Museums, Shopping, and More in Duluth, Minnesota

When I was planning my vacation to Minnesota of which a portion included some time in Duluth I knew I wanted to go hiking and I knew there were many options for that given all of the city and state parks (Duluth has an astounding 83 parks). See my post on hiking in and near Duluth: State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota. However, I also knew I didn’t want to spend every day just hiking so I began to look into other things to do in the area. Typically I enjoy history, science, and art museums, art galleries, and local shops in an area where I’m traveling.

I found a plethora of these things in Duluth and had a hard time narrowing it down to ones my teenage daughter and I would have time to visit. My daughter asked if she could pick some of the museums we went to and I agreed. I thought she came up with some unique places. Here are some of my favorites.

The back of Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen mansion was built between 1905 and 1908 by Chester and Clara Congdon. The 27,000 square foot, 39-room mansion cost the Congdons $854,000 to build and was eventually donated to the University of Minnesota in 1979 and opened to the public for tours. The Congdons became known for opening up iron mining in the area and setting aside land for public use such as Congdon Park.

There are several options for tours including the self-guided Classic Tour, Full Mansion to see all 5 floors, Grounds Admission, and Kayak Tour. There are also some fun extras like scavenger hunts for children, a coffee bar and Johnson’s Bakery Donuts, Shark on the Lake where you can get ice cream from Love Creamery and beer or cocktails, and concerts on the pier in July and August. https://glensheen.org/

Some of my favorite parts of Glensheen Mansion

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

My daughter found this little gem. I was a bit hesitant about going to a museum primarily full of manuscripts but I was glad we went. The museum has an eclectic collection of original manuscripts and documents from a wide range of historical events including the original Bill of Rights, the first printing of the Ten Commandments from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, and Richard Wagner’s “Wedding March.” There are 11 locations of Karpeles Manuscript Museums in the United States including the one in Duluth. It was founded in 1983 by real estate moguls David and Marsha Karpeles and includes permanent and temporary collections that travel from one site to another.

When we visited, the temporary collection was from Star Trek. My daughter and I are both Trekkies so we greatly enjoyed looking at original drawings from the show. The museum is housed in what was originally a First Church of Christ, Scientist and the building itself is like a piece of art. We spent about an hour looking at every single piece in the permanent and temporary collections and I also reminisced with the person working there about the collection of antique phones (remember bag phones, the original cell phones? I actually had one when I was in graduate school!). https://karpeles.com/index.php

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Housed in the St. Louis County Depot, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum is a must-do if you’re a train buff or enjoy historical sites. There are dozens of trains, some of which you can walk through and other train-related historical memorabilia. You can also buy tickets here and take a narrated train ride from Duluth along the shores of Lake Superior into the woods. You will need to buy tickets for entry to the museum but don’t need to purchase them in advance. https://lsrm.org/

Duluth Art Institute

Also in the St. Louis County Depot is the Duluth Art Institute, with free entry. Although I found it to be on the small side, considering the price of admission, it’s worth going to. There was mainly modern art and textile art when I was there but I know the art is temporary in most of the galleries so the displays change regularly. There are also events like artist talks, book club, and Free FriDAI which is a growing collection of digital activities to help people engage with the exhibitions on view at the Duluth Art Institute, make art from home, and learn about art. https://www.duluthartinstitute.org/

Favorite Places to Eat

Most of the best places to eat are downtown and on Canal Park, or at least that’s what I was told. Some of my favorites include: Fitzer’s Brewhouse, Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, Black Woods Bar and Grill, Bellisio’s, and Va Bene. I had my first wild rice burger ever at Fitzer’s and it was really different but delicious. It had a bit of a crunch from the rice that just added to the flavor. Just a short drive away in Superior, Wisconsin is Thirsty Pagan Brewing, which I thought had great pizza and the TPB Bread appetizer (a 10-inch round of pizza dough; I had the Margherita with fresh garlic, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese) was amazing. You also have to get ice cream from Love Creamery.

Ice cream from Love Creamery and my wild rice burger from Fitzer’s

Unique Shopping

Canal Park has many unique shops like Two & Co (women’s clothing and jewelry), Duluth Kitchen Co., Frost River Trading (for some high-quality packs and bags made by hand in Duluth), Indigenous First: Art and Gift Shop, a few cool art galleries, and Legacy Glassworks where you can take a Glassblowing class (we watched someone taking a class and it was really fun to watch).

Fitzer’s actually is more than just a Brewhouse; there’s also an Inn there plus several shops in the building. In a similar vein, the Downtown Holiday Inn houses over 40 shops and restaurants in the bottom few floors and is the center of the Downtown skywalk system. If you like antiques, Father Time Antique Mall has over 75 antique shops and Old Town Antiques and Books has antique furniture and books.

I really enjoyed Duluth and found it much more diverse than I expected it to be, with a wide range of foods, shops, and unique museums. I would highly recommend going here for a few days and add some more on to go to the state parks in the north.

Have you been to Duluth, Minnesota? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you saw?

Happy travels!

Donna

Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina

George Vanderbilt, whose family made its fortune in the railroad industry, chose Asheville, North Carolina for his “little mountain escape” summer home that lies along the French Broad River and called it Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800’s, it is the largest privately owned house in the United States, although in 1956 it ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum. The estate has 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2of floor space and 135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area. The home was opened to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, and today brings in an estimated 1.4 million visitors per year.

