Two hours west of the Twin Cities with a population of 13,000, the town of Alexandria packs a lot into its 16 square miles. In fact, its cultural offerings, picturesque setting and abundance of activities earned it a spot on Livability.com's "Top 10 Best Small Towns" list in 2013.
Calling itself the "birthplace of America," Alexandria -- affectionately known as Alex -- was explored by the Vikings long before Columbus' voyage, according to locals. Today, it's home to a historic downtown, cute boutiques, a winery, theaters, museums, and plenty of outdoor fun.
Here's a sampling of things to see and do:
- Shopping: Independent shops line Broadway Street, Alex's main thoroughfare. Quilting and fabric stores, clothing boutiques, bookstores and gift shops are among the street's unique merchants. On Highway 29, Viking Plaza Mall houses chain department stores, an antique store and other specialty shops.
- Dining & Wine: Whether you're in the mood for pizza, a burger or Caribbean-inspired fare, you can find it in Alexandria. Independent eateries abound on and around Broadway, and waterfront dining is available along the shores of lakes Agnes, Darling and Le Homme Dieu. On County Road 24, Carlos Creek Winery is open daily for tours and tastings.
- Arts & Entertainment: Alexandria is home to three museums dedicated to the area's history and traditions: the Runestone Museum, the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum and the Douglas County Historical Society. On Friday nights, watch a live radio show taping at the Lakes Area Theatre, or catch a new release at the movie theater downtown.
- Outdoor Recreation: Outdoor pursuits are minutes away from downtown Alex, and there's something for every season. Go fishing on one of the area's many lakes, bike or snowmobile on the beautiful Central Lakes Trail, tee off at a local golf course, or ski or snow tube at nearby Lake Carlos State Park and Andes Tower Hills Ski Area.
On your way home, don't forget to pay your respects to Big Ole (pictured above), the 28-foot Viking statue that watches over this special town. Learn more about Alex at www.visitalexandriamn.com