We were in Duluth in August 2022, as part of Big Trip #4
We read about Duluth somewhere on a “best of” list–who knows where or when, but we throw things we read onto a master map, and when planning trips we consult the master map. So Duluth became part of Big Trip #4, connecting Madison and Fargo (via Grand Rapids), and we loved it! The campground is in the touristy but walkable Canal Park, with the major draw of the proximity to the Duluth Lift Bridge, a historic vertical lift bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal. If you know anything about me, you can guess that I was completely obsessed with this bridge.
We stayed at Lakehead Boat Basin, in site 28, toward the far end for better views of the bridge. Did I mention I loved the bridge? The campground is basically a blacktop area where the boats are stored in the winter–a no frills campground, but water and boats were everywhere, and we could walk to the Canal Park area. It is super and we were thrilled.
Bikes would be fun to have for exploring Park Point, at the end of the peninsula past the campground, and the eight-mile paved Lakewalk along Lake Superior. We hiked Park Point with Bugsy, and ran part of the Lakewalk without Bugsy.
The Canal Park area near the campground is pretty touristy, with cheesy shops and restaurants, but it’s fun to walk around. The best parts of the Canal Park neighborhood are the waterfront and the BRIDGE. Have I mentioned the bridge?
Every half hour the bridge goes up halfway for pleasure craft, and on demand it’ll go up all the way for the big ships. We used the not terribly accurate Duluth Boat Forecast and Harbor Lookout tracking websites to keep tabs on what ships were moving when, and were lucky enough to see two big ships go through!
I don’t know why it’s so exciting to see the big ships go by, but that’s why I liked our campsites in Sault Ste Marie and Memphis so much. Fun fact: some big ships don’t ever leave the Great Lakes! They’re called Lakers, and they’re different from Salties, which go to the ocean. The biggest Lakers are too big to fit through the locks that let them out of the Great Lakes, and the biggest Salties are too big to fit through the locks letting them into the Great Lakes. Why do I find this fascinating?
We also did a historic walking tour of Duluth and enjoyed seeing some old houses.
Enger Tower is just ten minutes from downtown, overlooking the city from the surrounding hills. Bugsy and I went up while J was working and thought it was neat to get a bird’s eye view and see how the city is built into the steep hillside, and to see the lakeside heavy industry and railroads still in use.
Just a few minutes’ drive past our campground, Park Point was a lovely four-plus-mile walk in the woods with some deep sand spots and a wild bushwhack and rock hopping part when we went off trail.
Last post I said our favorite meal thus far was at Mint Mark in Madison. Well, we have a new contender for best meal for Big Trip #4: Zeitgeist. It’s a nonprofit restaurant serving the local arts scene, and the cocktails and food and service were over-the-top fabulous. Scallops made from mushrooms???
Our other dinner was yummy sushi–sushi in Minnesota? Yes, we did that, and our carryout from Hanabi was yummy. It seemed like a popular place, with lots of patrons eating inside the restaurant, which is always a good sign.
While there are ten breweries in Duluth and their immediate suburbs, two in Lincoln Park, just east of the central business district and about a ten minute drive from our campground, stood out in our online research: Bent Paddle and Ursa Minor.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co. was our favorite brewery in Duluth. It’s a ten year old brewery with a tasting room next to their large production facility, with a patio overlooking a mid-sized grass field that looks onto a stage that featured an awesome funk band (“New Salty Dog”) when we were there. The place is as dog friendly as you like – dogs aren’t allowed to sit inside, but are allowed to accompany you in your order and then are encouraged to sit on their heated patio or the field and eat their provided dog treats. Oh yeah, and the beer was “sour and fruity and not sweet and just very solid” for L (her passion fruit, orange, guava sour) and more than solid for James (two hazy IPAs). Otherwise, their beer list was eclectic enough. If you can only visit one brewery in Duluth, make it this one (we managed to go both nights we were in town!). But, it would be a shame to not also hit the also strong Ursa Minor, just a half mile down the road.
At Ursa Minor Brewing, the three of us sat on their giant patio while L sipped on a flight of sours and J tried two of their hazy IPAs. L found the sours “easy enough to drink,” whereas J was more enthusiastic about his hazy IPAs. We both agreed that the feel of their massive patio was near perfect for the end of a warm day; we would have been less enthusiastic to sit in their small inside tasting room, although their wood-fired pizza smelled really good.
We hadn’t planned on making the trip over the bridge to Superior, WI (13 mins from campground), but folks at both Bent Paddle and Ursa MInor said Earth Rider was worth the visit; they were right. Earth Rider Brewery’s complex is in an industrial area next to what were once – according to an old poster in their tasting room – the largest grain elevators in the world. The actual tasting room is an ancient seeming bar called the Cedar Lounge (built in the 20’s), which is separated from their production facility by a large field full of tables and a big stage. J was turned off by the place online because we tend to not favor breweries that seem like traditional bars, but Cedar Lounge is a gem, old school and quaint and a monument to Duluth and Superior Wisconsin’s shipping history, with the walls full of pictures of large cargo ships, old school informational posters on the port area’s industry and, of course, the occasional old school beer signs (Hamm’s and Karlbrau, for instance). They didn’t have any pure sours for L, but one of their staples is a raspberry sour wheat and they also had a seasonal (we suspect it’s typically in season) hazy IPA for J. We liked the beers enough and, when combined with the overall scene, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Finally, after our awesome dinner at Zeitgeist, we stopped by Blacklist Brewing Co as it was just a few doors down from the restaurant and their beer list looked solid enough. The atmosphere is a bit stale, but they have a patio for watching the pedestrian traffic right on Superior Avenue. Unfortunately, we got off to a bad start with a surly beertender that didn’t really right itself when we tasted the beer. We don’t recommend it.
As for the other six breweries in Duluth, they seemed pretty obviously not for us based on their atmosphere and beer lists. When we return to Duluth, we will definitely revisit Bent Paddle, Ursa Minor and Earth Rider.
Our friends Cheenius and Mr Cheenius recommended Vikre Distillery, and good news! It was walking distance from our campground in the Canal Park neighborhood. It’s a cozy, dog-friendly spot with interesting house cocktails featuring their own spirits. The drinks were tasty (although J’s was on the sweet side) but service was slooooow.
Duluth is another midwestern stop we’d like to continue including on future trips out West. Is there anything we should check out next time? Here’s what’s on our list:
- revisit Bent Paddle, Ursa Minor and Earth Rider breweries
- spend more time in the Lincoln Park neighborhood near Bent Paddle; it seems super cool, and I’d like to explore it more
- consider dinner at Anchor Bar & Grill across the river in Superior, WI; it was recommended for awesome burgers, and it does look old school and interesting
- check out Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar in our neighborhood–the menu seems good and the atmosphere (and maybe cocktails) look good enough to entertain us
- go to the bridge museum!