Four road trips through Minnesota museum country

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2013 - 7:06 AM

Four road trips through museum country

Our state is simply loaded with hole-in-the-wall attractions and other idiosyncratic treasures. Care to sample these far-flung institutions? We’ve plotted four all-American road trips.

A romantic tour of Bluff Country

Go south on Hwy. 61, where glacial meltwaters carved the prairie into dramatic valleys and bluffs. Once a magnet for American Indian settlements, it’s now dotted with pretty little towns such as Red Wing and Winona that boast caches of historic architecture, storefront galleries and charming country museums.

1 Red Wing Shoe Museum. Check out the world’s largest boot, not to mention an exhibit on the 100-year history of Red Wing Shoes (plus a few notes on the art of cobbling). Don’t leave without a trip to the attached store, featuring closeout kicks and factory seconds. (315 Main St., Red Wing; 1-651-388-6233)

2 Wind Whisper West Kimono Gallery. This modest storefront in downtown Wabasha boasts the nation’s biggest collection of Japanese wedding kimonos — masterworks of silk and embroidery. (128 Main St., Wabasha; 1-651-565-2002; windwhisperwest.com)

3 National Eagle Center. Located in one of the country’s finest eagle-watching spots, this interpretive center is home to four bald eagles and one golden eagle, plus displays on eagle science and history. (50 Pembroke Av., Wabasha; 1-651-565-4989; nationaleaglecenter.org)

4 Lark Toys. This family-owned business favors handmade pull toys. The in-house museum offers plenty of low-tech wooden toys along with a cheeky assortment of antique tin robots, ’80s-era Transformers and model cars of varying vintage. (63604 170th Av., Kellogg; 1-507-767-3387; larktoys.com)

5 Minnesota Marine Art Museum. This seven-year-old museum features four galleries with rotating exhibits of water-themed art, but the showstopper is the permanent collection featuring works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Renoir and Van Gogh. Bonus: The museum resides on several beautifully landscaped acres with native prairie plants. (800 Riverview Dr., Winona; 1-507-474-6626; minnesotamarineart.org)

6 Winona History Center. Well-curated exhibits cover everything from Prairie School furniture to Winona natural history, from prehistory to the present. Located in the city’s 1915-vintage National Guard Armory — styled after a medieval fortress — the museum now has a sleek copper-clad addition designed by architect Joan Soranno, the Star Tribune’s 2012 Artist of the Year. (160 Johnson St., Winona; 1-507-454-2723; winonahistory.org)

Quirks and gems in southern Minnesota

Perfect for family road trips, southern Minnesota offers attractions to suit any whim or fancy. New Ulm, with its Teutonic edifices, is particularly rich with landmarks. Also, this region has produced more than its share of children’s book authors, so get the kids reading in advance, then take them to the writers’ childhood homes.

1 Spam Museum. There’s nothing canned about the history of Spam. This free museum treats visitors to vintage radio and print ads, a World War II exhibit (when Spam began its cultural ascent), even a gift shop stocked with Spam-themed knickknacks. (1101 N. Main St., Austin; 1-507-437-5100; spam.com)

2 Betsy-Tacy Houses. Visit the restored childhood homes of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the 1940s-vintage “Betsy-Tacy” books, and her best friend, Bick, who inspired the “Tacy” character. Both are filled with photos, turn-of-the-century antiques, even early Lovelace manuscripts. (332 and 333 Center St., Mankato; 1-507-345-9777; betsy-tacysociety.org)

3 Wanda Gág House. See where the creator of the 1928 children’s classic “Millions of Cats” grew up. View Gág’s lithographs while learning about the other free spirits in her family, including her father, Anton, who hand-built this wacky, almost gingerbread-style house. (226 N. Washington, New Ulm; 1-507-359-2632; wandagaghouse.org)

4 Brown County Historical Society Museum. Don’t miss “Never Shall I Forget,” a definitive exhibit on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 that features personal narratives, portraits and biographies from hundreds of survivors. (2 N. Broadway St., New Ulm; 1-507-233-2616; browncountyhistorymn.org)

5 Harkin Store. Think of it as a building-size time capsule. The proprietor of this general store and post office closed shop in 1901, simply locking the door and leaving piles of unsold merchandise and undelivered mail for the ages. (66250 County Rd. 21, New Ulm; 1-507-354-8666; mnhs.org, under “historic sites”)

6 Fagen Fighters World War II Museum. A collection of fully functioning World War II aircraft — including a P-51 Mustang that helped raid Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest — is on display along with 1940s-era ground equipment and original art. Check out the cargo glider, the only aircraft manufactured in Minnesota during the war. (Granite Falls Airport, 2450 540th St.; 1-320-564-6644; fagenfighterswwiimuseum.org)

Northern outposts and pioneers

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