I think this blog post will be my favorite ever written. It’s been a long time coming as this year was my 7th trip up to Grand Marais, MN. My friends and family already know how much I love this place and if you ever get me going about it, I can’t stop!
Every year, Eric and I find new places and restaurants in this hidden gem just off the North Shore. We love to kick off summer and end the summer up in this tiny town just 40 miles south of the Canadian Border.
Grand Marais was named “America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel Magazine and that is for sure correct! The scenic drive on the way up the North Shore is worth it on its own (more on that in another post) but I always get butterflies when I drive into Grand Marais and head down the little hill to see the town surrounded by Lake Superior in the distance. I swear this town is magical!
Located about 5 hours north from the Twin Cities, this town has everything you need for a relaxing weekend getaway filled with slow living, good food, and beautiful scenery. Read on below for some of my favorite things to do while in Grand Marais.
Eat & Drink
Start your morning off with a Maple Latte at Java Moose
This family-owned coffee shop is typically my first stop in and last stop out when coming to town. Here, I was introduced to the maple latte, and let’s just say my life was changed. I have had a few more maple lattes in my life since discovering this one, but none of them are as sweet and delicious as the one from Java Moose. Their indoor shop is cozy and perfect for relaxing, working, or just simply hanging out. You’ll catch Sarah and her family running around keeping this coffee shop in tip-top shape. Visit her mom and aunt at their outdoor stand (connected to the Trading post, pictured above) for good conversation and great lake seating in the summer! They are some of the sweetest people in town.
Indulge in some of the world’s best at World’s Best Donuts
You can’t miss this little red shop when walking through town. Not only from the distinguished red and white sign but mostly from the lines of people flocking to get their donuts. Their cake donuts are dubbed the “world’s best’ and honestly, I believe it. They are my favorite cake donuts ever! Get to World’s Best Donuts early before they sell out for the day, or to try some of their specialties like a skizzle (a sweet yeast dough, stretched out and deep fried), Chet’s best (raise donut with vanilla/chocolate frosting combo), or a strawberry cream cheese swirl. (This one sells the fastest!)
Grab a fry bread taco at Hungry Hippie Tacos
If you read my post about staying at the Hungry Hippie Hostel, I bet you can guess who the owners of this taco joint are. Kate and Jeremy took over a taco restaurant in town and revamped it with their own flair to create Hungry Hippie Tacos. They are known for their iconic frybread taco. Made fresh to order, these are a must try! Try a pork taco with some tots and queso or go for an oozy gooey quesadilla and nachos!
Sit on the dock patio at Angry Trout with some fish and chips
If you’re looking for some freshwater fish, look no further! They have some of the best selections in town. We always enjoy our meals at the Angry Trout Cafe and it’s the only restaurant in Grand Marais truly on the water! Watch the sailboats come and go on a nice day while you sit on their dock patio and indulge in some delicious fish and chips. If that’s not your thing.. come back for dinner. They have amazing entrees and are vegan-friendly too!
Sip something hoppy on the rooftop at Voyageur Brewing (and don’t forget the wings!)
The only brewery in town, Voyageur Brewing is always hopping. (See what I did there?) Eric loves their Devil’s Kettle IPA and I just come for anything seasonal they have. They have a newly built patio and rooftop that overlooks Superior and it’s the place to be on a nice day, especially when they have live music. But the real winner here.. is the wings. I’m not joking when I say these are some of the best wings I’ve had in Minnesota. They are beer brined in their own beer and served a variety of ways but our favorite is the naked wings with a garlic mayo dipping sauce. My second favorite is the cheese curds..my mouth is watering just thinking of them!
Prepare for one of the best meals ever at Crooked Spoon Cafe
*UPDATED JUNE 9TH, 2020. Sadly Crooked Spoon has burned down during a fire in April or 2020. There is no official word yet whether they will rebuild or not.*
When visiting a small town, I will say I have my doubts about the options for a really fantastic dinner. But, you can put your doubts aside for Grand Marais by snagging a table at Crooked Spoon Cafe. Visit in the summer and they have their upstairs open which boasts lake views; perfect for watching the sunset and hanging out. Grab a glass of wine or beer and order one of their small plates while you wait for a table in the restaurant. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. It changes seasonally, but my recommendation is anything with scallops or the pork belly. Each of their plates is exquisite and will have you feeling full but excited to come back for your next visit!
