In October 2022 Dave and I took a two week vacation visiting Minnesota and Iowa. We spent one week in each state, completing our goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states (plus Puerto Rico). We began our visit in the small town of Bemidji, in Northern Minnesota. It was scenic 3.5 hour autumn drive from the Minneapolis airport.
Once arriving in town, we checked into Lake Bemidji Bed and Breakfast where we spent the next 4 nights. The bed and breakfast is a 3,000 square foot house with 3 full guest rooms. It is conveniently located along Lake Bemidji and less than one mile from the downtown area. It is owned by Dick and Jill Beardsley. Dick was an elite marathon runner from the 1980's turned motivational speaker and Jill, his wife, cooked the two-course gourmet breakfast we enjoyed daily. Lake Bemidji Bed and Breakfast was the perfect place for us especially since we were there to run in the Blue Ox Half Marathon which passes directly in front of the Inn.
The October weather was perfect, and we were just in time to witness the fall foliage. Northern Minnesota has a lot of natural beauty with many lakes, parks and forests. Lake Bemidji State Park was short 10 minute drive with beautiful trails both paved and unpaved where we discovered some breathtaking landscapes. We visited the park twice and our half marathon route ran us through there as well. The cost was $7 a day per car and well worth it.
Bemidji, MN is known as the "First City on the Mississippi" since it located less then 50 miles from the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park. Of course, we visited Itasca State Park where we were able to see the beginning of the Mississippi River for ourselves. This is also where the narrowest point of the river is at only 18 feet wide.
Bemidji is also known as the birthplace of folk hero Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Their statues are located downtown and stand 18ft and 10ft high respectively. The statues are said to be the "second most photographed statues in the US" next to Mt. Rushmore.
Downtown Bemidji was filled with a variety of quaint restaurants and locally owned stores. Most close early in the evening however, Keg N' Cork stays open late and has a delicious Hungarian mushroom soup. Also downtown is Bemidji Brewing. A free beer coupon was included in our race swag, plus their beer was great and they are the only brewery in the area. Dave and I visited Bemidi Brewing 3 out of the 4 days.
Also included in our race swag was a $10 coupon to a Bemidji State University hockey game located at the nearby Sanford Center. We witnessed the Beavers beat the Arizona State Sun Devils 5-4 in a 3 on 3 overtime playoff.
On our last day in Northern Minnesota we traveled to Grand Rapids, a little over an hour to the east of Bemidji. Grand Rapids was another small town where the Judy Garland House is. Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids and lived in the house during her (very) early years. While in Grand Rapids we also visited Rapids Brewing Co. and Klockow Brewing Co.
That Monday morning October 10th after breakfast we set out for Paisley Park located just outside of Minneapolis. The tours were sold out for the day but luckily, I preplanned and purchased our tickets weeks in advance. We took the 2:30pm tour that lasted 90 minutes. Security was strict as you couldn't even enter the parking lot if you didn't already have tour tickets. Paisley Park was Prince's home and recording studio and the location where he died in April of 2016. At 90 minutes long, ours was the shortest tour on the program.
Before we could enter the building the security team had all 25 visitors take out their cell phones. A security officer then watched as we all turned our phones off. As we entered the building we were met with another security officer who had us place our phones in a secure and locked case that only the staff could open with a special tool. After all phones were secure it was time to start our tour!
Paisley Park was amazing and huge. Our 90 minute tour only took us through a fraction of the compound. We were able to see Prince's office, kitchen, atrium, shoe collection, recording studio, rehearsal studio, a variety of his costumes and awards, 2 motorcycles from the Purple Rain movie, as well as 2 stages and concert venues. It was only at the end of the tour when we reached the large concert hall that we were granted permission to take pictures.
We spent the next two nights in St. Paul at the Celeste of St. Paul hotel. Built by nuns in 1904, this hotel was a former convent and music and art conservatory. The architecture was beautiful, and our room was perfectly situated with an unobstructed view of Minnesota's capital building.
That evening we made reservations and dined at the iconic Mancini's Char House. As the hostess walked us to our table she asked if we were celebrating anything special. Of course, Dave made a joke hinting that it was a special day. The hostess assumed that it was my birthday which I neither confirmed nor denied. A nearby diner heard our conversation and wished me a happy birthday and advised me that it was his birthday as well. After finishing our dinner the waitress presented me with a birthday cake for dessert. It was all pretty funny especially considering that my birthday is in February.
The following morning Dave and I walked down to the capital and took a 45 minute tour of the building. The tour was free however, they recommended a $5 donation. It was well worth it as we learned the history of the building and saw some of their civil war battle flag collection. The day was a little windy but perfect for picture taking. The tour included a trip up to the roof to see the "golden horses".
From there we walked over to the Cathedral of St. Paul. We were unable to go inside due to a funeral taking place but, I noticed a small plaque on a nearby flagpole commemorating the site of the first school patrol crossing guard in the world (1921).
By noon we had walked up an appetite and ventured over to Yarusso Bros. Italian Restaurant. The restaurant is owned by the family of one of our friends back home. We were told to enter through the rear of the building. A little weird but we did as we were told. As we came in through the kitchen we were met with Jerry. There was a half of second that was a little tense but as soon as we introduced ourselves, we were treated like family. The food was great! Dave had the lasagna, and I tried a "dago", which is a meatball parmesan sandwich covered in sauce and cheese.
From there we drove over to the town of Stillwater, approximately 20 minutes away. The town is known for their "lift bridge" which crosses the St. Croix river and connects Minnesota to Wisconsin. I waited to see the lift bridge would go up, but it never did. Stillwater was another small town with various shops and restaurants. We were so full but we did stop for some ice cream as was recommended from Jerry. After that we stopped over at River Siren Brewing and enjoyed a cold beer and the cool outside seating area.
St. Paul has many microbreweries so we couldn't pass up visiting just a couple more. The final two were St. Paul Brewery which was probably one of the most unique breweries that we have been to yet, plus they had an awesome bloody mary cider. And, Bad Weather Brewery where we enjoyed standing outside and keeping warm by their firepit.
That pretty much sums up the highlights of the Minnesota half of our trip. The next morning after having breakfast in the chapel of our hotel we headed south to Iowa. Stay tuned for part 2...