“Rumor has it, if you kiss under the bridge in Stillwater, it’s true love forever,” says gondolier John Kerschbaum. The former Boundary Waters guide traded canoe paddling for gondola cruising in 2000 (after shipping an authentic vessel from Venice to Minnesota). He’s been crooning to lovers on the St. Croix ever since. Book via Gondola Romantica (gondolaromantica.com), May–October, and BYOB (or engagement ring).
Gondolier John Kerschbaum.
Browse antiques and new boutiques
Stillwater earned a reputation as the state’s birthplace after hosting the first territorial convention in 1848. The Main Street where settlers met has become one of the state’s most popular stretches for vintage wares and collectibles. Explore 50-plus shops like Reincarnations (reincarnationshomefurnishings.com) in an old sawmill and Cooks of Crocus Hill (cooksofcrocushill.com) (for new kitchen goods and cooking classes).
Eat your way around the world
LoLo American Kitchen and Craft Bar (loloamericankitchen.com) has won over regulars from Saint Paul with inventive fare like banh mi crostini. Over at The Green Room (tgrstillwater.com), hear the horn blow and watch the lift bridge rise while tasting Indian-inspired small plates on the rooftop. Marx Fusion Bistro (marxwbg.com) combines Caribbean, Italian-American and Asian eats with a wine bar.
Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar
Picnic with wine
The promise of outdoor recreation and relaxation lures visitors to Stillwater’s outskirts (4 miles from the river): Aamodt’s Hot Air Balloon Rides, Aamodt’s Apple Farm (aamodtsballoons.com) (open August–December) and Saint Croix Vineyards (scvwines.com). Try a wine tasting for $6, or buy a bottle of the beloved Raspberry Infusion dessert wine to complete a picnic beside the vines.
Aamodt’s Hot Air Balloon Rides
Pedal from the state Capital
You can skip the car ride and pedal 25 miles from Saint Paul into town. Creek-side overlooks and patches of shady forest along Gateway-Brown’s Creek State Trails (gatewaybrownscreektrail.org) draw cyclists (and even Segway tours). The Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (gasthausbavarianhunter.com) restaurant, with a new cedar deck, makes an ideal hydration stop 4 miles west of town. In 2018 a 5-mile loop trail will open, sending cyclists to Wisconsin and back, across a new bridge and the historic lift bridge (closing to motorized vehicles next year).
Climb the stairs
This city built on hills holds five long, iconic staircases with San Francisco-like inclines. A 3-mile urban hike challenges visitors to scale all 500-some steps in a day.
Spend the night
Stillwater has several independent bed-and-breakfasts, including the Ann Bean Mansion (annbeanmansion.com), once the estate of a lumber baron. One of its five rooms has an oversize copper soaking tub; another has a ladder leading to a tower with scenic views (from $169).
Ready to go? Learn more at discoverstillwater.com.