There is, most certainly, an “Up North” Wisconsin. I just didn’t know a lot of people who went there growing up in Milwaukee. Families typically traveled east to “The Lake” (Michigan), west to “The Dells” (souvenir t-shirt hell of the Midwest), or south to Lake Geneva (so fancy). Heading north meant leaving civilization as we knew it behind.
It wasn’t until I moved to Minnesota almost a decade ago that I started hearing about the virtues of going “Up North.” It’s where seemingly everyone vacationed as kids and where they now choose to spend every summer weekend as adults. If you ask any one of them exactly where “Up North” they’re going, they’ll tell you, in general terms, that it’s somewhere north of Minneapolis and south of the Canadian border.
One of my best friends is a Minnesota native and she and her family used to visit Duluth as kids. She speaks of the city in such loving terms, a cartoon sparkle appears in the corner of her eyes. Luke and I have stopped there a few times for food en route to Michigan’s U.P. We’ve admired the view at a 55 mph clip, but have never bothered to slow down and spend any time taking in the charms of this coastal town.
That was true until we were recently lured in by – what else? – beer. My friend Scott’s brewery Bent Paddle Brewing Co. was celebrating its third anniversary with a big block party in Duluth. Luke and I made a last-minute decision to go check it out.
It’s still “off season” in this tourist town (the trees have barely started budding), so we booked a primo hotel for the rate of a La Quinta near Canal Park – a central location that would allow us to walk to most of the city’s highlights.
We packed warm layers and pointed the 4-Runner due north. Two and a half hours later, we crested the ridge overlooking the city and got an eyeful of breathtaking shoreline. And that was just the beginning. Duluth does so many things well, from its food scene, to its lovely hotels, to its hometown retailers like Duluth Pack. And now, thanks to some newfound attention as one of “America’s Best Places to Live,” it’s attracting an infusion of creative energy from entrepreneurs like Scott looking to breathe new life into the city.
We spent most of our time outside, which is where the city really shines. After exploring the lighthouses, shops and taprooms around Canal Park, we hiked to the end of the world’s longest sandbar in the world’s largest body of fresh water. And we barely scratched the surface.
Twenty six hours later, with sand in my shoes, fresh air in my lungs and a newly-formed soft spot in my heart, I finally came to my senses and understood why so many people love this town and the countless others that exist outside the boundaries of “civilization.” It’s funny how the definition of that word gets rewritten over time.