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Owatonna at the Crossroads

The southern Minnesota city embraces its history, exudes friendliness, and offers so many places to gather

By Todd R. Berger

1.10.24 Drinks at Torey’s Restaurant & Bar in Owatonna
Drinks at Torey’s Restaurant & Bar in Owatonna || Courtesy of Owatonna Area Chamber of Conference & Tourism

The name Owatonna is rooted in the Dakota words for the nearby Straight River, “Wakpá Owóthana.” The Dakota inhabited the region for centuries, traditionally hunting game and harvesting wild rice. European settlers arrived at the town of Owatonna in 1854, and the city was incorporated in 1858. From the late 1800s to 1940, Owatonna was known as the “Butter Capital of the World,” and one creamery still operates in Hope, a town to the south of the city.

With a population of a little more than 26,000 people, Owatonna is a midsize city that offers historic buildings, event venues for up to 2,000 people, and welcoming locals who will embrace your event.

Vibe: The city is friendly and casual, and you will see this inherent nature in the staff at the hotels, venues, and restaurants. “It’s just a great place for people to gather,” says Glenda Smith, director of conventions and tourism for Visit Owatonna.

Transportation: Owatonna sits at the intersection of Interstate 35 and U.S. Route 14. It is 60 miles south of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and 40 miles west of Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport. 

Hotels: The city has 513 hotel rooms, and a Home2 Suites by Hilton, opening this February, will add 84 rooms. A DoubleTree by Hilton, opening toward the end of this year, will add some 130 rooms. Current hotels include Baymont by Wyndham Owatonna; Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Owatonna, MN; and Courtyard by Marriott-Downtown Owatonna. 

Restaurants: Torey’s Restaurant & Bar has space upstairs for gatherings. Other group-friendly eateries include Timber Lodge Steakhouse, Spare Time Restaurant & Bar, and the Owatonna Country Club. Also worth checking out for group dining and catering are Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que, Foremost Brewing Cooperative, and Mineral Springs Brewery, which will add event space late this year.

Must-Sees and -Dos: The internationally known National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna building downtown was designed by Louis Sullivan, an influential architect of the Prairie School who was a mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright and later went on to build skyscrapers in Chicago, Illinois, and beyond. “Our downtown has gone through a lot of renovations in the last few years,” says Smith. “Downtown has lots of fun boutique shopping and some 100-plus-year-old buildings. One thing that is also unique to our community is the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum. It ran as an orphanage back in the 1800s, and it currently houses the Owatonna Arts Center.”