Start the day in Faribault with a bike ride along the Cannon or Straight rivers or a hike through the 750-acre River Bend Nature Center, which offers hands-on fun for little explorers, hot coffee, and comfy chairs for watching songbirds and hummingbirds buzz feeders and flowers. If it’s been raining, check out the waterfall on the drive into the park.
Donahue’s Greenhouse provides a colorful spectacle of acres of flowers April through June and 20,000 holiday poinsettias mid-November through Christmas.
Take a spin along Shumway Drive to admire the historic campuses of Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school (known for grooming men’s and women’s Olympic hockey players) and state academies for the deaf and blind.
Lunch at The Cheese Cave for sweet, earthy flatbread pizza with pears, a drizzle of honey and Amablu cheese aged in local caves. Enjoy local artwork at Paradise Center for the Arts, check out displays on Faribault-made Tilt-A-Whirls at Keepers Antique, and savor gooey homemade turtles and ice cream at The Sweet Spot.
Learn about the nation’s only remaining mill that crafts raw wool into cozy blankets with a tour of Faribault Woolen Mill. Look for discounted, slightly flawed blankets at the company store.
For dinner, enjoy local blue cheese on a burger or Ravin’ Craisin salad at The Depot Bar & Grill. Spend the night in the porch-wrapped, periwinkle Historic Hutchinson House B&B or drive about 15 miles northeast to Northfield’s Archer House River Inn in the heart of downtown.
Hit the pavement early, grabbing coffee and deliciously dense cinnamon popovers at the Bittersweet Cafe within the Archer House River Inn.
Stroll the River Walk and swing into Northfield Historical Society Museum to learn why the infamous Jesse James Gang rode here from Missouri and why some consider the thwarted robbery to be the last battle of the Civil War. Look for action-packed reenactments during special events, such as June’s Taste of Northfield or September’s Defeat of Jesse James Days.
Grab a light lunch at The Hideaway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar’s bistro-style menu with items named for James.
Spend the afternoon fueling creativity with shops such as Northfield Yarn for knitters and spinners, Rooms by Tagg 2 for funky home decor, art supplies and toys at The Sketchy Artist, make-you-laugh gifts from Swag, and new seasonings and gadgets at The Measuring Cup.
Cap off an evening with drinks and Parmesan-crusted walleye at the The Ole Store Restaurant near St. Olaf College. Follow it up with a drive among the campus’s stone buildings or a stroll through Cowling Arboretum, Carleton College’s 880-acre preserve.