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The size 638 1/2 work boot at the downtown Red Wing Shoe Store leads the way to a museum upstairs.

LISA MEYERS McCLINTICK • Special to the Star Tribune,

Midwest Traveler: Red Wing

  • Article by: Lisa Meyers McClintick
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • May 17, 2013 - 2:07 PM

It’s impossible to ignore the impressive immensity of a size 638 ½ work boot. Built for the Red Wing Boot Co.’s 100th anniversary in 2005, it towers two stories high and would have served Paul Bunyan well. It’s a lighthearted nod to the company’s most classic design, a symbol of local industries and one of many reasons to kick around Red Wing’s historic downtown along the Mississippi River. Visitors can follow the boot to the upper floor of the downtown shoe store for a free museum on the intriguing evolution of a humble work boot.

The company founder saw a need for sturdier, more comfortable footwear for tradesmen who were building the country. Styles evolved to include steel toes, ski boots and innovations such as boys’ boots with pockets to stash army knives and nail-proof Kevlar soles for construction workers. The company also made 200 sizes to fit soldiers during World War II.

Second- and third-generation boot-makers cut leather, stitch and assemble shoes at the company’s Red Wing plant. Free factory tours are offered at 10 a.m. Fridays late May through summer (1-651-388-8211; www.redwingshoe.com).

Close by, visitors also can tour the Red Wing Stoneware Co. to watch potters skillfully shaping Red Wing’s other famous product: sturdy clay stoneware that was essential to pioneers. Tours run three times a day ($2-$3; 1-651-388-4610; redwing stoneware.com).

Sporting the iconic outline of a red wing, the stoneware draws a few thousand passionate collectors for a national convention each year plus steady visitors to its year-round showroom. A museum in the former pottery warehouse preserves products from the company’s beginnings with salt-glazed jugs and heavy kraut crocks to its heyday as the reigning producer of midcentury dinnerware.

 

WHAT ELSE TO DO

Hoist a brew: Craft beer is back in fashion with Red Wing Brewery, the city’s first brewery since 1951. It makes several small-batch beers with locally inspired names such as Stoneware Stout, Work Boot Red and Pepie’s Porter named for the Loch Ness-like creature that allegedly lives in Lake Pepin. Visitors can watch brewers at work through windows from the dining area open Thursday through Sunday. The brewery serves beer, pizza and Good Old Zimmie’s root beer (1-651-327-2200; www.redwingbrewing.com).

Sip wine, eat pizza: Head into the bluffs to experience wineries along the Mississippi River Valley. Falconer Vineyards uses northern varietals such as Frontenac (a dry red) and St. Pepin (semi-dry white) and provides a scenic spot for lunch with a bistro added in 2011. It serves a dozen wood-fired pizzas such as its signature Grapes of Wrath, with sausage, red grapes, jalapeños and green peppers. For a sweet splurge, try the port (1-651-388-8849; www.falconervineyards.com). The newer Flower Valley Vineyard and Winery opens for tastings on Saturday afternoons (1-651-388-1770; flowervalleyvineyard.com).

Hit the trails: Take a ride along the riverfront or head inland along the paved 19.7-mile Cannon Valley Trail, which starts in Cannon Falls and gently descends 115 feet in elevation as it reaches Red Wing along a former Chicago Great Western Railroad line ($4/day Wheel Pass required; 1-507-263-0508; www.cannon valleytrail.com). Bikes can be rented from Wheelhouse Cycles (1-651-388-1082; www.wheelhousecycles.com).

Cruise the river, take a trolley: Rusty’s River Rides offers 90-minute cruises on a 37-passenger boat mid-April through October for an up-close look at herons, eagles, barges and scenic stretches of the river and islands ($8-$15, 1-612-859-6655; www.rustysriverrides.com). If you prefer tours on land, catch a 50-minute historic trolley ride Wednesday through Sunday at the St. James Hotel ($6-$11; 1-651-380-3220; www. redwingtrolley.com).

Admire art: You can find the work of local artists and exhibits at the historic Red Wing Depot year-round (1-651-388-7569; www.redwingarts association.org). Visit June 24-29 to watch artists at work throughout the city or along the bluffs during the Plein Air Art and Music Festival.

Seek antiques, kitchen wares: Antique lovers can lose themselves for hours in the four-story historic Pottery Place Mall (1-612-822-0367; www.rwpotteryplace.com). The shopping expands May through October with outdoor flea markets the first and third weekends of the month.

Strum a new tune: Hobgoblin Music’s quaint barn in rural Red Wing houses a music store with mandolins and penny whistles, plus a variety of Stoney End harps, mountain dulcimers and bodhrans made here. During the warm months, you might catch a folk concert (1-877-866-3936; www.stoney end.com).

 

WHERE TO EAT

Popular for breakfast and lunch, Smokey Row Café serves creative soups, sandwiches made from homemade breads, flaky quiche and desserts such as cardamom rolls (1-651-388-6025; www.smokey rowcafe.com).

For views of the river and outdoor dining, head to the Veranda at the St. James Hotel. It’s a good place to enjoy the local Sturdiwheat pancakes, salads and sandwiches (1-800-252-1875; www.st-james-hotel.com).

Across the river from Red Wing in Hager City, Wis., the Harbor Restaurant & Bar & Marina rocks with summer music festivals that include a Parrot Head Party while tropical fare influences the menu with a swamp burger, tiger shrimp and Jamaican jerk chicken (1-715-792-2417; www.harborbar.net).

 

WHERE TO STAY

Go ahead and call Round Barn Farm a B&B&B&B — bed-and-breakfast with bread and tours of its historic round barn. You’d think the house was historic, too, with how well it was built using reclaimed materials. Many of the antiques in its five rooms relate to the owners’ love of baking bread, which they assist guests in doing using an outdoor oven in the warm months (1-866-763-2276; www.roundbarnfarm.com).

There are four additional B&Bs in restored historic homes, along with the St. James Hotel, built in 1875 with hallways wide enough for two ladies in hoop skirts to pass each other.

 

IF YOU GO

Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau: 1-800-498-3444; www.redwing.org

 

St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick wrote “Day Trips from the Twin Cities” and the travel app “Minnesota Lake Vacations.”

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