Uncovering hidden local treasures doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. These wallet-friendly locales will give you a feeling of discovery on the cheap. The best part? These destinations are only a tank of gas (or less) away.
Stillwater Historic Stairs
Why Go? Downtown Stillwater was built on hills (much like San Francisco), with the lowest level being Main Street and the St. Croix River. Stillwater has five sets of historic stairs that you can climb for exercise, fun or the view.
Insider Tip: The Stillwater and The Oak Park Heights Convention and Visitor’s Bureau identifies staircases that are maintained by the City—the Main St. Stairs, Chestnut Street St., Pioneer Park St., Triangle Park St.—with the first three seeing the most traffic.
Must Do: Climbing the stairs in great exercise, so...climb on!
The Fine Print: To start mapping your best route, take a look at this article.
10132 235th St. W.
Lakeville, Minn. 55044
Why Go? One enthusiastic attendee described the outdoor educational center as “One of the best places to see wolves and lots of other animals.” The working agricultural farm also offers hands-on animal visiting, including coming face-to-face with a cougar or petting some of the more domestic farm animals.
Insider Tip: View cougar cubs with admission and it’s an extra $20 to hold and take pictures with them. But you may want to check with staff to make sure they haven’t gotten to big for you to see up close and personal—and you have to wear long pants.
Must Do: The 2013 Winter Wonderland features more than 50,000 computer-generated lights, a bonfire (depending on the wind), free hot cocoa, popcorn and ornaments for the kids. Admission is $7.50.
The Fine Print: Open 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7.50 per person; military and children under 3 years old are free.
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
3980 East Skyline Pkwy.
Why Go? The mission of the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is to protect birds of prey and other migratory birds in the Western Lake Superior Region through research, education and stewardship.
Insider Tip: Hawk-watching, unlike most other wildlife activities, is best during the middle of the day. Generally, the raptors don't start flying until 8 a.m., and they taper off after 4 p.m. So plan your trip during the middle of the day: experts say between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. is best.
Must Do: If you’re interested in taking a group, take a look at current offerings, which range from preschool to adult.
The Fine Print: All of the facilities are outdoors and to just observe the raptors, owls, hawks and other birds, is free. But other programs, such as raptor adoptions, have a cost, so make sure you take a look at what you want to do before you go.
Minnesota Marine Art Museum
800 Riverview Dr.
Winona, Minn. 55987
Why Go? The museum exhibits 10 or more historical or contemporary exhibitions, and hosts educational experiences for thousands of people each year. The Museum's initial collections focused on traditional marine or maritime art, however, through a collection on a long-term loan, today the MMAM is home to a large variety of the greatest European and American masters, according to its website.
Insider Tip: SPARK, a free program to help adults living with memory loss and related dementia in the early to middle stages and their care partners, offers creative engagement that studies show can aid in overall better health and enhance the quality of life. The program is 10:30 a.m. to noon every first Wednesday of the month. Call (507) 474-6626 for more information.
Must Do: Take a stroll through the museum’s gardens.
The Fine Print: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free for children 4 years old and under; $3 for students and $7 for adults and senior citizens. The immediate family rate cap is $20.