Destined for Duluth

Rich with natural beauty, endless outdoor activities and spectacular venues, Duluth remains a sought-after wedding spot for locals and out-of-towners alike.
From: Spring/Summer 2017 edition

When Matt and Beth Uher set out to plan their wedding, Duluth was a no-brainer. The city where the couple met their sophomore year in college met many of their wedding requirements: gorgeous outdoor venue (check); proximity to friends and family (check); a wedding getaway without the steep price tag (check).

“Duluth allows you to have a mini destination-wedding,” Beth says. “It makes you feel like you’re on vacation, but is still accessible for your guests to make the trip.”

Matt and Beth tied the knot last July at Leif Erickson Park, with breathtaking views of Lake Superior, followed by dinner and dancing at former steel foundry Clyde Iron Works, which lent itself well to the wedding’s relaxed, rustic feel.

“There’s just so much to do in Duluth,” Beth says. “Living in Duluth for years, we never had a dull moment—there was always a new place to explore.”

Destination: Found

Jet-setting to Mexico or Hawaii for your wedding sounds dreamy, but can leave you—and your guests—with an empty wallet. Cut the travel costs in half (or more) and book a wedding weekend in Duluth that’ll have your guests talking about it long after the last dance.

“For many couples, Duluth is a place where they have been able to create memories,” says Johannah Standjord, wedding and banquets manager at Spirit Mountain resort. “Whether it was skiing at Spirit Mountain growing up, attending one of our many local colleges, a family vacation spot, watching in amazement as the lift bridge rises when the large vessels make their way into the harbor or running in Grandma’s Marathon, it’s a place that feels like home and makes them want to start the rest of their forever where it all began.”

One big perk is that you can escape to the North Shore all year. With endless trails to hike in the summer and powdery-white hills to ski in the winter, you’ll find activities in every season.

“Superior Street [is great] for bar-hopping, Canal Park is right on the lake with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and Park Point Beach is an unbelievable pristine sand beach,” says Mariah McKechnie, owner of Northland Special Events. “If wedding parties have a chance to head further north, there are lots of great spots. Sometimes [couples] will extend the wedding and go further north to hike or do a mini-moon in Lutsen,” further up the North Shore.

Duluth’s many unique pockets and neighborhoods will have wedding guests itching to explore the many shops, eateries and attractions the city offers. Make your wedding venue the most memorable spot of the weekend in one of Duluth’s many splendid spaces.

Top-Notch Venues

Whether you’re looking for an intimate wedding at a quaint lakeside cottage or a glamourous ballroom celebration strikes your fancy, you’ll find wedding venues for every taste in Duluth.

For an elegant affair at one of Duluth’s most venerable landmarks, consider the Greysolon Ballroom in the city’s historic arts and theater district. Glittering chandeliers hang from the hand-painted ceilings in the 3,780-square-foot ballroom space, offering a uniquely luxurious vibe. And with the Black Water Lounge on the main floor, the party doesn’t need to stop after the last song plays. You don’t need to change dresses, says sales director Jax Eisenmann. “The night never has to end.”

If you want something similarly luxe, Kitchi Gammi Club is an exquisite architectural gem and another city landmark. Then there’s the historic Glensheen Mansion. The 39-room mansion sits on a 12-acre estate, so you can exchange vows on the waterfront terrace, snap photos in their formal gardens, and take a break from dancing at a lakeside bonfire.

For a highlands feel without leaving town, head to Spirit Mountain. The resort boasts two grand reception spaces: the Bear Paw, which seats up to 400 guests, and Moosehead, which seats up to 150. Plus, they host weddings even in the chillier months—can you say winter wonderland?

“We offer an outdoor wedding deck with a breathtaking view of Lake Superior, the harbor and the St. Louis River,” says Johannah Standjord, wedding and banquets manager. “It’s one of few places in town that you can see all three of the main bridges,” all from a gorgeous wooded setting.

If a unique venue is what you’re after, consider some Duluth gems: the machinery factory turned industrial-chic event venue Clyde Iron Works; neo-Gothic cathedral Sacred Heart Music Center, which hosts both ceremonies and receptions; or the Duluth Depot, a 125-year-old train station that now houses the Great Hall, a picture-perfect event space with soaring ceilings.

Bigger guest list? Duluth’s newest and buzziest hotel, Pier B Resort, is a waterfront hot spot with a ballroom for up to 350 guests. Northland Country Club offers a sophisticated vibe with spectacular views of the golf course and access to two outdoor verandas.

Look North

Looking for a little adventure? Start heading up the Lake Superior shoreline and you’ll get a whole change of scenery.

Imagine riding the eight-passenger Summit Express gondola with floor-to-ceiling windows up the face of Moose Mountain in Lutsen, then exchanging vows with Lake Superior as a backdrop and dancing the night away at the Summit Chalet. Sip cocktails on the chalet’s outdoor deck and cap off the night by taking the gondola back down the mountain, with stars blanketing the night sky.

