If you’ve ever headed north to lake country, I can bet you’ve driven through Brainerd. At the center of Minnesota, this city lies along the Mississippi River and is in the heart of the Brainerd Lakes Area! Close to amazing chain of lakes and small town, Brainerd has some character that definitely makes it a destination and not just a drive-through town!
Read on for things to do and see in Brainerd!
Grab a Cold Brew Flight at Loco Express
Get your caffeine fix in the old watchtower of the Northern Pacific Center at Loco Express. I’m always a sucker for an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop and this one is no different! You’ll enjoy their rustic railroad charm inside and out while sipping on some delicious coffee. They have your classic offerings but also some unique flavorings too. My favorite to try is the peanut butter and chocolate latte, but one of the coolest things they offer is a cold brew flight! There is a large patio outside as well as decent seating inside and even a little shop inside too!
Try Unique Popcorn at Goody’s Gourmet
Right down the sidewalk from Loco Express is Goody’s Gourmet, which inside, you’ll find colorful decor that will bring you back to being a kid again. They have the most unique flavorings of gourmet popcorn and a plethora of choices for ice cream. Grab some classic old-time candy, popcorn for the road, and ice cream to satisfy your sweet tooth! They also have puzzles, games, and little knick-knacks to entertain the kiddos or even for unique gifting!
Enjoy a Cinnamon Roll from Knotty Pine Bakery
Knotty Pine Bakery is a scratch-made, small-batch bakeshop located in Downtown Brainerd. They offer a creative menu of sweet and savory pies, breads, cookies, cakes, and pastries. They have a great selection of seasonal picks and they also use locally sourced ingredients. If you like pie, definitely grab a Pie-Pop and try one of their Cronuts or Cinnamon Rolls too! I am still dreaming about the delicious cinnamon roll!
Visit the You Betcha Mural Downtown
Right in downtown Brainerd next to Knotty Pine Bakery is the Crossing Arts Alliance. Right in the alleyway, you’ll see the awesome mural created by them. What’s more Minnesotan than a You Betcha Mural, right?! Definitely worth a visit for a quick photo op!
Score New Vinyl at The Gallery
Opened since 1971, The Gallery of Brainerd has been a destination spot for locals and tourists in Downtown Brainerd. They offer a wide variety of apparel and gifts but also home decor and music! Their store is so uniquely merchandised you will definitely have an adventure exploring their store. Make sure to head to the back of their store to their vinyl section. We spent almost 45 minutes perusing their huge selection of new and used vinyl, picking out our favorite to add to our collection. This place is definitely a MUST VISIT!
Sip on Creative Flavors at Ya-Sure Kombucha
If you’re a fan of Kombucha make sure to pop into Ya Sure Kombucha. It’s a brewery and non-alcoholic taproom, with several rotating flavors of MN made kombucha. They have a little something for everybody too and if you’ve never tried it before, they have great flavors to introduce you to the world of Kombucha! They also have made from scratch Ginger Beer and homemade Root Beer and Sparkling Sweet Tea. You can stay and sip, grab single bottles, or even growlers to go too.
Treat your Sweet Tooth at Fancy Pants Chocolate
Opened since 2002, Fancy Pants Chocolates creates, you guessed it, delicious chocolates! They use fine milk chocolate from Belgium and dark chocolate from Columbia. Their selection changes daily so make sure to stop in when you’re in town to see what’s new! They also have a great selection of ice cream as well.
Shop Natural Products at Purple Bath Company
Purple Fern Bath boutique features handmade bath and body goods. What started as a homemade soap company has turned into a one-stop shop for natural bath and body care products! The smell alone will make you peaceful as you peruse other locally made goods from other makers in Minnesota. We ended up trying some new essential oil rollers and natural deodorants which we are loving so far! Check out their website too for opportunities to sign up for a class to make your own soap!
Get your Shop on at Christmas Point Wild Rice Co.
You’re trip is not compete without shopping at Christmas Point. Walk in and take a moment to appreciate the three WHOLE floors of this place. From home decor to outdoor gear, kitchenware and fudge, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to peruse! On the first floor, you’ll find most of their apparel and gifts, along with their own cafe too! At the upper level and lower level you’ll find more home furnishings (think complete bedroom sets!). Even if you’re not in the market for new furniture this place will give you a ton of interior design inspo! Don’t leave without buying one of their wild rice soup mixes or a slab of their homemade fudge!
