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With its rolling hills, wide waters, towering monuments of industrial engineering, cute shops and gorgeous, timeless venues, Duluth is the jewel in the North Shore’s crown.
“Duluth is a total hidden gem,” says wedding planner Laura Mullen of Laura Mullen Event Design, who grew up in Duluth and now lives in Minneapolis. “It’s like the San Francisco of the Midwest.” It’s also the perfect destination wedding; close enough for convenience and secluded enough for romance.
“It was absolutely both sentimental and gorgeous,” says Elizabeth Post, who got married at Glensheen Mansion, with a reception at the Kitchi Gammi Club on the shores of Lake Superior in August last year. “The rustic beauty of the lake is just unsurpassed.”
Post, who grew up in Minneapolis but now lives in New York, says most of her friends—as well as many of husband Michael Bramlage’s family—had never been to Minnesota, let alone Duluth. “I love the fact that it was a little bit unexpected,” she says. “And the reaction was phenomenal. They thought it was so impressive.”
Post’s guests made it a point to get out and do some exploring on their own, walking through the parks, shopping on Canal Street, even camping at Gooseberry Falls. “Everybody took advantage of the scenery and the surroundings. There was a lot to do.”
Get out of town
Destination weddings take a lot of the pressure off of the bride and groom. Single-day weddings can feel like some kind of crazy game show, as the bride and groom race around trying to talk to every guest. With several days to visit and mingle, the reception feels less like a high-stakes race against time.
“If you think about it, you’re getting dressed all day, you’re taking photos all day,” Mullen says. “There’s hardly any time to just relax and visit with your friends and family. That’s why I absolutely adore destination weddings. When you have a whole weekend of activities, people just cut loose.”
Mullen recommends starting the day before the ceremony and reception with a meet-and-greet for guests who arrive early. Whether it’s a bonfire by the lake, apple cider at a campsite, a bar meetup or a mini-cruise, it’s a great way to break the ice and show early arrivals a good time. The next day will likely be swallowed by the traditional wedding cornucopia of ceremony, photography, dinner and dancing, while the following morning is a great opportunity for a goodbye brunch or a leisurely walk in the woods.
Meet and greet
There’s so much to do in Duluth that it’s a good idea to pace yourself on the first day. You don’t need to organize anything too elaborate, but dinner, a beachside barbecue or an evening at one of Duluth’s fabulous lakeside bars is a great way to kick things off.
For a cold drink by the shore, check out Sir Benedict’s Tavern. With its incredible patio, live music seven nights a week, more than 20 beers on tap and the comfortable atmosphere of an English pub, it’s a perfect place to unwind the night before the big day. For a more rustic feel, head to Buffalo House, a bar and restaurant adjoining a campground that offers a wide range of activities. For true beer buffs, however, Fitger’s Brewhouse is a must. This bar, grill and brewery has a history that stretches back to 1857, though the brewhouse itself opened in 1995. Since then, it’s put Duluth beer on the map, with more than 100 styles of handcrafted beer. Finally, if you’re looking to party, the Red Star nightclub is a bright light in the local scene.
Many local resorts and hotels have their own great activities and meet-up opportunities. Superior Shores Resort, for example, builds a bonfire by the beach every night—a surefire way to take in the beauty of Minnesota’s own Great Lake.
“We had 60 or 70 guests down by the lake with us on the night before the wedding,” says Angela Grams, who married husband Reis at Superior Shores last September. “It was absolutely magical, and it took a ton of the pressure off. I was able to visit with people on Friday, so I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world if I wasn’t able to talk to them at the reception.”
Mullen recommends shooting for a late-evening activity that first day in case guests are traveling earlier; keep in mind that many of your guests may have their own plans for the morning and afternoon before the wedding, as they embrace the spirit of the city.
Ceremony and reception
From stately homes to award-winning resorts, Duluth is home to many opportunities for a gorgeous ceremony and reception. Mullen recommends a range of locations, from the sumptuous and grand Glensheen Historic Estate (a brilliantly preserved Jacobean-style mansion with a lush garden) to the Clyde Ironworks, a former industrial powerhouse turned restaurant and banquet hall. It’s a great glimpse into Duluth’s past as well as spacious and starkly beautiful place for a reception.
Other notable venues include the Sacred Heart Music Center, a favorite location for weddings and receptions, and fantastic place for live music; the opulent Greysolon Ballroom, which can host up to 450 guests; and the Kitchi Gammi Club, an architectural treasure that boasts a stellar event-management team. “The staff there is phenomenal,” Post says. “They pulled out all the stops to make sure everything was done exactly the way we wanted it.” The kitchen even whipped up a last-minute replacement for its deviled eggs at Post’s request. “They couldn’t have been more helpful,” she says.
Catering, beauty, flowers and music
One big advantage to getting married in Duluth for Twin Cities brides-to-be is that they can draw on the resources of several cities during the planning process. If, say, you can’t find a florist or a baker you love in Duluth, most companies in the metro are willing to make the drive for a nominal fee.
In terms of local caterers, the New Scenic Café is a clear standout. Award-winning vegetarian food and a sterling reputation for service ensure that your dinner will delight all your guests.
For flowers, check out Angela’s Bella Flora and the Flower Cart. For hair and makeup, Mullen recommends On the Canal Salon and Day Spa—a particularly nice option if you want to treat your bridesmaids to a spa day before the ceremony.
Although the Twin Cities offers a much wider selection of live wedding music than Duluth, Mullen recommends Kenny B Productions for DJs, and Post had a great experience with local cellist Josh Aerie of Cellistry Event Production.
When Spectra Myers and Sawyer Blur got married on the North Shore, they knew they wanted it to be unique. Guests camped or stayed in the cabin at Soleil Pines (no longer available for private events), spreading their tents in the gorgeous boreal forest.
“Our primary goal was to get people out of their normal context and create the feeling of a family reunion,” Myers said. “In order to do that we knew we needed to have a destination wedding.”
The guest list was small—only about 60 people—and most of their activities were the homemade kind. “People came up for the long weekend, had time to connect with old friends, and grew closer as a result of the experience. It was less like a wedding and more like a great vacation.” They even incorporated a Harry Potter-themed “Hunt for the Horcruxes,” sending kids and adults alike scurrying through the woods in pursuit of mystical artifacts.
“A couple of years ago I traveled to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, and I kid you not, it looked exactly like Duluth,” Myers says. “I was at the end of the earth and it felt like home. There’s something very raw about Duluth, stark and even extreme. The whole experience was intense, elevated and a little magical.”
Duluth is many things to many people, but the city is dominated and united by a single, indelible feature: Lake Superior. “When I woke up on the morning of my wedding […] it was pure perfection,” Grams says. “The lake was so still, it looked like a sheet of glass. I’ve never seen Lake Superior look so beautiful, and we got married 10 feet away from it.”