If you’ve never been this far “Up North” in Minnesota, you should make it a point to check it out. Grand Marais is a picturesque town along the shores of Lake Superior 110 miles Northeast of Duluth and only 40 miles from the Canadian border. Situated on scenic Highway 61, it is a historic harbor town that began as a Native American village before falling under the flags of France, Great Britain, and finally, the United States. It was a fur trading post and a commercial fishing outpost, but now it is a lot more about the visitors. With plenty of outdoor activities, kitschy gift shops, and amazing spots to grab a bite to eat, Grand Marais is a classic Minnesota destination in and of itself.
It is also a great stop if you are anywhere along the North Shore or heading to the Gunflint Trail or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We stopped by a few weeks ago during a weekend trip to Surfside on Superior in Tofte (since we had a gift certificate for a free two night stay given to us after our wedding here last fall……which we finagled into a free three night stay thanks to their spring fever special because that’s how we roll.) It was chilly and windy the first week of May, but we didn’t let that stop any of our plans.
We began our visit to Grand Marais by walking out along the breakwater to Artist’s Point, where you can get a beautiful few of the East harbor along with a lot of neat rocks and natural features.
We explored the point and stopped to admire the view of Lake Superior as well as some amazing remnants of winter storms. There must have been some seriously strong winds because trees were completely uprooted.
But even if you are not into hiking around like we are, there are lots of other fun stops. There are many outfitters that rent bikes as well as kayaks if you want to get out onto the water. Grand Marais is also home to the famous (at least in Minnesota) Sven & Ole’s Pizza. Sven and Ole are fictional characters in popular jokes that originated with Scandinavian Americans (which we have a lot of in Minnesota). The jokes go a little something like this:
Sven was going for his morning walk one day when he walked past Ole’s house and saw a sign that said “Boat For Sale.” This confused Sven because he knew that Ole didn’t own a boat, so he finally decided to go in and ask Ole about it. “Hey Ole,” said Sven, “I noticed da sign in your yard dat says ‘Boat For Sale,’ but ya don’t even have a boat. All ya have is your old John Deere tractor and combine.” Ole replied, “Yup, and they’re boat for sale.”
Wah. Wah. They are all a lot like that. That’s where the name originates from, and Sven & Ole’s Pizza will provide the kitsch you would expect to find.
Grand Marais also features a spot with the world’s best donuts. Which reminds me of a clip from my favorite Christmas movie.
How could you pass that up? It wasn’t open yet when we were there so we had to, but we did stop to pose in these sweet signs.
We completed our visit with a late lunch at the Angry Trout Cafe.
It’s literally lake-to-table. They serve fresh fish that is caught daily by local fisherman. When we were there, our server pointed out the fishing boat of the man who caught the fish we would be eating. Nothing comes from a frozen package. I can’t say we’ve ever experienced that level of freshness before at a restaurant. Unfortunately, it was quite cold the first week of May so we didn’t sit outside, but those are definitely the best seats in the house as you can look out over the lake and watch boats come and go through the harbor.
When we were there they were offering Lake Superior “whitefish” and herring. They also offer local and organic produce, and they strive to promote sustainability with practices like using wind-powered electricity. We started with a fish cake appetizer that was served with an incredible dill tartar sauce. Then we moved on to the main event. Dain enjoyed a fish sandwich with the herring, and I had the salad/pasta dish that comes with a heaping plate full of pasta with pine nuts and cheese along with a salad with fruits and vegetables complete with a selection of fresh salad dressing.
And as we walked back from our fabulous lunch, Dain couldn’t help himself from photographing this gem. It’s all fun and games until your house starts to lean. At least we don’t have this problem.
We’ve never actually stayed in Grand Marais, but there are lots of hotels and motels right along the water. You can learn more about what to do and where to stay here. It is definitely a fun summer stop that we recommend if you find yourself “Up North.”