Considered the birthplace of Minnesota, Stillwater has come a long way since the days it hosted a territorial convention to start the march to statehood. Founded in 1839, Stillwater grew from a logging town to a popular site with visitors. Honoring its past with businesses utilizing original buildings as well as downtown murals, Stillwater is a beautiful, friendly river town. Here are a few recommendations for enjoying a wonderful weekend getaway about 35 minutes northeast from the Twin Cities.
Things To Do In Stillwater
There’s seemingly no limit as to what you can do in Stillwater, from enjoying a walk through the historical downtown to a river cruise as well as exploring its public art scene. The city is home to craft breweries, wineries, and fantastic restaurants. And don’t forget the shopping, featuring antique stores inside former grain elevators as well as unique shops along the main drag.
Stretch Your Legs On A Historic Walking Tour
Featuring more than a dozen key locations around Stillwater, the Historic Walking Tour includes the aerial lift bridge, Washington County Courthouse, Lowell Inn, and Staples Sawmill. As you walk around town, you can access attractions via YouTube on your phone or download a PDF map of the route.
Since Stillwater was built on a series of hills overlooking the St. Croix River, you may also want to check out the popular and historic stairs -- five sets of steps that take you from the river level to several blocks uphill. The stairs lead to amazing views of the river and the surrounding area.
Another interesting historical tour is Secrets in the Landscape, which highlights the area’s unique geography, including the limestone bluffs, St. Croix River, and stone levee.
Rivertown Tour offers guided walking tours of the historic downtown area and the South Hill neighborhood, including historical homes. For an utterly unique experience, Rivertown’s lumberjack tour includes a 30-minute tour of Stillwater’s lumber history followed by an hour of ax throwing at a local establishment.
Enjoy The Public Art Scene
Highlighting the city’s history, you’ll find several murals on the sides of buildings in downtown Stillwater. From logging history to the aerial lift bridge as well as an overview of the city’s history, you’ll enjoy viewing the murals.
An ongoing project since 2016, the River City Sculpture Tour features a variety of sculptures located throughout Stillwater. Exhibits are rotated annually, so each year you’re likely to see something new.
Showcasing local artists and artisans, Smith + Trade Mercantile is a must for art enthusiasts, featuring paintings and sculptures as well as jewelry and greeting cards.
Have A Cold One At A Craft Brewery
Founded in 2008, Lift Bridge Brewery produces about 20,000 barrels of craft beer annually. With more than two dozen flavors, the brewery features stalwarts Farm Girl Saison and Hop Dish IPA among its seasonal and year-round brews. With a taproom and patio, Lift Bridge is an excellent brewery to visit. The brewery also produces root beer, mini-donut cream soda, and a black cherry soda.
With about 15 beer flavors, Maple Island Brewing is a microbrewery calling downtown Stillwater home. Among the favorites are Extra Puck’in Awesome EPA, Peel Me Wit wheat, and American IPA. Maple Island also produces two non-alcoholic root beers and a cream soda.
Cruise The St. Croix River
Explore the St. Croix River aboard an old-fashioned riverboat experience. Stillwater River Boats features a variety of cruises, including a lunch cruise, a weekend brunch excursion, and daily sightseeing cruises. View the river, woods, and wildlife from the open-air top deck or from the enclosed lower level.
You’ll want to arrive no later than 45 minutes before your cruise to ensure you find parking near the dock, as the riverboat is located away from downtown Stillwater.
For a more romantic outing, consider a gondola ride along the St. Croix River. Following a career as a guide for canoe trips along Minnesota’s boundary waters, Gondola Romantica’s owner decided the time was right to bring an Italian treasure to Stillwater. With only two people aboard, romance is the name of the game on the river. If you’re not with a significant other, then the ride makes for a wonderful platonic water adventure.
Travel Along The St. Croix Scenic Byway
From Native Americans and fur traders to lumber companies moving fresh-cut logs to the mills, the St. Croix River has long played a role in Stillwater’s history. Today, with a mix of natural beauty, wooded areas, and small communities along the river, the St. Croix Scenic Byway offers an opportunity to combine history with nature. As you drive along the secluded highway, be on the lookout for wildlife as well as interesting stops such as Marine Mill and scenic Interstate State Park near Taylor Falls.
