Hoovie’s Popcorn Wagon

When you think about Canal Park and what you love about it, you may reminisce about the Ariel Lift Bridge glowing in the sunlight, meandering through Bayfront Park, the busy lake walk and masses of seagulls, grabbing donuts at Crabby Ol’ Bills, watching the ships come in, visiting the Maritime Museum or having dinner at Grandma’s. For me? Apple cider and hot buttered popcorn. Hoovie’s Popcorn Wagon often sits between the Lighthouse parking lot and the Lakewalk, providing passersby with nutriment like caramel corn, hot coffee, and shaved ice. I myself prefer my walks to include food, so it’s perfect – especially those that include the Northshore and Duluth harbors panoramic skyline.

Va Bene Caffe

Va Bene Caffe, Berarducci’s Italian Restaurant is a quaint restaurant with warm, yellow walls off East Superior Street in Duluth. They have an open kitchen giving the place a welcoming but balanced ambiance. Think romantic date night meets sidewalk café. Intimate but airy, the classic Italian eatery has become the sweetheart of the Northshore crowds.

It’s not a surprise with house-made, hearty pastas, well selected wines and rave-worthy gelato. And the complimentary focaccia bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar certainly doesn’t hurt.

My personal recommendations? Try the ripallo pesto. It is made with basil pesto and is served with roasted potatoes, asparagus and penne pasta. Something lighter? The caprese with fresh basil, savory mozzarella, and ripe tomatoes is my summer go-to. It’s worth a stop any, or every, time you are in Duluth. Make sure to make a reservation so you get a seat on the patio as it sits above the lakewalk, giving a spectacular view of Lake Superior.

Blacklist Artisan Ales

Originally funded as a kickstarter campaign in 2012, Blacklist Artisan Ales was founded by childhood friends Brian Schanzenbach and Jon Loss, and later TJ Estabrock. Starting out contract brewing with Dubrue Brewing Company, a space it couldn’t use for a taproom because it was 4 feet too close to a church. A fire next door to the brewery in February of 2014 resulted in serious smoke damage. Fortunately, Blacklist was able to rebuild and take over the entire space.

You can find them in Downtown Duluth off Second Street in a historic, now infamous location. Originally built as the Delray Hotel in 1908, the three-story was more recently home of the notorious Last Place on Earth head shop whose owner, Jim Carlson is serving a 17½-year prison sentence for 51 convictions related to the sales of synthetic drugs at the store. Blacklist has carved a space in Duluth’s Historic Arts and Theater District, opening their doors on Black Friday of this past year.

The small artesian brewery serves up favorites like Or De Belgique, Classic Wit, Spruce, Verte, Wit Noir, Makrut, Imperial Hefe With Grapefruit, Rhubarb, Tripel, Cocoa Hefe and Cran.

Lake Superior Zoo  

The Lake Superior Zoo, formerly Duluth Fairmount Zoo, was founded in 1923 by Bert Onsgard, a West Duluth businessman who rescued a small fawn and built a pen for it. The whitetail deer named ”Billy-Billy” was found in Fairmount Park, hence the name. Sitting at the base of Spirit Mountain and recently covering over 16 scenic acres, the Pittsburgh Steel Company donated a railroad car of fencing. The community quickly embraced it and local citizens donated exotic animals.

Home to quite a few celebrity-like animals. To name a few:  Bessie, the elephant, came to the zoo in 1937 at 12 years old.  Before the perimeter fencing was installed around the zoo, she would often wander off the zoo grounds and stroll through the neighborhoods of West Duluth. Valerie was a Himalayan black bear who had previously been a mascot for a World War II bomber unit. Even taking her on several bombing runs. Mr. Magoo, an Indian mongoose, who was smuggled into the Duluth port by a merchant seaman who had kept him as a pet on a ship that sailed from India to the Great Lakes to the port of Duluth. Alas, he was not built for a life at sea, and the seaman decided to donated him to the Duluth Zoo – which became problematic. At the time, there was a federal ban on exotic creatures. The government ordered that it be euthanized but the public wouldn’t have it. Outcry reached the White House and in November, 1962, Mr. Magoo received an official Presidential pardon from President John F. Kennedy.

In 2012, a flood took the lives of fourteen animals including six sheep, four goats, a donkey, a turkey vulture, a raven and a snowy owl.

Today, the zoo has over 400 animals and 200 different species with exhibits including the African Lion, Asian Caravan, Australia and Oceania, Nocturnal Building, Barnyard, Northern Territory, and Primate Conservation Center. There is also the Safari Café, Tiger’s Paw gift shop, and a Zoo Train.

Amazing Grace Bakery and Café

How stinkin’ cute are these? They came from Amazing Grace Bakery and Café!

