Stillwater, MN - My hometown!

It was so fun getting to go home this past week, and finally get to go out and about in town, which I missed doing last year. So I decided to share a post of my favorite things and recommendations in Stillwater!

The path is not always underwater like this! Sometimes the river floods in spring after a very snowy winter, as you can see here on the sidewalk.

Note: We are definitely still in a pandemic, so I am not necessarily encouraging travel. But if you are fully vaccinated and in the area, or looking for a fun future travel spot, I highly recommend you check out Stillwater!


I first want to say that in the spirit of healing, I acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of all Indigenous peoples whose ancestral homeland Stillwater now sits on. I tried very hard to research and find out exactly which Indigenous peoples and nations cared for and called this area home, but sadly, there is not a lot of information online about Stillwater’s Indigenous history. I have contacted the tourism/city offices to ask for more information, and will update this post if I find out more history, and to encourage them to share this information on their websites.


Using this wonderful interactive website that maps Indigenous lands (highly recommend checking it out for to learn more about where you live), it seems the Wahpekute and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Sioux Nation, Seven Council Fires) inhabited this land and surrounding areas, and I also know that the Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa people are one group in Stillwater specifically. Minnesota itself is home to 11 distinct tribal nations, including four federally recognized Dakota tribal nations. This land holds significant historical, spiritual, and cultural meaning for its original Native inhabitants and caregivers, and it is critical to recognize and advocate for the sovereignty and equity of Native nations here and everywhere.


Background


I always love telling people about how wonderful and unique my hometown is. If you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin, chances are you have probably visited Stillwater at some point, because it is a very unique town and popular tourist destination, especially in the summer and around Christmastime! And if you haven’t visited, you definitely should!


The view from the Main Street Stairs!

There is SO much to do in Stillwater although it is a small town - we have an amazing mix of nature and outdoor activities; arts, culture, and nightlife; history; and an incredible restaurant scene! Stillwater is continuously voted as Minnesota’s Best Small Town and has won numerous national and local accolades including America’s Top 10 Prettiest Towns from Forbes Magazine, one of America’s Most Picturesque Small Towns from USA Today Travel, Top 5 Midwest Towns, Best Weekend Getaway, and one of America’s Best Towns for Fall Colors from Travel and Leisure Magazine. So we have a lot to be proud of, but we are Minnesota nice so we don’t brag about this (much)!


Stillwater is known as the historic Birthplace of Minnesota because the process of Minnesota’s statehood in 1848 began in Stillwater, and Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest towns! Its placement on the river made it perfect for the lumber industry, which really made the town boom back in the day - you can still see remnants of this history in murals and old architecture in the town, which I think is very interesting. We have a Historic Lift Bridge that is an important landmark of the town that defines our beautiful downtown river view. The history of Stillwater is evident in the quaint downtown that looks straight out of the past, the beautiful Victorian mansions, many historic sites, antique shops, and more.


I grew up in Stillwater and always love coming home and visiting my favorite spots, as well as checking out new places that are always popping up! I cannot fit every option of things to do in one post, but you can find a more extensive list on Discover Stillwater if you are interested. However, I always think it’s great to get a local perspective, so these are my absolute favorites and my must-do recommendations!


A quick note on transportation and lodging:


If you visit Stillwater, I would recommend staying downtown because most of the best things to do are located downtown and it is easy to walk around there! We don’t really have public transportation or Lyft/Uber because we are a small town, but unless you plan to check out one of the nearby places (Bayport or Marine or the Franconia Sculpture Park) that I mention later, everything is within easy walking distance downtown. Parking can be sometimes tricky to find downtown on busy days, such as weekends or in the summer, so a garage was added on 2nd street just past the Lowell Inn off of Myrtle Street. Also, if you check out a few side streets off of Main Street you can generally find something, and there are a few parking ramps.


There are parking lots near the Zephyr Theatre and Valley Bookseller on one end of downtown or up near Teddy Bear Park or the Historic Courthouse on the other end that typically have spots. You may need to walk a bit further, but walking around downtown is pretty much my favorite thing to do, so that’s what you’re visiting for!