Get a hearty breakfast at the Blue Water Cafe
If World’s Best Donuts doesn’t suffice for breakfast, walk down the street to the Blue Water Cafe. Fill your tummy with fresh cinnamon rolls, omelets, and pancakes! I’m clearly in a food coma in the above photo but our breakfast was so good! Everything we had there was delicious and reasonably priced. They also serve lunch and dinner with a plethora of options. Oh, and you can also snag the upstairs as a place to stay when you’re in town. Only 16 steps down to all the bacon and pancakes you could ever dream of!
Grab a slice at Sven & Ole’s
If you live in Minnesota I’m sure you’ve seen a Sven & Ole’s bumper sticker. This place is one of the most well-known restaurants on the North Shore because of their longevity, but also intense advertising. You can’t go to Grand Marais and not go to Sven & Ole’s! We’ll typically pick up slices to go on the way home, or we’ll order a takeout pizza and eat it on the beach or back at our hotel for a game night!
Make a pit stop at Trail Center for a life-changing malt
While cruising up the Gunflint Trail, once you spot the big log cabin that has an old gas pump right outside, make sure to swing in there. Not only does Trail Center have provisions for whatever you may need or have forgotten for your trip, but they also have a little restaurant tucked away in the back decked out in “Up North” decor and a ton of bumper stickers. Pull up a sticker-covered wooden chair by the bar and make sure to try a malt. I am typically not a fan of malts, but the women sitting next to me convinced me to get one and boy, was I happy I did. Try a chocolate peanut butter malt – and don’t plan on sharing!
Relax while sipping a delicious cocktail overlooking Poplar Lake at Poplar Haus
Keep heading north up the Gunflint and you’ll be sure to see a Moose (a fake moose, unfortunately) marking the location of Poplar Haus. A year-round cabin rental property located right on Poplar Lake, Poplar Haus has become one of our favorite stops while visiting. They even have a liquor store to get all the libations you may have need. While Eric and I have yet to stay at their cabins, we make it a point to come and relax on the patio at their delicious restaurant. Owned and operated by two couples from the Twin Cities, you can see the love and passion they put into this place. The atmosphere is a perfect blend of cozy and modern where you just want to belly up to the bar (or the patio) and hang out here all day with a cool cocktail. Make sure to try their cocktail of the day and the duck wings! Also if you head up for Memorial Day, pop in for their brats and brews grill out- you won’t be disappointed.
Try a walleye quesadilla at The Gunflint Lodge and stay for the view
When you’re just about at the end of the trail, you should see a sign for the Gunflint Lodge. Make sure to turn into and check it out. It’s worth the drive! Located right on the lake, this property has been a staple in the Northwoods. Stop in for a bite but stay for the views. Inside their main lodge is a rustic restaurant where you can cozy up by the fire or lounge by the window and take in the scenery. We tried a Minnesota take on a quesadilla with Walleye and it was dang good!
Cozy up by the fire for some frog legs at Harbor House Grille
While I did visit here in the winter, the Harbor House Grille is great any time of the year. In the summer, sit on the patio or in the winter cozy up by their fire inside! You will feel just like you eating a home cooked meal at this former home overlooking Lake Superior. All of their dishes are made from scratch just steps from your table. This place is quaint and a good choice for an intimate dinner!
Go sweet and savory with custard and wood-fired pizza at Sydney’s
Who doesn’t like pizza and ice cream? Sydney’s Frozen Custard has the best of both worlds. I always stop by for custard in the afternoon and sit on their front patio, but if you want to hang out longer, grab a pizza and head to their rooftop patio. It has full lake views and a beautiful view of Artist Point as well. Their wood-fired pizza is one size and perfect for sharing. Try a few to go around and then top it off with custard – yum!
Watch the sunset off the lighthouse pier
Grand Marais has some of the most beautiful sunsets’s ever in Minnesota. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk down the break wall to the lighthouse and watch the sunset over the lake. It’s a pretty easy walk down the break wall and if you can, dip your toes into the chilly waters of Superior. I always love stopping to take in the beauty of the town and the lake at this spot. If you can’t make it down the break wall, any spot along the beach is great for the sunset too!
Listen to Live music and the Gunflint Tavern Rooftop
Eric and I always love finding live music wherever we go and I have to say the Gunflint Tavern Rooftop is one of my favorite places to go! The rooftop has the ability to be indoor/outdoor with great views of the lake. It’s the perfect spot for a sweet summer night. Cozy up close to your neighbor when they enclose it for shows in the winter. I always have the best time chatting with other travelers while hanging out here too!