If you find your way to Duluth, through Canal Park, make your way to the basement of the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace. Originally built in 1909, the eight story warehouse held furniture until after WWII and the Great Depression, then became a manufacturer and distributor of mattresses. Many years later, the place has become an office and boutique emporium with shops and restaurants. The lower level is more like a den with comfy chairs, reading materials, coloring books, and games. A legend on the Duluth music scene, the made from scratch bakery slash coffee shop slash community space with live music hub has been around since 1995. Their famous breakfast go-to is Chip’s Egg Mess but I went straight for the sweets! I mean, how can you say no to these nerdy confections?!

So, next time you’re in town, take a spot on the dog friendly open air patio, find a cookie or six (okay, maybe that’s just me) and sip on a rich, velvety hot chocolate.

Duluth Grill 

This next #mnbucketlist stop really needs no introduction. Known affectionately by their popular, eclectic, one-of-a-kind mugs, the Duluth Grill in Duluth has amassed a significant following via word-of-mouth. With it being the best kept secret in town, you would be hard-pressed to find a more iconic symbol for Duluth. Another favorite among Duluthians with lines out the door, it was originally a part of the chain, Highway Host.  Established as an Embers in 1991 in an industrial section off Interstate 35, The Duluth Grill was born when Tom and Jaima Hanson purchased it in 2001 and put their own spin on things.

Offering American homestyle comfort food with the majority of the ingredients from a 100-mile radius of Duluth to the gardens in their parking lot. Boasting a menu that has something for everyone. Breakfasts filled with omelets, pancakes and Scotch eggs. They even have something called red flannel hash. An original to the Grill, the hash is a combo of oven roasted sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, onions and bell peppers. Lunches and dinners with meatloaf, pot roast, burgers, sandwiches, Swedish meatballs, and barbecue eggplant. Soups like kale and white bean, and broccoli cheese. Desserts like velvet pumpkin cake, cinnamon chai sorbet, cannoli, and homemade vegan ice cream. What about the beverages? Well, they have you covered with cold press coffee, beet lemonade, iced mocha-nut, hot tea and smoothies like The Green Goddess of Goodness, The Healthy Elvis, and Orange You Glad.

They drew national attention after they were featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The host, Guy Fieri tried the Wild Rice Melt, Homemade Pasty, and Dakota Pot Roast Dinner, each noted on the menu so you can try them all for yourself. He also spray painted his signature on the wall with a stencil. It fits well with the local art work all over the walls. That’s not all… They also have two cookbooks on the shelves of the Blue Heron, Duluth Kitchen Company, Frost River, the Bookstore at Fitger’s, Kitchen Window, the Bibelot Shops, and Cooks of Crocus Hill. They also sell locally-made products, like Duluth’s own specialty recycled-content cutting board line, Epicurean.  Remember the mugs? Well, when Tom Hanson stopped in to potter Karin Kraemer’s studio over Christmas a few years ago, a tradition began. Selling each for $22, Karin has now sold between 2,000 and 2,500, so far. Ahem, even I have one in my kitchen.

Fun fact: the owners of the Grill recently opened another restaurant. Located in Lincoln Park, in the building formerly housed in the North Star Pub, the OMC Smokehouse is a deli featuring Southern-style smoked and barbecued meats.

Park Point

Most people don’t think of Duluth as a beach town. Home to Minnesota Point, also called Park Point, the longest freshwater sand bar in the world. From where I stand, although covered in ice, the beach is located at the western tip of Lake Superior. Created by silt and sand deposition from the Nemadji and St. Louis River, it was established as the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Duluth and Superior rivaled and grew on opposite banks. In the early 1850’s, there was only a single opening in the sand bar on the Wisconsin side, that became known as the Superior Entry. As the Duluth-Superior harbor grew, Minnesota dug their own and the Duluth Ship Canal was born. Because of this, Minnesota Point is technically an island, connected to Canal Park by the Aerial Lift Bridge.  The Point separates Lake Superior from Superior Bay and the Duluth Harbor Basin, creating a natural breakwater. Together, Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point are about 10 miles long.

The “Park” on Park Point was developed in the 1930’s. Running along Minnesota Avenue, Park Point is also home to 6 miles of beach that has always been open to the public. A popular summer destination for swimming and recreation, you can also hike and run on a two-mile trail or boat-watch. For the history aficionados, you can also visit the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built in the state. Now in ruins, the  lighthouse was built between 1855 and 1858. It was only used for about 30 years and then extinguished.  In 1975 the lighthouse was designated a national historic monument and the base serves as the zero point for survey maps of Lake Superior.

