The Twin Cities have so much to offer, but sometimes it’s great to get away and visit some of the amazing and amusing small towns in the area. Here’s a look at some of the best small towns to visit in Minnesota—that are just minutes from your front door!
On the shores of Lake Minnetonka is the charming waterfront haven of Excelsior. It’s only about 30 minutes from Minneapolis but it’s in a world of its own. can be found on the shores of You’ll find plenty of bistros and boutiques, so you can shop and relax. The town offers plenty of fun activities—all with a small-town feel. Click on any of the links below for additional information.
- Charter Boats
- Excelsior - Lake Minnetonka Historical Society
- Lake Minnetonka Information
- Minnesota Streetcar Museum
- Minnehaha Steamboat
Photo courtesy of https://www.ci.excelsior.mn.us
Here’s a place where you can find a taste of Europe in the middle of Minnesota! This quiet town is full of hidden gems. Named after its New Ulm is named after its German counterpart, Ulm, which also served as the inspiration for much of the culture that can be found here. When the weather is warmer you may encounter locals sitting outdoors in the beautiful, historic district enjoying German beer and listening to the toll of Glockenspiel chimes ringing from Bavarian-style clock towers. You can sample some of the local brews yourself at the August Schell Brewery. Stop by the Chamber of Commerce on the corner of Center and Minnesota Streets. There you can borrow an iTouch player (There’s no charge!) and take a self-guided walking tour of the town. On your way down Minnesota Street, you’ll bump into historical characters such as Carrie Nation, Henry David Thoreau, Whoopee John Wilfahrt, Governor John Lind, and Wanda Gag. You may also want to visit the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, which commemorates some of Minnesota’s great artists like Prince and Bob Dylan.
Photo courtesy of https://www.newulm.com
For many people, Red Wing is synonymous with great shoes and work boots. However, there’s a lot more to this town that shoes! This unique and charming town along the banks of the Mississippi River offers a great view, an abundance of outdoor activities, and plenty of historic sites. Red Wing is only about an hour's drive from Minneapolis, and once you're here you can hike Barn Bluff, take a bike ride on the Cannon Valley Trail, pack for a picnic on Sorin’s Bluff in Memorial Park visit the local wineries and brewery, dine in great local restaurants, or shop in one of the many locally-owned antique stores, art galleries or boutique shops. You can catch a show (including everything from comedy to live vocal performances) at
The Sheldon Theatre or Treasure Island Resort & Casino. Or you can catch some great bluegrass music at The Music Loft & Stony End Harps. And, of course, you can even catch a glimpse at the world’s biggest boot at the Red Wing museum!
Photo courtesy of redwing.org
Another great town to visit, Owatonna, is conveniently located about one hour from Minneapolis and offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience what life was like for generations in the past. The Village of Yesteryear attraction is open between May and September and features 15 buildings (including the city hall and a preserved general store) that you can visit to experience life as it existed for those who came before us. Owatonna isn’t just about preserving the past. Your kids may love a visit to the Reptile Amphibian Discovery Zoo to learn about these fascinating animals. You can also check out the Owatonna Arts Center located at 435 Garden View Lane in the West Hills Complex. The Art Center is housed in a beautiful Romanesque-style building dating from 1886 that was part of the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage for many years. The Arts Center hosts numerous local, regional, and national artists in the main gallery and performing arts hall. Open Tuesday through Friday from noon till 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The Center is closed on holidays and Mondays. Admission is free. For more information, call 507-451-0533.
Photo courtesy of Owatonna Website
The quiet town of Mantorville is a historic stagecoach stop, that is rich in pioneer history and has retained much of its small-town charm and ambiance. Since 1973 it has been a hotbed of theatre activity when people began flocking to this tiny village on the banks of the Zumbro River just over an hour away from Minneapolis. The Mantorville Theatre Company offers year-round theater productions (including classic melodramas during the summer) in the old 1918 Opera House. (mantorvillain.com). You can take a self-guided walking tour through the town, and stop at the Dodge County Historical Society (dodgecountyhistorical.org) to learn more about this wonderful town’s history. Or check out the local Ghost Town Tours at mantourvilletours.wordpress.com. You won’t want to miss out on a visit to the favorite dining hotspot in town, the Hubbel House, that has been in operation since 1857!
Photo courtesy of Mantorville Website
Sometimes You Just Need to Cross a Line
Sure, there are plenty of great Minnesota small towns to explore, but sometimes you just need to cross a line—a State line—to find a charming small town like Hudson, Wisconsin. This river town (just 30 minutes east of Minneapolis) is one of Wisconsin's most popular spots to visit in the summer when crowds of people arrive to stroll along the water's edge and enjoy the many activities the area offers. You can begin at the Phipps Center for the Arts downtown, take a walk along the St. Croix River National Scenic Riverway, and shop at one of the many unique downtown shops before stopping in for a bite at one of the towns great restaurants. Lakefront Park is a short walk away. There you can enjoy the beach, playground for kids, and even catch live music on Tuesday evenings. Check out their great video of area attractions for more year-round activities.