The Lowell Inn

I have never stayed at any hotels or bed and breakfasts in Stillwater, because I live here, but I know we have great options! There are many beautiful bed and breakfasts in historic Victorian mansions you could stay in, such as the Rivertown Inn and Aurora Staples Inn, or the Lowell Inn, which are all very elegant and have great food (the Lowell Inn also has a beautiful restaurant you can go to without being a guest). The Rivertown Inn is the largest (and is known as the best) Bed and Breakfast in Stillwater! It is a gorgeous old Victorian house that has been carefully restored. I got to tour it once and it was beautiful! They also often have cooking classes or culinary events, have a lovely garden with a gazebo, and they donate to many community projects. We also recently got 2 new hotels (Hotel Crosby and Lora Hotel) right downtown which I’ve heard are really nice and also have good restaurants.


Hotel Crosby

Alright, now onto what you should do! (Also just FYI, some of these photos were taken on my old phone, hence the blurrier quality).


Things to do


Explore Historic Downtown!


This is definitely one of my favorite things to do when I am at home! It is so fun to walk around downtown on a beautiful day and window shop, get lunch somewhere, check out the cute and unique finds in boutiques and vintage shops, walk down by the river or across the Liftbridge, try samples and get candy from the candy stores or get ice cream from Leo’s (addressed later in food)... Ah, it is making me nostalgic and happy just thinking about it! I inevitably run into friends and it’s always fun to see so many people enjoying our hometown.




Make sure to look up at the tops and walls of buildings for old murals and engravings describing what they once were - for example, boutiques and restaurants and hotels inhabit buildings that once were for lumber exchange, or you can find quaint old ads for chewing gum on the walls.




Another fun mural just about a five-minute drive out of downtown is the recently added "Looking Good!" mural at Advanced Dermatology Care - also a great spot for a facial or other skin treatment if you want to treat yourself while in town!


This is right next to my favorite garden shop Rose Floral, which is a fun stop if you like plants or gardening and they have great gifts too and sometimes seasonal events for kids!


Shops


There are over 50 local, independently-owned businesses ranging from bookstores, stylish boutiques with unique finds, restaurants, and even stores specializing in olive oil, spices, or precious gems. There are art galleries and coffee shops and bakeries and candy stores and stores for outdoorsy gear...really anything you could think of!



Stillwater has been ranked as one of the best places for shopping by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine, so you will discover great finds! Some of my favorites are:


The Valley Bookseller - my favorite bookstore! I used to spend lots of time here as a kid and watch the birds and It is also connected to a nice coffee shop called The Daily Grind.


Collaborations Boutique - cute clothes in a really cool space with a great view of Main Street and repurposed doors and windows as shelves and decorations.


Art & Soul - rocks and gems, gifts, art, and more.


I don't have a picture of the actual boutique, but I got my favorite hat at Kenzington! (PS This picture is at Franconia, which I mention later!)

Kenzington Boutique - this is fairly new and the owner is so nice and stylish and everything is so unique and beautiful and aesthetic, curated with beautiful interior design.


Smith and Trade Mercantile - a cool place that curates products and art from Minnesota and Wisconsin artisans and is fun to explore.


But truly, just walk from one end of Main Street to the other, going down side streets if things strike your fancy, and take your time exploring and going into shops!


Antiquing



Yes, antiquing is a verb in Stillwater! In addition to modern boutiques and shops, Stillwater is a huge hub for antiques! It has been ranked as one of the 10 Best Antiquing Towns in the US (ok, I am done bringing up Stillwater’s accolades now)! I find antiques so intriguing, and think it is so cool how well-preserved the items are and how they tell a story from the past.


I love perusing old magazines, records, memorabilia, pins, clothes, and more. You can see beautiful pieces of stained glass and other artwork too. I love walking through antique stores and checking out all there is to see! My favorites are the Stillwater Antiques Mall, Midtown Antiques, and Staples Mill Antiques.


I found this really fun vintage French plate about independent French women in the 1960’s and how wearing pants was a form of liberation! (P.S. this plate is featured in my recipe for vegan chocolate French toast, to go with the French theme)


You can find really great vintage clothes - for example, I found the sunflower dress above in an antique store (Staples Mill Antiques) back in high school and it is one of my favorite pieces of clothing and I always get so many compliments on it!


