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Four Seasons, One Big Playground

No matter the weather, there’s always something fun to do in the North Star State

By Julie Kendrick

1.15.24 The summer season at Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis, Minnesota CREDIT Meet Minneapolis-Lane Pelovsky
Sailboats moored at Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis || Photo by Lane Pelovsky, courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

The saying around these parts is that if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, just wait a minute. That changeability is often the only constant in this northern state with four distinct seasons. As a result, residents have learned how to have fun all year-round. 

There is something to be said for hosting events in Brainerd, Duluth, Minneapolis, Rochester, or St. Paul anytime during the year. But some of these host cities shine in particular seasons, and knowing what to embrace if you’re planning Minnesota events in certain seasons is a distinct advantage for meeting planners.

Check out some of the top picks for places to visit during each season, all of which offer your attendees an opportunity to revel in the state’s abundance of clear skies, crystal waters, and natural beauty.

Spring 

The spring season is a great time to gather in Rochester. “As the home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, we’re known as a city of care and compassion,” says Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester and Mayo Civic Center. In the spring, the health-oriented metropolis is brimming with residents and visitors who can’t wait to get outside and enjoy all the city has to offer. “When the weather warms up, we all head out to our 85 miles of paved, interconnected walking and biking trails, many outdoor and indoor pickleball courts, and boat and bicycle rentals at the picturesque Silver Lake, all located just minutes from downtown.”

Rochester’s Mayo Clinic || Courtesy of Experience Rochester

The city emanates what Ward calls “a vibrant cultural scene, encompassing the arts, music, and more.” And when all those outdoor activities work up your attendees’ appetites, they’ll find a “budding culinary scene that has grown significantly in recent years, with unique local restaurants bringing international flavors to the heart of the Midwest,” Ward adds. 

Meeting planners agree on the destination’s suitability for events of all sizes. Certified meeting professional Jan Tolle MacDonald, manager of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe, tells other planners they’ll enjoy the professionalism of local resources with a global worldview. “Meeting planners should note that Rochester’s hotels have a wealth of experience in hosting meetings thanks to their frequent medical conferences,” she says.

“The downtown area is not only conducive to meetings, but it also really comes alive in the evenings,” MacDonald adds. “With an underground walkway system connecting various high-end shops and restaurants, even rainy spring days or other adverse weather won’t be an issue.”

One of the city’s many gems is its state-of-the-art Mayo Civic Center. “It’s the Upper Midwest’s premier destination for local, regional, national, and international meetings and events,” Ward says. “The center features Minnesota’s largest ballroom, as well as pre-function areas with stunning views of the Zumbro River and downtown Rochester. Mayo Civic Center’s Riverfront Plaza is an outdoor reception venue that’s perfect for springtime gatherings.”

There’s always plenty for groups to do in and around Rochester. For groups interested in learning about health, consider a Mayo Clinic tour of the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center. Groups that want to cover a lot of ground should consider the Rochester Trolley & Tour Co. “This is a wonderful way to see the sights and experience the history of Rochester,” Ward says. “Groups can hop onto a vintage red trolley and tour the major historic, cultural, and architectural sites and attractions in Rochester, including those integral to the founding and growth of Mayo Clinic.”

1.15.24 Pickleball in Rochester, Minnesota CREDIT Experience Rochester
Pickleball in Rochester || Photo by Paul Vincent

Dining options abound year-round, but spring is patio season in Rochester. One popular spot is the Purple Goat, located in the old Shopko North building in northwest Rochester. The restaurant seats 166 indoors, 24 at the bar, and 60 or more on the large outdoor patio, which features yard games and big-screen TVs. And for a great mix of indoor and outdoor fun, the Workshop Food Hall & Bar, previously the workshop for the canning factory across the street, has a popular patio that overlooks Rochester’s famed Ear of Corn Water Tower. ThaiPop serves innovative Thai dishes and tantalizing cocktails.