Have Breakfast in Bed with Takeout from 371 Diner
With all the hiking, you’ve definitely built up an appetite! Head to the 371 Diner, which is just steps from Christmas Point Wild Rice Co, for a classic breakfast. Their extensive menu gives you so many options, from omelets to pancakes everyone will find something they love! They are also open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner too! We snagged ours to go to have a slow morning of breakfast in bed!
Decorate your Home with New Plants from The Eclectic Jungle
Newly opened in spring of 2021, pop into The Eclectic Jungle, a female-owned plant shop! Just as its name states, this is definitely an eclectic jungle. Find yourself a new house plant, a little succulent, or even plant-inspired gifts for your plant-loving friends. The owner is knowledgeable and can help you pick the perfect plant for your home setting! We ended up getting a mini plant for our apartment and also some plant spray fertilizer for our current plants we have at home!
Order a Lavender Latte and Scone from StoneHouse Coffee
Conveniently located right off of 371, you can find Stonehouse Coffee right attached to the Riverwood Bank in front of Target. Luckily it is open 7 days a week so you can always get your caffeine fix! They are known for their great coffee but you can’t stop without trying one of their scones! Fresh berries with a hint of sweet white chocolate make these sweet morning treats unforgettable. If you like lattes, try their lavender latter. The owner makes the lavender syrup herself and it’s is extremely tasty!
Cheers with a Pint at Jack Pine Brewery
If you like local brews this is a stop for you! Jack Pine is located tucked back behind the freeway amongst the pines. You’ll definitely feel like you’re out of town without actually being out of town. They are always rotating new brews and you’ll be sure to find some creatives ones in there too! They are open for sit-in or you can also get growlers or crowlers to go! They have expanded their outside patio too, complete with a few fire pits as well.
Hike at Crow Wing State Park
Located just 10 mins outside of Baxter, Crow Wing State Park is conveniently located right along the highway so it is easily accessible! You will need a day pass or an annual state park pass to enter so be prepared for that! Park and walk a short pathway to see where the Crow Wing River and Mississippi River combine. There also is a ton of history there, and the park does a great job of recreating the historic town of Crow Wing which was an influential location during fur trading in the mid 1800s!
Party with Rafferty’s Pizza
An up-north staple, no trip is completed without getting Rafferty’s Pizza! Brick oven-baked, they use fresh ingredients and have several unique specialty pizzas too. If you like pizza + wings combo, I highly suggest grabbing some wings too. We were impressed with both and will be a repeat visitor! We tried the Rafferty’s Finest and Taco pizza and both were superb.
Enjoy Lakeside Drinks and Dining at Ernie’s On Gull
A quick 10-minute drive north of Baxter, you’ll find Ernie’s on Gull nestled right into a corner of Gull Lake. It has an awesome outdoor patio and actually a second patio with a second outdoor bar for the summer season! You can dock your boat along their large dock and they also have a gas pump if you need too. We enjoyed the lake views from the patio and cozied up with their lobster bisque which comes highly recommended. I also tried one of their signature drinks, the Greenie (think vodka, lime, & soda)!
Enjoy Live Music Right Down the Road at Roundhouse Brewery
BONUS! Minutes from Ernie’s you’ll find RoundHouse Brewery right as you enter Nisswa. Taking over the old Gull Dam Brewery, Roundhouse has transformed it to train central! Complete with rail crossing signs and rustic rail charm, this place has an amazing patio and usually has live music on the weekends too! Their Golden Spike IPA is top notch but they also had an amazing seasonal sour as well.
Here’s are some other ideas to do in Brainerd too! Some are seasonal so make sure to check their hours of operation!
- Paul Bunyan Land
- Safari North Wildlife Park
- Triangles Drive-inn
- Pirates Cove Mini Golf and Adventure Park
- Northland Kart Kountry
I hope this jumpstarts you to plan your next trip to Brainerd! There were so many new gems I discovered on this trip that will now be repeat stops when I’m visiting the Brainern Lakes Area!
Do you have a favorite Inn to stay at in Brainerd or do you usually use AirBnB??