttle to see the magical Bentleyville light display that fills Bayfront Festival Park.

Some of the Minnesota-made gifts you’ll find include camping gear and handcrafted toboggans at Duluth Pack, lush photos and artwork inspired by the North Shore at Siiviis Gallery, and everything from travel bags to handcrafted wooden canoes at Frost River in Lincoln Park.

Winter Walk in Northfield

Northfield's annual Winter Walk


If you love the pure, high notes of Christmas carols, Northfield hums with holiday cheer and an easy-to-stroll historic downtown. Quirky and artsy, creative and fun, its shops — such as The Sketchy Artist, The Measuring Cup and assorted clothing boutiques and antique stops — offer a refreshing array of gifts.

If you time a visit in early December, you may be able to catch the nationally broadcast St. Olaf College Christmas Festival. Most years you can even feast on lutefisk and lefse at the college’s traditional Scandinavian buffet. A downtown Winter Walk in December includes horse-drawn carriage rides and stores and cafes illuminated in the warm glow of candlelight.

Saint James Hotel Red Wing

Saint James Hotel, Red Wing / Courtesy Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau

Red Wing

You can find some of the most iconic Minnesota-made products in this elegant downtown that will bustle with everything from carolers, an ice bar and sleigh rides to a live Nativity and real penguins during its Holiday Stroll on Black Friday. Walk through Minnesota’s oldest hotel, the St. James, then wander Main Street, home to the Uffda Shop for all things Scandinavian and the world’s largest boot at the Red Wing Shoes flagship store and museum. The store includes three floors with exhibits about the company and its footwear, a showroom and a basement factory outlet for deals.

Near downtown, Pottery Place has its share of shops and antiques galore.

LARK Toys workshop in Kellogg

LARK Toys workshop 


If the holidays spark cherished memories of action figures, dolls and games, then LARK Toys along Highway 61 south of Red Wing offers the gift of Christmases past — and the chance to influence Christmases present. LARK creates its own line of Minnesota-made wooden toys, but also runs this 20,000-square-foot indoor mall packed with charm as kids try on costumes, bang on musical instruments, and goof off with puppets while adults wander through historic displays of toys throughout the century.

Reminisce about Howdy Doody, hula hoops, marbles, space guns and “Star Wars” action figures at this retro toy shop that makes it fun to buy something whimsical for grownups, too. Another allure: the state’s grandest and most imaginative merry-go-round. There’s a good chance you’ll run into Santa on the weekends, too.

Winter downtown New Ulm

Downtown New Ulm looks like a winter postcard / Kyle Krenz

New Ulm

For folks who love the traditions of Christmas — fragrant trees, hand-blown glass ornaments, elegantly carved candleholders, sweetly spiced cookies and Old World carols — head to this small town southwest of the Twin Cities in the Minnesota River Valley, with its Glockenspiel and German flair. It's decked out throughout the holiday season in lights and garlands.

Many traditions — including Christmas trees and nutcrackers — came from Germany, and you can find heirloom-worthy German holiday gifts at shops such as Domeier’s German Store, the Guten Tag Haus and Inspired. The city hosts a Parade of Lights on Black Friday.

Chase on the Lake in winter

Chase on the Lake


If you crave summers at the lake all year long, recapture that “Up North” feeling with a trip to Walker, which hugs the southern shore of northern Minnesota’s bearpaw-shaped Leech Lake. Stores such as Lundrigan’s Clothing and Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. exude an at-the-cabin vibe, while Reed’s Family Outdoor Outfitters offers all the ice fishing gear, warm layers and boots you need to get onto Minnesota’s lakes no matter the season.

Other notable stops within two or three blocks: Jenny and Company, Walker General Store, Artists and Crafters Mall, Loide Oils and Vinegars, and Aveda Copper Door Spa at Chase on the Lake, a renovated historic hotel overlooking the bay.

Lisa Meyers McClintick

Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.