Superior Experience: Duluth is the Go-To Destination for Weddings of Every Style

Bride and groom on the windswept coast of Lake Superior.
Duluth, Minnesota’s city on the coast, is perfect for a wedding that mixes sophisticated urban charm and stunning natural beauty.
Written by
Sherri Hildebrandt


Spring/Summer 2020

Tell almost any Minnesotan you’re going to Duluth for the weekend and they’ll say, “Oh, how fun!” The port city has long been a favorite destination for Midwesterners, whether for a weekend getaway or as the gateway to the spectacular north shore of Lake Superior.

It’s also a favorite destination for weddings of any size, thanks to a terrific lineup of savvy local vendors, stunning and unusual venues, and plenty of activities to keep guests of all ages happy, for a few hours or a few days.
Duluth’s biggest asset is, of course, magnificent Lake Superior—the grandest of the Great Lakes in size, depth and, many would argue, sheer beauty. Perched at the southern tip of the lake, Duluth has a sort of New England seashore town quality that is unique in Minnesota. While much of the Midwest might be sweltering in the heat and humidity of summer, Duluth is often degrees cooler, thanks to the natural air conditioning from breezes off the lake.

So whether you’re a native Northlander or a long-time admirer, whether you’re seeking a fun destination wedding for family and friends or an intimate celebration for you and your beloved, Duluth can be the perfect setting for the wedding of your dreams.

Local Heroes
An array of locations in and around Duluth can accommodate your special day, with whatever vibe you choose. But if organizing and making decisions gives you a headache, you have options.

“Especially if you’re from out of town, and for destination weddings, I firmly believe it’s best to hire a local planner,” says Mariah McKechnie, event planner and owner of Northland Special Events. Local planners know where to find the perfect flowers, which caterers provide the kind of menu you want, how many guests venues can accommodate.

Mary Carlson of Pure Event Planning & Design agrees. “The vendors we have up here are incredible,” Carlson says. “The quality is outstanding.”

For local talent that wows, start with flowers. McKechnie’s own Superior Blooms boasts fresh, trend-forward designs. Flora North specializes in European-style hand-tied bouquets, while Saffron & Grey Couture Floral Design, run by sisters Abby and Layla Olson, focuses on stylish arrangements.

Looking to say yes to the perfect dress? Consider family-owned Bella Rose Bridal, which also carries bridesmaids’ and plus-sized gowns, or Christian Lane Bridal in Hermantown, which offers mother’s gowns and alterations.

For delicious desserts, SnazzyCakes specializes in wedding cakes (with the awards to prove it), as well as hand-painted cookies and delectable cake pops. Love Creamery creates hand-crafted ice cream and sorbet from locally sourced, organic ingredients, and a dessert cart that can sweeten up a wedding with ice cream flights. How Sweet It Is Cakes offers expertly designed cakes, along with cupcakes, tarts and macarons.

To look your very best on the big day, call in a local pro. Derick Cich Makeup Artistry specializes in high-quality, cutting-edge makeup. Madeline McCue Makeup can lend a hand for gorgeous wedding-day hair and makeup. Language of Hair is fluent in everything hair, from cuts and color to updos.

Do your guests need to unwind? Fitger’s Salon & Spa offers complete hair, nail, makeup and massage services in a newly remodeled space with panoramic views of Lake Superior. Eagle’s Nest Massage Therapy provides therapeutic and specialty massage services. The Well has your comfort in mind from start to finish, beginning with a complimentary foot soak, using hot rocks straight from the lakeshore during your massage, and concluding with a mug of tea.

If there’s anyone who knows Duluth and its iconic scenery, it’s local photographers. “We have such talent here that I always recommend a local photographer because they know how to shoot the lake, and they know the locations that shoot well,” says Carlson.

Some top local pros include Duluth native Amanda Spilde at JaneCane Photography, Sharon McMahon at Three Irish Girls Photography, Kellie Rae Studio and Derek Montgomery Photography, each of whom has extensive experience shooting North Shore weddings. Other top photographers include Marissa Murdy, Bailey Aro, another Duluth native; Beau Petersen Photography and Bryan Jonathan Weddings, who all specialize in bringing wedding visions to life.

