Daytrip: St. Croix Valley

Afton State Park bluffs |

Bluffs at Afton State Park

This past weekend was gorgeous. Minnesota was feeling near-record temps. Knowing those days are numbered and I’ll soon be homebound, coupled with fall colors on display, I headed east for some hiking in Afton State Park, located on the St. Croix River at the boarder of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and take advantage of some Wisconsin beers while I was there.

State Park: Afton State Park

About a 35 minute drive from Minneapolis, it was easy to access yet away from everything. The trails are great: Its easy to follow, they clearly display the difficulty and trails intersect often in very short (.2 or .3 miles) so its a very “choose your own adventure” hike. I was at the tail end of a nasty spell of allergies and didn’t know how hiking would make me feel, so it was nice to decide if I would go a little further or not on a whim.

Afton State Park path |

Not as much fall color as I hoped, but perfect temps and a natural tree canopy make for great hiking.

With 20 miles of trail at different difficulties, I was to go back when I’m feeling better and explore more. In my few miles of hiking I was able to see bluffs (which is the level the visitor center is), woods and prairie.

If hiking isn’t your thing, the gently rolling, wide trails are also used for horseback riding, snowshoeing and cross county skiing. With a wood-fire stove in the visitor center, its obvious this park is popular year-round.

Brewery: Pitchfork Brewing Company

Pitchfork Brewing Hudson |

Pitchfork Brewing Company

Located four miles into the state, Pitchfork offers a lot of different kinds of beer, and has a tempting list of what will be on tap soon. While I was there they had a wet (local!) hop in a firkin, and a pumpkin and Oktoberfest beer. I tried a bit of each of those and the rye saison, which were all solid choices. They give samples and have a variety of glass sizes so it’s easy to try a little of everything. Pints are $5 (the firkin was $6, could have charged more, probably) and it’s a good atmosphere with a popcorn maker, some TVs, lots of light, a long bar, booths and tables.

Also in Hudson

American Sky Brewing Company

I didn’t stop here (maybe next time, remember I’m coming back!) due to time, but I’ve heard good things about it. They have a good variety of beers, and I did pick one up at the liquor store.

Hudson Liquor

Wisconsin beers |

Variety of Wisconsin beers I don’t believe are available in Minnesota

Since I was (barely) in Wisconsin, I wanted to stop at the liquor store and get some beers not available in Minnesota. I stopped at Hudson Liquor because it was next to Caribou Coffee, but it was a good choice. It is clean and easy to navigate, with a walk-in cooler and lots of local beers and single bottles to build your own six pack. The Wisconsin beers I got are:

  • Oliphant Brewing Skullship Muerte
  • New Glarus Apple Ale
  • Ale Asylum Demento
  • O’so Hop Whooping
  • American Sky USA IPA
  • New Glarus Scream IIPA

Daytrip: Rochester

Whitewater State Park creek |

Creek at Whitewater State Park near Rochester, Minnesota

I’m now just trying to be greedy and sneak in daytrips of hiking and sampling drinks when and where I can. I know the warm weeks are limited; it’s a race against time and I don’t know when the nice weather will run its course and I will spend my time raking and then shoveling. I shudder at the thought.

When I saw the chance for a trip after a week if rain and very cold weather, I took it. Rochester is the farthest and most ambitious day trip to date, but the views from the hike were worth it. There was a bit of driving to get there and back and between each destination, but it was a nice way to get out of town and enjoy a new location.

State Park: Whitewater

Whitewater State Park Inspiration Point |

Inspiration Point at Whitewater State Park near Rochester.

Whitewater State Park is about 20 miles east of Rochester. It has a variety of hiking trails and levels of difficulty, so it made for a fun time. It had beautiful limestone bluff views and nice prairie lands with open areas and a creek, so it was a great place to explore. Every turn and path was fun to see and explore. It was nice viewing it as the leaves are juuuust starting to change color, and I can only imagine what it will look like in a few more weeks when all the trees are a variety of fall colors!

Whitewater State Park prairie | KaleAndAle.comThere really are trails for all levels that are clearly marked, and there are lots of resting and picnic spots throughout. In addition there is a variety of camping and a beach. Inspiration Point (above) was worth the short but steep climb, and can’t be missed. This hike is easier than Frontanac (although I enjoyed the challenge) and overall the views are more rewarding.

Winery: Four Daughters

Four Daughters Rochester |

Four Daughters red wine sampler

About 20 minutes south of Rochester is Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery. This winery also makes the popular-in-Minnesota cider Loon Juice. The menu looked great and eclectic, so I planned to go here after hiking to get some food.

