Romantic Getaway: Top Things to Do in Stillwater, Minnesota
Once a booming lumber town, Stillwater, Minnesota, has become one of the most romantic getaways in the Midwest. That might seem somewhat surprising at first glance until you understand the area’s history. Today, the beautiful St. Croix River is the epicenter of everything romantic in Stillwater. It’s where people take gondola rides together, and a number of restaurants have riverview tables where couples can sit overlooking the waters. That same river is what cemented the town’s importance during the 19th-century log boom because it gave the town access to both Minnesota and Wisconsin pinelands, and it had water power.
Today, the St. Croix River remains the heart of this beautiful, historic city. Older than its neighbor Minneapolis by a few years, Stillwater is considered to be the birthplace of the state. It is quintessential Minnesota; in fact, USA Today named Stillwater the state’s most picturesque small town in 2015. It has a large number of well-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s and more than 100 owner-operated shops and restaurants in the historic district. With that as a backdrop, it’s easy to see why Stillwater ranks so high as a year-round romantic getaway destination. If your idea of a romantic weekend includes sipping local wine at a vineyard and staying overnight in a Victorian mansion, it’s time to discover Stillwater. Here are some of the most romantic things to do in town.
Where to Eat
Stillwater is a haven for both foodies and romantics since it’s home to dozens of independently owned restaurants, cafes, wine bars, ice cream parlors and gourmet shops in the historic district. Several restaurants offer scenic views of the famous St. Croix River like Brick & Bourbon with rooftop dining and smoking cocktails. Marx Fusion Bistro is another romantic spot that serves local plates with spanish inspired flavors or fresh oysters at Lolito. For an upscale and romantic setting, Domacin Restaurant & Wine Bar is the place to go, if Travel & Leisure magazine is to be believed. It included Domacin in its list of America’s top 25 wine bars. The restaurant features somewhere around 400 different bottles to choose from, and its menu—which T&L called “American with a Mediterranean accent”—changes seasonally.
Those with a sweet tooth should check out Leo’s Grill & Malt, a 1950s inspired diner with vintage Coca Cola signs on its walls. While the restaurant has tasty burgers and traditional fries, its milkshakes and old-fashioned banana splits are what keep locals and visitors coming back. Diners can walk up to the ice cream window and order meals or sweets to go. A stroll around the historic district reveals a number of additional culinary shops like Pinch n’ Rub Spice & Tea hub, Stillwater Olive Oil, Candyland, Barbara Ann’s Fudge Shop and Tremblay’s Sweet Shop. Finally, for a more unusual and romantic way to sample the best flavors of Stillwater, join the Foodies on Foot tour, led by a guide who goes behind the scenes at some of the town’s best restaurants and bars.
Where to Stay
Due to Stillwater’s rich historical past, a handful of bed and breakfast inns feature restored mansions with Victorian or Queen Anne’s architectural style. The bed and breakfast inns are perfect romantic accommodations with gorgeous rooms, antique furniture and personal attention. James Mulvey Inn is easily one of the sweetest boutique B&Bs you’ll ever stay in. Once the estate of local James Mulvey, the carriage house inn has been welcoming guests to its 1.5-acre campus for more than 20 years. The tiny inn has two gorgeous suites in the carriage house for rental—one in art deco style and the other in Bordeaux. The Rivertown Inn, built in 1882, is known for its European-style elegance. Rooms are tastefully decorated in Victorian styles and have quirky names like the Oscar Wilde Grand Suite, Lord Byron Suite and Lewis Carroll Bedchamber. The inn also has cooking classes for couples looking for fun things to do together. The Ann Bean Mansion is within walking distance from the historic district and is known for its cozy Victorian-meets-modern vibe. Each room at the Ann Bean Mansion has its own romantic story (explained to guests by innkeepers) and guests enjoy fun amenities like romantic breakfasts in the dining area or sitting by the warm fireplace on a chilly winter night. Built in 1881, the William Sauntry Mansion by the historic district is considered one of the most romantic places to stay in Stillwater, as some rooms have their own fireplaces, whirlpool baths, and delivered box breakfasts (although guests can eat their morning meal on the veranda for a more romantic view). Downtown Stillwater has historic inns as well as two boutique hotels that are within steps from shops and restaurants.
Where to Shop
Chalk things off your wish list in Stillwater by hitting some of the fashionable boutique shops, jewelers, home decor and art galleries in the historic district. Couples can shop in various stores like Cooks of Crocus Hill, Alfresco Casual Living, or Forget Me Not for cookware, home decor, outdoor apparel, and gifts. Couples can purchase original art pieces such as paintings, pottery and sculptures from various galleries throughout the town like ArtReach St. Croix and Stillwater Art Guild and Gallery. However, couples looking for a romantic activity can swing by Kari’s Create & Paint Studio to paint their own pottery. Stillwater sports several antique shops like American Gothic Antiques, Staples Mill Antiques, Midtown Antiques and a few rare book stores where items are sold in mint condition. Stillwater is ranked as one of the top 10 best antiquing towns in the U.S. by Fodor’s Travel.
What to Do
Much of what makes Stillwater such a popular romantic escape is the multitude of activities and things to do here. First and foremost are the Venetian-style gondola tours offered on St. Croix River and narrated historic trolley tours. Additionally, couples can book reservations to join a Segway tour or bike along the trail that connects downtown Stillwater to downtown St. Paul. Nearby are three ski hills (Afton Alps, Trollhaugen and Wild Mountain) open during the winter for a more adventurous daytime activity. Couples can rent the skiing equipment at several ski facilities and resorts. You can also cross-country ski at several parks like William O’Brien State Park and Lake Elmo Park Reserve with ski rental right downtown at 45 Degrees. Wine lovers will want to jump at the chance to visit some of the beautiful wineries along the Minnesota Wine Trail and St. Croix Scenic Byway as well as breweries. Stillwater is home to numerous of spas like Brick Alley Studio and Just For Me Spa where Swedish massages, Thai massages, deep tissue massages, couples massages, and reflexology are available.
Stillwater also hosts various popular festivals year-round that make great romantic outings, and free horse-drawn carriages can take couples around downtown on Valentine’s Day. On Tuesdays during the summer months of July and August, downtown Stillwater comes alive with art and food vendors, live music and an outdoor movie viewed from the riverfront lawn or your boat. During the fall, the annual Stillwater Harvest Fest gets packed with visitors joining fun competitions like a giant pumpkin regatta and pumpkin drop. Guests get the chance to sample some of the best local beers and food, and watch a live chili cook off. Rivertown Fall Art Festival is another fantastic event celebrating its local artists and musicians. Visitors can browse through dozens of artists’ tents and purchase their favorite pieces.
Ultimate Romantic Getaway
Stillwater is a great getaway for a romantic weekend, but it’s also a popular destination in Minnesota for the ultimate romantic event: a wedding or honeymoon. The scenic St. Croix Valley region is sought after for weddings with over 20 venues to choose from, including historic ballrooms, an apple farm, and a ferry boat on the St. Croix River. Other fun wedding venues include the Stillwater Library rooftop terrace and JX Event Venue. Whether you’re looking to hire a horse, carriage, trolley or rent a tux for your wedding, Stillwater has it all (including wonderful scenery backdrops for your ceremony and photographs).