Summer   

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul shine bright during the summer season. “Many cities experience summer slumps, with people heading up north to enjoy the lakes, but St. Paul really comes alive then,” says Bridget McCoy, director of client engagement for Visit Saint Paul. “Farmers market shoppers, music in the parks, and summer sports make St. Paul buzz. We’re home to the St. Paul Saints [Minor League Baseball team] and [MLS’] Minnesota United, which are peak summer fun and make perfect summer additions to any event.”

1.15.24 Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota Credit Visit Saint Paul-74
Fans cheering on Minnesota United FC at Allianz Field in St. Paul || Courtesy of Visit Saint Paul

Things are similarly active in St. Paul’s neighbor to the west, Minneapolis. Kevin Kurtt, Meet Minneapolis’ public relations and communications manager, says, “Summers in Minneapolis are precious. And because the season is short, visitors have an abundance of things to do during the few months of warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine.

“Outdoor activities and experiences range from walking, biking, or paddling the Chain of Lakes; patio and rooftop dining throughout the city; cheering on MLB’s Minnesota Twins at beautiful Target Field; and taking in the sights at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden,” he continues. “Summer is short in Minneapolis, but the list of things to do is long.”

1.15.24 Kayaking on the Mississippi River during the summer season in Minneapolis, Minnesota CREDIT Meet Minneapolis
Kayaking on the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis || Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

For attendees who want to be at the heart of it all, consider a stay at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot, which is just steps from the Mississippi River in all its summertime glory. It’s an ideal central hotel for urban explorers seeking to enjoy the city’s exciting sports events at U.S. Bank Stadium, as well as music and arts at the nearby Armory.

Dining can be as casual or elegant as your group requires. One fun stop is The Market at Malcolm Yards in the city’s Prospect Park neighborhood near the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Housed in a historic machinery building, the market is both an incubator to empower chefs and a culinary destination for diverse flavors. It features dining and cocktail innovations like a self-pour tap wall, a boxcar bar, and nine cuisine stations. The Midtown Global Market is another great option located just south of downtown. It’s an internationally themed public marketplace that offers fresh and prepared foods, restaurants, and unique gifts.

1.15.24 The Market at Malcolm Yards CREDIT Meet Minnneapolis-The Market at Malcolm Yards
Dinner at The Market at Malcolm Yards in Minneapolis || Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Other eateries suitable for groups include Hell’s Kitchen, an independent, Instagram-friendly spot. There’s also woman- and Latino-owned Centro, revered for its award-winning tacos and beloved for its creativity. 

Outdoor patios are very popular with the locals, so check out Gnome Craft Pub over in St. Paul, a neighborhood gastro pub with a very popular summertime patio. Also in the capital city, W.A. Frost & Co. is a landmark restaurant that has been serving customers for nearly 50 years in the historic Cathedral Hill neighborhood. W.A. Frost’s patio is one of the most popular in the Twin Cities.

Fall   

To the north, Duluth is a haven in autumn for the outdoor lovers in your group. According to Daniele Villa, president of sales and operations at Visit Duluth, “Lake Superior has a unique climate effect on the region that provides an opportunity for cool autumn days and brilliant fall colors, so fall is a fabulous time to visit Duluth.” He adds that the fresh lake air and fall foliage provide a scenic backdrop to community events, including one of nature’s most remarkable spectacles: the migration of some 76,000 raptors that can be seen from Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Nature Center.

1.15.24 Duluth, Minnesota, Fall Season Lift Bridge CREDIT Chelli Tousignant
Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge in the autumn || Photo by Chelli Tousignant

The city is primed for meetings of every shape and size. There are a total of 1,200 rooms across 11 hotels located within walking distance of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, which has 250,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, ballrooms, and meeting rooms. One of the newest lodging options is the Pier B Resort Hotel, located on more than 7 acres of land, right along the shores of Lake Superior.

