A couple stands on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota
Itinerary

What to See, Eat and Do on a Road Trip from Minneapolis to the North Shore

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Colorado makers Chereen Leong Schwarz and Rob Schwarz stand on the shores of Lake Superior  / Paul Vincent

What to See, Eat and Do on a Road Trip from Minneapolis to the North Shore

By Andrew Parks

Between their backgrounds in textile weaving and craft beer, Chereen Leong Schwarz and her husband Rob Schwarz know exactly how creativity intersects with a highly sought-after sense of community. Or as Chereen said towards the end of the Colorado-based couple’s first Minnesota trip: “We have found our people.”

Here is how you can follow in the footsteps of their itinerary and find inspiration in everything from close-knit art collectives to the widescreen shores of Lake Superior.

  1. Kick things off with some caffeine
    The Get Down Coffee Company in North Minneapolis

    The Get Down Coffee Company  / Paul Vincent

    Kick things off with some caffeine

    Designing fresh threads for Target and shaking up the golf scene are just two of the many projects Houston White has tackled over the past decade. The serial entrepreneur is also behind Camdentown, the vibrant north Minneapolis neighborhood that was sparked by White’s seminal barbershop and the fluid headquarters of his fashion line.

    Its focal point is now the flagship café of The Get Down Coffee Co, a collaboration with Dogwood Coffee Co. founder Dan Anderson that roasts its own robust beans and celebrates the pair’s shared love of music. (Dogwood is known for playing “Eye of the Tiger” and Run-DMC on repeat in its bathrooms.) Look out for nods to the Wu-Tang Clan (the Sweet Potato C.R.E.A.M. Latte), Fugees (the Ready or Not Cortado) and Solange (the strawberry-tinged Cranes in the Sky) on its stacked menu, along with fresh pastries and sporadic breakfast burrito pop-ups from Quince Mpls Mkt.

  2. Create your own art crawl
    Ashley Mary's studio in the Northrup King Building

    Ashley Mary's studio in the Northrup King Building / Paul Vincent

    Create your own art crawl

    About 15 minutes from Camdentown is Minneapolis’ strongest concentration of burgeoning small businesses and multi-disciplinary art studios. The latter springs to life during the family-friendly annual festival Art-A-Whirl. Aside from being the country’s largest self-guided studio tour, the boisterous event is one big party that spills onto the streets and into local breweries like Bauhaus, Indeed, and Fair State.

    Get the lay of the land at the sprawling Northrup King Building; its many tenants include the abstract muralist/painter Ashley Mary, the memory-jogging candle maker Heidi Mueller, and painter Matthew Rucker, who is known for stark yet surreal animal portraits that lean into the limitations of his colorblindness. If you can't make it to Art-A-Whirl, or don’t want to brave the crowds, Northrup also hosts Open Studio Saturdays every week.

    MN Nice Cream in Northeast Minneapolis

    MN Nice Cream  / Paul Vincent

     

    Looking to carry a cold ice cream cone as you wander around the area in the warmest stretch of spring? The Insta-worthy creations of MN Nice Cream feature vegan flavors like Panna Cotta and Door County Cherry, along with such flashy toppings as toasted marshmallows, cake pops, gummy worms, and edible glitter.

  3. Celebrate Taco Tuesday on a Saturday
    Tacos at Centro

    Tacos at Centro  / Paul Vincent

    Celebrate Taco Tuesday on a Saturday

    Restauranteur Jami Olson has not one but three food and drink concepts on Quincy Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Northeast Minneapolis and an absolute must during Art-A-Whirl. Stop by Centro for stiff margs, barrel-aged tequila negronis, and either an exceptional Taco Bell tribute (the Centro Crunch) or a plate full of fresh tortillas pelted with nopales, braised lamb, shredded pork shoulder and some of the best salsa in town.

    Its next-door neighbors include an all-day Mexican café/impeccably curated market (Vivir) and a laidback spot (Bina’s) that rides the line between elevated dive bar (classic cocktails poured alongside tall cans of Coors Light and Hamm's) and diner (a masterful tuna melt, rich wagyu-butter burgers, vegan sloppy joes, and devilled eggs draped with herring).

  4. Take a trip back in time
    A couple stands in one of the main galleries at Minneapolis Institute of Art

    Minneapolis Institute of Art  / Paul Vincent

    Take a trip back in time

    The nearly 100,000 objects in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s (a.k.a. Mia) world class collection span 5,000 years of world history and reflect many different movements and mediums. Admission is free outside of special ticketed exhibitions like a long overdue look at Native American photography, 2022’s spine-chilling presentation of “The Paranormal in American Art”, and 2018’s dreamlike collaboration between Chinese art curator Liu Yang and theater icon Robert Wilson.

    Mia’s permanent collection includes provocative rotating pieces from Raffaelo Monti (“Veiled Lady”), Vincent van Gogh (“Olive Trees”), Claude Monet (“Grainstack”), Chuck Close (“Frank”), Kehinde Wiley (“Santos Dumont — The Father of Aviation II”), and Francis Bacon (“Study for Portrait VI”). Not to mention many unknown makers from centuries long gone that tell the story of civilization itself.  

    The Puttery in downtown Minneapolis

    The Puttery in downtown Minneapolis  / Paul Vincent

     

    For a closer look at the creativity of everyone from Roy Lichtenstein to Andy Warhol, check out the art museum course at Puttery in downtown Minneapolis. The Walker Art Center also sports its own artist-designed Skyline Mini Golf course during the summer.   

