Along the wild and scenic St. Croix River and 28 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, Stillwater combines a historic downtown with contemporary dining, shopping and lodging.

By By the editors of MidwestLiving.com
Gondola Romantica

As a quiet neighbor to Saint Paul, historic Stillwater lures Twin Cities locals and vacationers to the scenic banks of the St. Croix River. Boutiques, bell towers and wooded bluffs make a day trip fun, but the Venetian gondola may sway you to stay the night. discoverstillwater.com

What to do

Aamodt's Hot Air Balloon Rides Take flight from the property of Aamodt's Apple Farm and Saint Croix Vineyards for panoramic views of the Twin Cities skyline and the countryside. Then try a wine tasting at the vineyard, or buy some freshly picked apples at the farm to complete a picnic. aamodtsballoons.com

Aamodt's Hot Air Balloon Rides

Franconia Sculpture Park A rotating collection of modern sculptures dots the 43-acre park 25 miles north of Stillwater. franconia.org

Gateway-Brown's Creek State Trails The 5.9-mile Brown's Creek State Trail leads bikers and walkers to the heart of Stillwater, and it connects to other trail systems, including the 18-mile Gateway State Trail running from Saint Paul to Stillwater. This year, the 5-mile St. Croix Crossing Loop Trail will open, sending cyclists and walkers to Wisconsin and back, across a new bridge and the historic lift bridge. gatewaybrownscreektrail.org

Brown's Creek State Trail

Gondola Romantica Former Boundary Waters guide John Kerschbaum 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. gondolaromantica.com

Gondola Romantica

Shopping 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 in an old sawmill, Cooks of Crocus Hill (for new kitchen goods and cooking classes) and Kathe Wohlfahrt of America (for holiday decorations). discoverstillwater.com

Urban hike The 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. Create your own path or find a route at discoverstillwater.com.

Where to eat

Freight House A former railway warehouse from the 1880s churns out beer-brined steaks and elk burgers. (651) 439-5718; thefreighthouse.com

Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter Refuel with schnitzel, sausage and Munich beers near the Brown's Creek State Trail, 4 miles west of downtown Stillwater. gasthausbavarianhunter.com

LoLo American Kitchen and Craft Bar LoLo (short for locally owned, locally operated) has won over regulars from Saint Paul with inventive fare like Korean barbecue steak tacos. loloamericankitchen.com

LoLo American Kitchen and Craft Bar

Marx Fusion Bistro Eat your way around the world with a menu that combines Caribbean, Italian-American and Asian dishes. marxfusionbistro.com

Phil's Tara Hideaway Bar and Restaurant Join locals for walleye, pastas or Greek dishes. Located off of State-36. (651) 439-9850; tarahideaway.com

Where to stay

Ann Bean Mansion One of the six bedrooms in the former home and estate of a lumber baron has an oversize copper soaking tub; another room has a ladder leading to a tower with scenic views. If you don't want to leave, ask for breakfast in bed. annbeanmansion.com

Lora The new 40-room lodging traces its roots to an 1868 brewery built into the bluff. Today, modern linens and decor soften the look of original stone walls and vaulted ceilings. Borrow a complimentary bike to explore the town. lorahotel.com

The Outing Lodge at Pine Point The 1858 Georgian premises in the heart of 300-acre Pine Point County Park is known for sumptuous theme dinners. outinglodge.com

Rivertown Inn Guests sip wine and nibble on hors d'oeuvres at an evening social hour before retiring to rooms named for Victorian authors. Some rooms have antique crystal chandeliers and stained-glass windows. rivertowninn.com

Water Street Inn Each room in this historical inn has period furniture and a whirlpool tub; all but five have a gas fireplace. waterstreetinn.us

For information: Stillwater/Oak Park Heights Convention and Visitors Bureau (651) 351-1717; discoverstillwater.com

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