As one year comes to a close and the next one follows hot on its heels, it’s no surprise we might feel that little itch of wanderlust. And since there’s no time like the present, there’s going to be more than a few who put traveling on their list of New Year’s resolutions.
So for us who don’t want to spend too much money in Las Vegas or go through the nightmare that’s booking a hotel on short notice in any city larger than Boston, Northfield, Minnesota, might just be the place to crash our bodies.
One of CountryLiving.com’s “50 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America”, Northfield is a decently-sized town of about twenty thousand that straddles the line between the Dakota and Rice counties in southern Minnesota, about 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St Paul.
Founded in 1856, this college town doesn’t lack things to do or places to see. There’s a plethora of history museums and art galleries to wander, several esteemed colleges, historic sites and top attractions out the wazoo, parks and hiking trails, and great food and dinner options in the historic downtown district.
Now let’s get to our list of fun things the Northfield area has going for it that could reel just about anyone in for a visit. Whether it’s the holiday season or summer, there’s plenty in this little town to keep you or the entire family occupied!
Table of Contents
- List of the Best Things To Do in Northfield MN
- 1. The Flaten Art Museum
- 2. The Perlman Teaching Museum
- 3. The Cannon River Winery
- 4. Northfield Farmer’s Market
- 5. A Japanese Garden
- 6. The Riverwalk Market Fair
- 7. Antique Shops of Northfield
- 8. The Northfield Arts Guild Gallery
- 9. The Kelsey and Haugen Theaters
- 10. The Northfield Arts Guild Theater
- 11. The Loon Liquor Company
- 12. Northfield Music Venues
List of the Best Things To Do in Northfield MN
1. The Flaten Art Museum
The Flaten Art Museum is a unique little offshoot of the St. Olaf College Center for Art and Dance. The building itself has been used as a library, a naval pre-flight school in WWII, and a rehearsal hall for a choir, until finally settling into being used as an art gallery in 1976.
When you think of an art museum tied to a liberal arts college, it’s understandable that you might think it’s all about incomprehensible or jarring postmodern art crafted by late teen/early twenties types who think they’ve figured it all out. Flaten, however, takes a different approach.
Their mission statement is all about exploration of values and vocation, with down-to-earth exhibits and understandable goals.
Regardless of whether you’re a fine arts connoisseur or a relative newbie, it’s likely you’ll find something worth talking about for years to come at the Flaten Art Museum.
2. The Perlman Teaching Museum
Located at the Weitz Center for Creativity on the Carleton College campus, the Perlman Teaching Museum is a much more conventional take on an art museum that focuses on the preservation of unique and exciting art from around the world.
Maybe you’ll enjoy their collection of Inuit art prints, or their Japanese woodblock prints that come from the Edo and Meiji periods. Or perhaps you’ll be more enthralled by their wide variety of European art that dates all the way back to the 14th Century.
Whether you want photography, modern art, a collection of handmade historical pieces, prints by Australian Aboriginal contemporary artists, or even art from the students themselves, Perlman probably has your art fix covered and then some.
3. The Cannon River Winery
Tucked away in Minnesota’s Sogn River Valley, the Cannon River Winery’s picturesque vineyard has over 9,000 vines spread across its 40 acres of land. No trip through the area is complete without having at least taken a look at it, so why not see the rest while you’re there?
Scheduling a wine tasting, taking in the sights of the old winery building, going on a tour– all that is possible and more at the Cannon River Winery. They even have an event calendar you can check out in case you’re in the mood for something more specific.
If you want to come away from southern Minnesota having had a taste of something you’ll never forget, go ahead and give this old Winery a call.
4. Northfield Farmer’s Market
If it’s the right time of year and the weather allows for it, why not take a walk around the local farmer’s market? Everyone loves fresh produce, and the locals have plenty of it. The market is open May through October on every Tuesday and Friday, as well as every third Friday year-round.
Rediscover the magic of seeing real produce grown by hand and given to you by the people that grew it. Take a look through the stalls and enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes of things the whole family can enjoy together. And don’t worry about it being too hard to find either.
There’s no need to book in advance, no waiting list, and no cancellation fees if you can’t make it. As far as stress-free places to visit go, it doesn’t get much more down-to-earth than a farmer’s market.
5. A Japanese Garden
Did you know that Northfield has a Japanese garden? Hidden away behind Watson Hall of Carleton College, this garden was designed by Dr. David Slawson, who studied for two years in Kyoto to get all the details just right.
Called “The Garden of Quiet Listening,” every last piece used in decorating this garden has a rich and storied history. Every stone has a purpose in being there, every tree carefully trimmed so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
So go ahead and pay this unique glimpse of another culture a visit. It’s relaxing, it’s charming, and it may even make for a good backdrop if you want to take a few pictures to commemorate your trip.