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The library, one of my favorite rooms in the Biltmore Estate

You can tour the Biltmore Estate’s four floors and basement which includes 250 rooms (though not all are open to the public) including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system. There is even a swimming pool, gymnasium filled with what was then state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and a bowling alley in the basement.

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Winter Garden, another of my favorites

The grounds are definitely worth touring and include many different gardens, fountains and statues, a bowling green, an outdoor tea room, a terrace, conservatory, Bass Pond, restaurants, gift shops, and Antler Hill Village and Winery. There are many options for tours whether of the house or on the grounds from self-guided tours to rooftop tours to private tours and many others in-between. There are even winery tours and a motor coach tour where you learn about the history of the land, structures, and former residents while you tour areas not open to the general public.

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The Conservatory, which apparently is a fancy name for a greenhouse

I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate several times over the years, and have seen the house during all four seasons. I have to say Christmas at the Biltmore Estate is my favorite of any other time of year, although spring is a close second. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations and the ones at the Biltmore Estate are every much as beautiful as you might imagine. Every room has at least one tree elaborately decorated and the lower parts of the house smell of gingerbread because of the enormous gingerbread house on display in one of the kitchens in the basement.

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Yes, it does get crowded at the estate during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, so be sure to get reservations for entry far in advance. The house doesn’t feel too crowded for the most part (there are a couple of places where people tend to bottleneck) thanks to the timed entries during the holidays. Don’t worry if the Candlelight Evening tickets are sold out and you’re left with tickets during the day because you’ll still enjoy the lights inside the house even if it’s daylight out. If you plan on eating at one of the restaurants on-site, you’ll want to get reservations in advance as well.

If you’d like to stay at one of the hotels on the grounds, you have three options:  The Village Hotel, The Inn, and The Cottage, with each place going up in amenities and price. There are also plenty of nearby hotels and houses through Airbnb. If you follow this link, you’ll get a discount through Airbnb:  Airbnb discount link.

Asheville Regional Airport has daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Chicago and seasonal service to many other cities including New York, Denver, and some cities in Florida. If you fly into Asheville, you can either rent a car or take an uber, although if you plan on going to the Blue Ridge Parkway or other areas to hike, you’ll want a rental car.

Asheville has plenty of other things to see and do besides the Biltmore Estate, especially if you like outdoor activities. As I mentioned above, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive away, as is a plethora of hiking and camping options. There are so many options it would be crazy to list them all, but I’ll throw out a few I’ve personally been to, all of which are an hour or less from Asheville:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigsah National Forest, Black Mountain, Chimney Rock State Park, Dupont State Forest, and if you venture a bit further (about 2 hours from Asheville) there’s a cluster of great places to check out that includes Linville Falls, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Boone.

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Hiking with Libby and Chile near Asheville

If you’re a foodie, Asheville won’t disappoint you on that end either. Again, the options are endless for great places to eat, with places for every budget. For a splurge, try one of the restaurants at the Biltmore Estate like Deerpark Restaurant or Biltmore Estate Dining Room. Curate is a popular spot for tapas and Biscuit Head came highly recommended to us by someone who lives in Asheville but the line was crazy long out the door and we weren’t willing to brave the cold weather for it. We loved White Duck Taco Shop for their huge selection of tacos and Early Girl Eatery for great breakfast offerings.

My favorite restaurant of all has to be Sierra Nevada Taproom, which is near the Asheville Airport and yes this place deserves a paragraph entirely to itself. All I have to say is this place is like no other brewery I’ve ever been to (and I love breweries). The food at breweries is usually pretty good, but the food at Sierra Nevada is so crazy over-the-top good it makes me hungry just thinking about it. It gets super-crowded, so get here early for lunch (or dinner but they seem to be less crowded for lunch) and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for a table. They also have tours but we didn’t take a tour because of the timing of things, but I’d love to go back and take a tour. They also have a great outdoors area with games and fire pits, plus they have special events like dinners and concerts. Make this a must-do place if you’re ever in Asheville and like breweries and/or incredible food. Just know it isn’t cheap, but it’s so worth it.

Finally, here are a few other options for spending some time in Asheville. The River Arts District is great if you like art (Asheville is filled with fantastic artists), WNC Farmers Market is open daily year-round, Grove Arcade is a beautifully designed place to do some shopping and dining, and if you’re into antiques, check out the Antique Tobacco Barn.

I also have a post on Asheville when I went camping there one summer, which you can read here. This post is focused more on outdoor pursuits such as hiking, camping, and waterfalls in the area.

Final tips: Purchase your tickets for Biltmore Estate at least seven days in advance to save up to $10 on each daytime admission. If you’re going during the holiday season, purchase your ticket at least a couple of weeks in advance, and even longer out would be better if you have a specific day and time in mind. Christmas at Biltmore runs from early November through the first week of January, with the house being open 365 days a year. Reservations are required during high volume days, which you can find on their website.

Biltmore website

Have any of you been to the Biltmore Estate and/or Asheville? Is it on your list of places you’d like to go to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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