Minnesota Monthly

Dec 20 2018

Destination: Explore the Triplet Cities

WinterFest is a seasonal draw, but there’s much more in Spicer, New London, and Willmar

When I’ve traveled outside Minnesota and shared that I’m from the Twin Cities, people often assume I “must be from Minneapolis.” Well, actually no, I say with a grimace. As a born-and-raised St. Paul kid, I’m a fan of both cities, but there’s a distinct difference in their personalities.

This diversity also holds true in the Willmar Lakes-area “Triplet Cities” of Willmar, Spicer, and New London. While geographically close, all three towns hold very separate and proud identities. I’ve already outlined an itinerary for Willmar. (Read it here.) I thought it was time to be loud and proud carrying the flag for my newfound friends in the towns of Spicer and New London.

Spicer is home to the beautiful Green Lake, the largest lake and deepest body of water in Kandiyohi County. The clarity of the lake is so remarkable that when the Ice Palace was built in St. Paul during the Super Bowl, Green Lake was tapped to provide the ice blocks.

Each year, Spicer embraces the cold with their annual WinterFest. Green Lake is ground zero for the community celebration, taking place over four weekends, kicking off on January 18 and ending February 10. Activities include fireworks, an ice fishing contest, the Frozen 5K run, and a carnival. (If you visit in summer, there’s Green Lake Cruises, and Lone Tree Board & Paddle for kayak and paddleboard rentals.)

Away from the water, consider a stroll through town, exploring women’s boutique Urban Escape or stopping at Lone Tree for outdoor gear and apparel. At the end of the day, you’ll find the happy-hour crowd gathering at Zorbaz overlooking Green Lake for tasty local brews and pizzas.

Urban Escape, in Spicer


Before you leave Spicer, stop by the Glacial Ridge Winery, where chatting with the owners is every bit as pleasant as the wine being served.

Now, head 10 minutes north on Highway 23 to New London, located along the Crow River in Kandiyohi County. I must admit I spent most of my time at Goat Ridge Brewing Co. The brewery has been open just over three years and has expanded annually. I happened to pull up a bar stool next to the mayor, who is also a potter and enjoys the area because of the arts community and the bohemian vibe. The piazza behind the brewery, overlooking the water and the dam, has been transformed into a public arts garden.

A welcome addition to New London is the Model Citizen restaurant attached to Goat Ridge Brewing Co., focused on seasonal farm-to-table items. All the ingredients used in the dishes originate from within 100 miles of the restaurant. The chefs are Mateo Mackbee and Erin Lucas, who both built successful careers in the Twin Cities.

I did leave the brewery for a stroll down New London’s main street, where downtown has become a shopping destination for anyone seeking unique specialty shops. There’s home goods store Distressed Treasures, The Giving Tree Children’s Boutique, and a Touch of Class Bridal.

I couldn’t leave before stopping at Sibley State Park and walking to the highest point for a view from the observation tower. On the shores of Lake Andrew, the state park is a true gem of west-central Minnesota—an area I will now kindly refer to as the Triplet Cities.

Eat, Play, Stay in Willmar Lakes

Eat: Johnny O’Neil’s 

This casual bar and restaurant in Spicer overlooks beautiful Green Lake. Both indoor and outdoor dining options are available. The menu varies, from a classic Juicy Lucy to tasty flatbreads like one made with roasted pear, brie, bacon, candied walnuts, and an amazing raspberry sauce.

Play: New London Music Festival

Every August for the past 20-plus years, New Longon has hosted this one-day concert featuring various genres including jazz, blue grass, and rockabilly.

Stay: GrandStay Hotel & Suites

This property opened in summer 2018 on the Little Crow Golf Resort on Highway 23, between Spicer and New London. The hotel has an indoor pool, fitness center, and restaurant. Enjoy a complimentary breakfast.

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