The Minnesota Vikings may have pulled up their stakes in Mankato, moving training camp to Eagan, but there are still many reasons to pay a visit to this delightful town 90 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. Mankato is home to Mankato State University and the Taylor Corporation…owned by Minnesota billionaire businessman Glen Taylor, majority owner of the MN Timber Wolves and owner of the MN Lynx’s. A little fun trivia about our Mankato…the town holds the title as the soybean capitol of the world! Locals shared this piece of trivia with me a few times during my visit. Upon your next visit to Kato Kountry beat the proud soy beaners to the punch by congratulating them on this distinction. Who knows it may grant you a “seat at the table” with the locals.
Let’s put this story in reverse for just a moment and examine the journey. When heading out on Highway 169 for “Destination Mankato Quest”, I would suggest 2 leg-stretching pit stops; #1 – the charming Emma Krumbees Orchard, Restaurant and Bakery in Belle Plain and #2 – Minnesota’s Largest Candy Shop in Jordan. Having visited Emma Krumbees for their annual scarecrow festival in the fall and strawberry and raspberry picking in the spring and summer. I have found this slice of Minnesota comfort pie to be well worth the visit. Maybe South Dakota has Wall Drug but we have “Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store” (Pic suggested). You can’t miss the huge yellow barn bestowing the chest pounding large letters simply saying, and I repeat here for effect, “Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store”. Say’s who you say…well says they I say! I grabbed me some Bit-O-Honey, a bag of Sugar Babies, and to wash it all down, a bottle of Bacon Chocolate Cream Soda. Settle down people…this is road-trip food for Pete’s sake!
With my sugar high firmly on full throttle I began my quest to find a local breakfast place to sip a cup of Joe, have a bite to eat, and map out my course of adventure for exploring Mankato. After a few solid recommendations, and a bit of self-directed research, I landed upon the Wagon Wheel Café, in the heart of the center of the city. This old school spot has classic vinyl booths and a comfortable horseshoe breakfast counter where I bellied up for their breakfast special…The Hog Pile! This stick to your ribs number will carry you through lunch and well on to dinner. “The Hog”, as referred to by the morning after college crew, consist of one egg, a generous serving of breakfast potatoes covered with bacon bits, country gravy, tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese for $9.49.
“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam”…. Well you know the rest, the western classic folk song originally recorded by Bing Crosby, refers to the North American Bison. In Minneopa State Park you can witness a herd of 20 Bison freely roaming the enclosed 330-acre state park. The herd is unique…having high quality genetics descending from the type of bison explorers Lewis and Clark gazed upon in the 1830’s. Experience the brisk December air and consider snowshoeing the 5 miles of trails around the state park …where you can also check out the scenic Minneopa Falls.
For skiers, snowboarders, and snow tubers who want to avoid the long lines you may find on city slopes, consider a visit to Mount Kato Ski Area (pic suggested). Mount Kato has nineteen runs and 8 chairlifts keeping guests moving quickly – avoiding long wait lines back to the top of the hill. As a December bonus, and as a holiday gift back to the community, kids 12 and under ski free from December 10th – December 16th. If the December weather is a bit brisk for your bones…or you have an early case of cabin fever, visit the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota for a fun and educational outing. The community built and supported museum is filled with hands-on opportunities for discovery and development. Don’t miss one of the museum’s annual highlights – the North Woods winter exhibit. Each year the museum constructs a north woods cabin recreating indoor and outdoor activities for the kids including ice fishing, snowmobiling and even an area where the kiddos can take part in a friendly indoor snowball fight.
Mankato in December has a few must see Holiday events that will surely kick the bah humbug out of anyone! The historic R.D. Hubbard mansion annually transforms the 1871 home into a Victorian Christmas motif reflecting how the Hubbard family would have decorated and celebrated in the home. On the 1st weekend in December costumed guides take guests on a tour of the home reminiscent of a 1905 Christmas in the Mansion. For a one stop spot for all things Christmas visit the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Sibley Park. The winter wonderland of activities runs from November 23rd to December 31st. The attraction includes a display of over 1.5 million animated LED lights timed to music, a skating rink, horse drawn wagon rides, live reindeer, ice sculptures and of course an area to pay visit to the man with the white beard and the red coat…non other than Santa Claus.
Add this one to your list of …“its worth the drive”…. Rapdam Dam Store. I must admit…on my adventure to find this tiny treasure I just about turned around more than once. Thank God I didn’t. This tiny little diner, located by the Dam in the one horse town of Rapdam, adjacent to Mankato, has been pleasing the palates of those with a sweet tooth since 1910. This family owned treasure serves up on average 20 pies per day. In 2004 “Food and Wine” magazine took notice of the Rapdam Dam Store featuring this wee little pie palace, the rolling queens, and their delicious creations. How does one decide on just one slice I ask you? I couldn’t so I consulted the townie regulars indulging along side of me, and selected top sellers the banana cream pie and the raspberry rhubarb pie. Unequivocally the best pie indulgence I have ever had! Okay just to be fair my dad was with me so he shared in the double feature decadent moment.
If you’ve simply had enough sugar plum fairies dancing through your head on your way to your mid section, and your body has endured one to many Hot Toddies and you need a healthy detox dose of all your body has been missing…head over to WYSIWIG for a handcrafted cold press juice. You will leave this place simply feeling better. Perhaps it is from the contagious and infectious energy from the owners, or the delicious chia peanut butter poppers. WYSIWIG raw juices are 100% certified organic non-GMO and gluten free. This place may be calling your name for your 2019 New Year resolution cleanse packages once the holiday season of decadent indulgence is behind us! Cheers to a healthy and happy 2019.
This family owned and operated American / Mediterranean restaurant is located in the Hilton Garden Inn. It was suggested I ordered the Schwarma pizza and this heavenly creation did not disappoint. I ended up leaving with a jar of Schwarma sauce that lets just say may have been opened on my way back to St. Paul.
Plan to visit the tasting room where you can stay warm by the fire while enjoying a glass of wine and a pizza from the wood fired oven. For a bit of exercise you can also rent snowshoes and traverse the 13 vineyards on the 25-acre property.
This elegant boutique hotel is located in the adjoining town of St. Peter, MN. The small quaint hotel has a limited number of rooms but each holds its own sense of charm and character.