“Ultimate Travel Guide to Venice” “Where to Eat in Paris”
“The Mini Guide to Toronto”
“Local Guide to Tokyo” “What to do in London”
Travel blogger posts are becoming a vital tool for trip planning, getting insider’s tips that you just can’t get from a Lonely Planet or Fodor’s guidebook. And since it’s doubtful that a Lonely Planet writer has ever had the pleasure of exploring Zumbrota, Minnesota, “The Ultimate Travel Guide to Zumbrota” is necessary for tourists visiting this quaint southeastern Minnesota village.
Minnesota was recently named as the BEST PLACE for kids to grow up and although I grew up there a long, long time ago, it was pretty good even back then. It’s “The Only Zumbrota in the World”, a fact that the locals are very proud of. The town has no stoplights but cars actually stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Back in my Zumbrota days, there were no minorities in town…well, except for that nice Reppe boy who was adopted by a local Lutheran minister and his wife. The Lutherans and Catholics lived in peace and still do. Locals often gathered in church basements for a pot luck which usually included tiny ham sandwiches, hot dish, and jello salad.
I was dining recently at Bridget’s Cafe, hanging out with an old friend on a beautiful summer day when an old man drove by on his electric wheelchair, sporting a red “Maui” hat and a huge smile. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he greeted us as he drove on down the sidewalk. Another older couple stopped at our table as they were exiting the cafe and chatted for a bit about the perfect weather. It’s a Minnesota thing – “Minnesota nice” they call it, chatting with strangers about the weather.
Over the past decade, this small village has grown into kind of a cool, hip, artsy place and people from the Twin Cities actually make trips here, drawn by the boutique shops and the historic Covered Bridge Park. A few years ago I was walking across the famous Covered Bridge and ran into a few of these “City Folks” who were just passing through town and wondering what to see and do. I guess I looked like a local so they asked me for advice.
So, for all the tourists flocking to Zumbrota or just passing through, here is the “Ultimate Travel Guide” for this quaint village located on the banks of the Zumbro River.
Directions: located 50 minutes south of Minneapolis or 20 minutes north of Rochester on highway 52.
Population: 3,341 (as of 2013)
Covered Bridge Park
This historic covered bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in Minnesota, was completed in 1869 and was moved to its current location in the late 1970’s. A sign at the entrance warns “$10 fine for driving faster than a walk across this bridge”.
The trail through the bridge continues through Covered Bridge Park, past the children’s play area, campground, and sand volleyball courts. It connects to the Goodhue Pioneer State Trail, created along the former railroad corridor which runs throughout Goodhue county. This 5.2 mile section of the trail ends in Minneola township but reportedly will link to Red Wing (someday?). The area is popular for biking, hiking and snowmobiling in the winter (and is my favorite place to walk on beautiful summer days.)
Directions: head north on Main Street toward Goodhue and turn left just past the VFW.
Zumbrota Swimming Pool
Located within the park (but accessible from Aqua Drive), the pool has been a summer gathering place since the mid-70’s, back when we used to listen to the summer sounds of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” and Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze”. The music today is probably different but the pool is still just as refreshing on a humid summer day.
Address: 385 Aqua Drive Phone: 732-5439
Hours: 1:00 pm – 7:00 pm daily (summer only)
Zumbrota Golf Club
Founded in 1927 and originally a 9-hole golf course, it was redesigned in 2005 and expanded to 18 holes. The hills on the back nine, especially on the 13th hole, allow views of downtown and the surrounding farmlands. The popular “Kalass-Anderson Invitational” is held annually on the last weekend in June and draws golfers and golf fans from around the country – Seattle, Houston, Denver…(and Taiwan!)
Address: 80 Golf Links Avenue Phone: 507-732-5817
Crossings at Carnegie
The Carnegie Public Library building was completed in 1907 and is now home to Crossings at Carnegie, an art gallery selling beautiful and unique art. Crossings also offers a wide variety of classes and workshops in art, pottery, music and poetry as well as tons of great live concerts. Owner Marie Marvin is a Zumbrota native and very active in the local arts community.
Address: 320 East Ave Phone: 507-732-7616
Wild Ginger Boutique
Roxanne Bartsch opened this upscale women’s clothing store in the historic and beautifully renovated Anderson building (built in 1899). Wild Ginger draws customers from all over Minnesota and offers stylish clothing as well as a variety of accessories and fair trade gifts.
Address: 320 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-4123
Luya Shoes and Other Fine Things
This high-end boutique is a recent addition to Zumbrota’s Main Street and carries a wide selection of popular brands including OTBT, Rieker, Naot, Corky’s Footwear and Corral boots. (The owner, Connie Hawley, views shoes as “wearable art”.)
Address: 236 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-5892
A consignment shop geared toward affordable fashion for “real women” (plus size, curvy, whatever the current term is), they recently merged with Phenomenally Yours and now offer a small selection of smaller sizes too. They also have lots of pre-owned shoes, jewelry, and handbags.
Address: 340 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-7500
(A few updates contributed by reader comments from Stacy Drenckhahn!)
Artify – this new gallery opened August 2015. Currently it has over 30 members with a wide variety of carefully crafted items all by artists from around SE Minnesota, including Zumbrota.