Upon looking at the menu I realized it wasn’t as vegetarian friendly as it seemed online (as the menu changes daily so the online menu was a sample), so I asked if one of the brunch items could be made vegetarian by omitting the meat, but I was told it had chicken stock in it so, no it couldn’t. I explained I’m vegetarian and what could they do? I was directed to some appetizers and, while they sounded good, the vegetarian ones were more run of the mill and I needed a real meal. Since they offer a few flatbreads and pizzas (although none on the menu were meat-free the day I went) they could make a margarita pizza.

While I’m glad the server knew the menu enough to warn me removing meat wouldn’t make my meal vegetarian and offered an alternative, I didn’t really want or drive here for pizza and since the rest of the menu is innovative, I was disappointed there wasn’t a vegetarian offering on the menu in the first place. To make up for that I also got some edemame hummus that was good. The hummus came with pita wedges and veggies. Once those were gone but the hummus wasn’t, the server did offer to bring out wedges.

To accompany my food I got the red wine sampler. I really fell in love with the Big Boy Blend but at $45 a bottle, I passed on purchasing it (although my birthday is soon, hint hint).

Breweries: Kinney Creek and LTS

I drove past Forager, which said it would open late summer 2015. It wasn’t yet open when I went past and I was bummed because it looked and sounded cool. The next day I learned on Twitter that it opened. Hashtag story of my life.

Kinney Creek Rochester |

Kinney Creek Brewery

I went around the corner to Kinney Creek. Its claim to fame is that it was the first brewery in the state the had Sunday growler sales after the law went into effect July 1 this year. Pretty cool. I tried a sampler and the first beer tasted like soap. The beers got marginally better from there. I drank all the beer but honestly I saw a few people leave with very full glasses of beer still at the table. Not a good sign at all. I would say pass on this place, and I can’t say I’ve every said that. And I tried the most hoppy beers they had, which are my favorite kinds.

LTS Rochester |

LTS Brewing Company in Rochester

Next stop before leaving town was LTS Brewing, which opened a tap room in August. They have popcorn made with coconut oil, a well-rounded variety of beer flavors and a cool atmosphere. I would recommend this place and really enjoyed all the beers I sampled.

Have you been any of these places? What are your thoughts on them?

My First Minnesota State Fair: Preparation

Minnesota State Fair Tickets |

Minnesota State Fair tickets and guide.

Read about what I ate and drank at the fair here.

Read about attractions I visited here.

Caught up in the excitement surrounding the Minnesota State Fair, I decided to buy advance tickets. The lure of the social media links and people around me buzzing about the fair and asking if I am going was too strong that I have to see for myself what everyone is talking about.

I have only been to one fair once, the Iowa State Fair four years ago. It was fun but at the time I thought I was good if I don’t go to a fair for a long time. Since this is the summer of trying new things in Minnesota, and the state fair is in the capitol city of St. Paul (much closer than Des Moines to my hometown Cedar Rapids in Iowa) I decided what the heck. I plan to go on a weekday so there will be fewer people, but I’m expecting it will still be a crazy mess.

Because I’m a planner and like to maximize my time so I don’t miss anything, I have amassed some resources in my state fair prep. Since this is my first time at the fair, please let me know in the comments what I can’t miss or other links that might be helpful. I know many people have written about preview food, but since much of that isn’t vegetarian, I’m not linking to it here. I’ve broken down the best information I’ve found into beer, food (vegetarian and vegan) and other.


Growler Magazine has put out a great guide to beer at the fair, telling about new beers and what beer can be found where, including a map and list. I personally am very excited for the Maple Island Brewing Two Headed Goose Sourdough Pretzel.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild will present the “Land of 10,000 Beers” craft beer hall exhibition talking about the history of craft beer in the state and how the beer industry is in the state. Also, there are flights featuring many different breweries that aren’t available in the Twin Cities, and tickets for the flights can be bought in advance.


There is a Minnesota State Fair food finder. When I put “vegetarian” into the search, I got 10 results, but I have a suspicion this might only be places that use the word vegetarian in their description of what they serve. (Can anyone confirm this?)

Also, Twitter user @TofuPunk has complied a nice map and guide of vegan options at the fair.


Regarding getting to the fair, I’m a big fan of Metro Transit, so I plan to go to a Park and Ride (especially since I can park close to my home and use my unlimited monthly pass), but there are also shuttle services available.

I am looking forward to the prize-winning produce, but other than that, I don’t know a lot about the actual attractions and what is a must-see for a first-timer and what can be missed if there isn’t time for it all.

Any suggestions for a first-time Minnesota State Fair goer or links you would add to this list? I will be back soon to report my findings and share my state fair tips!


Minnesota Bucket List Revisited

St. Anthony Stone Arch |

Looking down the Mississippi River toward St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge.