1.15.24 Duluth, Minnesota, Summer Pier B Resort_27
Coffee on the patio at Pier B Resort Hotel in Duluth || Courtesy of Visit Duluth

“Duluth has stunning natural beauty that will impress your guests and create a memorable ambience for your event,” Villa says. “It’s easy to create memorable dining opportunities at many of our patios and fire pits at hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and breweries.” Attendees can enjoy the views of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and watch ocean-going salties and lakers (Great Lakes only) ships arrive and depart the port. Duluth’s surrounding hills, forests, and waterfalls are not more than a mile from any city location. Visitors can explore the arts, music, history, and cuisine of Duluth, and experience the hospitality and charm of the locals.

The autumn season is a great time to enjoy some of Duluth’s attractions, including the Duluth Oktoberfestival. Held in mid-September, this famous festival features beer, Bavarian food, authentic live music, games, and activities. Groups will want to visit the 39-room Glensheen Mansion, on a 12-acre estate along the shores of Lake Superior. It’s open daily for tours. Groups are also easily accommodated at the Great Lakes Aquarium, on the Duluth waterfront and featuring freshwater life and habitats found within the Great Lakes basin. Another fun activity attendees might enjoy is a ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad, which operates along 28 scenic miles of the Lakefront Line between Duluth and Two Harbors. 

The city offers plenty of group meeting and dining options as well. The Clyde Ironworks, located in a converted factory, operates as both a casual restaurant and a 600-seat event center. Pickwick Restaurant, founded in 1888 as the Old Saloon, is a tasting bar located within Fitger Brewing Co. The beloved eatery has been named an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation. Another can’t-miss Duluth institution is Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, which says it features “real history, real antiques, real service, and really good food.” Finally, The Boat Club offers fine dining in a nautical atmosphere, making it the perfect location on a sunny fall season day.

Winter 

Whether your attendees want to unwind by the fire or experience the thrill of the great outdoors, Brainerd—Minnesota’s winter season playground to the north—is a top spot for winter gatherings. “We’re a great winter destination because we offer both indoor and outdoor experiences,” says Mary Devine Johnson, executive director of Visit Brainerd. “Outdoor experiences include cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and tubing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and fat-tire biking,” she says. And there’s plenty to do indoors, too, including breweries, dining, spas, a distillery, and a winery.

1.15.24 Cross Country Skiing during the winter season_CREDIT Visit Brainerd
Cross-country skiing near Brainerd || Courtesy of Visit Brainerd

“There are more than 600 hotel rooms in Brainerd and Baxter, with a variety of meeting spaces perfect for small- to medium-size groups,” Johnson says. “There is also the North Pacific Center, which offers large events and exhibit space.”

Some of those lodging options include Madden’s on Gull Lake, which offers more recreational amenities than any other resort in the Midwest. Another spot that’s popular year-round is Cragun’s Resort, which has 44 meeting rooms and space for 800. There’s also Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort, which offers multiple meeting spaces and a new 60-room boutique hotel. 

Outdoor activities are a must for any group when visiting Brainerd in the winter, and snowmobiling is especially popular. The area features 1,200 miles of snowmobiling trails, which means there’s always a chance to get outdoors. Rentals are available at Boats & Beyond Rental. Or, for nonmotorized fun, head to the Northland Arboretum. “This is an excellent resource for hiking, cross-country skiing, and nature-oriented events,” Johnson says. “There’s meeting space on-site, and they’ll organize special classes for groups.”

1.15.24 Five Rocks Distilling_01_BrainerdMN_CREDIT Visit Brainerd
Brainerd’s Five Rocks Distilling Co. || Courtesy of Visit Brainerd

The area also features plenty of catering and dining possibilities.  3 Cheers Hospitality operates several venues around town, including Iron Range, Prairie Bay, and Notch 8. Or, book your group a meal at Baxter’s Bar & Grill at Arrowwood Lodge. For evening happy hours or predinner cocktails, consider Five Rocks Distilling Co., a microdistillery serving bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin, and amaretto mixed drinks in its Cocktail Room. Jack Pine Brewery in nearby Baxter also has space for groups. “It can be a fun option for group outings, where special events like live music, trivia, and arts-themed events can be held,” Johnson says. 

experiencerochestermn.com

minneapolis.org

visitbrainerd.com

visitduluth.com

visitsaintpaul.com

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