Want to check out this lively port town? Here’s what you need to know.
© Beth Gauper
An ore boat enters Duluth's harbor.
Thirty years ago, motorists whizzed right through Duluth on their way to Minnesota's North Shore, putting it into their
rear-view mirror as fast as they could.
That changed in the early 1990s, when the rejuvenation of Duluth's lakefront started to transform this working-class port
town into the belle of Lake Superior.
Now, it's packed from summer through fall, and rooms at its hotels and B&Bs can be hard to come by. It's a Cinderella story, really.
But some people still wonder — what's in Duluth?
What to do
In summer, everyone gravitates to Canal Park for some boat-watching.
You can also bike or skate on the Lakewalk, which follows the lake for four miles, then parallels the excursion-train tracks
for another three miles, almost to Lester Park, which has a great swimming hole.
Tourist attractions include the Great Lakes Aquarium, the S.S. William Irvin ore boat, Vista Fleet cruises and the North Shore Scenic Railroad, whose pizza trains are among the many things kids love about Duluth.
It's free to visit the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center next to the Aerial Lift Bridge and the playground at Bayfront Festival Park.
On the hills above town, it's fun to drive Skyline Parkway for the views and to check out the swimming holes (summer) and hawk-watching (fall). And there's great hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail, which roughly parallels it.
There are more attractions in West Duluth, along the St. Louis River — the Lake Superior & Mississippi excursion train, the trailhead of the Willard Munger State Trail, the Lake Superior Zoo and Spirit Mountain.
© Beth Gauper
Cruise boats take passengers onto the lake and through the harbor.
There's live music at restaurants, pubs and clubs all over town. For more, check TwinPortsNightlife.com.
The tourism calendar lists free concerts and festivals as well as performances of the theaters, symphony and opera and big-name concerts and touring shows. They're listed by month.
In winter, there's also a lot to do: alpine skiing and tubing at Spirit Mountain and cross-country skiing on 82 kilometers of groomed trails and snowshoeing on the Superior Hiking Trail.
For more, see Relishing winter in Duluth.
What to know
Duluth can be chilly even in summer, so bring a jacket and pants. It’s not uncommon for it to be 30 degrees cooler than the Twin Cities, only 2½ hours to the south.
Don't go without a reservation in summer and fall. Some events fill up the town, which is packed anyway in summer.
Conventions and high-school sports tournaments also can take up huge blocks of rooms (and raise prices).
In 2013, resurfacing on Interstate 35 from Esko, just east of Cloquet, and U.S. 2 in Proctor, just west of Duluth, will restrict traffic to one lane from April to October.
Festivals in 2013
June 22, Grandma's Marathon. This is the biggest weekend of the year. Hotel rates go through the roof, and many have a three-night minimum.
© Torsten Muller
The Denis Sullivan heads past the South Pierhead Light on a day sail.
June 29-30, Park Point Art Fair.
July 4, Fourth Fest at Bayfront Festival Park, with a big
July 6, Twin Ports Bridge Festival in Bayfront Festival Park.
July 13, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest at Bayfront Festival Park.
July 20, Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival at Bayfront Festival
July 25-28, Tall Ships Duluth at Bayfront Festival Park. Reserve ASAP for
Aug. 2-4, Bayfront Jam Music Festival at Bayfront Festival Park.
Aug. 9-11, Bayfront Blues Festival at the festival park.
Aug. 10-11, Festival of Fine Art and Craft at Glensheen.
Aug. 17-18, Art in Bayfront Park Art Fair.
Sept. 14, North Shore Inline Marathon.
Sept. 20-22, Duluth Balloon Festival at the festival park.
September and October is hawk-watching season,
when birders flock in from across the nation to watch the migration over Hawk Ridge. Many stay for a week or more.
It's also fall-color season. The town fills up on weekends through the third weekend in October, when Minnesota
schoolchildren have a four-day break.
Chester Congdon's mansion Glensheen hosts
many special events, such as the Festival of Fine Art and Craft on the second weekend in August and Wednesday-night concerts
In summer, it's fun to watch the Wednesday-evening sailboat races.
Check the tourism calendar for annual events and to see what's going on when you
Where to stay
In summer, everyone wants to stay on Canal Park, where rooms reach the $200 range.
The popular Inn on Lake Superior was first to include such family-pleasing amenities as s'more roasts, waffle breakfasts and loaner bikes and wagons. It's also pet-friendly and has a small outdoor heated pool on its roof.
© Beth Gauper
From Canal Park hotels, guests can see boats coming and going.
