A 4th of July Weekend in the Twin Ports: How We Made the Most of a North Shore Vacation Despite COVID-19

It was three years ago this month that Katie and I married on a hot July day in the Twin Cities. Our honeymoon was to Minnesota’s famed North Shore. We spent several days at a quiet cabin in Finland, MN kayaking (a first time for both of us), sipping great local craft beer and exploring up and down the shore together. This was before we’d ever considered blogging about beer or documenting our travels; we were just a young couple in love — with each other and craft beer.

Just-married. This was Adam’s first time in Duluth and Canal Park, an impromptu stop we made on our way back from honeymooning on the North Shore.

Since that summer in 2017, we’ve made an effort to visit Duluth or the North Shore at least once a year. In 2018 we stayed in Two Harbors, visiting a number of breweries including Castle Danger Brewery (Two Harbors), Voyageur Brewing (Grand Marais), Bent Paddle, Hoops Brewing, Blacklist Brewing Co. and Ursa Minor Brewing (Duluth) and Earth Rider Brewery (Superior, WI); by then we had launched Ale Adventures and considered ourselves “beer bloggers.” In 2019, we didn’t make it up, sorely missing what we considered our new tradition. This year, however, we swore we’d make it to Duluth.

We LOVED our first visit to Bent Paddle’s newly-expanded taproom in Duluth, 2018.

By June, COVID-19 restrictions in Minnesota had cautiously loosened, and hope of travel returned. With the 4th of July drawing near, we decided to make a much-needed getaway to the North Shore. We booked another AirBnB, this time in Superior, WI, and reached out to some friends, followers and contacts in the area. We’ve found that you never know what may come of those relationships — especially during travel.

Ursa Minor Brewing, one of our favorite Duluth breweries.

We left for Duluth the morning of July 3rd. Our first stop was at Ursa Minor Brewing, a favorite of ours in the Twin Ports area. The last and only other time we’d visited was in 2018 the same week they opened. We were thoroughly impressed by their beer, food and space then and continue to be; though, admittedly, the stop this time around was necessitated by what we were about to do next.

Following COVID-19 guidelines, Ursa Minor’s expanded patio and outdoor seating was perfect for our sunny July visit!

Our good friend Connor lives in Duluth and — after letting him know we’d be in the area over the 4th of July — he invited us to go flying with him. Connor has his private pilot’s license and is building his own plane in his garage. While eager to take him up on his offer, we both have a fear of heights and spent several days laboring over our answer. We eventually decided to go for it, figuring “If we go down, at least we’ll go together!” Here’s a TikTok video of our flight with Connor!

@aleadventuresmn

While in Duluth for the weekend, a friend offered to take us flying in a private plane! #Duluth #VisitDuluth #OnlyInMn #AleAdventures #Minnesota

♬ Higher Ground – Martin Garrix

With the biggest worry of our vacation out of the way, we were free to continue enjoying exploring the Twin Ports. The Twin Ports, by the way, are Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin which are just across from each other on the point of Lake Superior and the Saint Louis River.

Duluth, MN and Superior, WI are called the Twin Ports and together considered the largest fresh-water port in the world.

Prior to this visit, we’d only visited about half of the area’s breweries and none of its cideries or distilleries. We had hoped to visit Vikre Distillery on Canal Park during this visit, but it was still closed with limited hours for to-go options. Both cideries — Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider — however, were open.

Duluth Cider, located on the rapidly developing Lincoln Park area of Duluth. They focus on creative blends of ciders offered locally.

We were thoroughly impressed by both cideries. We know and appreciate the craft beer industry well, but we also enjoy occasionally dabbling in other beverages including ciders. While both cideries opened about the same time, their goals are unique and different. Duluth Cider focuses primarily on providing creative ciders locally in-house while Wild State’s goal is distribution. We’ve actually seen quite a bit of Wild State’s cider in liquor stores in Central Minnesota where we live, though we’d never tried any before our visit to the taproom.

Wild State Cider, one of Duluth’s two cideries. Their focus is on distribution.

Duluth Cider had an impressive variety of unique cider flavors and profiles. Ciders like the gold medal-winning Las Lajas Coffee Cider, Trailside Strawberry Basil Cider, Pineapple Sour Cider and Greenstone Hopped Cider astounded us for their creativity and excellent tastes; we were so impressed by the former three we purchased crowlers to bring home with us and share with friends!

Wild State Cider was pretty straightforward with flagships including Pear, Semi-Dry, Classic-Dry, Raspberry Hibiscus and Light (99 calorie) cider. The highlight of Wild State, we thought, was definitely the taproom — a bright, airy and “naturally wild” space with a wonderful patio perfect for relaxing in the afternoon sun.