See a show at the Zephyr Theatre



We used to have a well-known elegant dinner train called the Minnesota Zephyr that ran out of downtown. I once went on a Harry Potter-themed dinner ride on this train with my mom as a child. In 2008, it closed and the old station was recently converted into a professional theatre and puts on musicals, concerts, and operas! They don't have shows during the pandemic, but they have had some fun outdoor concerts and music events, so it would be worth checking if they have anything going on while you are in town. The train track path was made into a great trail - Brown's Creek Trail - which I talk about later in the activities/fitness section.


History


The Historic Courthouse

As I mentioned earlier, Stillwater has a lot of history! If you like learning about history, definitely check out the Historic Courthouse - this is a beautiful building (many people get married here) with free exhibits about Minnesota history as well as a jail cell from its past as the working courthouse. It stands on top of a big hill, so you can see beautiful views of the St. Croix River and Valley!


We also have a Warden’s House where the warden of the old prison lived. At the Courthouse and Warden’s House, in addition to learning about the settlement of the area, you can learn about some thrilling stories such as bank robberies and rumored hauntings. Some say the Warden's House is haunted...guess you'll have to find out for yourself!


The Warden's House - there is another set of stairs (up to Pioneer Park) behind it!

If you venture slightly outside of Downtown heading north, such as along Brown’s Creek Trail (mentioned later in the “Activities/Fitness” section), you can spy some ruins of walls and doorways emerging from the cliffs along the road that becomes Main Street.


There is a historic marker explaining its past as Tamarack House, the first capitol building in Minnesota. People often pull into this little shoulder featuring the marker, but usually never read it - I am always surprised by how most people I know in Stillwater are unaware of this, but I always found it intriguing to look at when riding the bus to school as a child! You will find other historic markers around town as well.

Another great way to learn more about the history of Stillwater (and sightsee) is to take a trolley ride! These old-fashioned trolleys are so fun and cute, and they all have names that rhyme with trolley - such as Olly, Molly, and Dolly!



The Historic Lift Bridge was built in 1931, and underwent an extensive renovation over the past few years after it was closed for cars and now is open for pedestrians and bikes! It is one of only three functional lift bridges of its kind remaining in the whole country! It is always so fun to watch it raise up for the big paddlewheel riverboats to go underneath it. It connects Minnesota and Wisconsin, so, if you walk across it, you can visit two states in just about 20 minutes. It is part of a new loop trail that I mention in the Activities/Fitness section.


Seasonal Activities


SO much goes on depending on the season! Some of my favorite things include Summer Tuesdays, Lumberjack Days, and the Fourth of July in the summer; the Harvest Fest in the fall; and many winter festivities. Summer Tuesdays is a really fun outdoor event at the park along the river every Tuesday in the summer (as you could probably guess), featuring local food and shops, live music, and outdoor movies once the sun goes down. We have an annual festival in July called Lumberjack Days, named for the historic past of logging in Stillwater, with a parade and lots of events. The Fourth of July is very exciting in Stillwater - we have a great fireworks show over the river timed with music, and people come from all around to join in the festivities. It is beautiful to see the reflection of the fireworks in the water, and so fun to watch the show from one of the many parks or even a boat on the river!



In the summer, we also have these cool paddleboats on the river that host events (including lunch and dinner cruises) and are so fun to see floating along! They are beautiful on board as well - if you have a chance to go on one, it is definitely something you don’t want to miss!



You can also take a romantic gondola ride on the river as well, which I have never done, but often see them paddling along. There are also Beircycles where you pedal a bike attached to a beer pub, which I often see tourists doing.


Giant pumpkins at the Harvest Fest!

The Harvest Fest features many things, the most exciting of which is a giant pumpkin competition! When I say giant pumpkin, I mean giant - like hundreds of pounds and bigger than people!! I used to have a photo of me in high school being dwarfed by a pumpkin, but can’t seem to find it anymore sadly. But you can see the size compared to people in the photo above! The Harvest Fest drops one of the pumpkins in an exciting pumpkin drop as well.


And of course, Stillwater is absolutely magical in the winter! Every year, it pops up on articles from around the country as a can’t miss, magical Christmas town, and it is well-deserved. The beauty and warmth of the festivities will make you forget the Minnesota cold (almost). At the Historic Courthouse, they do a Victorian Christmas at the Courthouse with costumes, caroling, dancing, and themed feasts, while there will be carriage rides, decorations, and sometimes even giant ice castles (see below) downtown by the river! Main Street becomes lined with snowflake lights, and seeing this always makes me so happy when I come home in the winter - it is just beautiful.


