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The Compassionate City

Bring your group to Rochester, Minnesota's energetic city with a heart.

By Ava Diaz

The Mayo Civic Center sits along the banks of the Zumbro River. CREDIT Experience Rochester

A 90-minute drive from the Twin Cities, Rochester is a bustling southern Minnesota city with tons of urban and scenic attractions. The city is known for its beautiful location, abundant dining establishments and entertainment experiences, and its commitment to creating a caring community for residents—and visitors. The city distinguishes itself by the rich history of medical advancements at the Mayo Clinic.

“[The Mayo Clinic] is a world-renowned brand that was built upon compassion, and though it was not built in the form of a physical attraction, you really get the sense of community here,” says Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester. “I think those are the perfect ingredients when we are talking about hospitality for all our guests.”

Minnesota Meetings + Events explored some of Rochester’s “ingredients,” including top-notch event venues, restaurants, shopping, entertainment options, and historical attractions that distinguish the city—making it a premier meetings and events destination.

WELCOMING RESTAURANTS

Looking for something to satisfy your appetite? The Rochester food scene offers everything from traditional Midwestern grub like walleye and cheese curds to opulent dining experiences showcasing global flavors.“Yougetatasteforbig-cityfoodin a small city,” Ward says.

For American classics with a twist, try Purple Goat. Opened in 2021, the restaurant has an outdoorsy, cabin-like atmosphere and a touch of modern design. The space features exposed wood, a fish tank with local freshwater fish, a fireplace, and a flame-broiled rotisserie oven.

“We did not [want] cookie cutter and wanted to be unique,” says Charles Morris, general manager of Purple Goat. “We wanted to create something that was warm and inviting—casual but comfortable.”

This welcoming approach is also show- cased in its menu featuring burgers, sandwiches, pastas, and what Morris describes as the fan favorite: birria tacos. Planners can rent the venue’s private dining space, the Parkside Room, which can seat 44 people with room for more cocktail-style.

Established last August, Red Cow is the latest addition to the Rochester culinary landscape. As a Twin Cities-based upscale burger joint, it boasts meaty handhelds accompanied by a selection of wines and local craft brews. Menu highlights include the turkey and avocado burger topped with a cilantro-lime aioli, radish, arugula, and crushed pistachios. Or for the beef lovers, the Double Barrel Burger features white American cheese wedged between two patties topped with grilled onion and horseradish sauce. For a Midwestern favorite, try the beer-battered Wisconsin Cheese Curds served with triple berry ketchup for sweet and savory bites.

Red Cow’s Ahi Tuna Crisps CREDT Red Cow

Red Cow's Ahi Tuna Crisps CREDT Red Cow

Other great eateries include a classic Italian eatery, Terza, and southeast Asian inspired ThaiPop—both in downtown Rochester. Or, head to one of Rochester’s oldest commercial buildings to delve into fresh seafood and oysters at Bleu Duck, which is also host to a private dining space for up to 80 people.

THE CITY’S BREWS AND VINTAGES
It’s no secret that there has been a surge of craft breweries and wineries across the state. And luckily for visitors to Rochester, there are plenty of tasty options.

As the only brewpub in Rochester, Forager Brewery is most known for its barrel-aged brews. Procuring its ingredients locally, Forager says its beers represent Rochester’s agricultural presence. “We are always showcasing what is fresh, available, and seasonal,” says Annie Henderson, co-owner of Forager Brewery.

The taproom at Forager brewery CREDIT Forager Brewery

Located in a former co-op, the venue offers plenty of gathering space. The Barrel room is the main private dining space, featuring walls lined with barrels filled with up to 3-year-old aging beer and seating up to 50 people. For a more intimate setting, try the Library, which seats 20. Or embrace the great outdoors and enjoy the recently expanded patio for up to 125 seated.

If beer isn’t your preference, head to Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery. As the largest winery in the state, Four Daughters is most known for its wine crafted from cold-climate grapes grown on its 6-acre vineyard, as well as Loon Juice, a cider made from Minnesota-grown Honeycrisp apples. New to the beverage selections this year is barrel-aged bourbon made from distilled corn grown on the nearby farm of the owner’s father.

“It is an agri-tourism experience when people come,” says Kristin Osborne, mar- keting director of Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery. The restaurant serves fresh pizzas, the vast interior space fits groups of up to 300, and a large patio over- looks the vineyard. “It is a chance to be outside in the vineyard and in the sun, and [to] just have time to be in a wide-open space,” Osborne says. “When people come, it feels like an upscale, rural experience. We are right off [U.S. Highway 63], so it is easy to get here, but it feels like you are far away, and it is relaxing.”

GATHERINGS GALORE

The Mayo Civic Center is the largest meeting venue in the city. The property features 66,010 square feet of exhibit space, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom with a capacity of over 4,000 people, 20 breakout rooms, and a reception area connected to the Rochester Art Center and the Civic Theatre.

Additional spaces in the civic center include the Dr. Charles H. Mayo Presentation Hall, which has capacity for 1,084 theater-style; the 25,000-square-foot Arena, which seats 7,200 festival-style or 5,200 for a concert; and the 11,800-square-foot Auditorium for up to 3,000 seated. The civic center also sits on the 11-acre Mayo Park and the Riverfront Plaza along the Zumbro River, affording scenic, fresh-air event options.

Connected to dozens of buildings downtown via climate-controlled skyways, the Mayo Civic Center makes it easy and comfortable year-round for meeting-goers to experience everything Rochester has to offer.

There are many hotels within walking distance of the civic center. The Kahler Grand Hotel has 597 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space; the Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area (the winner of the 2021 Connie Award by Hilton, which deemed it the best Hilton hotel with less than 500 rooms in North America) is home to 264 rooms and 20,140 square feet of flexible space; and the Marriott Rochester Mayo Clinic Area showcases 202 rooms and 12,257 square feet of space.

MAYOWOOD HISTORIC HOME

The exterior of Mayowood Historic Home CREDIT Mayowood Historic Home

Situated on a 3,300-acre country estate overlooking the Zumbro River, the Mayowood Historic Home reflects the city’s rich heritage. As the former home of the Mayo Clinic founders, Dr. Charlie Mayo and his son, Dr. Chuck Mayo, it showcases the family’s legacy beyond their medical accomplishments.

“When you come to the house you get to learn about three gen- erations of the Mayo Clinic, … and you learn more about their personal side than you do about the medi- cal side,” says Dan Nowakowski, Mayowood’s historic site manager.

About a 20-minute drive from the Mayo Clinic, the 23,000-square-foot, 38-room concrete home (the first of its kind in southeast Minnesota) was designed by Dr. Charlie Mayo.

With an affinity for nature, astronomy, art, and plant life, Dr. Charlie Mayo (and the rest of his family) had many hobbies, Nowakowsi says. The estate once featured an observatory, a tea house, conservatory, Japanese garden, and zoo. With most of the original features of the house intact, the estate underwent renovations over the years, such as the conversion of the conservatory into a library, says Nowakowski.

For a fun group outing, consider a guided tour of the estate.

THE EAR OF CORN WATER TOWER

Resembling an ear of corn, Rochester’s water tower prominently displays one of the many vegetables processed at the Seneca Foods canning factory, located across the street from the landmark on the Olmstead County Fairgrounds. Standing at 151 feet, the recently restored water tower has been an icon to the Rochester community since 1931.

 

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