With a population of less than 30,000 people, Winona might seem like a great place to drive through on your way to somewhere fun. Rest assured, however, that this town tucked comfortably between the bluffs and the Mississippi River is its own destination, full of outdoor adventures, unique dining and shopping opportunities, and endless entertainment.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Daytime in Winona offers much in the way of art and history enlightenment at some regionally renowned museums. The Minnesota Maritime History Museum displays the work of artists some may only expect to find on the East Coast, including Monet, Renoir, Picasso, and Matisse. After you visit this surprising artist’s paradise, you can make your way to the olfactory old factory established by the Watkins family nearly 150 years ago. Wander through the Watkins museum, learning the history of the company that continues to create so many amazing aromas, and pick up some famous Watkin’s vanilla from the gift shop on your way out. If you dig history, there are several other historic museums and well-preserved landmarks to satisfy your appetite for voices of the past.
Speaking of voices, summer evenings are filled with music and expression on the campus of Winona State University, which hosts an outdoor summer concert series. If you prefer the air conditioning, slip inside the performing arts center on campus and attend a professional production of the works of your favorite Bard at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. The pride of this quiet river town, the Shakespeare festival offers entertainment and education that is accessible to everyone.
If instrumental is more your vibe, expand your horizons during July’s Minnesota Beethoven Festival with plenty of local, regional, and national entertainment throughout the month in various outdoor and indoor venues around Winona.
The entertainment doesn’t stop when the leaves begin to turn. Winona hosts a lively community theater scene; opportunities to see a show are in no shortage if you appreciate live performances.
The outdoors are just as lively as the indoors in Winona, year-round. One gem of outdoor recreation is Lake Winona and its surrounding park. The park has everything: huge playgrounds, serene benches overlooking the water, summer kayak rentals, wintertime ice skating, and smooth roller blading paths circling two lakes in the shadow of Sugar Loaf, Winona’s well-known rocky bluff.
If you prefer looking down, lace up your hiking boots and hit some trails. Several trails climb upward to allow Winona’s more active citizens a place to climb for a little perspective. The views are breathtaking from the top of the Sugar Loaf bluff and the surrounding bluffs—you can see for miles up and down the Mississippi, as well as across the river to Wisconsin.
Hiking isn’t the only way to get a beautiful view, though. Drive Winona’s celebrated Garvin Heights area for some spectacular vistas and a quaint picnic spot.
SHOPPING AND DINING
For a unique shopping experience, head to the historic downtown area and check out specialty shops such as the Bluffview Quilt Shop or Heart’s Desire, a cute gift shop with fun personality. While you’re there, wander over to a favorite local eatery—downtown hosts several great ones—such as Acoustic Café or Blooming Grounds. Then, hop back in the car and head over to Bloedow’s on Broadway for some famous fresh donuts. Trust us: there is no more beautiful combination than a Bloedow’s fresh glazed donut and a cup of coffee from Mugby Junction, a favorite java joint in town.
To effectively combine your shopping, walking, eating, and entertainment desires, visit Winona during June for its annual Steamboat Days festival, which involves a week or so of craft shows, live music, parades, fireworks, and more. You can get more information on Steamboat days by visiting winonasteamboatdays.com.
Winona is home to several first-rate educational institutions at every level. Winona Cotter is a prestigious boarding school for middle and high school students, located amidst emerald bluffs and hosting students from around the world. Hope Lutheran is a private high school that offers unique extracurricular and faith-based educational opportunities. Winona public schools foster an inclusive and welcoming environment and a well-rounded education. Higher education opportunities include the aforementioned Winona State University; St. Mary’s University, which also offers several graduate degree opportunities; and Southeast Technical College, which offers an affordable place to begin and to gain valuable vocational skills.