When you think of taking a vacation, do you ever consider vacationing in your own state? The last two vacations, albeit mini vacations, my husband, Al, and I took, were right here in the great state of Minnesota.

The first was to Northfield last fall and the most recent was to Winona.

Vacationing to warmer climates or mountainous regions during a pandemic wasn’t something we were willing to do. But, we knew we wanted to escape, even if for an extended weekend (Thursday through Sunday).

So last fall when we decided to get away for our anniversary, we happened upon Northfield when we researched “cheap romantic hotels” in Minnesota. Yes, we are that couple.

We found the Archer House and researched the town and thought it looked pretty neat.

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Northfield was a charming town with plenty to do, including hiking beautiful parks, walking and running along the river, visiting museums and of course, sipping beers at the local breweries.

After that trip, because we enjoyed it so much, we decided that until we felt comfortable flying again for a vacation that we would try to find towns/cities in Minnesota with similar populations to Northfield that were not too far away.

We began researching places that we had not been to with populations between 20,000 and 30,000. There were actually several to choose from, so why did we end up choosing Winona?

Honestly, it had a lot to do with the tagline on the Visit Winona website – “Surprisingly weird, incredibly entertaining.”

The weird part intrigued us. And by us, I should note that Al does most of the researching and planning as he really enjoys it. I will help out, but that is definitely his forte. He also loves to research restaurants wherever we go and will usually jot down notes for which ones we need to go to, noting different things such as daily specials, interesting entrees, happy hour hours and if the restaurant has a signature dish. It’s pretty awesome. And he is pretty spot on with his picks.

And another reason we ended up choosing Winona was for the bluffs, specifically Sugar Loaf, which ended up being the backdrop when looking out of the windows of our room at Riverport Inn Express Suites.

Echo Press reporter Celeste Edenloff stands on the rock pinnacle on top of Sugar Loaf bluff in Winona. The bluff is 500-feet tall with the rock pinnacle rising another 85-feet above the rest of the bluff. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press)
Echo Press reporter Celeste Edenloff stands on the rock pinnacle on top of Sugar Loaf bluff in Winona. The bluff is 500-feet tall with the rock pinnacle rising another 85-feet above the rest of the bluff. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press)

We drove to Winona late last Wednesday, Feb. 10, so we couldn’t really see the scenery as it was pitch black out. We thought there might be some hills, but didn’t really know what the lay of the land was until we woke up on Thursday.

WOW! Just wow. Who knew Minnesota could look so mountainous. Yes, I know they are just bluffs, but they are really, really big bluffs and completely made me feel like I was in the mountains, albeit small mountains.

And even though the weather was a bit on the cold side, we still got out and hiked Sugar Loaf on Thursday and we were so glad we did as that was the warmest day of our trip. We also got out on Saturday morning and ran around Lake Winona, which had a great running/walking path around the whole thing. Although the temperatures dipped below zero, we were prepared and layered up for our run.

Lake Winona in the city of Winona includes views of the beautiful bluffs and has a five-mile blacktop trail through Lake Park. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)
Lake Winona in the city of Winona includes views of the beautiful bluffs and has a five-mile blacktop trail through Lake Park. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Another highlight was going to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. The pieces of artwork are mostly inspired by water and the tagline is “From Audubon to Monet, there is something for everyone at this diamond in the bluffs.” And I couldn’t agree more.

This place exceeded my expectations. I only wish we would have given ourselves more time to view the incredible artwork, which included original pieces by Durand, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Chagall, Monet and Renoir. Seriously, I was blown away.

If you are ever in the area, please take the time to visit this museum.

I am not sure where we will venture to next, but I know there are many other interesting, fun, quirky, intriguing places to visit right here in our own state. Places that people may not think about vacationing to, but nonetheless are actually pretty impressive.

Thanks, Winona, for living up to your tagline. Although, I have to admit, I found you more entertaining than weird!

“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.