    As Chereen said with a smile during her visit, “I can’t believe how much art this city has; it’s everywhere.”

  5. Bathe in an ocean of trees
    Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors

    Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors  / Paul Vincent

    Bathe in an ocean of trees

    Visitors never forget their first drive up to Duluth, the lakeside city that serves as the stunning gateway to such North Shore essentials as Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche State Park. Before you high tail it up towards one of “the most charming small towns” in America, be sure to swing by Northern Waters Smokehaus for a Guy Fieri-approved Cajun Finn sandwich (house-smoked salmon, green onion cream cheese, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and lettuce, stuffed into a sturdy stirato roll).

  6. Sip on your surroundings
    A bartender pours a cocktail at Vikre Distillery

    Vikre Distillery  / Paul Vincent

    Sip on your surroundings

    Vikre Distillery is another favorite in the bayfront Canal Park neighborhood that’s worth a visit after Northern Waters. Its drinks boast hand-foraged botanicals and signature cocktails that embody its experimental takes on gin, whiskey and aquavit. The Broken Arrow begins with a strong base of toasty, wild rice-infused Øvrevann Aquavit, then slips in some maple syrup, several different bitters, and a birch bark pretzel garnish. Similar in spirit is Spill the Tea Leaves, which spotlights Vikre’s dragonfruit-infused Spruce Gin alongside its Herbal Liqueur, grapefruit and lime juices, sage syrup and jasmine bitters.

    If you prefer craft beer over cocktails, Bent Paddle Brewing is a beloved standby of Duluth’s Craft District, a.k.a. Lincoln Park. In the same way New Yorkers claim their bagels can’t be replicated, there's something in the water of Lake Superior that keeps Bent Paddle’s brews crisp and consistent, whether it’s their Bent Hop IPA, Cold Press Black coffee ale, or seasonal releases like their barrel-aged Double Black series. It’s only available in Bent Paddle’s taproom, and an event among hop heads every year. Visiting in winter? Sample one of Bent Paddle’s Christmas Cookie Cream Ales while visiting Bentleyville, one of the country’s largest Christmas lights displays.

  7. Make something magnificent
    A glassblowing class at Lake Superior Art Glass

    A glassblowing class at Lake Superior Art Glass  / Paul Vincent

    Make something magnificent

    Lake Superior Art Glass is a studio/gallery that showcases the radiant work of more than 60 glassblowers from the Midwest. Many of which got their start right here; since Lake Superior’s furnace is blowing hot air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it hosts a wide range of revelatory classes throughout the day.  

    Start with something as simple as a pendant necklace, icicle ornament or prismatic paperweight, then move onto more complex pieces like multicolored vases, gorgeous wine goblets, and avant-garde flower arrangements. As Chereen and Rob found out firsthand, it’s the perfect cross-section of craft and science, a way of making the earth’s natural materials come alive through an entirely new lens.  

  8. Hug the shoreline as you head up towards Grand Marais
    North Shore Camping Co in Beaver Bay

    North Shore Camping Co. in Beaver Bay / Paul Vincent

    Hug the shoreline as you head up towards Grand Marais

    If you need a pick-me-up before checking into a tricked-out glamping tent, cafes don’t get any more secluded or storybook-y than Cedar Coffee Company. Hidden in the hushed backwoods of Two Harbors, it offers light bites and crafty drinks right next door to sister businesses (Spokengear, Cedaero) that revolve around bike rentals, repairs and custom gear.

    Speaking of supplies, North Shore Camping Co. takes care of all your grilling and chilling needs so you can focus on your surroundings, from rechargeable lanterns and solar power stations to firewood bundles and enamel dishware. The Beaver Bay getaway also gives its guests 24-hour access to a base lodge complete with clean restrooms and showers if you’d rather not rough it.

    That said, this isn’t a hotel that puts nature behind plexiglass. It’s glamping at its very best — a prime spot for soaking up natural beauty, listening to bird calls, and surveying the local mushroom scene whenever a heavy rainfall hits.

  9. Dig into “dock to table” fish and chips
    The Fisherman's Daughter in Grand Marais

    The Fisherman's Daughter  / Paul Vincent

    Dig into “dock to table” fish and chips

    After spending the night under a blanket of blinking stars, and the morning hiking a trail or two, keep your car pointed north along the Lake Superior shoreline until you reach the quaint, only-in-Minnesota town of Grand Marais. Anyone who arrives around lunchtime knows to head straight for The Fisherman’s Daughter, the café that serves the smoked and fried catch(es) of the day on display at its own Dockside First Market.  

    A full menu of crowd-pleasing food can also be found at Voyageur Brewing Company across the street, ranging from Reuben egg rolls and plentiful charcuterie platters to perch tacos and vegetarian phở. If you can’t make up your mind on the beer front, flights of six five-ounce pours include such local staples as a wild rice brown ale, two different IPAs, and at least one lip-puckering sour.   

  10. Sail on a Nordic schooner and bake the best sourdough bread
    Sailing on Lake Superior with North House Folk School

    Sailing on Lake Superior with North House Folk School / Paul Vincent

    Sail on a Nordic schooner and bake the best sourdough bread

    Hundreds of eager adult education students escape to Grand Marais’ North House Folk School every season to learn tactile lessons in basketry, woodworking, rya weaving, blacksmithing, yurt building, and baking. There’s no better way to understand the historic northern crafts of the Scandinavians and Native Americans that call Minnesota home.

    And if you’re looking for the perfect end to a packed trip, North House also offers sunbaked sailing trips from Grand Marais Harbor on its signature Hjørdis ship.   

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.