Compete for a hole-in-one while feeding baby goats
While I’m horrible at mini-golf, Eric loves it so we always try to make it a point to stop at Putt n Pets right on the edge of town. The course is a fun layout and has a whimsical theme to it. But my favorite part? Feeding the goats! The course has a little lookout point for the goats where you can buy feed and watch the goats pull their food bowl up and down. Every time we go, they always seem to have baby goats and they are the cutest! They also have chickens, roosters, and more! It’s the perfect place to take kiddos, but we have fun just the two of us too.
Travel up in the Gunflint Trail for some moose hunting
While I just listed a few foodie reasons to travel up the Gunflint Trail, sometimes we just like to take the scenic drive and search for moose. Sadly, we have yet to see one, but we keep seeing others find them so I know there’s hope in the future. Go early in the morning or later in the evening and keep your eye on the low swampy areas near all the lakes along the trail. There is also a moose viewing trail that’s about 25 minutes up the trail where you can park and hike up to a deck overlooking an inland lake.
Step back in time at Wunderbar
If you’re wanting summer fun feels like you had as a child, head to Wunderbar. It’s an eatery and glampground all in one with a full-service bar and live music! The inside looks a mix between my grandma’s house, my childhood home’s basement, and the main cabin from a summer camp. It’s cool, kitschy, and messy all in the best way. Sip a drink on the patio, rent a Lotus Belle Tent, or play Atari while at Wunderbar. It’s always a fun and unique experience checking it out!
Get your Candy & Fudge Fix at Gunflint Mercantile
I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of fudge but I definitely get down to the fudge at Gunflint Mercantile. They have a candy shelf and fudge counter just within steps of each other – a sweet tooth’s dream. If you can’t decide on what flavor of fudge, you can buy a fudge stick with 5 different flavor cubes of fudge. Not to mention they have some of the cutest up north gifts too. I snagged some cute “paper” plates and their wild rice mix! They make so many goodies from their kitchen that I’d be shocked if you didn’t walk out without purchasing something!
Shop local artists at The Big Lake
Grand Marais and the North Shore is known for its artists and Northwoods art and Abby at The Big Lake really captures the best of the best! From wall art to jewelry, ceramics, books, and candles, there is really something for everyone there. The selections in the store really reflect the beauty of the North Shore. I had the pleasure of meeting Abby, the owner, the last time I was in and it was so nice to chat with her! You can really tell the love and passion she has for her store and the town too. Every piece in there makes my heart happy!
Hike the Superior Hiking Trail
While this might be obvious for some, I figured I’d better include it in my list! The Super Hiking Trail is one of the longest trails up along the North Shore and it is so scenic! Start in Grand Marais and head all the way up to Canada or trek your way back to Duluth! You really can’t go wrong with either direction – the views are worth it.
Find new treasures at Up State MN
The is one of my favorite new stores in Grand Marais. A Northwoods Modern inspired store, step into Upstate MN and find an open, airy space that’s filled with beautiful art and gifts – perfect for you or your loved ones. You can tell the shop exudes the sense of connection from its owner, Kristofer. He will always greet you warmly and be thrilled to share his experiences and the amazing finds in his shop. Make sure to stop in here and see the beautiful, unique pieces!
Wander through the “woods” at Artist’s Point
If you ventured out to the lighthouse and thought that was way too easy, try venturing the opposite way and walk through the woods at Artist’s Point. Please note this is a very rugged terrain! However, it’s worth the challenge if you’re up for it. This little “island” juts out in the lake so you can pretend your out on the lake without dipping a toe in the water. Discover tide pools and beautiful shoreline views while breathing in the fresh pine air.
Pick up a book at the Lake Superior Trading Post
This is one of my favorite stops! I always pretend I am a rugged outdoorsman and need all the gear in here, but in reality, I peruse the fun North Face or Patagonia apparel and then head upstairs to the home and decor section, hehe. Lake Superior Trading Post is so fun to browse around and they are always doing book signings from local authors, so make sure to check out their bulletin board of events. We like to peruse their extensive book collection too! Eric and I have purchased quite of few interesting reads there.
Phew – I think that’s it! Just kidding, of course, it’s not- there’s still so much more to explore in Grand Marais. Have you been before? What did I miss that you love? I hope this post excites you to go visit Grand Marais whether it’s your first time or 50th time! Like the mug says below, “Life is better up north.”