Duluth once served as a punch line for comedians, who characterized the far-flung city as a repository for lost luggage and corporate exiles. This historic community in Northeast Minnesota has since been described by no less a leading light than Frommer's as “Little San Francisco” for its waterfront setting and well-preserved charm.
If you visit Duluth during the winter, pack woolens—but you will enjoy your trip nonetheless. The Great Lakes Aquarium, a 60,000-square-foot facility on the shore of Lake Superior, is a good place to tour indoors. It specializes in Great Lakes aquatic life and is the only freshwater aquarium in the U.S. It houses 70 species of fish as well as amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
For more indoor fun, head for The Depot, located downtown on Michigan Street. Dating to 1906, the former train station now hosts the city’s Children's Museum, Art Institute, Railroad Museum and County Historical Society. One ticket gains admission to all four Duluth attractions.
Here, you can also purchase tickets for the North Shore Scenic Railroad. Round-trip excursions take place every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and on weekends in fall and winter. The basic trip is one-and-a-half hours; a longer, six-hour trip includes a two-hour stopover for lunch in scenic Two Harbors.
The city’s oft-photographed Aerial Lift Bridge lets enormous ships enter its harbor. Research more Duluth attractions at the harbor’s Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center or tour the “William A. Irvin,” a huge retired ore carrier moored near the bridge.
Duluth has a trove of well-preserved Victorian and early 20th-century houses. Not to miss is Glensheen, an imposing, 1905 lakefront mansion on Duluth’s east end. The 1905 mansion was built in the Jacobean architectural tradition and was the setting for a notorious 1977 double murder. The victims were Elizabeth Congdon, daughter of the man who built Glensheen, and Congdon’s nurse, Velma Pietila, whose spirits may yet roam the estate.
At night check out Downtown’s Fond-Du-Luth casino, which is operated by the Fond Du Lac branch of the Chippewa tribe. For adults 21 and over, the casino offers guests a wide variety of gaming choices and entertainment.
On warmer days, be sure to visit Duluth’s Lakewalk, a restored shoreline boardwalk. Nearby Canal Park boasts shops, antique stores, restaurants and views of ships from all around the world. The Superior Zoo, in West Duluth’s Fairmont Park, is a favorite among families with children.
At the city’s perimeter take a 25-mile cruise along Skyline Drive, with a stop at Enger Park to climb its observation tower. Down the road, at Hawk Ridge, you can watch eagles, falcons and hawks migrate south in the autumn months.
For a longer journey, follow the North Shore Scenic Drive (State Highway 61) out of town past 150 miles of unspoiled wilderness, cliffs, waterfalls and lighthouses. The backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, make this one of America’s top driving destinations.