With nicknames like “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” “The North Star State,” and “The Gopher State,” it’s easy to see that the state of Minnesota and its residents love nature. However, Minnesota is much more than a natural state. With charming main streets and an array of various cultures, it’s easy to get lost in wonder when exploring Minnesota.
When compiling a list of the best towns in Minnesota, it was challenging to narrow it down to 10-20. After all, the state is chock-full of charming towns, attractions, and amazing places to visit. Let’s dive into some of the best places to visit in Minnesota.
A waterfront destination on Lake Minnetonka’s southeast shore, Excelsior is located 20 miles west of Minneapolis. Since it is one of the few towns that enjoy access to Lake Minnetonka’s public shoreline, visitors seeking a relaxing lakeside vacation flock to Excelsior, one of the best towns in Minnesota.
You will enjoy the downtown Victorian district of Excelsior with its unique restaurants and quirky shops. When you’re exhausted from walking around, hop aboard the Steamboat Minnehaha, a historic streetcar boat that was at the bottom of the lake for 50 years before it was raised for restoration in 1980. Now, the boat is a living history museum.
One of the larger towns on our list, Minnetonka is technically a suburb of the city of Minneapolis. Nevertheless, the people in Minnetonka are quick to point out that the town has its own flavor and personality. Although Minnetonka had its first settlers in the mid-1800s, it didn’t actually become a city until 1956.
This gorgeous city has nearly 50 parks, over 1,000 acres of greenery-filled public spaces, and several miles of trails. Visitors enjoy Shady Oak Beach, which has over 70 feet of sandy beaches and pure spring-fed water that’s ready for you to splash into. After enjoying the outdoors, visit the Ridgedale Center, Bunker Indoor Golf, or the General Store of Minnetonka.
Number three on our list of best towns in Minnesota is Harmony. Located about as far south as you can get in Minnesota, the town of Harmony is just minutes away from the Iowa border. This quaint little town is surrounded by the countryside where the state’s largest settlement of Amish people resides. To say that Harmony lives up to its name is an understatement.
We recommend enjoying an official tour with Amish Tours of Harmony to experience the area’s handmade goods and culture in a respectful way. If you can pull yourself away from the area’s exceptional landscapes, you can go underground into the Niagara Cave, a karst cave system.
4. Taylors Falls
The town of Taylor Falls is located at the junction of Minnesota State Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 8. With the nearby snowboarding and ski resort Wild Mountain, this town is the ideal destination for winter if you love to be in the snow. There are more than 20 ski hills in the area and every year, Taylor Falls is the first town to open its ski resorts.
One of Minnesota’s larger small towns, Northfield has a rich history that is readily apparent in the historic streets of downtown. The majestic old buildings that line the streets give Northfield a genuine Midwest feel. These days, the town is a hub of culture, arts, and interesting attractions which places it soundly on our list of the 18 best towns in Minnesota.
A popular destination for history buffs is the Jesse James Outlaw Trail. Get refreshed with a visit to the Cannon River Winery or visit the popular Northfield Farmer’s Market. Tourists also enjoy the Alpaca Farm Store, and after a full day exploring this town, you can enjoy Northfield’s notable music scene.
6. New Ulm
A quaint German town located about 90 minutes from Minneapolis, New Ulm has a distinctly Bavarian flavor because it was a popular settling place for immigrants from Germany in the 1850s. That rich cultural heritage is on full display today, and you can enjoy the related events, attractions, and colorful architecture.
In New Ulm, you can see an authentic Glockenspiel that performs three times daily near Johnson Park. Also, the Brown County Historical Society Museum provides an additional avenue for diving into the city’s German legacy. Known as the “City of Festivals,” New Ulm has something for everyone, especially during the holiday season.
The “Birthplace of Minnesota,” Stillwater’s historic downtown area still reflects the legacy of mid-1800s Minnesota. However, these days, the town boasts businesses like romantic restaurants, bakeries, and spas. The tourist attractions in the downtown area make Stillwater one of the best towns in Minnesota and one of the state’s most popular destinations.
Despite being a medium-sized town you can enjoy, the outdoors is just a step away, with access to Afton State Park, which is home to one of the state’s best hiking trails. You can also explore the natural surroundings of Stillwater aboard a paddlewheel cruise on the beautiful St. Croix River.
Interestingly, the influence of the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, reaches as far north as Minnesota. Houston, Minnesota is named after Mr. Houston because of the city’s strong ties to the Lone Star State. The city’s founder was William McSpadden, who served under Houston during the Mexican-American War.
Bring your walking shoes when you visit Houston because it’s home to the scenic Blufflands State Trail. In July, families enjoy the Houston Hoedown Days, which features dances and tractor pulls. Another popular event is the International Festival of Owls, which has activities for both kids and adults.
A charming small village in Minnesota’s northern parts, Biwabik’s roots trace back to the region’s ore mines. Prior to that, indigenous Ojibwe peoples lived and thrived in this water-rich area of Minnesota. Today, visitors can enjoy small-town amenities while they explore the beautiful outdoors.
Surrounding this remote town are the Boundary Waters, two state forests, and the Superior National Forest. Just 10 minutes away is one of Minnesota’s best ski resorts, Giants Ridge, where people who love to snow ski can enjoy cross-country skiing.
