Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thank God for Hometowns

"Thank God for hometowns
And all the love that makes you go round
Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in
When you were dying to get out

Thank God for Church pews
And all the faces that won't forget you
Cause when you're lost out in this crazy world
You got somewhere to go and get found
Thank God for hometowns"

-Carrie Underwood "Thank God for Hometowns"

I feel like people like to complain about where they're from, about how dull their town was growing up or about how miserable all the classmates they went to school with were...but I can't say I feel that way- at all! Yes, sometimes it felt like there was nothing to do and going shopping always included a 30+ minute drive, but I wouldn't change growing up where I did for anything.

Growing up in a small(ish) town,  it always seemed like I couldn't go anywhere that I didn't run into someone I knew (or who knew me!) Even now after I've essentially been gone for 7 years (minus summers during college), it never fails that I run into a hockey family, a YMCA family, or a relative (side effect of having my last name in Winona!)

Anyway, I've always loved bringing friends home to show off the place that made me who I am, especially because there are so many great places to share.

Lets start with the most important part- the FOOD!

Now I didn't realize how much great food Winona had until I left and didn't get to eat it anymore. I've frequented a lot of eateries in Nashville and surrounding areas, and still have many left to try, but I still have a consistent list of places that I crave when I'm not in MN.

It is crucial that when you're visiting Winona you always start off with a donut from Bloedows (as in eat at least one every day). Voted the best donut in Minnesota, I'd be shocked if they weren't the best in the country.  I'm so picky about donuts because I've been spoiled with the deliciousness that Bloedows produces.  We had a Krispy Kreme once for like a week, but it couldn't compare and shut down pretty soon after it opened. But seriously, people around the country crave these donuts.  Still don't believe me? Check out this page of rave reviews then drool over the pictures below.

When I'm looking to catch up with friends, nothing is better than a local coffee shop, and Winona has plenty of those.  I'm not even a coffee drinker, but when I'm home I have to hit these up:

Mugby Junction: Mugby has two locations in Winona, a drive-thru location on the east side and a sit-down cafe just off of the Winona State campus in the middle of town.  Mugby offers a unique array of sandwiches, salads, and wraps, quiche, baked goods, coffee beverages, smoothies, and more.

Winona Sandwich Company is a local soup and sandwich shop.  They also offer burritos, salads, and desserts. Winona Sandwich Co is located in the center of town near the college campus.

Blooming Grounds originally stole my heart when it first opened because of its always-changing shelves of desserts.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a mouth full of sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), especially if the sweet includes chocolate.  Blooming Grounds's expansive menu includes coffee drinks, frozen drinks, craft beer, wine, breakfast dishes, paninis, salads, soups, gourmet pizzas, and more.

Caribou Coffee: While Caribou isn't local to Winona, it IS Minnesota-based. Caribou is basically a northern version of Starbucks.  It offers a variety of both coffee and non-coffee drinks, teas, juices, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Located downtown is the Acoustic Cafe, my all-time favorite sandwich/coffee shop.  I spent time "studying" and hanging out with friends here in high school, and it is still a common place for me to grab lunch with people when I'm in town. My go-to order is a 1/3 salami sandwich and cup of chili, though I can never actually finish it all. Sometimes I would go just for ice cream or a smoothie.  True to the name, Acoustic offers live music from local musicians on the weekends.

Growing up, I spent many summer nights walking from my great-grandparents house down to the "root beer stand," AKA Lakeview Drive Inn.  (I didn't actually know the real name name until probably high school...)  Lakeview is a drive-in restaurant, though there are picnic tables set up to eat outside, or a bar to eat at inside.  They make their own root beer, and offer a variety of appetizers, burgers, and frozen treat options.  My favorite? A toddy burger with fries and tartar sauce and a homemade root beer followed by a crunch cone.  The best part is how affordable this place continues to be while still serving delicious food!

Another ice cream venue I frequented while growing up was the Penguin Zesto.  The original location is on the east side of town, but they built another one on the west side of town (West is Best!) just when I was getting old enough to stay home by myself.  Zesto became a common place to go when we were too lazy to make lunch in the summers or just wanted a cool treat after spending a day at the beach down the road.

In addition to all the great food, Winona offers a lot of FESTIVALS for a small town.

