A weekend in Red Wing will bring out your creative side.

Image by Todd Buchanan/Greenspring Media

Nestled alongside the mighty Mississippi, this historic town blends the best of yesteryear with today.

Red Wing pottery

Image by jpellgen/Flickr

It’s name is synonymous with boots and pottery, but this charmingly picturesque town has managed to hang on to its glory days while catering to more timely tastes of brew pubs and wineries as new business spring up in and around the river valley.

The pottery legacy dates back to 1877, when the first stoneware company was formed in Red Wing at the sharpest navigable bend in the Mississippi River. Our young country needed crocks, jugs, and sewerpipe it seemed, and Goodhue County had the clay deposits and an immigrant workforce to start producing millions of pieces of functional stoneware.

Here, history isn’t repeating, but continuing. Boots (from none other than Red Wing Shoe Co., of course), pottery, the Mississippi River—same as they ever were. Only now the boots are sold for hundreds of dollars by J.Crew and the pottery is hot on eBay. Staying true to your roots never paid so well. But it didn’t happen by accident. Red Wing is a tightly knit place, woven together by passionate shop owners and friendly residents.

Downtown Red Wing

Image by Tj Turner/Minnesota Monthly

Intertwined with this history are newcomers like Red Wing Brewery, which when it opened, ended the town’s 61-year brewing dry spell with the kind of operation that makes you want to skip work on a Friday afternoon and hold down a table here for the next few hours—even if you work in the Twin Cities.

The pub is a locavore’s dream, from the pizza dough and garlic bread (made by Hanisch Bakery a mile up Main Street) to the wine (supplied by nearby Falconer Vineyards and Cannon River Winery). Even the labels lean local with beer names: Jordan Creek IPA, People’s Porter, Barn Bluff Brown Ale, Work Boot Red Ale, Stoneware Stout.

Take in beautiful sunsets and amazing wine and wood-fired pizzas at Falconer Vineyards and Winery, a 6.5-acre vineyard nestled in the bluff valleys that surround Red Wing. Grab the donut of the day at Hanisch, the fish buffet on Friday nights at Marie’s, and fine eats at The Port.

A visit to Red Wing isn’t complete without a stop at the regal St. James Hotel, and of course, posing for a selfie at Red Wing Shoe Co.’s flagship store, where the whiff of leather-scented masculinity belies the boots’ handcrafted beauty, each pair a wearable piece of history. Naturally, the best pic to be had is with the world’s largest boot, on display at an impressive 16-foot tall, 20-foot long, 7-foot wide, size 638 ½ D monster in the store’s entryway.

A mug, a pair of boots: these are the trades that put Red Wing on the map and keep it there. But they aren’t all that make it a destination. Visit the Red Wing Arts Association Gallery, housed in the historic 1905 railroad depot, browse Scandinavian gifts at Uffda Shop, stand in awe as you take in the bygone opulence of the Sheldon Theatre, a sort of miniature Orpheum. Built as a lavish venue for traveling shows in 1904, the theater was converted to screen movies during the Great Depression. Much of its original glamour—glittering gold accents and intricately carved marble—was lost in the process and would have remained so if not for a major restoration in the mid-1980s. This is the Red Wing worthy of a quick 55-mile ride southeast of the Twin Cities.

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