“One of the biggest draws is the gondola ride,” says Amanda Plummer, group sales director for Lutsen Mountains and Eagle Ridge Resort. “Typical weddings can have great food and a great party, but the memory of the gondola ride and the lake view is something guests will never forget.” Guests can then head back to their rooms at the Eagle Ridge Resort, conveniently located at the base of the mountain.

Bluefin Bay
in Tofte is popular option for couples looking to get out of town, with event spaces right on the water, all renowned as fabulous honeymoon-in-Minnesota destinations. Superior Shores Resort in Two Harbors, with three banquet rooms, is another spot with lakeside charm.

Looking to host a more intimate gathering? Odyssey Resorts, spread throughout the North Shore, offer a number of cozy options for weddings. Just 15 minutes from Duluth are the Larsmont Cottages with high-end amenities, says Odyssey Resorts marketing director Parnell Thill. While the venue isn’t huge, it’s great for groups of up to 50 and a great spot for outdoor weddings, with a conference room available for receptions just off the water.

Further up the North Shore, you’ll find Grand Superior Lodge, the most popular among the Odyssey group for larger weddings; it offers that iconic up-north vibe and room for 185 guests. Also consider Breezy Point Cabins, which were built in the 1930s and sit right on the shoreline.

Best-in-Class Vendors

For out-of-town couples nervous about planning a destination wedding, leave it to the experts. Local planners like Northland Special Events and Pure Event Planning and Design can help you sift through the variety of venue, food and vendor options to ensure your big day is what you’ve always dreamed.

And no matter where you decide to get hitched, Duluth also provides an array of beautiful sites for your wedding photos.

Local photography pros like Mad Chicken Studio, JaneCane Photography and Bailey Aro Photography can help couples navigate the best backdrops in Duluth.

“You’re not going to find a more unique setting in Minnesota,” says Jes Hayes, owner of Mad Chicken Studio. “Yes, we’re the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but we’re the home of Lake Superior, which lends itself to so many different backdrops. We have sand and rock beaches in Duluth, and you can photograph in a wooded area. You really get a good bang for your buck.”

For tasty treats ranging from custom cakes to bite-sized edibles, Duluth-based bakeries like How Sweet It Is Cakes, Harbor City Sweets and 185Chocolat serve up a variety of desserts that will have your guests clamoring for more.

“All recipes are based off of what I’ve done or what my grandmother did, and we’ve modified to today’s times,” says Eileen Brown, president of How Sweet It Is Cakes. “Everything is custom-made. We don’t have a book someone picks out of—everything is designed for the event.”

For a gorgeous floral display on your big day, look no further than Duluth-area florists like Bella Flora and Saffron & Grey Couture Floral Design. These local pros know the secrets to super-chic, on-trend floral designs.

Memories for the Generations

Duluth can provide that destination feel without draining your budget—but that’s not the only perk of booking up north.

“One bonus is that it’s not so far away that you can’t come back to enjoy it,” McKechnie says. “You can come back to celebrate anniversaries and bring your kids someday.”

Along with the lake or mountains that draw you to the area, the breathtaking venues and the crème-de-la-crème vendors will have you thrilled to say your “I dos” in Duluth.

“Having a destination wedding was a point of anxiety to begin with, but when we got a getaway weekend up there, it was like a vacation and a moment to plan, all wrapped up into one,” says Beth Uher. “I would repeat everything we did in a heartbeat.”

WORDS TO THE WISE

  • Be realistic about weather and go with the flow. “The weather is pretty unpredictable because of the lake,” Jes Hayes, owner of Mad Chicken Studio says. “Say there’s rain in the forecast—sometimes it just splits around the lake. If it rains, it rains, and we’ll just roll with it.”
  • Come prepared if you’re having an outdoor ceremony. If it’s cooler than you expected, it rains or—heaven forbid—it snows, make sure your guests are prepared. Offer umbrellas or blankets if inclement weather arrives.
  • Remember that Duluth is a big tourist destination—make sure you secure your hotel blocks as soon as possible.
  • Book your venues and vendors early, too. “We are seeing that late August to early September is becoming the busiest time,” says Mariah McKechnie, owner of Northland Special Events. “Most people are booking at least a year out.
  • If your favorite venue is completely booked for your preferred dates, consider a Friday wedding. “I love to see Friday weddings because the couples will come up Thursday, take Friday off and then have the full weekend to hang out,” says McKechnie.

UNIQUE DULUTH

  • Incorporate natural elements like beach glass into centerpieces—or rocks from Lake Superior.
  • Serve local brews like Bent Paddle and Castle Danger at your wedding reception.
  • Give the wedding party a Duluth Pack bag filled with locally made goodies, like Caribou Cream maple syrup and Lake Superior honey.
  • Organize a suggested itinerary for wedding guests, like a tour at the Glensheen Mansion, a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant or a scenic drive up the shore.

 

Beth and Matt Uher tied the knot at Leif Erickson Park, with stunning views of Lake Superior, followed by dinner and dancing at Clyde Iron Works. Photography by: Asher Marie Photography