First published on July 10, 2020. Updated 11/5/2021: Hey Hey Stillwater has won again for 2021! View the updated list of Top 10 Best Small Town Food Scenes in the US.
Stillwater, MN – In the summer of road-trips, Stillwater has another reason for you to visit their beautiful historic town on the St. Croix River. USA Today has just named Stillwater one of the 10 Best Small Town Food Scenes in the country. For the 2020 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award a list of 20 nominee towns from across the country was curated by expert editors, then narrowed down over 4 weeks of online voting by readers. After the results were tallied, Stillwater ranked 5th as a must-visit destination for those who appreciate an excellent variety of food and drink.
Located just outside St. Paul on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, Stillwater’s charming Main Street district offers a thriving foodie scene, trendy boutiques and many vintage shops, wineries, breweries, local artisans, river cruises, trolley tours, bike trails and festivals. Those who stay overnight may feel the nostalgia of times past in this once bustling steamboat town and top lumber producer of the world. Today, Stillwater has new hotels and over 20 venues welcoming weddings, meetings, and leisure travelers year-round.
Stillwater, Minnesota has it all, from delightful outdoor sidewalk cafes, to romantic rooftop dining overlooking the scenic St. Croix River, to a speakeasy, to restaurants showcasing culinary trends, to cozy a pub with pull-tabs. To those who’ve visited or live in Stillwater, it’s likely no surprise to receive this “Best Food Scene” honor with 30 restaurants in just the downtown area alone, there’s never a shortage of places to choose from for breakfast, lunch or dinner. People are known to stroll between establishments trying an appetizer here and a cocktail there, making a full meal out of several stops on Main Street. There is even a Foodies on Foot culinary walking tour with guides and chef’s tableside talks; however, this tour is on pause due to COVID-19. The variety of food in a five-block radius crosses the globe and satisfies all cravings from sushi to burgers to wood-fired pizza. You’ll also find gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options on most menus, plus fun specialty smoking cocktails.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped Stillwater from catering to taste buds either, with many restaurants quickly converting to curbside take-out options, then as restrictions lifted opening up a plethora of outdoor dining options. Almost all establishments offer a place to enjoy your food safely outdoors thanks to temporary main street parklets, converted alleyways (including outdoor axe throwing at The Lumberjack) and closed roads or parking lots approved by the City of Stillwater. You can even order dinner and a six pack of beer or bottle of wine to-go and enjoy riverside in Lowell Park or take a riverboat cruise dining on the upper deck while you soak in the views of the river valley.
“There is a really festive feeling as you walk through the streets to find your favorite deck, rooftop or patio this summer. This award is well-deserved as our hard-working, all locally owned businesses have been through a lot these last few months.” Christie Rosckes, Discover Stillwater Marketing Director
The food scene extends to the culinary shops as well with proprietors of spices, teas, olive oils, cookware and even cooking classes perfect for a date night. Stillwater is also home to the well known Sara’s Tipsy Pies and Minnesota’s 6th largest craft brewery – Lift Bridge Brewing Company whose can designs quite often connect to the Stillwater community like the Warden’s Stout with the historic prison, Elevated Amber featuring hot air balloons, or Black Cherry Soda with our famous red trolleys on the cover. In addition, our local Aamodt’s Apple Farm has also created a line of hard ciders with infused flavors of ginger or semi-sweet apples.
Stillwater caters to your sweet tooth too with three candy shops, a traditional 1950s malt shop, and an Instagram -worthy stop serving soft serve vegan ice cream with edible glitter. Several coffee shops serve up hot morning joe, chilled chai’s, and flavored iced tea or boba tea. You can even rent an electric bike to hit the new 4.7 mile St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail in Stillwater’s newest Greenbridge Coffee Shop located at the base of the recently renovated historic lift bridge painted green to match it’s original color when constructed in 1931. For those seeking a little more adventure, take your bike past the Brown’s Creek State Bike Trail to find the Gateway Trailside food truck – it’s about an 8.5 mile ride from downtown Stillwater.
Tasty fare is celebrated year-round in Stillwater at several events from the Food Truck Extravaganza (Cancelled due to COVID-19), Grape Stomp Festival at Saint Croix Vineyards September 12-13, or Stillwater Harvest Fest celebrating Guinness World Record breaking giant pumpkins October 10-11.
Visitors can experience food-themed attractions year-round by looking for wine pairing events at Domacin, whiskey tastings at Matchstick inside Hotel Crosby or signing up to try high tea or fondue at the historic Lowell Inn. Stillwater’s local chefs love to try new ideas, so follow your favorite eatery on social media for updates on new menu items or consider hosting private dining events for small groups (here’s a few venue tours). Discover Stillwater is encouraging visitors to also share pictures of their plates and libations using #discoverstillwater or chat with them on social media to help find where you’d like to go eat.
Stillwater invites locals and travelers to experience the abundant dining scene and naturally beautiful riverside sights made even more accessible with the opening of the renovated historic lift bridge now converted from a highway to a multi-use trail. As of June 1st 2020, the final section of the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail connects Minnesota and Wisconsin spanning the St. Croix River over two bridges. From the lift bridge, you can easily walk to all dining, shopping and attractions. Park once (most parking is free) and enjoy all that Stillwater has to offer on foot or bike. See what’s new in town (like a waterfront rooftop restaurant) and enter to win a Stillwater Staycation now through July 19th: www.DiscoverStillwater.com/staycation.