Chic is hardly the term that comes to mind at the mention of Fargo, North Dakota, particularly after the 1996 film Fargo tarnished the city’s image. Yet chic is exactly the word to describe downtown Fargo as the city reinvents itself through its 1999 Renaissance Zone Plan.
As one of Fargo’s major historic sites, the 17-suite Hotel Donaldson has attracted attention from USA Today and National Geographic Traveler. This renovated, 1893 brick structure is part historic legacy, part boutique hotel, and part artsy destination. Encountering original brick and timber, guests feel as if they have walked into history. Each room is unique, highlighting the work of a different regional artist, and a rooftop hot tub is nestled amid a garden with native prairie grass.
Three blocks north of the hotel is another of Fargo’s historic sites, the refurbished Fargo Theater. Originally built in 1926 to accommodate both cinema and live productions, this theater donned an Art Deco style with its first remodeling in 1937, then recaptured its glory with a restoration in 1999. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Fargo Theater screens most of the 150 submissions for the annual Fargo Film Festival.
Every other year, the bright, warm days of August usher in an altogether different form of entertainment at the Fargo AirSho. Sending shudders through the crowd below with electrifying aerial maneuvers, the Navy’s elite Blue Angels fly with amazing precision. Other performers include the Warbirds, vintage World War II combat planes that transport spectators to the past.
Travelers who want a closer look at a P-51 Mustang, or perhaps a replica of the Wright Flyer, can head to one of the Fargo Air Museum. Offering a rare glimpse at both static aircraft and classic aircraft still in flying condition, this is one of the best Fargo museums. Interactive exhibits include the Frasca 241 Simulator, which guests may “pilot.”
There are many other fine museums in Fargo, including nine at Bonanzaville. There’s so much to see here that visitors should allow plenty of time. One of the museums features historic telephone equipment; the other focuses on 19th-century medical equipment. And the Dahl Car Museum, devoted to antique cars, proudly displays its 1904 Holzman.
What really sets Bonanzaville apart, though, is its Pioneer Village, a collection of authentic, old buildings with a few replicas mixed in. Structures range from an 1895 schoolhouse to the Brass Rail Saloon and Hotel. Among these treasures of the past is Fargo’s first house, built in 1869. Railroad buffs will love the 1900 train depot and shed, which houses a steam locomotive from 1883 as well as a caboose and a passenger car.
Another place to spend some time with the kids is the Red River Zoo, which opened its doors in 1999. Although the animals come from all over the world, zoo planners selected plants and animals from climates similar to Fargo’s. The zoo’s 75 species include red pandas and gray wolves.