A June 2002 trip
to Duluth by wanderluster
Quote: If you enjoy watching ships, crave beautiful coastal scenery, being active outdoors year round, and don't mind brisk weather, visit Duluth. I spent summers here as a child, but recently revisited with my husband en route to Minnesota's North Shore for a hiking vacation. It's still wonderful.
Although the city maintains that small town feel, it offers a little bit of everything, as it is the only major city between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Canada. There's an awesome harbor where you can watch massive ships glide through the canal, or explore retired ships docked in the harbor. You can visit the OmniMax, Aquarium, zoo, theatre, ballet, orchestra, unique museums about trains, ships and historical manuscripts, or hike trails at nearby Gooseberry Falls or Jay Cook State Park.
Grandma's Marathon takes place the third Saturday in June. Olympic hopefuls begin 26.2 miles north of Duluth along the Scenic Route and end in Canal Park, but anyone can enter! The merriment continues in Grandma's restaurant and others located along the pier in Canal Park.
North Shore In-Line Marathon follows the same route as Grandma's, and again anyone is encouraged to enter. Thousands of skaters compete for cash prizes exceeding a whopping ,000. Zounds!
International Folk Festival held the first Saturday in August at Leif Erickson Park showcases the rich Scandinavian and other diverse ethnic backgrounds of Duluth's residents through music, food and dance.
Bayfront Blues Festival held the middle weekend of August highlights 20 national blues bands on outdoor stages and nightclubs.
Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is a biggie marathon running 330 miles from Duluth north along Lake Superior to the Grand Portage Indian Reservation on the Canadian border. Great fun to watch the dog sledding race, keep time or assist mushers when they bring in their dogs. It's held during the two week Winter Festival.
However, I prefer my own wheels and like to explore the surrounding area. For those visiting for the first time, I highly recommend driving north of Duluth (Scenic Route of Highway 61) to visit popular Gooseberry Falls 40 miles away, stopping en route at various specialty shops to buy agates, smoked fish, Norwegian sweaters, pie, wild rice; and visit remote beaches and lighthouses while traveling through pine and white birch forests along the crashing surf of Lake Superior. Pssst–spend the night at Grand Superior Lodge near Gooseberry Falls to really get a taste of the North Shore before coming back to Duluth (see Beaver Bay journal).
Back in Duluth you can ride a carriage or old-fashioned trolley through Canal Park, take a scenic train ride to Two Harbors (21 miles away for ), enjoy a narrated harbor sightseeing cruise or moonlight pizza cruise on Lake Superior ( to respectively), or rent bikes.
Although it is a gorgeous home with luxurious furnishings, I don't believe I'd stay here again.
The hostess seemed uptight and rather controlling. She frowned and pointed at our (clean) shoes when we entered because no shoes are allowed beyond the doorway. Then methodically went through the house rules and gave us a $25 gift certificate to use within the year. Not a freebie. Just an overpayment on my part. A cash refund should've been given, as the certificate is useless to us living so far away. It had been 20 years since I had visited Duluth, and who knows when we'd return? When I stated this, she merely shrugged her shoulders. Irritating, yes, but especially so knowing that I had questioned the amount over the phone as it did not match the low-season rate listed on their web site.
Our standard room ($139) located on the 3rd floor was very floral. The queen-sized bed took up much of the space. The private bathroom was clean and spacious but had separate towels and washcloths for blood, make-up, and other bodily fluid removal with accompanying rules posted on the walls. Rather insulting.
The room was stuffy. There was a single window for ventilation (no air-conditioning) but by midnight was still unbearable. I laid awake too hot to sleep until 3am. My only relief was sitting on the cold tile floor of the bathroom putting my North Shore pictures in an album while my husband tossed and turned in bed.
In the morning we descended to the dining room where several couples were already eating watermelon and cantaloupe or filling up their juice glasses. The hostess gave us a look like we were tardy, yet we were exactly on time. She served us a piece of egg-sausage casserole garnished with a strawberry. We politely ate, grabbed our bags, found our shoes–amid many under the bench at the door–and left rather quickly with plastic smiles on our faces.