Last June I talked about compiling a Minnesota summer bucket list. Summers are of high importance here, as I quickly realized they are very short. If it is a nice day, you drop what you are doing and go outside. I definitely had become spoiled in Florida to the endless summer and had to live through a northern summer to truly appreciate the weather.

As I mentioned, last summer I wrote about a bucket list—the must-dos of the warmer months. And then three weeks later, not long into the warm weather that is our reward for a long, hard winter, I decided to buy a house. That quickly took priority, spending sunny time on my computer and driving to showings and working out logistics. In the fall I moved into my house and got to work making it my home inside.

Valerie at Brit's Pub Minneapolis |

Enjoying the rooftop patio at Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis.

There is still more I want to do, bit since its summer, I’m taking a break to enjoy the outdoors, both near (in my yard and garden—more on that in an upcoming post) and far (well, not too far—daytrips like Waconia and around the cities).

So here I am in the summer, revisiting my Minnesota summer bucket list. Summer in Minnesota means patio drinking, festivals of all varieties, farmer markets, baseball, outdoor sports, things like that. And I’m looking forward to take in a little of everything.

Betty Danger's Country Club |

Rode the Danger, Betty Danger’s Country Club’s carousel.

There are some good resources for summer activities and the days are filling quickly as I hear about fun things. And I’m just not going to get to everything I want. But since I didn’t get to much last year, I’m revisiting what I want to do this year. And I hope to share some adventures with you.

For my readers in the Twin Cities, what are the can’t-miss events of the summer, and why?

North Shore and Duluth, Minn., area vegetarian food

North Shore from Two Harbors, Minnesota.

North Shore from Two Harbors, Minnesota.

After a daylong bus trip in March to Duluth, Minnesota, I wanted to explore more on my own when it was nice. So I spent a long weekend in Duluth and the North Shore on Lake Superior. It was a great time to explore and sample the area, so quiet and relaxed. And if you are a faithful reader of this blog, you know I plan my trips around food and drink. This trip was no exception!

I drove up to Duluth, which I assumed was pretty much Canada (South Florida Val talking), but learned it’s less than halfway from the Twin Cities to Canada. The heeeckk??!! Still, by the time I got there, it was time to eat.

Vegan omelet and red flannel hash at the Duluth Grill.

Vegan omelet and red flannel hash at the Duluth Grill.

First stop, Duluth Grill. This is a diner with tons of homemade food (including condiments); has a large, creative breakfast menu; and grows a lot of food on its property in really unique locations, making the most of the space. Case in point: They are getting ready to start growing fruit-bearing trees on a mound of dirt in the parking lot! I had the vegan omelet with red flannel hash (check out the menu to find out more, it’s worth a look!), and it was really good and filling. Which was good, because I did a lot of walking that day.

Draft beer flavored Jelly Belly

Draft beer flavored Jelly Belly

Speaking of walking, I stumbled upon an old-time candy store, where I purchased some Jelly Belly’s in draft beer and Tabasco flavors. They were a little too realistic tasting. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, that’s for you to decide. I also found a really unique T-shirt store, The Medium Control, that reminded me of Raygun in Des Moines. And after walking around Leif Ericson Park (a nice park, but too early in the season to enjoy the rose garden), I headed to Fitger’s Brewhouse for a beverage. I sampled their chili beer and, while it was possibly the best chili beer I had tasted, I wasn’t sure how a pint would feel in me, so I opted for a pale ale.

While on the North Shore, in addition to enjoying the view (above), I got to check out two state parks: Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. Both are worth the drive from the Twin Cities!

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park, leading to Lake Superior.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

After all the exploration, I needed a filling dinner. New Scenic Cafe certainly fit the bill for that!

Rugbrod at New Scenic Cafe

Rugbrod at New Scenic Cafe

Spring veggie ragout at New Scenic Cafe

Spring veggie ragout at New Scenic Cafe

Another restaurant that focuses on local cuisine, the menu changes with the seasons and slants toward the Minnesota heritage. For example, I had a rugbrød appetizer, a dense Danish bread. And my main dish was phenomenal, a spring veggie ragout of seasonal veggies in beurre blanc with a latke and gnocchi. To drink, I had a Borealis Fermentary beer, a very small brewery in the area.

A great wild rice burger at Lighthouse at Emily's

A great wild rice burger at Lighthouse at Emily’s

Before heading back, I had to get a wild rice burger, something I kept seeing on menus in the area. (When in Rome, as the saying on “Anchorman” goes.) Before hitting the road I stopped at Lighthouse at Emily’s for a burger and Castle Danger beer (my favorite beer from my first trip). It was a well-seasoned burger with a good texture. I left full and ready to hit the road, proud of the variety of food and drink I experienced in the North Shore.

Have you been to any of these places? What did you think, or what would you recommend in the area?