Located along the scenic St. Croix River, and just outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Stillwater, Minnesota is considered the state’s historic birthplace. It’s been described as one of the Best Places to Take Out of Town Guests and named one of America’s Most Picturesque Towns, where paddle wheel river boats and gondolas still travel near a historic bridge.
This little city has easy access from the Twin Cities and Wisconsin and turns into a romantic, natural wonderland in wintertime. Stillwater is simultaneously festive, charming, and nostalgic, making it one of the best places in the nation to enjoy the holidays. Ready to celebrate the season? Here are some great ways to enjoy Stillwater at this magical time of year.
A bazaar and gala kick-off Stillwater Hometown for the Holidays Events, which span mid-November through New Year’s Eve. During the holiday season, hop aboard a free horse-drawn Victorian Wagonette Ride along the beautiful historic river town. You can greet Santa on Main Street as strolling carolers in Victorian garb add a festive soundtrack, especially during Stillwater’s Black Friday activities.
Stillwater likes to support its small businesses and there’s no better time than during Shop Small Saturday, a national, annual event that takes place, this year, on November 24. Shop small and you’ll feel even better about your purchases, especially as Santa and his reindeer join the celebration.
For classic holiday experiences, enjoy breakfast with Santa or indulge in Holiday Tea at the historic Lowell Inn or tour the Aurora Staples Inn, decorated from floor to ceiling in seasonal finery. Kids will love the annual Twinkle Party held in Lowell Park, where crowds adorned with twinkle lights gather to see the official lighting of the Christmas tree, fireworks and a performance by the Teddy Bear Band. Stay warm with free cocoa, coffee and cookies too.
“Make Stillwater Your Hometown for the Holidays” when you participate in a one-of-a-kind Biercycle Caroling Tour. You’ll join nine other ‘pedalers,’ plus bench seat passengers, on a beautifully decorated bike for a bunch. Then sing carols together as you travel through the streets of downtown Stillwater and sip wine or hot chocolate from home.
Visit the must-see Ice Castles where fairy tales are brought to life with twinkling lights of the nighttime glow, magnificent archways and towers, ice-carved tunnels and slides ready to be explored. Coming to the riverfront park of Downtown Stillwater this January-February (weather dependent). update: Ice Castles will not be built in Stillwater this year, but we are hopeful they’ll return in 2020! The frozen Ice Castles constructed downtown Stillwater were in Lowell Park on the riverfront the last two winters. We were grateful for the thousands who explored the carved tunnels, slides, archways and magical glow of this once in a lifetime frozen fun for all ages.
Revel in the joys of holiday shopping along Stillwater’s historic main street, where you’ll find perfect gifts and entertainment essentials. More than 50 downtown boutiques showcase an astonishing variety of locally made goods and unique ideas. These independently owned businesses provide a laid-back, friendly ambiance too.
Park once and enjoy walking amid vintage buildings to shopping, dining, and even some lodging. There’s free on-street and city lot parking available from November to May, with a nearby parking ramp for $5 per day.
Shopping is a favorite Stillwater pastime. Whether browsing necklaces and shoes inside a hidden second story boutique, or trying on the latest high fashion dresses , jeans , or jewelry you’re sure to find new favorites. Hand-dyed wearable brands fill Magnolias Clothing & Wool Shop and Simply Chic stocks affordable accessories for all ages, while outdoors enthusiasts appreciate adventure clothing and shoes, or gear, at 45 Degrees. Don’t forget, no sales tax on clothes in Minnesota!
Want to spruce up your home for the holidays? Fans of upcycled home decor & painted furniture enjoy browsing Reclaiming Beautiful. You’ll find eclectic home accents and clocks at Forget Me Not, rocks, fossils and funny gifts at Art n’ Soul and a general department store ‘feel’ from garden to bed and bath accessories to custom furniture, at Alfresco Casual Living.
There are baby carriers at Lil Tulips, natural soaps at Modern Roots, locally designed artwork at Smith & Trade Merchantile and children’s accessories at Gully Wubbles. Foodies can purchase top-quality olive oil downtown, plus fresh candy and popcorn, while Pinch n’ Rub Spice & Tea Hub is known for premium-quality seasonings and loose leaf teas. Find unique imported goods from Kathe Wohlfahrt German Christmas Store or Scandinavian North. For the crafty in the family make a stop at Darn Knit Anyway and the avid reader, Valley Bookseller. Shop Stillwater’s used book stores and vintage antique shops, for more great purchases.
The Gift of Experience
When you’re ready to take a break from shopping, there are many more fun things to do in Stillwater. Enjoy breathtaking views of the St. Croix River Valley atop one of several historic main street stairways, or browse the beautiful two- and three-dimensional work of local artists at Stillwater Art Guild & Gallery. Or learn new culinary skills such as how to make the ultimate stir fry dish, and French inspired brunch dishes for holiday gatherings.
Gift giving becomes more personal when you create your own hand-painted pottery, custom heirloom jewelry, or spend an afternoon at Sawdust Savvy. The ideal Girlfriend Experience or DIY holiday gift idea, this woman-owned ‘shop’ provides all the power tools, paint and other accessories needed to create custom wood crafts without assembling your own workshop.
Stillwater gift certificates can cover meals at local restaurants, tastings at local wineries or a behind-the-scenes culinary walking tours with Foodies on Foot. You can treat loved ones to a stay in one of eight beautiful, historic Stillwater bed & breakfasts too, as well as trolley tours or boat tours. For more adventurous souls, book a hot air balloon ride or Segway tour. If your loved one enjoys being pampered, a gift certificate for spa & salon treatments will create the perfect ‘girl’s day.’
Eat, Drink & Stay
More than 30 downtown Stillwater restaurants and pubs can satisfy your hunger and thirst, as well as two breweries and two wineries. Sip your favorite coffee drink and savor freshly prepared quiche beside a roaring fire, or chow down on hearty Irish fare. In addition, sample cuisine riverside at The Dock Cafe and rich, delicious Caribbean seafood stew from Nacho Mamas. Whether you prefer pizza or burgers, scratch-made Thai food, or a house Reuben served with a side of bicycle repair, Stillwater dining offers plenty of tasty options.
This lovely city features diverse accommodations too. You can stay at a hotel with an indoor pool, in nearby Oak Park Heights, MN, or downtown in a historic inn or new boutique hotel. For a more personal lodging experience, settle into one of eight cute and cozy B&Bs, within short walks and drives from Main Street, while spa home retreats or sleek, modern downtown lofts combine privacy with all the comforts of home. No matter which option you choose, be sure to ask about #StayAnExtraDay deals too.
There’s no better place to celebrate the holiday season than in Stillwater, MN, where natural winter beauty and seasonal events only enhance the charm of this riverside city. #OnlyinMN