The last photo is my dad, who is named Olaf, by the snowman Olaf!


Activities/Fitness


There is so much beauty in Stillwater from the St. Croix River, the bluffs and trees (which reflect gorgeously in the river, especially during autumn), as well as the historic architecture, so getting out to enjoy this is definitely one of my top recommendations! There are ways to be active in all seasons, from ice skating to swimming. You can walk, bike, run, or rollerblade along the river or on one of the trails and take in the views and nature.


Here are some of my favorites:


Brown’s Creek Trail and Gateway Trail

Brown’s Creek trail 6-mile long state trail starts at the northern end of downtown Stillwater near the old Zephyr station and runs along the old train path, eventually meeting up with the Gateway Trail, which runs for 18 miles all the way to St. Paul. It starts along Brown’s Creek and traverses forests and parks and passes by the historic old Stone Bridge (which is the oldest known stone arch bridge in Minnesota, and my elementary school was named after it!).


One thing I think is really fun is that after you go over a large bridge passing over Manning Avenue, you will go through a forest and there are really cool wheels with images of Minnesota wildlife that you spin to make a kaleidoscopic image (see the video above)! My family loves to rollerblade along this trail and the Gateway Trail.


Lift Bridge and St. Croix Crossing Bridge



As I described earlier, the Lift Bridge is a historic landmark for Stillwater, and was just renovated and is now a motor-vehicle free zone. It is great for walking, biking, rollerblading, or running and offers beautiful views of Stillwater, the bluffs on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the river, and the river itself.


The St. Croix Crossing Bridge was built recently to redirect motor traffic and has wide paths for biking, walking, running and rollerblading. This bridge is very high above the water, so you can appreciate stunning views of the St. Croix Valley from high up! The 5-mile loop trail to connect these bridges across Minnesota and Wisconsin was just opened, which is very exciting - it was so exciting to rollerblade on the Lift Bridge after just driving and walking on it my whole life. The full loop trail is fun too - there's a steep hill going into Wisconsin from the Stillwater side of the Lift Bridge, but after that it's slightly downhill the whole rest of the way, so it's not strenuous!

  • Here is a review of Stillwater trails and beer pairings, which I thought was creative, if you want more information about the trails or are into beer!


River and Lakes



The St. Croix River is a fun place to go boating - you can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards and adventure on the river. If you’re lucky enough to know a local with a boat, that can be a fun way to get out on the water and there are even some restaurants further south along the river at which you can dock a boat and get food!


My old dog Diogi and I canoeing!

In addition to the St. Croix River, there are also many nearby lakes for swimming and other water sports. I am grateful to live near so many lakes, and love going kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, ice skating, and more! If you want a lake close to town, Square Lake is pretty close and popular and a nice place to go!


Camping along the river is also a great way to get outdoors - here is some information on parks and camping! During the day, you can also walk, picnic (check rules before bringing food to a park though, not all allow it), adventure at the Boom Site and other river trails.


Ice Skating and Snowshoeing


There is public skating indoors and outdoors (during winter months) at the St. Croix Recreational Center. You can also rent snowshoes for a more outdoorsy trek.


Parks


Pioneer Park

There are many parks downtown within walking distance - Pioneer park is at the top of a hill and offers great views of the river and bridges. It is a popular spot for prom and graduation photos! I took graduation photos with my friends here! It is funny to look back at these and older photos because this is before the new Crossing bridge was built, and I am still not totally used to seeing two bridges in the view from the park!


There is also a park called Teddy Bear Park that is great for kids and really cute.


Studio 1 Yoga


I had walked and driven past Studio One Yoga many times, as it’s so close to where I live in my hometown, and realized last winter how crazy it was that I had never been to a class there! So I signed up for the 5:45 AM sculpt power flow hot yoga and it was great!


The studio is in the historic Isaac Staples Sawmill building, which also has some other shops and restaurants, so it’s a very cool location. They have really great prices for class packs, so if you’re staying for a few days or longer and want to practice yoga or mindfulness, I would definitely recommend it!