View from the top of the ferris wheel

The festival that I've spent the most time at is Steamboat Days.  Being on the Mississippi River, Winona used to have a steamboat set up in the levee, but it was demolished years ago.  My favorite part of Steamboat Days was the carnival, not because of the rides, but because of the food (shocker!)  The carnival always set up on a Wednesday at the end of June and left on the following Monday.  I remember meeting up with friends to see the man shot out of the cannon, being in the parade walking down Broadway on Sunday at 1:01PM, and sitting in the grass at the levee watching the fireworks shot off across the river in Wisconsin on Sunday night. Steamboat days also has a 5K run on Saturday morning, live music at the beverage tent every night, various sporting events, a kiddie parade, and so much more.  

Midwest Music Fest was created in Winona in 2010 and occurs every April.  It is now a three-day long musical event that hosts more than 100 local acts and artists from a variety of genres on multiple stages.

Great River Shakespeare Festival employs nearly 100 actors performing Shakespeare and takes place mid-summer every year for six weeks.

I have never attended the Beethoven Festival, but it has been in existence for a decade and occurs in Winona.  The Beethoven Festival is a celebration of music and Ludwig van Beethoven.  It happens every summer during the month of July.

The CULTURE and HISTORY of Winona can be found throughout town.

I love going into stores and finding Watkins products in them, because Watkins is based out of Winona! If you've never heard of Watkins, they manufacture bath and body products, as well as food seasonings and spices and more.

One of the museums I haven't been to in Winona is the Polish Museum. The Polish Cultural Institute celebrates the Polish culture in and around Winona.

The Marine Art Museum is located right on the Mississippi River and is comprised of a gallery filled with historical art from artists including, but not limited to, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse.

Lastly, the Winona County Historical Society is located in historical, downtown Winona.  Founded in 1925, the WCHS is filled with exhibits that show Winona's past.

If you're still looking for THINGS TO DO...

Surrounded by bluffs, Winona has heaps of opportunities for hiking.  Growing up, my favorite trails to hike were the ones by Holzinger Lodge.  Often times we would have girl scout events or birthday parties at Holzinger, which frequently led to trail exploration.

Once I hit high school, I began to explore the Sugar Loaf trails with my friends.  Sugar Loaf is essentially a mound of limestone located at the top of a bluff on the east end of Winona, formed by quarrying nearly 150 years ago.  There is a trail that leads up the bluff to Sugar Loaf, but there are also designated climbing times that you can actually clime the rock.

The Garvin Heights trail is often populated with people looking to get a work out in.  Garvin is a community on the top of one of Winona's many rolling bluffs.  You can drive the winding road up to the lookout, but there is also a trail (containing a plethora of stairs!) that you can climb.  I love hiking, but I loathe stairs, so if I want to go up to the lookout, I drive.

View of the West (small) Lake from Garvin Heights look out

Sugar Loaf

View of the East (big) Lake from Sugar Loaf

Paddle-boarding on the lake (we stood up eventually!)
Between the Mississippi River, and the Winona lakes, my hometown is surrounded by water.  Around the two lakes are two connecting, paved paths used for walkers, bikers, roller skaters, and more.  The total distance of these paths is roughly five miles, and gives you a beautiful view of the lakes and the bluffs around the town.

Also by the lakes are an array of softball fields used for many tournaments throughout the year, parks for children to play at, sand volleyball courts, and a giant bandshell used for concerts (and bandshell ball!).

There are also a variety of activities you can do on the lakes throughout all four seasons.  The Winona Park and Rec Department offers a pass for roughly $10 that lasts all year and allows you to check out equipment for snowshoeing, canoeing, kayacking, ice skating, paddle-boarding, and fishing. (There is likely more that I am unaware of!)  Winona really is a great place for people who love the outdoors.

Winona has a campground at Prairie Island, right on the Mississippi River, and a deer park nearby.  The Aquatic Center is a great place to cool off in their Olympic sized pool on a toasty summer day.  If beaches are more your thing, you can go right across the (newly built) bridge to Wisconsin and hang out on Latch Island beach for the day, or head down the highway to Lacanne Park and beach over in Goodview.

One of my favorite quotes I've ever heard was, "Only boring people get bored." With so much to do in Winona, (and so much food to eat!), I am never bored when I go home to visit.  I love living in the south, but I am so glad I grew up where I did!

Wish List

Y'all, Kari Yearous is an awesome photographer that I found via Facebook who photographs Winona in all its beauty.  I have a bag with a photo of hers on it as well as a calendar, next on my wish list is this book of photographs that she produced!

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