Roam Guide 2 / Duluth, Minnesota
After our initial interview with Duluth Pack owner Tom Sega last Spring, we’ve enjoyed countless smoked salmon sandwiches from Northern Waters, explored the shores of Lake Superior with The Duluth Experience, and enjoyed more than one cocktail from Vikre. Now that it’s Winter, our visits to Duluth have tapered off so we reached out the the team at Duluth Pack to entice us back with additional recommendations and more local secrets so that we can discover a new season of this lakefront city. This interview will not duplicate suggestions, so we highly recommend you also read the first Roam Guide to Duluth to get a wonderfully comprehensive look at what the city has to offer.
Our Roam Guides are locals and Duluth Pack enthusiasts, Ryan Hanson and Andrea Johnson. Ryan’s lived in the area for 20 years, loves the proximity to the outdoors and the small town feel of a relatively big city. Andrea has returned to her hometown only recently after years in LA and Chicago. She is incredibly happy to be back in God’s country with her family and friends where, “the water is the freshest, the air is the cleanest, and the people are the kindest.”
Once rated “best outdoor city” by Outside Magazine, the humble city of Duluth is the second largest city on Lake Superior with a rich heritage, a high standard of living and a consideration for local sustainability. The city has a thriving art and music scene, fantastic restaurants and a ton of outdoor adventure offered year round - think, skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and winter camping.
Rtip: If you are headed even further along Lake Superior towards Lutsen, be sure to read our Roam Guide to the North Shore for all the best collaborator recommendations.
When to go?
Duluth is on the southern most tip of Lake Superior, so it has the feel of a coastal town with relatively modest high temps in the summer, and although the lake doesn’t freeze, below freezing tempuratures in the winter.
“During the summers, lake life is at it’s best. Let’s be honest, that is why we live here. But secretly the fringe Winter season is my favorite” - Andrea
How to get there?
The most popular way to get to Duluth is to drive up from the Twin Cities or down from Canada. We do have an International airport with several flights a day, as well as a cruise line that journeys the Great Lakes in the summertime. Duluth recently welcomed Uber and Lyft to town, which is incredibly helpful since there are four colleges in the area.
Where should we stay?
While the initial Roam Guide to Duluth makes some great suggestions, we want to highlight these additional properties. First is the new Hotel Pikku in the arts district, which is modern, private and quaint. It’s actually more of an airbnb, with only three individual suites, but we’re hearing great feedback around town. Another affordable alternative suggested by our social media analyst is the renovated Hostel Du Nord in a historic buidling downtown. While yes hostels by definition imply shared accommodations, this property is brand new, offers self-contained bathrooms, social space, free wifi and a Finnish sauna. It’s great for backpackers, musicians and college students.
Rtip: If you are considering a group stay or a ski vacation at Spirit Mountain with friends, check out one of these fantastic VRBO options: Whitecaps, Captains Quarters or a little further north, this great log cabin.
What should we do? (Ryan)
A hike through Chester Bowl in the heart of Duluth feels like a secluded section of trail far away from the hustle and bustle of the city along the shores of Chester Creek. Or you can bike the Duluth Traverse Trail that spans the length of the city and offers some outstanding views of the Duluth lift bridge. You can check conditions here, and if you need to rent a bike try, Continental Ski & Bike Rentals near Leif Erikson Park. For a guided winter ride check out, Day Tripper of Duluth. Their tours include bike rental and vary in distance and location. Spirit Mountain is the place to go for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Their motto is “good times on tap” so if you are one to enjoy alternating skiing with a craft brew, there are two chalets that offer a full bar. There is also a terrain park, glow tubing on Friday nights and lift accessed fat tire biking trails on site.
What should we do? (Andrea)
My husband and I are big fans of Hartley Nature Center where you can rent cross country ski sand snowshoes in the winter. Spending time in the woods is so peaceful, surrounded by the canopy of trees, we regularly make our way towards the small pond or up to the overlook rock.
Where should we eat? (Andrea)
I am such a foodie, so I love this question! When my husband and I got married this summer, I prepared a restaurant guide for all our guests. On the list was Zeitgeist Arts Café, one of my favorite eateries in all of Duluth. It reminds me of a restaurant in New York with the exposed brick, modern lighting and delicious cocktails. I recommend the Gouda stuffed dates wrapped in bacon to start. I was spoiled with sushi when I lived in LA, so now I am really picky about seafood. However, Hanabi here in Duluth is worth the buzz. They have great sushi and their green tea ice cream is a delicious sweet treat.
The kosher pizza at Sammy’s is out of this world. Just order it, enough said.
Where should we eat? (Ryan)
So many good places to eat! Contrary to Andrea, I think the best pizza is the deep dish at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, WI, right across the bridge from Duluth. You can never go wrong At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café for all around incredible food and options for allergy sensitivities. Or step back in time at the Pickwick, where they served thirsty customers after prohibition ended, and offer charcoal fired steaks from a bygone era. Crossing the border again, if you’re looking for a great dive burger joint, The Anchor in Superior, offers up a burger and fries for under $6. I’m not the only one that feels this way, read the reviews, they’re fantastic.
Where can we grab a drink?
Grabbing a beer at one of the highly regarded craft breweries in town is as much a Duluth tradition as talking about the weather. Consider spots like like HOOPS Brewing, Bent Paddle, Earth Rider or The Brewhouse. If it’s a cocktail you’re after then Black Water Martini Lounge is rated the best in the state of Minnesota. It has live music, and an edgy vibe.
I’m all into good cocktails, especially a martini. The Lavender Martini at Black Water is so delicious and my husband is a big fan of their Manhattan. -Andrea
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
A walk along the Lakewalk on the shore of Lake Superior; especially if there’s slightly inclement weather. The power of the Lake Superior during a storm is truly an incredible experience.
Rtip: is to begin your walk at Lake Superior Bakehouse with a caramel roll and a nice cup of coffee.
Tell us something we don't know?
One of the best kept secrets in Duluth is the music scene. There are some truly amazing musicians (and bands) that perform everywhere from small coffee shops to the NorShor. It’s worth coming to visit from out of town just to listen to some great local music. The Homegrown Music festival runs April – May every year and features a week of local music at about every live music venue in the area.
What should we shop for, or bring back with us?
A Duluth Pack handcrafted item! Our anchor store in Canal Park is a coveted destination for many who already know the brand, but those new to Duluth Pack can also browse over 300 custom styles. We have everything from on trend handbags to camping gear and lifestyle goods. It’s tough to not find something that you can’t live without. Plus, free parking and coffee.
Andrea’s must have item is the Elite Series Sportsman’s Tote. She’s had it for years and uses it every day for work and as a carry on when traveling. Ryan had a harder time picking favorites but landed on the Classic Carry-On and his Bison Leather Sportsman’s Duffel bag, both have seen countless trips across the country. He says the only thing he does’t like about the duffel is that it still looks brand new.
It is so sleek and chic with the black leather and white accented stitching. I receive compliments on it all the time! - Andrea on her Elite Series Sportsman’s Tote
What should we take on the trip?
It can get pretty chilly in the winter; we’re consistently in the below zero range in January and February, but it’s never too cold if you’re properly dressed and pack in layers; you can always add or take off clothes to regulate temperature. Sweatshirts and jeans are sort of a Duluth uniform year-round, and merino wool is a game changer – it is a wicking material and will keep you comfortable when the climate shifts. We sell Smartwool and Icebreaker merino wool layers at our store as well as winter favorite, Darn Tough socks.
Click here to see everywhere Duluth Pack recommends in Duluth.
Want more of the North Shore?
What are we missing in Duluth? Tell us your favorites below.