Gay Travelers Will Find a Rainbow of Fun in Minnesota
By Jess Hoffert
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You’ll find “Minnesota nice” in every corner of the state’s 54 million acres, and that warm hospitality extends to the LGBTQ+ community. Whether you feel like trekking among our legendary waters (I’m looking at you, Mississippi and Superior) or following in the footsteps of our native stars (oh hey, Prince and Judy Garland), color yourself welcome here.
We picked a destination for every shade of the rainbow, but this is just a launching point for a full spectrum of sweet adventures in Minnesota.
The Mississippi River town of Red Wing makes for an ideal overnight getaway, delivering a trifecta of history, hiking and cute lodging within an hour of Minneapolis. Boots and pottery helped get the town on its feet, and those industries still thrive today. Take a tour of the Red Wing Stoneware factory, which has produced the high-quality pottery 1877, and pick up a crock to take home at the massive Pottery Place antique mall.
Another must do: taking a selfie with the world’s largest boot (a size 638-D) at the Red Wing Shoe Museum, part of the company’s flagship store on Main Street. If you’re wearing sandals, you may want to buy a pair of boots for a hike up Barn Bluff, where you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the town and surrounding bluffs from 350 feet up. Kick back with a smooth Work Boot Red beer at Red Wing Brewery before checking into the 1875-era St. James Hotel for a night of well-earned relaxation.
Brunch is never complete without the orange glow of a mimosa staring at you from a tall champagne glass. And it’s even better when paired with a drag show. Flip Phone Drag Brunch on the rooftop of Minneapolis’ Union Restaurant sets the tone for an epic weekend. Themed shows have run the gamut from “Harry Potter” to “Hamilton,” and the sassy performers, combined with the heated, glass-enclosed space, can quickly turn around any lingering blues from the work week.
Kansas may claim “The Wizard of Oz” as its own, but we’re over the rainbow to be the birthplace of the sweet-singing, ruby-slippered Dorothy Gale. Follow the yellow brick road to downtown's Central School Marketplace for some shopping, then head to the Judy Garland Museum, which includes the star’s family home in Grand Rapids. In the museum’s main building, you can see artifacts including a test dress Garland wore for the film.
The town celebrates its place in Oz fandom during June’s Wizard of Oz Festival, featuring a community picnic followed by an outdoor screening of the movie (singalongs encouraged).
Among the state’s 75 state parks and recreation areas, Itasca State Park is the oldest and one of the most popular. More than half a million visitors come here each year for the quintessential photo op: stepping across stones at the knee-deep headwaters of the Mississippi River. But don’t stop there. The park’s verdant 32,000-plus acres provide a serene green backdrop for hiking (pick your path among 49 miles of trails), biking, boating, fishing and swimming.
There are some serious perks when you’re sharing shoreline with the world’s largest freshwater lake. The 142-mile North Shore Scenic Drive boasts stunning views of Lake Superior and its bordering cliffs, beaches and forests. Love chasing waterfalls? You’re in luck, with multiple cascades including the state’s tallest—120-foot High Falls—thundering over cliffs at Grand Portage State Park at the northern end of the route.
Need an envy-worthy shot for the ‘gram? There are tons of opportunities, with one of the faves taken on the rocky shoreline below Split Rock Lighthouse. Carb up in small towns along the way, and save room for famous pies at Rustic Inn Cafe and Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.
One of the state’s rarest native plants—and best-kept secrets—lies along a former rail line north of Interstate 90 near Austin. In June, the cream- and yellow-colored plains wild indigo bloom alongside 6-foot-tall white wild indigo plants at the Wild Indigo Scientific and Natural Area. Hike a primitive trail to scout out these and more than 340 other native plant species, many of them rare or endangered. To keep things thriving here, stay on the path and be sure to brush your shoes before exploring to prevent the spread of invasive species.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss a trip to the free and fun SPAM Museum in downtown Austin, where aproned SPAMbassadors serve SPAMples on pretzel sticks, and leaving the gift shop empty-handed is darn-near impossible.
For you serious ROYGBIVers, you may have noticed our omission of violet, but we’ve gotta share our purple pride for native son Prince. See a live show at the famous First Avenue in Minneapolis, where scenes from “Purple Rain” were shot. Then get the ultimate fan experience by touring Paisley Park, the artist’s private estate and production house in Chanhassen (guided tours include access to Prince’s private music club).
A subtle nod to Prince pops up at the whimsical artist-designed miniature golf course inside St. Paul’s Can Can Wonderland: the nearly 200-foot-long 18th hole—dubbed “The Mini Golf Hole Formerly Known As the World’s Longest Hole”—is covered in purple. For even more odes to The Purple One, check out the sites on this self-guided tour.
Jess is a Winona-area-raised travel writer who now lives in the Twin Cities. After going to school and working in that state just south of us, he decided to come home and explore the ever-growing cultural and culinary scene in Minnesota. Find him on Instagram at @jhoffert.
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