Address: 274 Main Street Phone: 507-732-4191
Art Splash – The 11th annual Art Splash, a local art tour, will be held on September 17th, 2016. Sponsored by Zumbrota Area Arts Council, this event features local artists in central locations, like City Hall, the Library, Artify, Luya, Crossings and at local artists studios. (See ZAAC.org for event details!)
Historical Society – open on Saturdays, it is located in the original fire station and is home to many local treasures including a drum from the Civil War.In 2014 the movie, His Neighbor Phil, was filmed here, featuring many local people and places around town.
Address: 55 East 3rd Street Phone: 507-732-7333
Covered Bridge Restaurant
Opened in 1975 by Cork Falk and Rollie Oelschlager, this iconic Zumbrota landmark has changed management a few times but now is back in the capable hands of Cork’s daughter, Shari Kothenbeutel. Excellent food and outstanding service from Shari, Scott, Laura and others who’ve been there forever. This restaurant is also one of the only dining options along Highway 52 between Oronoco and Cannon Falls. (You gotta try the deep fried cheese curds- delicious!)
Address:1439 N Star Drive Phone: 507-732-7321
A popular hang-out for the morning coffee crowd, this cute cafe also serves light lunches – delicious wraps (I recommend the chicken cordon blue wrap!), salads, soups and amazing pastries like the monster Special K bars!. There are a few outside tables too, perfect for those beautiful Minnesota summer days.
Address: 365 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-4646
Made famous by President Obama during his 2012 campaign stop where he reportedly ordered lots of the homemade pie, this is another morning coffee hang-out for a local crowd and offers more hearty, meat-and-potatoes kind of meals. And delicious, Obama-endorsed pies!
Address: 256 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-5480
VFW (Formerly known as “Gunner’s Grill”)
The VFW is a popular place on a Friday night in Zumbrota, drawing a crowd with their trivia contest and meat raffle. The grill is a recent addition to this popular hang-out, offering pizza and the usual bar food options. Great little spot where the beer is cold and the people are warm!
Address: 25 East 1st Street Phone: 507-732-4321
The Guilty Goose
Formerly known as “The Liquor Store” which was dark, smoky, and depressing, the place has now been renovated with bright red and white decor and an outdoor seating area. It’s light and bright and often offers live music on weekends. There is also an off-sale liquor store attached serving all your alcohol needs!
Address: 223 South Main Street Phone: 507-732-4400
Covered Bridge Festival (updated for 2017)
This popular festival is held annually during the third weekend in June (16 – 18) and draws fans from around the world. This weekend also tends to become the “class reunion weekend” since everyone returns to town. (This year there were 6 reunions simultaneously gathering at The Covered Bridge Restaurant.)
The festival weekend offers something for everyone including “Art in East Park”, a petting zoo at Covered Bridge Park, a 5-K and 10-K run, street dances both Friday and Saturday nights, and the Big Event – the Parade. Held at 6 pm on Saturday evening, the parade features marching bands from around the state, big farm equipment, old cars, the beautiful Dairy Princess and other odd and assorted floats. Grand Marshall duties are performed by famous Zumbrota natives like Gus Bradley, former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (now with the LA Chargers.)
Music in the Park – Summer Concert Series
East Park is the happening place on Tuesday summer nights, where free music is offered during the “Summer Concert Series”. Most folks arrive early and dine on (allegedly) “the world’s best pizza”, made by Firebrick Bread. The Lion’s Club sells popcorn, the Amish people sell their Amish stuff, and free ice cream is passed out midway through the concert. Music starts at 7:00 pm and ends whenever the host (my Dad) can get the band off the stage, usually around 8:30.
Address: East Avenue near E 6th Street
Weekly beginning Tuesday, June 6th
Final performance Tuesday, August 25th
Hours: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Goodhue County Fair
Held the second weekend of August, this county fair brings together people from all over southern Minnesota. Highlights include the 4-H barn, the tractor pull, beer garden, and rides for the kids on the midway (although a few years ago the carnival no-showed so the midway was empty. Pretty sad looking fair!) Farm kids also get to show their animals, winning honors for the best looking heifer or prized sheep. Fair food is also a draw, with lots of fattening deep-fried stuff on a stick.
Address: 44279 County 6 Boulevard Phone: 507-732-5001
Annual Testicle Festival
Yes, this was an actual thing. The First Annual Testicle Festival back in 2010 was also the last. I just can’t understand why. But it did make AOL’s list of “World’s Strangest Festivals” coming in at number 3!
So, for a quick escape from Minneapolis or a brief stop en route to Rochester, stop by for lunch. Chat with the locals, check out the art at Crossings or stroll through the Covered Bridge. Slow down and take a deep breath…the big cities will still be there!
Zumbrota Honor Roll: (Famous people with ties to Zumbrota)
Casey (Gus) Bradley – Former Head Coach Jacksonville Jaguars (now with the LA Chargers)
Scott Hinz (Reynolds) – Anchor at WAVE TV, Louisville KY
CC Beck – The creator of Caption Marvel (Shazam)
Zumbrotans – any tips or suggestions to add?