The Bentleyville Tour of Lights

The Bentleyville Tour of Lights should be a winter tradition for everyone! What better way to get into the holiday spirit than strolling through America’s largest, free, walk-through lighting display?
Bentleyville, in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park, features more than 4 million lights across 20-acres off the shores of Lake Superior.
Enter by way of the majestic Bentleyville Castle door and follow the holiday music floating through the air.
Hot chocolate and cookie from Bentleyville’s Cookie House in hand, you can find your way through lighted tunnels simulating those that run I-35 underneath city parks.
The pathways take you through different districts of Bentleyville-Duluth including the municipal golf courses, the aerial lift bridge, Enger Park, the Tall Ships festival, and Lester Park.
There are so many displays including Nativity, Support our Troops, First Responders, Vikings, Dinosaur Land, Rudolph’s Campgrounds, 12 Days of Christmas, Gingerbread Man, Frosty Fairways, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Sesame Street, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Island of Misfit Toys and my personal favorite, TWO Paul Bunyan and Babe tributes!
The magnum opus of Bentleyville is the animated 12-story steel Christmas tree and ball which is covered with over 150,000 sparkling LED lights.
Adorned with an illuminated #OnlyInMN sign, the tree rises to more than twice the height of New York City’s famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree!
How did it come to be, you may ask?
Nathan Bentley first decorated his home with lights in Esko, Minnesota in 2001.
He added more and more eventually Bentley’s house was known as “the house with all of the lights in Esko.”
One of Bentley’s friends eventually started referring to his house as Bentleyville (a play on words from Dr. Seuss’s “Whoville.”).
In 2004, the Bentley’s moved from Esko to Cloquet, Minnesota.
“Bentleyville” grew very quickly and within a few years, outgrew the Bentley home.
In the fall of 2008, the Duluth City Mayor asked Bentley if he would bring Bentleyville to Bayfront Park.
It opened in 2009 to over 150,000 visitors and has gained immense popularity every since.
The Tour of Lights runs from November 18 to December 26, 2017.
It is also the official drop-off location for new unwrapped toys and nonperishable food items for the Duluth Salvation Army.
If you are headed there, bring your donations, dress warm, and don’t forget your camera!

Chester Park

How quickly the weather can change here in Minnesota. This #mnbucketlist stop is a perfect example of that. It was only a few short weeks ago that I was hiking through Chester Park in Duluth. A park that straddles both sides of a wooded ravine that contains Chester Creek, one of the 28 streams that flow through the city of Duluth. The ravine opens at the top into a wide, wooded, “bowl”-shaped valley known as Chester Bowl.  Located between University of Minnesota, Duluth and St. Scholastica and right off Skyline Drive, Chester Bowl has 2.5 miles of hiking trails. I wasn’t there for the ski area, ski jumps, pond, or soccer field but they are there. The parks ski jumps were previously used to train Olympic ski jumpers but were torn down in August of 2014 as they were deemed safety hazards. I came to hike, take in the leaves changing, and to explore Chester Creek. Have you had a chance to check out this park? Any other Duluth must-see’s that are your favorites? 

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.”