Livability.com recently named Northfield, MN, as the second best small town (less than 20,000 residents) of 2014 (Los Alamos, New Mexico somehow got the better of it). For those of us who have stayed in the not-so-sleepy community on the Cannon River, this comes as no surprise. In Northfield the level-headed Midwestern foundations (common throughout Minnesotan communities) mix with an almost European-like downtown riverfront, a love for eclectic events and a fine arts addiction.
St. Olaf College is the jewel of the city (sorry Carleton, I’m Lutheran). It sits on a plateau looking over the city and surrounding valley. Unlike so many other colleges that can’t hold an architectural beat, St. Olaf is composed of numerous buildings that use the same locally cut stone. The college, which is famous for its world class arts and music, is very active in the community as well (continuing education, lectures, etc).
Though Northfield does have plenty of events, such as the infamous Jesse James Days (which includes a gun-slinging reenactment!), one of the unique treasures I found was the Contented Cow: a tavern built along the Cannon River. The tap list had a good mix of local and international brews. I could enjoy my drink on the outdoor patio complete with a riverfront view or the interior which was reminiscent of a fancy 19th Century watering hole. Live music also was a staple of the establishment (either outside, inside or both).
I could go on with further gushing about Northfield, but the fact of the matter is that it’s got both family and college-age fun. There are regular indoor activities (like church organ recitals every Wednesday in the summer), outdoor activities (the jogging trails throughout the city are amazing!) and stuff in between (like the Contented Cow). It’s not even all that far from the Twin Cities.
Qualifying and quantifying a “best” small town in Minnesota is hard, but I would venture to say that Northfield is the most complete!
Pictures by: Jpellgen and Erik Bergs