Big, Small or No Guests at All?
Carlson and McKechnie note that more couples are seeking smaller weddings and receptions. Duluth’s many cozy spaces can oblige: McKechnie cites Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and Hoops Brewing as two popular locations appropriate for small weddings, right in town.

Other couples choose to pop up the shore for their ceremony and spend a few days together, then return to Duluth for the reception or a celebratory dinner. Larsmont Cottages, about 20 miles north, makes for beautiful lakeside weddings and events for groups of 50 or fewer, says Hannah Nones, wedding sales manager at Odyssey Resorts, owner of Larsmont Cottages. Another 70 miles north is Lutsen’s Caribou Highlands Lodge in the Sawtooth Mountains which can accommodate up to 80 people.

Duluth also attracts couples who want very small weddings—of only two. For such a personal ceremony, romance is key, and the elegant Cotton Mansion fits the bill. The Italian Renaissance-style mansion has elaborate marble fireplaces, a grand stairway, decorative plaster ceilings and sumptuous furnishings, and even offers elopement packages.

Weather or Not
One constant player in Duluth weddings is Mother Nature. That’s why it’s critical to have an indoor back-up plan in case of a downpour, heavy fog or chilly evening. Good photographers will know where to go for the best Instagrammable photos, no matter the weather.

And though Duluth is usually pleasantly temperate in summer, it can get hot, and it can get buggy. To protect clients and guests, Carlson swears by Bug Soother, a natural repellent with a pleasant scent. \

Ellen Gustafson Photography

On the Water
Magical Lake Superior is, of course, a big draw, and it’s no wonder many couples want the lake to play a starring role in their big day. If you’re hoping to wed on the waterfront, the choices are many.

You might want a small ceremony on the rocky shores of Brighton Beach, just outside Duluth, then return to the city for celebrating. Or you could exchange your vows amid driftwood and sand dunes at Park Point, following with a reception in the Beach House, which can be dressed up to suit your style.

If your style is classic elegance, historic Glensheen on the 22-acre Congdon estate is a brilliant choice. You can say your vows on the opulent 1908 mansion’s broad terrace with the lake shimmering in the background, followed by a reception in the formal gardens or in the mansion itself, with most of its original décor intact. A lakeside wedding on Glensheen’s private beach is also an option.

For a modern, urban vibe, consider Pier B Resort, which has a range of spaces indoors and out, all with fabulous views of the harbor and the Lift Bridge. You can get cozy around a fire pit in the evening as dusk settles over the lake.

Gina Shoots Weddings

Make It Your Own
Your wedding is about creating a memorable experience to cherish for years, undoubtedly one reason you chose Duluth to start making those memories. So make the day special, with your own particular touches.

Two dramatic spaces to implement your ideas are Clyde Iron Works and Clyde Malting, relatively new venues that hearken back to Duluth’s early industrial roots. Once a foundry that manufactured parts for such projects as the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal, Clyde Iron Works is now a 36,000-square-foot renovated space waiting for you to realize your personal vision. Nearby is Clyde Malting, a 17,500-square-foot space that opened last year and also features a generous canvas for your style, with plenty of wood, brick and steel.

Beau Petersen Photography & Video Productions

If that doesn’t fit your vision, the chic ambiance of historic Greysolon Ballroom, built in 1925 in the heart of downtown, just might. Restored to its original splendor, it offers the stylish Moorish Room, which glows with golden highlights and features intricate wall sconces, hand-painted murals and a mosaic tile dance floor. The Ballroom, a larger space with mahogany walls, ornate chandeliers and a sophisticated aura, is steeped with the romance of days gone by.

Maybe your vision includes wide-open spaces and a view from on high. You’re in luck: With steep hills surrounding the city, you can feel like you’re on top of the world. Exchange your vows at Spirit Mountain ski resort, with Duluth and Lake Superior spread below, then head inside to one of three reception rooms. Or choose the breathtaking views from Enger Park, which boasts gorgeous gardens where thousands of daffodils bloom in the spring.

Family Affair
Time with family can be some of the most meaningful moments in a wedding; it also might be the first time your families meet. For such a gathering, a venue that gives everyone a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting, with activities for all ages, could be the smartest choice. Many resorts on the North Shore can provide lodging for all your guests, stunning sites for the wedding-weekend activities and in-house planners and caterers who can take care of all the details.

