I’d truly like to meet and thank the mother who raised Ritchie Mann, the owner of Wabasha’s Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Adventure. Ritchie knows just what kind of fluffy robe to hang in my bath, what toiletries to include in my suite and how to make a perfect plate of eggs before leading a beginner-friendly paddle on the Mississippi River, 85 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. But that’s just the start of a standout weekend in the Great River Road towns of Lake City (population: 5,048) and Wabasha (population: 2,591). Bird-watching, boating on Lake Pepin, quaint shopping and dining in cozy waterfront cafes round out a stay; when you go, check out these top spots.
1 National Eagle Center Most people come here to watch eagles from the Wabasha center’s two-story windows and the 25-foot-high, outdoor observation platform. But be sure to leave time for the programs about resident eagles, too. Admission charged. (651) 565-4989; nationaleaglecenter.org
2 Lark Toys Ride beside a troll on a pig or one of the other hand-carved whimsical creatures on the stunning carousel in this sprawling toy store, just 6 miles south of Wabasha in Kellogg. (507) 767-3387; larktoys.com
3 Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company See locally harvested clamshells once used to make pearly buttons, and browse antiques and gifts in Lake City’s historic 1866 former button factory. (651) 345-2100; pearlbuttonco.com
4 Nosh Restaurant Lake City’s upscale dining spot on Lake Pepin offers fabulous views and impresses with its seasonal and sophisticated Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. (651) 345-2425; noshrestaurant.com
5 Reads Landing Brewing Company It’s all good when North meets South at this 1869 former dry goods store 3 miles northwest of Wabasha. Enjoy a craft beer and creamy garlicky shrimp and grits while watching trains rumble past. (651) 560-4777; rlbrewingco.com
6 Chocolate Escape Indulge in dense and chewy caramels, rich truffles and gourmet chocolates at this sweet shop in downtown Wabasha. (651) 565-0035; thechocolateescape.com
7 Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Adventure Combine adventure and comfort in a guided kayaking trip on the backwaters of the Mississippi and a relaxing stay at this B&B just a block west of Wabasha’s downtown. From $115. (651) 564-1568; turningwatersbandb.com