I did their three class pack for $19, which is definitely the best yoga class deal I’ve ever seen for three classes! They have many different class options and a great variety of times. I tried their restorative yoga as well and liked it a lot. They also have locations in Roseville and White Bear Lake (both about a 30 minute drive outside Stillwater), so if you will be near the Twin Cities, you could check out those studios as well. You can use the class packages at any of the three studios.


THE STILLWATER STAIRS


Views from the stairs in winter


This is in all caps because the stairs of Stillwater are very well-known. Many people have a love-hate relationship with them - they offer great views, but can be really tiring to climb! There are a total of five sets of historic steps that you can climb for exercise, fun, or for views (or all three). The stairs are: the Main Street Stairs, Chestnut Street Stairs, Pioneer Park Stairs (if you want a different way to get to this park I mentioned earlier), Triangle Park Stairs, and South Hill Stairs.



My favorite ones are the Main Street Stairs! They are the easiest to find, have a GREAT view of downtown and the bridge and river, and a local company called Trumi often writes positive sayings that are so cheerful and encouraging to see!



These start outside of MADE Coffee. Most are about 100 steps and all are pretty steep, but they have handrails and are pretty wide for safety. Going through all five sets would be about a 3 mile walk; here is a suggested route. Many people run up and down the stairs to work out, and there are often organized walks or runs.


Food

V = vegan options, Veg = vegetarian options, GF = gluten free options (safe for celiac as tested by my sister)

*If a place doesn’t have one of these qualifiers, it doesn’t mean it lacks these, just that I am unsure about it (for example, my sister hasn’t gone there so I don’t know how safe it is for those with celiac disease or severe gluten allergies). Also, just a disclaimer that I obviously cannot guarantee that you won’t have a reaction, just that my sister was safe eating at these places.


Stillwater has really great food options and was recently named as one of the Top 10 Small Town Food Scenes (ok, guess I wasn’t done bringing up our awards)! I have not even been to all the restaurants in Stillwater, but definitely have my favorites so that’s what I will share here. There are over 20 spots with outdoor dining patios and rooftops, which are really fun in the summer and offer a great view of the river or downtown. Many also have live music too! You can pretty much just walk downtown, especially down Main Street where many restaurants are, and any place will be good!


Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop

GF, Veg, V (they have a vegan burger now!)

PS if you are allergic to gluten, a shake would be better than a malt because the malt has gluten.


My favorite spot in downtown Stillwater is definitely Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop! I love the retro vibe and it is right on the corner of Main Street and Chesnut, where the Lift Bridge runs from.



It looks like it is straight out of the 1950’s. They have great burgers and salads and sweet potato tots and their malts are SO good! You can combine any variety of flavors too - for example, I love doing raspberry and peanut butter, and sometimes add chocolate or Oreos. When you get a malt there, they give you the extra from making it in a separate cup, so you basically get two malts, making it great for splitting or saving some for later. They have many flavors and you can get creative and customize as well.


They also have a patio out back and a walk-up window for ice cream and malts. On the last day of school, they give out free ice cream, which is always fun!


Oasis Cafe

GF, Veg (maybe vegan for some salads or breakfast options)



My favorite spot for breakfast is Oasis Cafe, which is a very cozy and always bustling restaurant right off Main Street as you leave downtown going south. It feels very homey, since they use an eclectic mix of mugs and plates, and the staff are all very friendly. On weekends, there is often a line so be prepared to wait, although they are pretty good at keeping things moving without making people feel rushed. They also have great lunch too, and have won Best Burger in the Valley many times (I haven’t had their burgers since I mostly go here for breakfast, and my favorite will always be Leo’s for burgers, but I am sure the Oasis burgers are great too). The pancakes are huge by the way, the size of your plate!


Coffee Paw Cafe

GF, V, Veg (limited vegan - could modify salads or bagel)

Coffee Paw Cafe has tasty food in a historic building, and is connected to a full service bike shop (the location used to be a combined bakery and bike shop called the Bikery!). It is located up the big hill from downtown, past the Historic Courthouse (mentioned in the Things to Do section). They have coffee and teas with a variety of dairy and non-dairy options. They use local maple syrup and other Minnesotan ingredients like wild rice to add a local touch to their dishes. They have really great baked goods and pies, local kombucha, as well as great breakfast, brunch, and lunch options.


