Top Things to Do in Duluth
Top Things to Do in Duluth
By Lisa Meyers McClintick
With an architecturally stunning downtown, trendy lakeside neighborhoods and outdoor adventures around every turn, it's no secret why Duluth is one of Minnesota's most popular tourist destinations. Use our visitors guide to find out where to go and what to do when you're in Duluth.
What to Do
Watching a tall ship pull into the Duluth port is an essential part of any Duluth vacation: a spectacle that’s both larger than life and a routine part of the daily rhythm in the world’s most inland port—but it’s hardly the only thing to do in Duluth.
The popular Canal Park neighborhood adjacent to the lake is abuzz with restaurants, breweries and boutique storefronts, but reminders of the city’s origins as a major shipping hub are never far from sight: The iconic Aerial Lift Bridge rises high above the neighborhood forming a literal and figurative bridge between the city's shipping and tourism economies.
The refurbished industrial district hums with hotels, restaurants and shops such as locally made Duluth Pack, Siivii’s-Sivertson Gallery and Waters of Superior. The free Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center posts which ships will be heading through the canal and when, and its exhibits give visitors a feel for a wheelhouse, insight into the traveling by ship a century ago and the power of the Great Lakes.
While there is much to see in Canal Park and downtown, Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District draws visitors as a hub of locally made products, artisans and eateries in this up-and-coming former industrial area not far from the St. Louis River. Anchor businesses include Frost River outdoor accessories, Bent Paddle Brewing with a lively taproom, Duluth Folk School with ongoing classes and intimate concerts, and the Duluth Children’s Museum.
Sweeping views of the St. Louis River fly by while riding Spirit Mountain’s Timber Twister alpine coaster or coasting down rugged trails. Find more stellar views driving, biking or walking the scenic Skyline Drive, which winds along the wooded ridge high above the city and overlooks the big blue expanse of Lake Superior. At Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, on the eastern end of the byway, birders gather to watch hundreds of migrating raptors and other birds soar past this natural gathering place.
Visitors can get up close to Great Lakes ships with a tour of the William A. Irvin, which is docked between Canal Park and the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, a hub for national concerts and tours, arts performances and University of Minnesota Duluth hockey. The Vista Fleet also offers seasonal boat tours of the harbor and lake, with stellar views of the hillside city. Head to Glensheen Mansion for creative tours of its extravagant, turn-of-the-century architecture and grounds, or to attend a community event like their dockside summer concert series.
For railroad enthusiasts seeking a unique tour, visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in downtown Duluth—voted "best transportation museum in America" by USA Today readers. Inside the museum you'll find interactive exhibits and collections of model trains, but the main attraction is the unforgettable Lakefront Ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
Next to the convention center, the harbor-front park rocks with events such the All Pints North craft beer festival in July, back-to-back Bayfront Blues Fest and Festival of Sail (formerly Tall Ships Festival) in August, and Bentleyville Tour of Lights for the holidays.
And of course, then there’s Grandma’s. Every June, thousands of competitors and their families visit Duluth to run Grandma’s Marathon, a Boston-qualifying course along the scenic shore of Lake Superior. In addition to the race, Grandma’s weekend is jam-packed with family-friendly activities and other big events.
Where to Eat
Tasty eateries can be found throughout Duluth, from cozy coffeehouses and taprooms to special occasion destinations, such as 16th-floor views at J.J. Astor Restaurant at the Radisson. Favorite spots for visitors often include a lake view, such as The Boat Club at Historic Fitger’s Brewery Complex (a mall of sorts featuring dining, retail and lodging plus the namesake brewery), Va Bene Caffe (which taps the area’s Italian heritage) and the rooftop at Grandma’s Saloon and Grill in Canal Park.
Other destinations stand out for local products, such as Duluth Grill with its onsite gardens, Vikre Distillery with its Nordic-influenced handcrafted gins (and gin-and-tonic flights) near the aerial bridge, and Northern Waters Smokehaus for its smoked fish.
Where to Sleep
Hotel rooms can be found throughout the city, but the favorite locations for travelers tend to be along the shore with views of the lake from Canal Park or Park Point. Other cherished choices include the unique and elegant historic bed-and-breakfasts that have transformed the city’s grand mansions into romantic getaways with multicourse breakfasts.