The harbor village of Grand Marais, Minn., has charmed its way to the title of “Best Midwestern Small Town,” as chosen by USA Today readers.
Located at the end of North Shore Scenic Drive, the town of fewer than 1,300 (and 2,000 in the summer) has been a popular destination for winter and summer activities.
On Friday, USA Today announced the winner and described the Boundary Waters gateway city as a charming town with “art galleries, quirky restaurants, local shops and diverse lodging.”
It notes the town is home to “one of the nation’s best art colonies” and that it serves as a “gateway to outdoor adventure.”
Grand Marais competed against 19 other small Midwestern towns, including Bayfield, Wis., and Lanesboro, Minn., which came in third.
But this win is no surprise.
In 2015, Grand Marais was named “America’s Coolest Little Town” by Budget Travel for its “energetic vibe that often combines community spirit with a vibrant arts scene, great food, natural beauty and unique history.”
Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County, said about 10,000 people voted for Grand Marais in the USA Today poll.
“Thanks to the thousands of people who love our charming small town nestled between the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior,” Jurek said.
Jurek, a native of Grand Marais, said she was surprised that Bayfield didn’t place higher.
“We regard Bayfield as a tough competitor for tourist dollars,” Jurek said in a statement. “People who love Bayfield typically also love Grand Marais, because we both have the charm of East Coast seaside towns, thanks to our respective locations on Lake Superior.”
Grand Marais, which was once a lumber harbor, is proud of its locally owned restaurants and stores, including the World’s Best Donuts and the Crooked Spoon.
“It really is a town built on tourism-related businesses and entrepreneurship. And that to me adds a flavor you don’t feel elsewhere,” Jurek said.
Its rocky shoreline is perfect for scenic selfies and skipping rocks. There’s skiing, hiking, camping and biking. There are plenty of activities in winter and in the summer.
“People come here for recreation,” Jurek added.
The town is home to the oldest art colony in the state, which has become a hub of cultural life.
And with more than a million visitors yearly, Jurek said the “little tiny harbor town” is welcoming.
“We have most everything. We have yurts and we have five-star resorts,” Jurek said.