Getaway on the St. Croix

The Wisconsin river town of Hudson has a treat for every visitor.

The 1936 Hudson arch draws visitors into Lakefront Park.

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From the beginning, the St. Croix River has shaped Hudson's identity.

The first settlers came by canoe on the fur-trade highway. The first steamboat docked in 1847, and soon logs were floating down the St. Croix to sawmills in Hudson and its neighbor on the Minnesota side, Stillwater.

Hudson's 1913 toll bridge became a landmark on the St. Croix, fattening town coffers after the lumber boom ended. The bridge closed in 1951, but its raised bed still stretches partway over the river, giving residents and visitors a place to stroll on warm summer evenings.

Today, the St. Croix River is the only thing separating Hudson from the Twin Cities, which have spread right up to the opposite banks.

Some tourists arrive via boat, walking the block from the river to the restaurants on Second Street. Others drive over from Minnesota to poke around in the shops and see the regal Victorian homes on Third Street.

The neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes the Octagon House museum, built in 1855 for the New York judge who named Hudson.

Everyone is drawn to the river by the 1936 arch that leads to Lakefront Park. Bands play on summer evenings, and families spend the day at the beach, which has a handsome Arts and Crafts-style bath house.

The Phipps Center for the Arts overlooks the park and is a venue for plays, concerts and art exhibits year-round.

Stillwater is better known as a day-trip destination, though it has no beach or theater, and tourists clog its streets in summer and fall. But the I-94 bridge separates Hudson from the Twin Cities enough to keep crowds at bay.

Hudson still feels like a small town, not a suburb. Yet the shops in its compact downtown there's only room for a few streets at the foot of the bluffs   have a big-city sensibility that's popular with visitors.

Abigail Page Antiques, named after the first white child born in Hudson, was one of the first destinations, a consortium of dealers who sell pop-culture relics, consignment furniture and home decor.

Seasons on St. Croix Gallery carries an alluring array of pottery, glass, jewelry, paintings and metalwork from 130 artists, five of whom work in studios on-site.

After a hard day shopping, visitors can settle into one of the Second Street restaurants for a meal inspired by the cuisine of Italy, Germany, the Caribbean or the Southwest.

But first, they must stop by a shop that is just up the hill on Locust Street. Knoke's Chocolates is perhaps the most-loved shop in Hudson by adults and children alike.

It's candy for the eyes as well as taste buds, lined with glass jars full of gummies, licorice, pastel malted-milk balls and old-fashioned penny candy.

Owner David Knoke makes its European-style molded truffles by hand, filling them with ganaches flavored by Grand Marnier, espresso and amaretto. There's also caramel corn, fudge and peanut brittle; no one gets away without buying a bag of something.

Beer lovers won't want to miss Casanova Liquors, which occupies an 1896 brewery set into a hillside along Coulee Road. For many years, Wisconsin's drinking age was 18, and underage Minnesotans flocked to its bars. 

There's no longer any reason to come for tap beer, but Wisconsin stores carry many great microbrews that don't ship outside the state.

Casanova not only has one of the region's best selections of craft beers, it sells them all by the bottle, allowing customers to sample a broad selection of porters, stouts and ales.

You can visit Hudson for the beach life, the historic houses or picnics in blufftop parks. But get to know it, and you'll find yourself returning for the treats.

Trip Tips: Hudson, Wisconsin

Getting there: It's half an hour east of the Twin Cities.

2021 events: Feb. 5-7, Hot Air Affair. June 6, Art on the Willow in Willow River State Park (free park admission June 5-6). Fourth of July weekend, Booster Days. Aug. 20-22, North Hudson Pepper Festival. Sept. 25-26, Spirit of the St. Croix Art Festival.

Accommodations: The 1884 Phipps Inn on Third Street is walking distance from downtown and has six rooms, each with a fireplace and double whirlpool, 715-386-0800 or 888-865-9388.

Dining: A two-block stretch of Second Street downtown is lined with good restaurants. The cozy Winzer Stube goes above and beyond familiar Bavarian food with such dishes as maultaschen, or mushroom ravioli, and geschnetzeltes, veal strips with mushrooms in cream sauce, 715-381-5092.

The San Pedro Cafe serves pastas, sandwiches and pizza and entrees with a tropical flavor, such as chipotle orange-glazed chicken, blackened-tuna pasta and artichoke-thyme grouper, 715-386-4003.

Bricks serves Neapolitan pizza; Barker's Bar & Grill has burgers, chicken and steaks; and Agave Kitchen offers a large selection of Southwestern-style dishes.

Craft breweries: Downtown, Hop & Barrel Brewing has a taproom with patio and offers tours, trivia and other events, such as a Haunted Brewhouse in October.

Pitchfork Brewing has a taproom on the northwest corner of the junction of I-94 and U.S. 12 and serves pizza and sandwiches.

Food tour: The Hudson Food Walk walking tour includes stops for sampling at five downtown restaurants and a chocolate shop.

Trolley toursHudson Trolley Company offers tours with a variety of themes, many of them seasonal.

River cruisesSt. Croix River Cruises offers brunch, lunch, dinner and special-occasion cruises.

Shopping: Most stores are on the same stretch of Second Street. Abigail Page Antiques is a dealer co-op. Seasons on St. Croix Gallery includes glass and pottery studios and holds an artists reception on the First Friday of the month. 

Knoke's Chocolates is a block up Locust Street.

For an excellent selection of microbrews that can be bought by the bottle, head up the bluff on Coulee Road, by the Dairy Queen, to Casanova Liquors.

Attractions: The Octagon House, 1004 Third St., is open for guided tours Friday-Sunday from May through October and Saturday-Sunday in December. Admission is $10, $3 for students 6-18. 715-386-2654.

Lakefront Park has a beach with bathhouse, and free concerts from June through August.

Nightlife: Phipps Center for the Arts, 715-386-8409, overlooks Lakefront Park and schedules concerts and plays year-round.

Up on the I-94 strip, the St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre produces shows at the Best Western Hudson House. Call 715-386-2394, Ext. 333.

Picnic with a view: To get to Prospect Park from downtown, head up Walnut Street, turn south of Third Street, go up the hill and turn left on Blakeman Avenue. There's a picnic table and a swinging bench.

There's another good view from Birkmose Park, off Coulee Road between downtown and I-94.

Willow River State Park: From Second Street, Hudson's main street, turn right on St. Croix Street, which turns into County Road A and leads to the park, six miles from town. It has a beach on Little Falls Lake, a picnic area, campground and canoe rentals.

In winter, there are nine miles of cross-country ski trails tracked for skating and striding. Daily vehicle fees are $10, $13 for non-residents. 715-386-5931.

Winter sports: Badlands Sno-Park, six miles east of downtown, has tubing, snowboarding and a beginner's ski hill.

Information: Hudson tourism, 715-386-8411 or 800-657-6775.

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