Start with a cozy breakfast on the porch of Lake City’s Chickadee Cottage Cafe, which overlooks charming gardens. Try a French toast sandwich, cheesy potatoes and wild rice sausage, and buy some sweets (from a coconut angel macaroons to a mixed-nut chocolate tart) for later in the day.
Stroll through historic neighborhoods and check out downtown. At Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company antique shop, you can see the pearly clams that were once cut into luminous buttons before pearls were replaced by plastics.
Pearly clams were once cut into buttons.
Head a few blocks east to the 2.5-mile Lake Pepin walkway, which runs parallel to the largest marina on the Mississippi River.
Lake City’s claim to fame as the birthplace of waterskiing is celebrated each June. Learn more about local history aboard Pearl of the Lake, a riverboat offering 90-minute seasonal cruises.
Pearl of the Lake riverboat. Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
Late summer and fall visitors can crunch into explosively juicy SweeTango apples—another Minnesota invention—at Pepin Heights orchard or grab a jug of sparkling apple juice or fresh cider.
Splurge on dinner at Nosh Restaurant and Bar, where you can watch the sunset cast a pink and gold glow across sailboats on the lake. The restaurant serves elegantly presented meals highlighting seasonal ingredients and from-scratch breads, sausages and ice creams.
About 14 miles south of Lake City, spend the night at Wabasha’s Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Adventure, which offers organic breakfasts, dreamy bathrobes and guided kayaking tours.
Families can opt for AmericInn Wabasha, which features playful suites inspired by Lark Toys, loon decoys and other themes.
After a morning paddle on the Mississippi or a stroll along the river to the fountain and bronze statue of Chief Wapasha II, learn about resident eagles through hands-on exhibits and programs at the National Eagle Center.
Check out freshwater pearls and handmade Troll Bead pendants at Jewels on the River, admire hand-painted and embroidered wedding kimonos at Wind Whisper West, or enjoy salted “sea turtles” at The Chocolate Escape.
Spend the afternoon feeling like a kid at Lark Toys, one of the largest independent toy shops in America. Extensive displays show toys from every generation, from Howdy Doody and Easy-Bake Ovens to Barbie and Luke Skywalker. Kids love the mini-golf course outside, but the biggest draw is the hand-carved carousel where you can go for a spin on an otter, flamingo, hairy troll, dragon-riding wizard or a reindeer with antlers.
Head a few minutes north for cold microbrews, shrimp and grits, and tangy brisket sandwiches at Reads Landing Brewing. Patio tables face the Mississippi and trains that occasionally zip past.