Once a vibrant river town, Arcola Mills provided lumber for cities along the Mississippi River as far south as St. Louis. Founded in the early 1840s, Arcola Mills, a few minutes north of Stillwater, enjoyed the lumber boom until the early 1900s. After seeing its residents and employees abandon the area, the founders followed suit. The town’s buildings fell into disrepair until the 1930s, when a couple bought the property and renovated the owners’ home, now a historical treasure, as well as the lumber mill. Today, the area offers a trek through history, as you can tour the mill and the surrounding property.
Tip A Glass At A Winery
While you may think it’s too cold to raise grapes, Minnesota is home to nearly 100 wineries and vineyards. In fact, the University of Minnesota invented the Frontenac grape to help vineyards across the state. The Stillwater area is home to two wineries and vineyards.
Saint Croix Vineyards has been producing grapes since 1992. They feature wines in a tasting room located inside a refurbished century-old barn. With more than 100 awards at national and international competitions, St. Croix Vineyards features both white and red wines as well as dessert drinks.
7 Vines Vineyards calls Dellwood home. Located about 15 minutes northwest of Stillwater, 7 Vines Vineyard planted its first grapes in 2012. With a rustic look, the winery offers a scenic view of the vineyards and preserve. Enjoy a tour of the winery followed by a tasting of the award-winning white and red wines.
Where To Shop In Stillwater
With more than 50 stores and boutiques calling downtown home, Stillwater is a great spot for antique shopping as well as unique clothing, home decor, and books.
Located inside an old grain mill, Staples Mill Antiques is an adventure in antiquing. With each room featuring a variety of vintage wares, such as vinyl albums, home decor, china, and clothing, you can spend hours browsing through the mill.
Your sweet tooth will lead you to Candyland. Known for its Chicago Mix popcorn -- seasoned popcorn, caramel corn, and cheddar cheese popcorn -- Candyland also features hand-dipped chocolates and sweets, such as jujus, candied nuts, and saltwater taffy. You can also buy sugar-free candy.
Best Restaurants In Stillwater
From traditional American fare to Italian and more, Stillwater’s culinary scene is on par with any larger city.
Enjoy an amazing view of the St. Croix River and historic Stillwater from Papa’s Rooftop at the Water Street Inn. Featuring a menu of salads, pizza, and pasta, the bar and restaurant has proven a hit with locals and visitors alike.
If pub-style food is more your scene, visit Charlie’s Pub, also at the Water Street Inn. Its menu features burgers and sandwiches, including a Minnesota favorite -- the walleye sandwich.
The Main Cafe
Open for breakfast and lunch, The Main Cafe features standard breakfast fare, while its lunch menu includes burgers, sandwiches such as the Rachel, and entrees such as a Cajun chicken dinner and grilled pork chop.
Best Hotels In Stillwater
With a bevy of national chains, Stillwater is also home to local hotels, lofts, house rentals, and several bed and breakfasts.
The Water Inn
The Water Inn is an elegant hotel located along the riverfront. With 61 classically adorned rooms and suites, you may want to reserve a stay for a special occasion.
The Lowell Inn
The Lowell Inn is a historic downtown hotel featuring 35 rooms and suites, just a short walk from the river and other attractions.
With 40 rooms, the Lora Hotel offers an excellent choice for your weekend accommodations. The Lora Hotel is also located near the St. Croix River.
The Hotel Crosby features a lodge feel, which helps provide a relaxing end to a fun-filled day of shopping, sightseeing, and great meals. With over 50 rooms and suites, the Hotel Crosby also offers a cozy experience.
Cover Park Manor Bed And Breakfast
The four suites at Cover Park Manor include fireplaces and private porches, and you’ll receive a bottle of wine and a meat and cheese platter following check-in. Located a mile south of downtown Stillwater, the bed and breakfast’s property includes walking trails, so you can enjoy a taste of nature. Of course, you can expect an outstanding breakfast.
Rivertown Inn Bed And Breakfast
With 10 suites and bed chambers featuring British authors’ and characters’ names, the Rivertown Inn is a marvel designed with Victorian-era decor. Featuring antiques and vintage decor, you’ll love staying at the classic bed and breakfast. Using a farm-to-table concept, the bed and breakfast offers a health-conscious and delicious breakfast.
If you don’t have a full weekend to explore Stillwater, the town does make for a great day trip from Minneapolis. And if you’re planning a Minneapolis-centric excursion, consider our list of things to do in Minneapolis.