They all have indoor pools and hot tubs and offer free breakfasts.
A block away on Lake Avenue, rooms at The Suites Hotel (formerly Hawthorn Suites) have full kitchens, and a hot breakfast buffet is included. There's a pool. The least expensive rooms don't have exterior windows.
Across the Aerial Lift Bridge, boat-watchers love the South Pier Inn, which has
corner rooms with balconies that have a view of the harbor as well as the canal. Other rooms face the canal, harbor or point.
It doesn't have a pool.
Downtown hotels are within walking distance of Canal Park. The Sheraton on Superior Street is newest. The Holiday Inn & Suites is newer. The Radisson is oldest, but its revolving rooftop restaurant is very good. All have pools.
Fitger's Inn is in the historic brewery complex on the Lakewalk. It doesn't have a pool, but it's under the same roof as restaurants, shops, a dinner theater, a spa, a brewpub and a nightclub.
Check Visit Duluth's Hot Deals for specials, especially from November
Duluth also has many B&Bs. Solglimt faces the lake on Park Point, where you'll also find several of Duluth's cottages. Other B&Bs occupy mansions in East Duluth, where tycoons settled at the turn of the century.
If you want to save money and plan to visit during the week, consider a room at Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton, 20 miles south of Duluth
on I-35. From June through October, rooms there start at $59 ($89 weekends).
Dorms offer overflow housing during Grandma's weekend. The College of St. Scholastica off Skyline Parkway offers housing at other times, in dorm rooms, suites and apartments. Call 218-529-5777.
On Canal Park, Grandma's Saloon & Grill galvanized development when it opened in 1976, then sponsored the first Grandma's Marathon in 1977. It's still a fun place to eat.
The new Canal Park Brewing Company has lake views through floor-to-ceiling windows
and good burgers and sandwiches. You can try the beers in flights of four.
In DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, the locavore Lake Avenue Cafe is more sophisticated. Young adults like to eat Mexican food on the deck of Little Angie's Cantina, and you can get plump sandwiches and desserts at Amazing Grace Bakery, where musicians often perform.
Across the street, Bellisio's Italian Restaurant is more romantic and offers wine flights.
© Beth Gauper
The Portland Malt Shoppe is a favorite stop.
Canal Park also has a lot of chains: Green Mill, Old Chicago, Timber Lodge Steakhouse, Famous Dave's, Red Lobster.
Downtown, JJ Astor is on the revolving rooftop of the Radisson, and it may be
Duluth's best restaurant — its tables certainly have the best views.
On East Superior Street, Pizza Luce is very popular for its breakfasts and beer as well as pizza. The Black Water Lounge is the place for a fancy date and the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe for a more casual but still sophisticated meal.
Tycoons Zenith Alehouse serves burgers and nine Fitger's
Brewhouse beers in the renovated 1888 City Hall.
Next door, the Pickwick has a traditional menu that's been popular since
Across from Fitger’s on Superior Street, the patio of Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake is a good place to have a sandwich and watch the world go by. Across the street, the Portland Malt Shoppe serves up treats in a tiny brick building built as a gas station in 1921.
On the next block, Va Bene Caffe sells gelato and Italian pasta
and sandwiches; try to get a table on its glassed-in porch, which has great views.
© Beth Gauper
The Lakewalk follows the shoreline from Canal Park.
West Duluth is off the beaten tourist path, but it has two excellent restaurants: the Duluth Grill, just off I-35 at 27th Avenue West and Michigan Street, and the Thai
restaurant Pak's Green Corner, just west of 40th Avenue West on Grand
In spring, watch for Restaurant Week, when you can
get good deals on prix-fixe meals.
The Twin Ports Entertainment book offers 2-for-1 coupons for admission to Vista Fleet cruises, the Great Lakes Aquarium, Glensheen and the Depot. List price is $35 when it comes out in fall, but the price drops as the year goes on. Often, it sells out.
If you're a member of Minnesota Public Radio, you can get discounts at many businesses.
The Northland coupon book offers small discounts on attractions. You can download the coupons at the Vista Fleet site (click on the
category you want, then the line that starts, "Click this coupon''). It's no longer available in print.
Discounts include $2 off admission to Glensheen, $1 off admission to the Great Lakes Aquarium and Lake Superior &
At the North Shore Scenic Railroad, you get a free child's ticket on the Lester River trip with paid adult ticket.
Check in the off-season for lodgings deals. The best are for stays in the off-season, from late October up to Memorial Day
Last updated on April 29, 2013
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