As a paying ticket holder at the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference, I was provided with the option of signing up for pre-conference trips. I chose to spend part of a day in Stillwater, MN. Pre-bex tours such as this are included in the admission fee.
This weekend, I got to celebrate Minnesota with hundreds of other travel enthusiasts at TBEX, a travel bloggers conference. Like many other Midwesterners, I was thrilled when the official announcement dropped: Minnesota would host the conference.
I looked forward to TBEX for six months. The event signified so much to me. A celebration, learning experience, and networking opportunity. A homecoming.
Stillwater has always been like that peaceful place I could escape to. This city by the St. Croix river was where I ran away after a bad break-up or retreated for self-care after a difficult week at work. I’ll always remember lingering after breakfast for hours at The Elephant Walk with strangers as a struggling 20-year old. The Inn Keeper Rita shared her black, fluffy cat and wisdom that encouraged me for years.
I returned to Stillwater several times. Sometimes by myself and later with Jake. It’s been many years, though.
On Sunday morning, the TBEX bus gently whisked us away from the Radisson Blu to the banks of the St. Croix. The owner of Stillwater Trolley guided us up and down the hills of Stillwater. Some of the streets climbed steeply up the bluffs. “Don’t worry, folks! The driver has only driven buses for 40-years,” he joked. I was sure glad to hear this.
Our guide elaborated on some of the city’s history as a lumber town. It was difficult to picture the river jammed with timber.
If you drive around Stillwater, you’ll notice grand old homes. Many have been renovated or preserved. We learned that wealthy people built their homes away from the bluffs overlooking the river because it wasn’t as scenic back then with all of the industry. Our guide pointed out his favorite houses including Jessica Lange’s previous home. Many of the stately mansions now function as bed and breakfasts.
We enjoyed the short walk along the river, passing by the old lift bridge.
The Water Street Inn is located in what used to be the Lumber Exchange Building. After the lumber decline in the early 1900’s, the building served many other functions until it was renovated as this 41-room inn beginning in 1994.
We spread out along tables set outside on the deck facing the river. Sunday brunch was in full swing and many bloggers took advantage of the buffet. For $19.95, it seemed like a good deal, as it included your typical breakfast foods plus make-your-own omelets, champagne, and a Bloody Mary bar. I opted for lunch.
A cup of beef stew with toasted soda bread and a small order of coconut shrimp hit the spot. The soup was surprisingly good. It tasted perfectly seasoned, and dotted with silky nuggets of beef. Definitely not a throw away soup. I’d crave this. In fact, I’d order a bowl next time.
Finally, we ended our tour at a hidden gem; the trellis and vine-covered rooftop deck at Northern Vineyards.
Northern Vineyards is one of Minnesota’s oldest wineries and is owned by the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative. Guests can sample 10 wines for only $6, or purchase a glass of wine and enjoy it on the deck. The winery does not sell food, but invites guests to bring their own. Since the winery is located next to the River Market Community Co-Op, one could easily find a snack or meal (not to mention the many restaurants along the main street).
Even though I’ve visited Stillwater in the past, I left the tour having learned and experienced new things. For example, I did not know much about Stillwater’s role during the lumber boom and loved learning more about the beautiful houses and churches sprinkled above the river on the bluffs. I’d always driven or walked by them, gawking with curiosity. It’s impossible not to.
Hopefully years don’t pass by again before I return. But even if they do, I know I’ll still feel at home here.
Have you ever been to Stillwater?