Lolo American Kitchen

GF, V, Veg

Lolo is definitely one of the standout restaurants in Downtown Stillwater. It has really creative and delicious food, such as veggie poke bowls, fried brussels sprouts (definitely recommend those), and duck tacos. It is more reasonably priced than some of the other similar nice dinner establishments, and also has outdoor seating. They also have really cool desserts and clearly label on their menu which items are gluten-free.


For restaurants with riverfront views, you can check out the Freighthouse (has vegetarian options), or Charlie’s Restaurant at the Water Street Inn.


Candy Shops

GF, V, Veg (it’s candy so…)



No 1950’s-esque downtown would be complete without a candy shop, and Stillwater has multiple! My friends and I used to go on “candy runs” and get our favorite candies at each spot. My favorite is Tremblay’s because it looks so classic and old-timey, and they always have fudge samples. You can get all sorts of candy here, and they have vintage lunch boxes and other trinkets as decoration to enhance the retro feeling. Barbara Ann’s Fudge Shoppe is across the street and also has similar decorations and candy - they are most known for the turtles.



Further down mainstreet, across from the Valley Bookseller, is Candyland, which is the newer candy store and also has Twin Cities locations, but is still great. It has a Linus statue enjoying chocolate, one of the special Peanuts character statues that were once in the Twin Cities to honor Charles Schultz (he was from Minneapolis/St. Paul!), as well as a fun mural of Stillwater in its parking lot.


Nelson’s Ice Cream

GF, Veg (sadly I don’t think Nelson’s has dairy-free ice cream just yet)


Nelson’s Ice Cream is a Stillwater classic - it has been around since 1923 and is super popular with everyone who lives in and around Stillwater. It was even voted best Ice Cream Parlor in all of Minnesota! They recently expanded to St. Paul, but Stillwater is the original and best (in my clearly unbiased opinion) location. It is famous because they give you CRAZY large amounts of ice cream (see picture) for a pretty low price ($4.50), and they have over 40 different flavors.



The size I am holding in the picture is a child’s size, which is what everyone orders because it is the smallest and still super big. You can always tell if someone doesn’t know the scoop (hehe) and are from out of town if you hear them order a medium or large. I recommend getting an extra cup to divide your ice cream up to eat without making a mess, and to save some for later if you wish. You can sample flavors of course to help decide what to get. On hot days, the line goes out the door, but that’s because it is a very small shop and don’t be discouraged because they keep it moving! So you will get your ice cream.

Lake Elmo Inn

GF, Veg


The Lake Elmo Inn is not technically in Stillwater, it is in Lake Elmo, but it is so close and DEFINITELY worth going to!! Especially for any sort of celebration or special occasion. It is one of my all-time favorite restaurants and even won the Second Best Brunch in America from Travel and Leisure Magazine and has been on OpenTable’s Best Brunches in America list for years, as well as winning awards in Minnesota.


It has a romantic setting with a huge variety of food options, an extensive award-winning wine list, and an INCREDIBLE (award-winning, no surprise) dessert spread. The venue is really elegant and has a beautiful patio area too, and always is well-decorated.



But, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has an impressive collection of 1137 salt and pepper shaker sets! The tables have always had a different set of shakers every time I have dined there, and the collection is encased on the walls so you can look at them, which is really fun to do!


The food is so so good, and they have some menu classics as well as switching up seasonal dishes. They often serve walleye, and it’s always cooked deliciously, so this is also a great place to try walleye for something unique and Minnesotan. The sides also always have the option for wild rice, which I definitely recommend.


A selection of dessert options! The "Sin of the Inn" is on the left (there is a full size and a mini)

And the dessert spread is wonderful and changes seasonally but has a few staples. The staples include mousse, fresh berries, and the Sin of the Inn, which is a must try! The Sin of the Inn is gluten-free since it has an almond crust and it also comes in a mini version in case you want to get another dessert but still want to taste the Sin of the Inn.



The experience of eating at the Lake Elmo Inn is one to remember as well - they give you small cones of lemon sorbet in between courses to cleanse your palate, and at the end (spoiler alert if you want to be surprised!), they give you chocolate-covered strawberries and warm cinnamon scented towels to wipe your hands. If you have leftovers, they will wrap it up in tinfoil and shape it into a swan! They do a great job for special occasions and large groups as well.

