Nestled under the ever watchful eye of Sugar Loaf Bluff, bordered on one side by the mighty Mississippi, stands a quiet Midwest town. Winona, MN. Steeped in tradition and filled with helpful smiling natives, Winona provides an ideal setting for an enjoyable Summer weekend. With activities from outdoor adventures, educational museums and even a trip down the river, Winona has something for every member of the family. The boys and I recently had the chance to visit this welcoming town, and some of our favorite family-friendly suggestions are below.
A Picnic at Garvin Heights Overlook
Head on up to Garvin Heights Overlook and begin your vacation with an Eagle’s view of the city. Plaques and signage lets you get your bearings and introduce you to the town in an awe-inspiring way. Picnic tables are available in shady alcoves, making this the perfect place to have a welcome picnic lunch. Don’t forget to make a trip up there at night to see the city all lit up.
Walk, Bike or Paddle Around Lake Winona
Lake Winona is a crowning centerpiece to the town, and a hub of activity for both visitors and townsfolk. You can walk, ride a bike or even canoe and kayak around this beautiful lake. Visit the Lake Lodge Recreation Center where for a fee of just $10 per person, you can get a year’s membership and unlimited rental of equipment including canoes, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, bikes, and more. Seasonal activities and programs are always going on, so be sure to check the offerings during your visit.
Enjoy the Winona Public Parks
Sprinkled throughout the city are public parks filled with playgrounds, ball fields, large swings, benches and walking paths. One of our favorites was a playground located along the shores of Lake Winona. It features an awesome playground, amphitheater that houses performances held throughout the year, and was also right next to the Winona Veterans Memorial Park that features a statue memorial for soldiers of each war.
Indulge in Local Fare
Winona is home to the well-known Bloedow’s Bakery. Started in 1924, this bakery has been named one of the top 50 doughnuts in the nation, and is home to Minnesota’s best doughnut. They also have a variety of fresh baked breads, cookies and other goodies too, all topped off with incredibly low prices. Go in the afternoon hours to beat the crowds.
If you like root beer and incredible food, be sure to stop by the Lakeview Drive Inn during your visit to Winona. A car hop will come right up to your window to take your order. Food is old-fashioned diner fare, with a new special served up each day. On the night of our visit, the boys scored a cheeseburger and fries for $4.15. The chipotle black bean burger here is out of this world, and don’t skip the sweet potato fries. Lakeview Drive Inn is Winona’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1938, and they home brew their own thick and refreshing root beer.
See Some World Class Art
For such a small town, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum packs a huge artistic punch. Perhaps their most notable piece of art is one of only two autographed copies of Washington Crossing the Delaware. The painting they now house used to hang in the White House. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is also home to a rather impressive collection of paintings by the masters such as Monet, Picasso, Renior and Van Gogh. Along with these famed works of art sit masterpieces created by local and new age artists, including those by Stephen Hilyard. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am-5pm the museum is $7 for adults and $3 for children, although students are free on Tuesdays.
Learn Winona’s History
I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of visiting new places is learning as much as possible about them. That’s where the Winona County Historical Society comes in. Home to many artifacts of days gone by and housed in the old armory from 1915, this small yet engaging history museum takes visitors on a journey through Winona’s history first as a lumber town, and explains the prominence the Mississippi River played in the towns history. There are plenty of hands on activities for children here, so they are sure to stay engaged while learning.
The Winona County Historical Society is open weekdays 9am-5pm, Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday 12pm-4pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
Check Out the J.R. Watkins Museum and Store
Started in 1868, the J.R. Watkins company and their world famous Liniment moves to Winona, MN., a booming lumber town in 1894. Here their headquarters have grown and stayed. Today, you can visit the J.R. Watkins Museum and Store to learn more about this long-lasting brand that has stood the test of time. With authentic wood block floors, the museum building used to serve as the companies printing factory. Attached to this free museum is a store full of all types of Watkins products.
Go Rock Climbing
Perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in Winona is at one of the city’s newest attractions, the Climbing Center at Winona State University. Although this massive climbing complex is housed inside the college, it is open to the public or open climb periods Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 5pm-10pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am-6pm. For $10, you can enjoy hours of climbing fun at any level. This is a perfect activity for a rainy day when you still want to have an outdoor adventure. Equipment is available for rent, and staff if on hand to help guide you if you are new to climbing. There is 6,000 square feet of climbing surface, including an anchor practice wall and two bouldering walls.
Take a Cruise Down the Mississippi
Brand new to Winona, the Winona Tour Boat company has river boat tours that take you down the Mississippi River, explaining everything from the history of the river, to the history of the town and even a science lesson about the Eagles that call this area home. Learn about the lock and damn systems that are located up and down the Mississippi, learn about the previous attempts of navigating and containing the river, and spot an Eagles’ nest during your fun and informative cruise down the river. You might even be lucky enough to Captain the ship for a time during your visit.
There are sight seeing tours Saturday and Sunday at Noon and 2pm that are $15 for adults and $10 for children, and sunset cruises that leave Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 6pm that are $20 for adults and $10 for children.
Where to Stay?
Think you would like to make a stop and enjoy a family weekend in Winona? I highly recommend getting a room at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Winona. They have incredible service and a delicious hot breakfast, not to mention one of the coolest pancake making machines I have ever seen. Little touches like fresh chocolate chip cookies and available hot tea and coffee all day in the lobby really help you feel at home here.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with bath supplies from Bath and Body Works. There is a fitness center available, as well as an indoor pool, zero entry kiddie pool, whirlpool and indoor sauna. The hotel is conveniently located just across the street from Lake Winona and close to all the city’s activities. Rates are affordable year round, to check rates and availability for your stay, visit the Holiday Inn website.
Winona is a small town with a lot to do. You get the homey comfortable feel, but you will never be at a loss for things to do with the kids. To learn more about Winona and see some of the other family-friendly offerings they have, go to VisitWinona.com.