6. The Riverwalk Market Fair
There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned riverwalk, and the one on the Cannon River is no exception. And every Saturday from the middle of May to late October, this riverwalk in particular comes to life with a beautiful market fair and hosts a great selection of vendors.
Do you like watercolors? There’s a vendor for that. Pottery? They’ve got that too. Wood carving, photography, clothes, accessories, stained glass, cupcakes, even artisanal ghost pepper sauce– there’s a little bit of everything for those willing to look, and looking is half the fun!
Even if you don’t find anything, a riverwalk market like this is worth visiting for the experience alone. If the weather holds and you’re feeling up for it, then there’s no reason not to visit it if you have the chance. Plus it’s free!
7. Antique Shops of Northfield
Antique shopping, or “antiquing” as the pros call it, is a great standby of many a lazy weekend. There’s very little that compares to the experience of finding that perfect shop, that one piece to complete a collection, or spotting something from your childhood on display.
Old towns in particular are great places to find some truly unique items, and Northfield is no exception. There are antique shops, vintage shops, consignment stores, and more. Lovers of everything from vintage merchandise to silly hats will love what this town has to offer.
For some, it’ll be a fresh new experience and may find themselves so in love with it that it becomes the start of a new habit – or the continuation of an old one for seasoned shoppers. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, make sure to wear comfortable shoes – if you get sucked in, you’re going to be on your feet for a while.
See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destination in the World
8. The Northfield Arts Guild Gallery
The arts are taken very seriously in Northfield. Theater, music, and visual art are all regarded highly in this college town, and if you’re going to take a tour of the various galleries and displays that are on offer, the galleries maintained by the Northfield Arts Guild are some of the best.
Maybe you want to see the main gallery, on the first floor of the Guild in downtown Northfield. Or maybe you’re in the mood to browse one of the satellite exhibition galleries and get away from the larger crowds the main building is sure to have.
There’s a lot to see, and the exhibits are constantly changing. If you don’t like the selection on one trip, come back a few months later and you’re sure to see something new. Come feast your eyes on the kind of art that artists enjoy.
9. The Kelsey and Haugen Theaters
The St. Olaf Theater Department has a wide variety of productions that they put on yearly. With five mainstage productions plus a one-act play festival every year, the fresh talent at the college almost always has something new and exciting to share.
Now, this is no run-of-the-mill amateur production. The students at St. Olaf take their work very seriously, and it shows. The sets and costuming alone are fantastic, and they keep a carefully curated script library that you’re more than welcome to peruse at your leisure.
Just remember that tickets are paid for in cash at the box office, and you’re well on your way to seeing one of these productions in action. Smaller plays like these are always a delight, and with the amount of passion on display, you’re bound to have a great time.
10. The Northfield Arts Guild Theater
For those of you who want a more relaxed theater experience than what the college has to offer, the Arts Guild has you covered. Drawing from open call auditions, actors consist of both Northfield residents and ones from the surrounding area ranging from newbies to veterans.
Accessibility concerns? No problem! The Northfield Arts Guild takes pride in how much work they do to keep things open and available to everyone, from ASL interpreters to their ADA-compliant auditorium.
The Arts Guild puts on four mainstage productions every season, so be sure to check out what’s on offer beforehand.
Grab a ticket for a popcorn musical, or sit down with a travel-sized pack of tissues for a drama. Whatever it is that tickles your fancy, you can probably find something to see here.
11. The Loon Liquor Company
Craft beers are an art form all their own, and many would agree there’s a lot to be said for a company that prides itself on environmental sustainability as well as making a quality product. So for those who would like to show their support while also enjoying a good beer, the Loon Liquor Co. cocktail room may be the place to visit.
Using nothing but locally sourced fresh ingredients, the people at Loon Liquors will happily throw something together for their walk-in customers, along with smoked meats from the barbecue next door. More hands-on types can even take a cocktail kit home for themselves.
Seasonal nonalcoholic in-house sodas, t-shirts, flasks, and 375ml bottles of all their spirits are available as well. So if you like beer, come on down to Loon Liquors.
See Related: Best Breweries in Rochester, Minnesota
12. Northfield Music Venues
Do you like live music?
Are you a fan of freeform jam sessions at rowdy venues packed with college students?
Then Northfield may be just the right destination for you. With at least one or two events to visit almost every night, this town’s music scene is thriving.
The local indie music selection is an eclectic mix of Irish, bluegrass, Nordic, jazz, piano ballads and more. And with both indoor and outdoor concerts to choose from, this town’s event calendar is robust enough to leave anyone spoiled for choice.
So go ahead and round out your adventures with a visit to a live show, complete with locally brewed beer and homegrown music. There’s really no better way to unwind after a long and exciting day spent exploring the rest of what the town has to offer.
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