Park Point also includes the remnants of an old growth forest that was filled with Tamarack and White Pine. All were part of the great northern forest which was the foundation of the timber and lumber industries at the end of the 19th Century. Some of the local mansions in the Duluth area were built with that very timber.  Speaking of the logging and lumbering history… For those who are Paul Bunyan folklore enthusiasts like myself, this is for you:

“You must remember that this was Paul Bunyan country long before Duluth was settled. Paul logged in the areas West and North of the bay, near the Amnicon River in Northern Wisconsin. To get to Amnicon, on the South Shore of Lake Superior, he had to walk many miles to Fond du Lac and cross the river, then march back along the South Shore. In those days, trees touched the clouds. He tired of the walk and cut a tree down, had Babe drag it to the shore, stood it on end and into the lake. Next he walked to Fond du Lac and back to Amnicon for the last time. There he cut another log and again had Babe drag it to the lake. He raised it in the air and dropped it into the water just as he had the other. He miscalculated the distance and the two ends were several hundred feet apart. Still, it didn’t seem to matter much because he had quite a stride and could jump vast distances. That is how the Superior Entry got in the middle of the sand bar. Wasn’t long before the sand and silt started to pile up and Minnesota Point was born. That old tree is probably still down there. Some claim that when the canal was dug they had to cut through several yards of wood at the bottom.”

Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium

Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, part of Swenson College of Science and Engineering, is part of the University of Minnesota at Duluth.  Located on the main UMD campus, it has served Duluth for 50 years.  Built in 1967 with a donation of nearly $200,000 from Marshall William Alworth, the planetarium gets roughly 18,000 visitors a year. If you are in the Duluth area and in need of something to do, look no further.

Spend your Wednesday night being captivated by the live, interactive show. Recline in one of the 65 seats and gaze upon the 30 foot full dome theater overhead, filled with stars and distant galaxies. Watch as nearly 1,500 stars are projected across the would-be night sky. During my trip, I took in a few shows. Dynamic Earth, exploring the inner workings of Earth’s climate system; watching as simulations of ocean and wind currents circled above me, and sinking to the depths of the ocean with scary sharks and schools of fish. Then Black Holes, where the mysteries of the universe expanded the minds of everyone in the audience. The two part series was presented by members of the Arrowhead Astronomical Society, one of the largest amateur astronomy societies in the Upper Midwest.  The planetarium is also the home of Darling’s Telescope. John Darling constructed a private observatory in Duluth in 1915 and his telescope is now on permanent display in the planetarium lobby.

The planetarium is so cool that their website even offers tips on astrophotography and for buying your own telescope. They also offer private group shows. Hosting everything from school groups, birthday parties, day camps, overnights, to corporate events, and team building. As a rather fun milestone, the Alworth Planetarium’s 50th Anniversary is Saturday, June 10th. To celebrate, they are planning all sorts of festivities – check out their website for more information.

Lake Superior Brewing Company

Opened in 1994, Lake Superior Brewing Company is Minnesota’s oldest micro brewery. A legend in its own right, Lake Superior Brewing Company is a commercial microbrewery in the Northland, starting back in the early 1990s. Duluth’s original craft beer began with a few homebrewers improvising traditional recipes for ambers, pale ales, and stouts. Beginning with a briefly unemployed scientist named Bob Dromeshauser, who founded a small brewery and homebrew supply shop in the spring of 1994 in the Fitger’s Building. This is where many of Lake Superior Brewing’s signature recipes came to be. In 1999, it had outgrown its home and moved to its current location, W Superior Street in West Duluth in a commercial complex. In 2001, the brand loyalist favorite changed hands and is now owned by Don and Jo Hoag, John Judd III and Karen Olesen, who helped found the Northern Ale Stars, Minnesota’s first home brewing club.

The taproom, a small nook in the brewery itself is worth searching for. It’s a stop on The Duluth Experience tour but if you are venturing out on your own, you likely won’t just stumble upon it. Worth it for the beer pong, games, funny posters and coziness, you can tour the brewery and sample to your heart’s (or liver’s) content. I, for one, was in love with their High Bridge Root Beer. Their own personal recipe with vanilla, honey, and a hint of wintergreen. Um, yes please.

As for the beer, you ask? Well, think English and German like Kayak Kolsch, Special Ale, Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout, Deep Water Black IPA. Many winning silver and gold medals at the World Beer Championship. And don’t forget the growler-worthy seasonal rotating taps; Split Rock Bock (Late Winter/Spring), North Shore Wheat (Early Summer), Oktoberfest (Fall), Old Man Winter Warmer (Winter) Specialty Brews Cask Conditioned Ales. With names playing homage to the region, how can you possibly go wrong?