We drove to Canal Park to visit the Aquarium. It was probably a ten minute drive to the shores of Lake Superior where most of Duluth's attractions, restaurants, trendy bars and shops are located. Wincing, I heard my husband ask justly, "Why didn't we just stay here?" noting the hotel options located near the water. Yes, I now agree that it would've been a great place to spend the night. We could've taken a stroll along the Lakewalk under a full moon, or sat on the patio of Grandma's Saloon watching ships sail by in the sunset. I goofed.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 18, 2002
Manor on the Creek
2215 East 2nd Street
Duluth, Minnesota 55812
We stopped here for lunch one afternoon and were pleasantly surprised with the service, atmosphere and food. The restaurant is housed in a long narrow green building with a metal roof.
There was an assortment of black metal tables and chairs for outside dining on the patio bordered by tree trunks and decorated with brightly painted wooden animals. Inside additional "spirits" hung from the wooden ceiling–yellow striped fish, blue polka dotted fish, red reindeers, green and blue birds–giving the place a funky, zany feel. All "spirits" are for sale. These artsy animals begin at $20.
Our waitress was prompt bringing us water and menus as soon as we were seated. Lunch items included soups, salads and sandwiches. I ordered the pistachio crusted walleye sandwich, which was a meaty piece of fish (delectable!) served between two rather hard toasted pieces of cranberry bread, a thick pickle slice and blue chips. My husband had soup and a chicken breast smothered with melted cheese, baked apples and pecans served on the same bread with a side of fresh pineapple. I'm not sure which was better. Both were unique with unusual flavor pairings, quite yummy and substantial.
The food was wonderfully fresh, and we appreciated the creativity of the menu. Not a huge selection, but then I would rather eat at a restaurant that concentrated on making a few selections fantastic than visit a place that offered pages of mediocrity. Unusual breads with fruits and nuts are used for the sandwiches. Plentiful herbs, spice and nuts add taste and texture. I'd love to return for dinner sometime.
The Scenic Café made a great place to stop for lunch en route to Gooseberry Falls. Our hiking attire–shorts and boots–were not frowned upon in the least. Although I would at least wear jeans in the evening! Most places along the North Shore, fine dining establishments included, seem to expect casual attire. That was our experience during the two weeks we spent here last May. Jeans and sweaters were the most we dressed up for any restaurant, and other patrons were dressed the same.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 18, 2002
New Scenic Cafe
5461 North Shore Drive
Duluth, Minnesota 55804
Attraction | "Canal Park Attractions"
A free Maritime Museum located in the Visitor Center in Canal Park also posts current arrival and departure times of scheduled ships expected in the harbor on a computer screen near the entrance. A colorful mural, ship memorabilia, model ships and replicas of ship cabins, steam engines and radars are exhibited inside, along with kid-friendly navigation displays. A pilot's house looks out over Lake Superior on the 2nd floor.
If you want to see a real ship up close, step inside William Irving a retired flagship of the USS Great Lake Fleet and take the 60 minute tour of the staterooms, galley, pilot house and dining room. Those interested in a more in-depth tour of the mechanics of a ship can sign up for the 90 minute hard hat tour. (If you visit in October, this ship turns into a haunted ghost ship 10 days prior to Halloween, where university theatre students attempt to scare the dickens out of adults. Not recommended for children–sounds pretty scary!)
Also docked in the Minnesota slip is the tugboat Essayons, which towed ammunition across the English Channel during WWII until it was sunk near the end of the war. You can visit both ships for $6 adult, $3.50 children from mid-May to mid-October. (The rest of the year is winter, and trust me you won't want to be on that icy shore.) Combination tickets are also available for the 2 ships and an OmniMax show for $10.50 adult and $6.50 per child.
In the center of Canal Park DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, a renovated warehouse on the National Register of Historic Places houses a dozen shops and eateries. A confectionery, coffee shop and bakery co-exist with stores selling regional and children's books, kitchen equipment, Christmas items, musical instruments, toys, potter, art, window treatments, home accessories, postcards and stationary, regional gifts and Minnesota clothing.
The Lakewalk is a side-by-side boardwalk and paved path that begins in Canal Park and follows the shoreline past tourist and antique shops, restaurants, rose gardens and statues all the way to 26th Avenue, six miles away. Jog, rollerblade or rent a bike. A "must do."
The OmniMax is located beside the Aquarium on the pier. Shows are $7 adult/$4 child. Park in the lot, and get a coupon for free popcorn or soda at the concession stand. How fitting that BEARS was playing during our visit, as we were still excited about our first bear sighting just days before at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Call 218-727-0022 for current showings.
