Beneath Duluth's tourist veneer, it's still a working port town. Steel girders, rusty hulls and grain elevators are staples of the cityscape.
At the same time, it's always been a city surrounded and permeated by wild places. Parklands surround the city and divide its neighborhoods. Black bears and deer are not uncommon sights. One of the state's hottest birding destinations in fall is Hawk Ridge, on the hills that overlook the city.
Of course, those hills frame epic views of Duluth's greatest asset: its harbor on the world's largest freshwater lake. In a couple of weeks, the Duluth Maritime Festival will celebrate that asset. The highlight: the arrival of three tall ships on July 31. Tours start the next day. As many as 20,000 people are expected for the weekend-long lakeside party, with tours of the ships, fireworks, concerts and other events.
Seeing something as big as the U.S. Brig Niagara -- 198 feet long from the tip of its spar to its stern -- moving silently and briskly under the force of the wind is unforgettable. If the skies are favorable, the three ships will gather a mile or so offshore and then arrive in a "Parade of Sail" between noon and 3 p.m. Anyplace on Park Point will make a good vantage. More specific information on arrival time will be available at www.visitduluth.com closer to the date. The ships will tie up at the Harbor Drive Docking Area behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (see map). The vessels will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 1-3.
A ticket to see all three ships is $10 ($5 for ages 3-17 and for ages 63 and over). They can be purchased at www.decc.org or in person at the Convention Center's ticket office in Duluth. Tickets can also be purchased through Visit Duluth at 1-800-438-5884. To be sure they're received in time, tour tickets should be ordered by July 23.
A full slate of events will offer visitors plenty of other diversions. At 9:15 p.m. Aug. 1, fireworks will light up the harbor. Bands will perform daily from noon to 6 p.m. A maritime expo with artifacts and displays will be set up at Paulucci Hall in the Convention Center. Food and craft booths will be open throughout the weekend. More information: www.visitduluth.com or call 1-800-438-5884.
Hotels downtown and near the waterfront are mostly full as of this writing. All of the bed-and-breakfasts listed on visitduluth.com are full. But there are openings in a few places in Duluth, and there is plenty of other lodging nearby. A list of availability can be found at www.visitduluth.com (click on "Lodging" and then "Special Event Availability") or call 1-800-438-5884 for help in finding a room.
Say this fast: "Luonnollisesti Suomalainen." It means "Naturally Finnish." and it's a show featuring works by artists of Finnish descent at the Duluth Art Institute. www.duluthartinstitute.org, 1-218-733-7560. ... Load up on locally grown produce and homemade food at Barker's Island Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Barker's Island Festival Park in neighboring Superior, Wis. ... For a different view on the waterfront, bring a lawn chair and flashlight to Leif Erickson Park Aug. 1 at dusk for a free outdoor showing of the Tom Hanks classic "Big." Snacks available. Show will be canceled if it rains or is too windy. 1-715-392-3480, www.twinports outdoormovies.com.
On Sunday, X fest -- a daylong rock concert at Bayfront Festival Park -- starts at 2 p.m. Headliners are 3 Doors Down, Staind and Filter. Tickets are $35 and are available through Ticketmaster or at the venue.