If I say “Fargo”, you’d be hard-pressed to find an out-of-towner who doesn’t immediately think of the 1996 film, Fargo, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Perhaps there are recollections of thick Midwestern accents and a white barren landscape as Minnesota car salesman Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s incompetence while the pregnant Marge Gunderson’s persistent police work follows close behind. Or that wood chipper scene…
What you may not know is that present-day Fargo was part of Sioux (Dakota) territory and an early stopping point for steamboats traversing the Red River during the 1870s and 1880s. The city was originally named “Centralia,” but was later renamed “Fargo” after Northern Pacific Railway director and Wells Fargo Express Company founder William Fargo. The area started to flourish after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the city became known as the “Gateway to the West.” Today, it is the most populous city in the state.
If Fargo lands itself on your list, here are my top suggestions.
You have to stay at the Jasper. Let me tell you why.
Located at the base of the RDO building (I’ll explain later), Jasper is a full-service hotel that has nods to the pioneering spirit of Fargo throughout the entire property. They also have a unique bar and restaurant downstairs, Rosewild. Inspired by the beauty of the Dakota Plains and infused with rustic-Nordic cooking practices, the floor-to-ceiling windows expose the contemporary space to the heart of Downtown Fargo.
If you want to take a step outside of Downtown to grab coffee before you start exploring the city, I recommend heading to Bean’s Coffee Bar to get a dark roast or a caramel apple cider (my personal favorite!).
They also have fresh cinnamon-n-sugar or powdered sugar mini donuts that are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. If summer flavors are more your fancy, try the Beaña Colada, a tropical getaway in a cup! Sparkling soda, pineapple, and coconut with a dash of cream.
After acquiring your coffee, head back to Broadway to find Bern Baum’s, a ‘Nordic-meets-Jewish deli” that is a comfort food haven.
The eclectic joint features a New York style order counter, mixed-retro seating, and dollhouse ovens on the walls.
As for food, get in line for their smoked brisket, lox and eggs, Nordic lamb, schnitzel, and, their pièce de résistance, potato knish – I gush!
What could be better than that?!
Make sure you leave enough room to try one of Fargo’s most iconic pastries, a Sandy’s Donut.
So the story goes, Sandy Ostlund was a truck driver who lost his job in the early 1980s. A good friend suggested that he open a donut shop. Serendipitously, another bakery had just closed, leaving Sandy with an opportunity. Today, Sandy’s has become a Fargo landmark, selling out their Bismarck’s, Maple Bacon Long John’s, and do many more. My favorite Sandy bakery case mainstay is the glazed, sprinkled donut, aptly named the Homer. So, so good!
As you head out onto experience the Downtown area, you may notice the wings outside of Silver Lining Creamery. One of the most photographed murals in the area, make sure to snap a photo, or two!
Just across the way from the wings, you’ll find Broadway Square, a comfy half-acre used public, managed by the Fargo Park District. The area spent 43 years as a surface parking lot, before being transformed into Downtown Fargo’s community greeting space, Broadway Square is home to an ice rink and warming house in the winter and a bandshell and gathering space in the summer.
Beyond the Square, you’ll see the RDO Building, the tallest building in Fargo, and the second tallest building in North Dakota. The building was formally named Block 9 Tower until the R.D. Offutt corporation purchased the naming rights of the building. The building houses R.D. Offutt, Jasper Hotel, and North Dakota’s beloved Dot’s Pretzels.
I’m a fan of seeking out music emporiums and record stores. If you are too, you’ll fall in love with Fargo. Gamers, kids’ toys, and vintage record players? Head to Vinyl Giant Records.
New and used, hard to find, old school music hub?
Spend some time at Orange Records.
After checking out the stores, walk through the downtown area to see the monikers and local loves.
As you pursue the buildings and storefronts, you may notice Fargo’s downtown district downtown is packed with boutiques and stores selling locally-made goods.
After more than 100 years as a fraternal lodge and hotel, The Hotel Donaldson (often referred to fondly as The HoDo).
If art is more up your alley, might I suggest hunting for all of Fargo’s Utility Box Art? Started as a program to allow the downtown Fargo community to transform ordinary objects of urban infrastructure into something artistic and unique, seven local artists’ work has been produced on wraps on utility boxes.
You can also uncover Fargo’s treasure trove of public murals. Visit the Mario Bros. wall behind the Toasted Frog. Check out the Penguins on 8th Street between Main and 1st Avenue Street. Strike a pose in front of the typographical Roberts Alley sign on 2nd Avenue between Roberts Street and Broadway. Or turn the corner at Orange Records to find the emblematic “Greetings from Fargo” postcard.
Once you’ve explored the city streets, head over to The Fargo Air Museum, located in the northern part of Fargo on 19th Avenue North at the Hector International Airport.
Comprised of two colorful hangars filled with aircraft from throughout the ages, the museum displays a large variety of historic aircraft, 90% of which are still in flying condition.