Canal Park Attractions - Waterfront Pier
North Shore of Lake Superior
Attraction | "Jay Cooke State Park"
A porcupine crossing the road and climbing a tree was the first thing we saw as we drove into the park grounds. A Visitor Center displayed exhibits on the geology, flora and wildlife we could expect to see. We grabbed some trail maps and set out to explore the park.
We crossed a swinging bridge over St. Louis River and saw unusual rootbeer colored frothy water cascading over rocks, which we learned resulted from tanic acid.
After crossing the bridge, there are a confusing variety of trails to choose from. A map is very helpful as many of the trails interweave with each other. We followed the river on a trail that allowed us to see the odd, tilted rocks that dominated the river.
The rocks are slate and graywacke. Underground forces caused them to fold and become exposed at an angle, so they appear tilted. In the grayish blue still water, these rocks looked like fragmented icebergs–jagged pieces of white rocks tipped in gray jutting out of the water. Very strange. Other parts of the river showcased the dark shale gorge or rootbeer cascades. Definitely a place geology buffs would dig.
Trails led us away from the river and into a thick forest of pine with rock outcroppings. The trails were clear cut, well-maintained and scenic, especially those near the river. It was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
Other than hiking, kayaking and mountain biking are big sports here. Kayaking competitions are held here in the park every spring. It's a fast exciting river, and the race draws many spectators. There are 12 miles of moderate trails for mountain bikers on singletrack through the forest. The dirt is well packed and the rocky layer underneath allows for a dry track. I wish I'd had my bike.
Minnesota State Offices: Jay Cooke State Park
780 Highway 210
Duluth, Minnesota 55718
There are over 25 permanent exhibits including 2 huge water tanks and a traveling exhibit that changes yearly. The special exhibit during our visit showcased Africa's Lake Victoria, the world's largest tropical lake. Displays compared Lake Victoria to Lake Superior, and included Nile crocodiles, birds, pythons, bullfrogs and lungfish. Kids had fun crawling through the python tunnel judging from their squeals and excitement. Displays also depicted the art, culture and people of Africa from the Lake Victoria region.
On the main floor the crayfish touch tank, Wall of Water, playful river otters and Great Lakes Water Table are big hits with kids. The latter allows kids to pilot a boat from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean on a large water table built to scale. They can steer boats through the Soo Locks and observe the raising water levels when they "make it rain" on the Nipegon River.
The Wall of Water is a 24 foot high tank, where freshwater fish freely swim. It's interesting to see what life lives below the surface of the mighty Lake Superior...just watch out for falling fish!
I was standing at the base of this Wall of Water when a large trout–in a sudden burst of extraordinary exuberance–jumped out of the tank, fell two stories, bounced off my shoulder, and landed with a SPLAT much to his and my surprise. My immediate response was to crouch and brace myself for a flood of cold water and wriggling fish, thinking that the tank was bursting open in my dazed confusion. How silly I felt when bystanders ran over to see if I was okay. Me? Fine. But what about the poor fish that sailed through the air? Within minutes he began flapping around and was taken away by an employee, who admitted that this happens occasionally.
To reach the 2nd floor, take the Sensory Immersion Escalator instead of the stairs to experience an innovative audio-visual display. Multiple screens project differing videos of the North Shore and the Great Lakes, while breezes and sounds of waves crashing, birds chirping and a foghorn enhance the images.
Favorites upstairs include the 85,000 gallon tank Isle Royal exhibit, Weather, and regional rocks showcased in the Stories Written in Stone display. In the Origins exhibit, an Ojibwe storyteller talks of hardships his people experienced on Lake Superior, while tools and objects are displayed in a boathouse used by a Ojibwe family in the Grand Portage area.
Cool children's programs:
A Slumber Party includes a scavenger hunt, science activity, art project, pup tents and breakfast the next morning ($35 pp for 20 campers).
A Birthday Party includes admission, t-shirt, and sports bottles for 10 kids ($125) with options to add activities, an otter visit, or pizza.
Admission: $11 adults, $6 children. Look for the ship-shaped building on the pier.
Great Lakes Aquarium
353 Harbor Drive
Duluth, Minnesota 55802