Instagram feature by @dolby_bear from @DestinationDuluth Facebook / Instagram
When you live in Duluth, zipping back and forth to the Cities is really no big deal. Sure, it’s a long(ish) ride — about 2 and 15 minutes — but it’s generally an easy trip on a long, straight highway. Honestly, it’s just a couple podcasts away.
But when one lives in the Cities, the idea of taking a day trip to Duluth can seem unthinkable. I mean, isn’t that too far? There wouldn’t be time to do anything. Well, that couldn’t be more wrong.
Here’s a series of options for 12 hours in Duluth —
Get into your car at 7:00am with your to-go coffee mug, music cued and hit the open road. By the time you roll into the city, it’ll only be around 9:15am, depending on where you’re starting from — and time for a great breakfast.
1. Duluth Grill (118 S 27th Ave W, Duluth, MN 55806)
From highway 35, take exit 254 for 27th Avenue W and take a left. It’s just 1/10th of mile on your right. If you’re thinking, “Wow, that looks like an old Embers restaurant,” —you’re right, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a haven of homemade food in there.
Duluth Grill gets a lot of ink and they earn all of it — growing veggies in their parking lot, going way out of their way to source local ingredients and keeping an eye to sustainability. Oh, and the food is amazing.
2. Enger Tower Park (Enger Tower Dr, Duluth, MN 55806)
The view OF the tower is nothing compared to the views FROM the tower
It’ll likely be before 11am when you’re back on the road — and only 7 minutes to Enger Park. There’s a few ways to get there, but going via 24th and West Skyline takes about 7 minutes and offers some nice views. There’s a parking lot right at the entrance.
Enger Tower, built in 1939, affords a beautiful panoramic view of not just Lake Superior and up the shore, but also industrial Duluth and the St. Louis River. Kids love running up the stone steps, but the long horizon will captivate everyone in the family.
View from the tower. Take the virtual tour of the park here — -> http://www.duluthmn.gov/tours/enger/enger.html
It’s too easy to miss the pavilion which is just right (south) of the parking area. And clearly, judging from this picture, it’s NOT to be missed. There’s also lovely flower and rock gardens, and a Peace Bell which every child ever born wants to ring. Fortunately, the sound skews more melodic than annoying.
Photo capture of the pavilion from the park’s virtual tour
I recommend taking the Enger Park virtual tour here.
3. Canal Park
It’ll probably be a past noon when you arrive at Canal Park and leave your car in one of the surface pay lots. (Putting 4 or 5 hours on the meter is a good idea as the next several stops are walkable from here.) Still full from breakfast? This is a great time to walk around this beautiful waterfront district with charming shops, fountains and sculptures.
4. Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge
On Facebook or Instagram follow Destination Duluth for more photos like these. This one is an Instagram feature by @tuckolson
Ok — this really is still part of Canal Park, but well worth it’s own spot on the list. The Lift Bridge is what likely comes to mind when you think Duluth, so of course, you’ll want to see it and snap your best pics.
There’s even a website, harborlookout.com, to let you know when a ship will be coming in. You’ll want to see the bridge lift and hear the famous horn salute. Kids should hold their ears when a freighter goes under the bridge — and it’s a memory that will last a lifetime.
Walk out to the lighthouse, peek into the channel or hop onto the beach to throw some rocks. This is all good stuff.
5. Lake Superior Marine Museum Association
Just steps from the bridge towards Lake Superior, you’ll see the Lake Superior Marine Museum. One of the things to love about it is it’s FREE and there are good bathrooms. It’s open from 10:00 a.m. — 9:00 p.m daily with lots of nautical stuff to learn about— and of course, a big ship wheel for some hands-on fun.
This is my sweet co-worker Jane. I owe her a beer for posting this.
6. Duluth’s Lakewalk
Lakewalk Virtual Tour here — -> http://www.duluthmn.gov/tours/lakewalk/lakewalk.html
Still in Canal Park, you’re just steps from the Lakewalk. Here you can stroll, stop to read historic markers or just throw rocks in the water. Hard to imagine a better laid-back family activity.
Snacks along the way include Grandma’s Boxcar, Lakewalk Galley near the lift bridge (they also serve homemade cheese curds and brioche donuts) or walk up the stairs on the Lakewalk to the Fitger Complex for Bridgman’s Ice Cream and the Portland Malt Shoppe.
7. The Minnesota Slip Bridge aka the Blue Bridge
Another option is to take the Lakewalk past the lift bridge and towards the Harbor, you’ll find the Minnesota Slip Bridge known to locals as the Blue Bridge. It’s a mini lift bridge that utterly fascinates children as it goes up drawbridge style. From here, you cross into Harbor Drive home of the Vista Fleet and the Great Lakes Aquarium.
8. Vista Fleet (323 Harbor Dr, Duluth, MN 55802)
If you time it right, you can actually get out on Lake Superior. The Vista Fleet boat company offers a speedy 45-minute Lake Superior Express tour that shows harbor highlights and – weather permitting — takes you UNDER the lift bridge. It’s easy to say that the kids would love it, but let’s be real: WE ALL LOVE IT.
The Express tour is currently offered at 11:55am, 1:25pm and 2:55pm. It’s recommended to purchase tickets in advance online vistafleet.com
9. Northern Waters Smokehaus (Dewitt-Seitz Building: 394 S Lake Ave #106, Duluth, MN 55802)
Staff favorites: The Cajun Finn and the Sitka Sushi
Dewitt-Seitz Building in the center of Canal Park
That breakfast and ice cream snack are probably feeling a long time ago by now, but we’ve got the place for you. Walk back across the blue bridge into Canal Park to the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace. Inside is an incredible smokehaus: Northern Waters. It’s where we take our own friends & family when they visit.
You’ll see why this delightful hole in the wall has been featured in Bon Appetite and the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. This recent (and beautifully written) article in Growler Magazine really says it all.
There are options for youngsters with a limited-palate and they’ll happily wrap your sandwich in some butcher block paper to go. In fact, we suggest you do that and to head off on your next adventure…Glensheen.
10. Glensheen’s Lake Superior Beach Club (3300 London Road, Duluth)
Seriously, it’s this beautiful.
New this year, Glensheen — the historic lakeside estate with mansion — is open in the evening. And get this: getting on the grounds is FREE starting at 4:00pm going to 9:00pm. That means you can enjoy all the paths, gardens, bridges and secret fun spots on the estate.
Glensheen’s Lake Superior Beach Club
The Lake Superior Beach Club consists of lots of generous seating by Lake Superior — from picnic tables to hammocks — free board and lawn games, bon fires and a cash bar. Picnics are welcome but outside beverages are not. This is truly the perfect place to enjoy that Northern Waters sandwich with a local beer, glass of wine or soft drink.
Glensheen’s famous Breakfast Room
You’ll even have time to take a Classic tour of the famous 39-room mansion built with remarkable 20th-century craftsmanship — and be done in under an hour!
You can be driving out of the Glensheen parking lot and picking up the highway a little before 8pm and be home in jammies by 10pm.