Stillwater, Minnesota

Photo: Mwboege / CC BY-SA (

Spring plans were canceled quickly this year. First, international flights were eliminated. Then cities started shutting down. Eventually, stay-at-home orders were issued. No one was going anywhere. So it’s going to take a while for people to start traveling again.

You should start small and stay relatively close to home. That means Bali and Reykjavík can wait. Boston and Bozeman can, too. A road trip sounds good. It’ll give you some fresh air and a change of scenery. It’s a great excuse to check somewhere off your list that always gets pushed aside for bigger, more exciting destinations.

Stillwater fits the bill perfectly. The little city is part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. St. Paul is only 25 minutes away. Minneapolis is just a bit farther. Even Chicago is doable. Stillwater was founded as a logging town along the bluffs of the St. Croix River, a tributary of the Mississippi. Some would call it the birthplace of Minnesota. The people of St. Paul, which was incorporated on the same day, would surely disagree.

Photo: Provenance Hotels

Either way, Stillwater is a charming, historic city today. Nineteenth-century brick buildings have been carefully restored. Queen Anne houses with pink turrets line Pine Street. Antique shops, cute bookstores, and little cafes fill Main Street. The Washington County Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Stillwater Lift Bridge, now open only to bikes and pedestrians, connects Stillwater to Wisconsin.

Another interesting building stands on Nelson Street. Joseph Wolf Brewing Company was carved into the sandstone bluffs in 1868. A freshwater spring beneath the building was used as the brewery’s water source, the cave-like building kept the beer cool, and Joseph Wolf became one of the largest brewers in the state. It thrived until Prohibition when production shifted to non-alcoholic beverages. The city began to decline.

Stillwater didn’t emerge as a tourist destination until the 1970s. The building still sat empty for many years. Finally, in 2018, the old building was revived as a boutique hotel. Lora kept the brewery’s stone walls, vaulted ceilings, and wooden beams. It added polished furniture, gas fireplaces, and locally influenced honor bars to the individually designed rooms. Feller (an innovative restaurant), the Long Goodbye (a bar offering Minnesota-distilled spirits), and MADE (a street-level coffee shop) opened, as well. While a clever fitness program, Well + Fit, offers workout kits and iPads loaded with streaming videos. Stillwater will no longer be a day trip.


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