Cooks of Crocus Hill



In addition to being a cooking supplies store, Cooks of Crocus Hill has cooking classes with fun themes from cuisines around the world. I did a Southern France cooking class with my mom at the Stillwater location, and a macaron making class at the Minneapolis location (they also have a St. Paul store). The level of skill varies from demonstrations to complete cooking participation, so you can find something to suit your comfort while learning something new. You of course get to enjoy the dish you create, which is fun, and from taking the class, you get a discount on any purchases in the store! They have cookbooks and many cool and unique cooking tools and supplies, so it’s a really fun store to browse in if you are into food, cooking, or baking.


River Market Co-op

GF, Veg, V


If you need groceries or a quick, healthy bite to eat, the River Market Co-op is right downtown and has tons of great options. They have local produce and other products, and a sandwich and burrito bar that is really tasty (I like the garden veggie wrap, which is vegan). They have a great selection of gluten-free and vegan foods as well, and it’s a great way to support a local place while getting quick food. They also do classes on food and wellness topics too, which is cool.


P.S. For another local unique grocery store, there is also a cute little grocery store near Nelson’s Ice Cream called Len’s. It is fun because the milk fridge makes a moo-ing sound when you open it, and it has a fun mural of Stillwater!


Nearby Sites to Visit


Stillwater is only about a 30-45 minute drive from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and there are many things to do there (which I will have a separate blog post someday), but there are many great places just slightly outside of Stillwater that are also worth seeing!


Marine on St. Croix



North of Stillwater is a small town called Marine on St. Croix, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has nice walking trails and a cute little town square with historic buildings, a storybook gazebo, Minnesota’s oldest general store, and an ice cream shop, as well as a wonderful chocolate shop called St. Croix Chocolates.


This was a Mother's Day special treat for my mom from St. Croix Chocolates!

Their beautiful chocolates with unique flavors are all handmade - I once got an apricot lavender dark chocolate truffle, which was amazing! They have received international awards for their chocolates and offer chocolatier classes where you learn about and make fancy chocolates (I only recently learned about this, so I haven’t done it but would love to do so in the future)!


Bayport



Bayport is just south of downtown Stillwater and has a smaller but also quaint downtown and also river access through a park. My favorite spot in Bayport is called, cleverly, Not Justa Cafe! They also have a Not Justa Bar next door, but you can be seated in either area and have the same menu and they are connected on the inside. They have eclectic cabin-y decorations and it’s very cozy and they have a good variety of food and baked goods, including vegetarian and gluten-free options.


Franconia Sculpture Park



Franconia Sculpture Park is a bit more of a trek north past Marine on St. Croix, but well worth visiting if you like any of the following: free art, large and unique sculptures that often make you think, cool photo backgrounds, or large outdoor areas. It is a 43 acre outdoor museum and sculpture park free and open to the public 365 days a year from dawn to dusk. They have an active artist residency, so there are often new art installations as well as many pieces that are well-established and always there (one of my favorites is the wall of radios and stereos in the front). They do a lot of cool community programming as well, including a farmers' market.

A Day in Stillwater

If you want a plan for a day in Stillwater (on a day that is nice to walk around), here are my suggestions:


Fall/Winter: If it is fall, you could check out the Harvest Fest or pick apples at Aamodt’s Orchard nearby. If it is winter, check out the Christmas at the Courthouse, then stroll down Main Street and window shop and admire the snowflake lights. Maybe go ice skating or snowshoeing! If you need some hot chocolate or coffee to warm up, you can check out Coffee Paw or Daily Grind. Either season, you can browse antique and other shops downtown, and get dinner to warm up.


Spring/Summer: Start the day by running/walking, biking, or rollerblading on a trail or across the Lift Bridge and maybe doing the loop trail. Get lunch at Leo’s and maybe try a malt or cool down with ice cream from Nelson’s. Walk around downtown and do some window shopping or shopping, and walk by the river and watch the boats. Maybe cool off with some water activities in the St. Croix River or a nearby lake. Get dinner somewhere - such as Charlie’s Restaurant (has vegetarian options and a vegan salad) at the Water Street Inn or the Freighthouse for dining with a river view. You could also end the night with a gondola ride!


A fun mural outside Candy Land!

I hope you get a chance to visit Stillwater someday, and that you enjoy it!