A few places we love include Superior Shores, a 60-acre resort just northeast of Two Harbors that includes three areas for lodging with suite accommodations. A 3,700-square-foot ballroom can hold around 280 guests, and the 2,000-foot pebble beach makes a stunning ceremony site. It’s close enough for an easy day trip to visit Duluth’s attractions, yet a little oasis in itself.

Grand Superior Lodge is a classic North Shore resort with an authentic log lodge, as well as log cabins and lakeside homes. You can host parties of up to 180, with plenty of charming spaces for the rehearsal dinner, reception and gift-opening, located about an hour northeast of Duluth. A lake-level patio is a splendid site for a ceremony, followed by a reception in the lakeside ballroom.

Farther up Highway 61 is Bluefin Bay, with venues for groups from 24 to 90 people. Elegant hotel rooms and suites, sleek, contemporary townhouses, and cozy, luxurious cabins comprise lodgings on three different properties in the Bluefin group. Say your vows in an intimate ceremony on the shore then dance the night away in a ballroom with stunning floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Superior.

Your Love Story
Fond memories of family vacations draw many folks back to the North Shore, while others discover Duluth on their own and quickly recognize it for one of North Star State’s brightest constellations. Whether you say your vows on a hillside or lakeside among hundreds, or in an intimate beach ceremony, Duluth provides everything you need to get your new life together off to a spectacular start. 

Must-Stop Spots
From magnificent lake views to historic sites, here are some places your guests will love discovering.

In Duluth
1. Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Visit restored locomotives and railcars in this museum housed in Duluth’s 1892 Union Depot, along with memorabilia like tea services and china used in luxury trains of a bygone era. 

2. Glensheen/Historic Congdon Estate
Wander the ornate mansion and manicured grounds. Completed in 1908, the 39-room mansion is almost completely furnished with original appointments and family mementos.

3. Tweed Museum of Art
Boasting an extensive collection of European and American work, this museum is considered a major cultural and educational resource in the Upper Midwest.

4. Vista Fleet Harbor Tours
See Duluth from the water on a sightseeing cruise aboard the Vista Fleet yachts.

5. Great Lakes Aquarium
Learn what lies beneath the Big Lake’s surface and how it connects with the rest of the world.

6. Lake Superior Maritime Museum
Get the inside story on Lake Superior’s shipping industry and history through exhibits and interactive displays. 

7. Canal Park and Lakewalk
Watch the Aerial Lift Bridge, stroll along the Lakewalk, visit the galleries and shops in and around the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, enjoy dining at various cafes, bars and restaurants, rent a bicycle or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.

8. Enger Tower
Visit this stone tower with panoramic views, a Japanese peace garden and walking paths for a relaxing summer afternoon.

9. Lake Superior Zoo
Get away from the crowds and enjoy a good diversion for younger family members in a lovely setting

10. Duluth Children’s Museum
Kids will love the creative, interactive fun; especially great on a rainy afternoon. 

Outside Duluth
1. Highway 61
A drive along scenic Highway 61 hugging the lake is a simple but spectacular pleasure. Choose the scenic route from Duluth to Two Harbors (about 20 miles), then continue on up the shore if time allows. If you’re not in a hurry, the beauty stretches all the way to Canada (about 114 miles), through many small lakeside communities and awe-inspiring scenery.

2. Gooseberry Falls
A lovely state park in Two Harbors with hiking trails, waterfalls and a visitors center. 

3. Split Rock Lighthouse
Restored 1910 lighthouse in Two Harbors with an interpretive center and fantastic photo opps.

4. Second Hand Rose
Funky little thrift shop right along Highway 61 in Beaver Bay featuring tables galore of vintage glassware and sheds full of odds and ends, from lamps to jewelry to saw blades and minnow buckets. 218.226.4844

5. North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum
Learn about the men and women who made their living in one of the most challenging, critical professions on the North Shore.

Welcome to Duluth!
To give your guests a very Duluth welcome, consider an arrival gift bag of local food and beverages, such as Bent Paddle Brewing Co. or Hoops Brewing beer, or the “Frenchie,” a sparkling Champagne-like beverage from Vikre Distillery. Add some Minnesota-shaped “pie pops” from Sugar on Top Sweet Shop, or for a savory treat, a charcuterie assortment of smoked fish, cheese and meats from Northern Waters Smokehaus.