History buffs will love the distinct Bavarian flair of the downtown district, as well as numerous annual events.
10. Grand Marais
On the North Shore of Lake Superior, you will find a number of small towns. However, none capture the beauty of the scenic environment more perfectly than Cook County’s Grand Marais. With fewer than 1,500 residents, this tiny harbor hamlet is located about 110 miles from Duluth.
At the back door of Grand Marais are the Sawtooth Mountains, and popular excursions include long-distance backpacking and boating on the lake. The nearby Superior National Forest is another nature lover’s paradise.
Despite its size, the town of Grand Marais is accustomed to welcoming tourists, so you will find no shortage of excellent dining, lodging, and shopping establishments.
Lindstrom is located in Chisago County, and the town derives its name from Sweden. Perhaps it’s this that has earned Lindstrom the moniker of “America’s Little Sweden.” Founded in 1880, the town grew as it swelled with Swedish immigrants, and the town proudly celebrates its Swedish heritage.
When you spend a few days in Lindstrom, you will feel like you’ve truly experienced the charms of Sweden (and without the long flight). July’s Karl Oskar Days include fun community events like dancing, parades, and fireworks. You can walk around the city to see statues of Karl and Kristina Oskar.
When you visit Pipestone, one of the best towns in Minnesota, it’s all about the scenic environment. The area has outdoor attractions that include Split Rock Creek State Park and the Pipestone National Monument, which is the home of the sacred Pipestone quarries. These eerily beautiful red rocks have enormous significance for the region’s indigenous people.
Pipestone is home to several annual events that draw lots of tourists, including classic car shows, paranormal events, and a popular city-wide rummage sale. Another fun event to take in is the Pipestone Civil War Days that takes place every August. During this event, more than 300 characters in costume take to the battlefield.
13. Red Wing
If elevating your experience is your goal, you can’t go wrong with the majestic bluffs in Red Wing, Minnesota. Located about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities, the famous bluffs serve as natural vantage points overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. A riverfront city with fewer than 17,000 permanent residents, Red Wing has several options for enjoying your elevation vacation with locations like Barn Bluff or Sorin’s Bluff.
14. Grand Rapids
Located about three hours north of the Twin Cities, Grand Rapids is the gateway to Minnesota’s famous Northwoods. With about 10,000 permanent residents, you can enjoy a small-town experience that has no shortage of fun things to do. For more than 100 years, this town has been a vacation hot spot for people who are looking for a Minnesota getaway.
One of the most popular activities in Grand Rapids is the 150-mile Mesabi Trail, a paved bike trail for folks who enjoy pedal-powered getaways. Fans of “The Wizard of Oz” can visit the Judy Garland Museum (Grand Rapids was her birthplace).
Next on our list of best towns in Minnesota is Ely. If you want to visit the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, you will probably go through this Northern Minnesota town. The town serves as a basecamp into the Boundary Waters, and vacation amenities abound. Departing out of the water-bound region, you can take canoe day trips or spend several nights enthralled by the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights).
Ely’s International Wolf Center gives visitors up-close encounters with wolves. Meanwhile, Bear Head Lake State Park is just a stone’s throw away. To dive deeper (literally), check out the Soudan Underground Mine for a fascinating subterranean experience and more at one of the best towns in Minnesota.
One of Minnesota’s hidden gems is Lanesboro, which is located in the southeastern area of the state. With no major roads leading to this bluff-lined Root River Valley town, you will need to get to Lanesboro via the Root River State Trail that runs directly through the town’s historic downtown district.
The town is home to the waterfall-infused Sylvan Park and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, so there is plenty of gorgeous natural scenery and other things to do. Numerous cozy bed and breakfasts in historic Victorian homes have earned Lanesboro the nickname of the “Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota.”
17. Little Falls
The town of Little Falls is located north of the Twin Cities by about two hours. Nestled along the Mississippi River, Little Falls played a role in inspiring a young Charles Lindbergh, and you can visit the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum, a National Historic Landmark.
These days, visitors can enjoy the small town’s downtown murals, which feature the proud history of the city.
Every night, a vintage marquee lights up the Falls Cinema. Meanwhile, you will hear music drifting from the Great River Arts building. The backdrop of all of this culture and history is the mighty Mississippi that pounds over the dam.
Last but not least on our list of best towns in Minnesota is the charming town of Henderson. Within the breathtaking Minnesota River Valley, 60 miles northeast of Minneapolis, lies Henderson, one of the state’s oldest communities. Every year, annual events take over this quaint village, including Sauerkraut Days and June’s “Celebration of Prince,” which pays tribute to Minnesota’s most famous musician.
Dive into Henderson’s rich history at the Sibley County Historical Museum. Moreover, you can enjoy a more experiential education when you visit the 500-acre Ney Nature Center. At the center, you can experience interpretive hiking trails that will lead you to the Minnesota River’s dramatic overlooks.
Whatever type of adventure you and your family are looking for, there is something for everyone in one of the best towns in Minnesota. Whether you’re looking for a winter destination or a cool summer weekend, you will find it here.
After visiting one or more of the best towns in Minnesota, please let us know which one was your favorite destination and why.
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.