Over the remainder of the extended weekend, we ended up making it to the remaining breweries in the area on our checklist, including Dub Lihn Brewpub (known mostly as a local whisky bar though they do brew some of their own beer), Fitgers Brewhouse and Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior; we also revisited several of our other favorites including Bent Paddle and Earth Rider.

View from Earth Rider Brewing’s beer garden in Superior, WI. The renowned Cedar Lounge can be seen beyond the tents; the stage for musical performances and production facility are outside of the frame to the right and behind.

One of our greatest highlights of the weekend was our return to Earth Rider Brewing. The last time we’d visited in Fall of 2018, the weather was chillier, and we found ourselves in the Cedar Lounge taproom. Our initial impression was that we were neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the bar-like space and decent beer. We continued to hear praises of Earth Rider’s space and beer, however, and we made it an aim to visit again for ourselves. We’re so glad we did!

Following COVID-19 guidelines and precautions (which we appreciated everywhere we went), drinking was restricted to the grassy beer garden between the Cedar Lounge and production facility. Internationally renowned Minnesota artist and musician Charlie Parr was performing on Friday night, and we re-joined Connor and a couple other friends for a free show and some of the best beer we would have all weekend.

The Tap Shack Caribbean Lager was hands-down one of the best lagers Adam had ever had, the Duluth Coffee Pale Ale was a delightful sipper, and both the Blackbecrush (blackberry) and Raspbecrush (raspberry) tart wheat ales were some of Katie’s favorite beers of the weekend. We ended up taking cans of the Raspbecrush and crowlers of the Caribbean Lager home with us.

Katie rocking her 4th of July shirt and excited to sip on Earth Rider’s Cloud Top Hazy IPA.

Anytime we travel, we look for a “happy place” — a comfortable space we feel welcome, relaxed and content at. Naturally, that place is usually a brewery. In Iceland, it was RVK Brewing in Reykjavik. In the Twin Ports this time around, that was Earth Rider. There was just something about the beer garden — the grassy space, the sunshine, a cool breeze blowing softly off the nearby lake, the folk-acoustic sounds of Charlie Parr playing from the stage, and sipping incredible craft beer — that left us overwhelmingly at peace and…well…happy! We ended up returning twice more over the next three days!

Our meals were provided in part by Duluth’s Destination Marketing Organization, Visit Duluth, who graciously suggested us to some highly-rated local eateries OMC Smokehouse, Fitger’s Brewhouse and Canal Park Brewing Co.

While we’d been to Canal Park Brewing Co. before (on our honeymoon), we hadn’t yet tried the highly-praised OMC Smokehouse and Fitger’s Brehouse (both of which had been recommended by several of our followers as well). Sure enough, the food at both was phenomenal; we highly recommend OMC Smokehouse and Fitger’s Brewhouse and will definitely be adding them to our own list of must-visit places next time we’re in the Duluth area!

Visit Duluth also very graciously set up a kayak tour during our visit. One of our favorite honeymoon memories is kayaking on Ninemile Lake in Finland, MN. Neither of us had ever kayaked before, nor had we ever been somewhere so quiet and remote. We spent nearly every day of our honeymoon drifting, relaxing, sipping local craft beer on the water and loving every minute of it. After expressing an interest in doing some kayaking while we were up, Visit Duluth offered to sponsor a guided tour with Day Tripper of Duluth! Daytripper of Duluth offers a variety of year-round guided activities including kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing, biking and more. We ended up doing a two-hour guided tour with one of the co-founders Matti (Finnish for Matthew) around the St. Louis River and Spirit Lake, just south of Lake Superior and Duluth’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge. We had an incredible time paddling and sightseeing areas of the Twin Ports we had never seen before! Watch our TikTok video recap below!

From flying, kayaking and hiking (oh, yeah, we did that, too! Check out the AllTrails App to find great hiking trails near you) to eating and drinking, the Twin Ports/North Shore has it all! For us living in Central Minnesota, going up North is a getaway we look forward to each year (or whenever we can make it up), and this year’s long 4th of July weekend visit was no different.

A photo in the air with our friend and private pilot Connor. Flying over Duluth and the North Shore was one of the most thrilling (and maybe nerve-wracking) things we’ve ever done!

If you’re looking for things to see, do, try, eat or drink next time you’re in Duluth, feel free reach out to us or Visit Duluth for inspiration!

– Adam & Katie, Ale Adventures

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