Some of the many aircraft on display include a North American P-51D Mustang, a Piper J3-C65 Cub, a hand-built Velocity Fixed Wing Aircraft, and a full-scale replica of an early Wright Brothers aircraft (how amazing is that?!)
Across the street is the Fargodome, an indoor athletic stadium (it is not a domed stadium). Home of the North Dakota State University Bison football team, the facility is owned by the City of Fargo though built on university land. Opened in 1992, the stadium also hosts special events such as music concerts, athletic events, and trade shows. Previous shows include Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and performances by famous artists like Cher, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney.
The stadium also plays host to North Dakota State graduation ceremonies.
While you’re in the area, check out North Dakota State University. Sitting on 258 acres, the university’s full name is the North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, with approximately 15,000 students in attendance. NDSU has grown rapidly into a major research university and forms a major component of the city’s identity and economy. Don’t be surprised if you see lots of NDSU insignias and garb everywhere in the city!
Speaking of places locals hot spots, the West Acres Shopping Center is the largest mall in North Dakota. If you need respite from the cold or just want to hang out indoors, West Acres has nearly 130 stores and services, a 750-seat food court. The mall is also home to The Roger Maris Museum, a collection of regional art including the Aptitude Art Studio, the Touchstone Energy Dinosaur Playland, and several spearfishing decoys created by John Jensen.
An original centerpiece within the mall is the Fountain of Abundance, created and refurbished by Minnesota State University Moorhead art professor, P. Richard Szeitz. The fountain was originally located in front of Dayton’s and was later moved to the JCPenney front entrance in 2001 during the construction of the food court.
Another treasure hunt opportunity in the area is locating all the Painted Bison Herd. “Herd About The Prairie: A Virtual Art Stampede” was launched by The Arts Partnership (formerly the Lake Agassiz Arts Council) in 2005 and concluded with a public unveiling in 2006 at the Fargo Marathon. 39 full-size bison and 1 calf were created in a minimum 90-day timeframe by different local artists selected by a jury. Of these 100 lb. fiberglass statues, any that weren’t kept by their sponsors were sold via a public auction. Since then, these public works of art have been dispersed throughout the community.
Start with “The Gathering” in the mall. As you head out, pick up a free map at the Visitors Center and go on a search for all 20+.
As it begins to get dark and you look for nightlife activities, make sure to keep a lookout for a hidden gem. Up on a private patio on the side of the Loretta Building, you’ll find an illuminated red heart, an icon in the downtown area.
When it comes to late-night eats, there are quite a few options. My recommendation? Hit up Vinyl Tacos.
The garage door front windows usher you in while the exposed brick interior walls surround you with warm Light and musical artwork. Menus come on old record albums, the margaritas are served in Mason jars, nachos come out on baking sheets, and the central bar is guarded by a bison statue. I loved the street corn nachos; tortilla chips topped with queso sauce, creamed corn, queso fresco, Blanco crema, and cilantro.
I’m always interested in dessert after tacos.
If you’re like me, head over to the Silver Lining Creamery (remember the wings?), the perfect place for late-night gourmet, small-batch ice cream. They specialize in fresh, new, unique flavors all created in-house. I will happily rave about their Mason Jar Sundaes anytime!
For me, there’s no better way to close a trip to Fargo than to experience the city’s magnum opus, the Fargo Theatre. You can’t miss the widely-recognized, awe-inspiring historic theater located on Broadway North.
Built in 1926 in the art deco style as a house for vaudeville performances and films, it has become the center for the arts in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area.
With a capacity of 870 in the orchestra area and the balcony, the theater today serves as the venue for arts and cultural events. Well-known for its foreign and independent films as well as its dance performances, music concerts, theatrical plays, and other events such as comedy performances. Since 2001, the theater has hosted the Fargo Film Festival in March, which currently includes five days of screenings and community fun.
Whether you are all-in, or one to pick and choose, Fargo is worth the experience. For an easy recap, save your very own Fargo, North Dakota Bucket List below.
- Stay at the Jasper and have drinks at Rosewild.
- Grab a coffee at Bean’s Coffee Bar and try the potato Knish at Bern Baum’s.
- Stop by Fargo’s Visitors Center to take a photo with the original woodchipper prop from the movie Fargo. #FargoWoodchipper
- Find a Sandy’s Donut and get the Homer.
- Walk through Broadway Square next to the RDO building.
- Head to West Acre to shop for deals mall
- Pursue the stacks at Vinyl Giant and Orange Records for your next musical treasure
- Find all of the wrapped utility boxes and public murals.
- Spend some time with your head in the clouds at the Fargo Air Museum.
- Catch an NDSU Bison game at the Fargodome.
- “Hunt” down all the Painted Bison herd.
- Spot the Loretta patio heart after dark.
- Order up some street tacos from the Vinyl menus at Vinyl Taco.
- Score a late-night sweet treat at Silver Linings Creamery.
- End the night with a show at the iconic Fargo Theater.