Everybody loves Duluth. More tourists flock to Canal Park than mosquitoes to State Parks. But just across St. Louis Bay, and often overlooked, is Superior, Wisconsin. I’ve had to drag my friends across the bridge for a quick visit to my favorite city on the bay, so this summer I decided to stay a while and really get to know Superior. It’s a quick and easy vacation and more affordable than Duluth. It’s not exactly bike-friendly, but with the city’s extra-wide streets we managed our tour completely by bike.
After a two and a half hour drive from the cities, we parked our car near Tower Avenue and Belknap — Superior’s epicenter. There are numerous motels in town and a pleasant resort and conference center overlooking Barkers Island’s marina, but we chose to stay at downtown’s historic Androy Hotel. Built in 1925, the Androy was billed as “Superior’s million dollar hotel.” It’s the tallest building in town, and though it’s slightly worn, and many rooms have been converted into apartments, it couldn’t be cleaner or the people nicer.
Just in time for dinner, we headed to Superior’s hot spot: The Thirsty Pagan Brewpub. A recent full-page New York Times review keeps this place hopping.
Bars are plentiful in Superior but old wooden booths and a cheap pool table make Who’s Bar stand out from the crowd. Ask the bartender for quarters.
From a sixth floor window we saw a red sun rise over the distant lake. Piles of taconite pellets, giant grain elevators, and freighters being overhauled at Fraser Ship Yards were easier to spot. First stop: Globe News. This landmark newsstand has the most magazines and the best sign in Superior! Two doors down is jam-packed Antiques on Belknap. Cross the street and enter Superior’s Public Library filled with 35 murals of the town’s history by Native American painter Carl Gawboy. Head over to the port side of Tower Avenue for even more history.
Superior has always been an industrial town and ocean-going vessels still ply its waters. Grain elevators and ore docks continue to operate, but many have closed. Globe Elevator was built in 1887 to store grain before it shipped. Three thousand men worked to build the wood walls by stacking 2×6 pieces of lumber that were milled on-site. Together, the three buildings used 6 million board feet of lumber — it was the largest grain elevator in the world! The elevator ceased operations a few years ago and today that lumber is painstakingly disassembled and sold as reclaimed wood. Open by chance or by appointment, the field office has samples of old-growth timber products including flooring, furniture and undulating walls of grain-eroded boards. Plan your project now and you can own a unique piece of history from the Port of Duluth-Superior.
Finally, time for lunch! The legendary Anchor Bar has more nautical artifacts per square foot than you can count. Following through with the nautical theme we took in a tour of the S. S. Meteor, an oddly shaped “whaleback” vessel built in Superior in 1896. Two other nearby museum are also worthy of a visit. The Richard I. Bong Museum pays homage to Wisconsin’s-own WWII fighter ace, and the 1890 Fairlawn Mansion, home to Superior’s second mayor. For dinner we split a steak at Hammond Steak House overlooking the Blatnik Bridge and went for a nightcap at the Elbo Room.
Our second day began at Red Mug Coffeehouse in the lower level of Superior’s historic Trade and Commerce Building. We filled our bike baskets with freshly baked bread upstairs at Sustenance Artisan Breads then browsed jewelry, purses, and other artist-made wares in the building’s Art In the Alley.
The town’s only official bike trail in town, the Osaugie Trail, starts at Barker’s Island. The paved path passes through marinas, industrial sites, and comes close to busy Highway 2. Near a large boat launch we pulled into a gas station for water and bought smoked fish at one of Wisconsin’s-own lobster/fireworks roadside stand. While picnicing on a floating platform overlooking an ore dock we quizzed fishermen about their catches. A couple docks over was the Burlington Ore Dock where the Edmund Fitzgerald loaded up with taconite pellets for its final voyage. We found a few pellets near a fence for souvenirs! But if you prefer to buy your souvenirs, Superior’s three-story shop, Allouez Antiques, is visible from the trail at about 41st Street.
The trail continues south, then joins up with one that stretches the length of Wisconsin Point, but we were running out of time. Not enough time in Superior, Wisconsin? Who would have believed it?!
For additional information, write to WeekendTourist@mnpubs.com