The most surprising thing about North Dakota isn’t that Lake Sakakawea has more shoreline than California’s Pacific Coast or that it’s home to more wildlife refuges than any other state. It’s how few Minnesotans have been there.
Fargo is 3.5 hours from the Twin Cities, which makes it closer than many popular points along the North Shore, yet we can count on one hand (two fingers even!) how many of our friends have made the trek northwest.
Not us, boy—we go every chance we can get and have probably been half a dozen times since moving to the Midwest four years ago. While there’s more than enough to see and do up there to warrant a weeklong trip, it’s also the perfect weekend getaway for Twin Citizens. Tack on a night or two in Grand Forks, or work in a side trip to Carrington, and you have the makings of a very fun road trip.
In this guide, we’ll share with you our favorite stops in Fargo and its sister city of Moorhead, just over the Minnesota border, as well as Grand Forks, an hour and 20 minutes father north. With Drekker Brewing Company opening its epic Brewhalla complex in Fargo any day now and Food Network star Molly Yeh introducing Bernie’s, a new restaurant in East Grand Forks this fall, you have zero excuses left not to go.
Where to stay in Fargo-Moorhead
• Thank god downtown Fargo finally got itself a proper boutique hotel, ’cause the dated and dour Hotel Donaldson sure wasn’t cutting it. The year-old Jasper Hotel, by contrast, is the kind of design-y property that is standard in cities twice Fargo’s size. The mixed-use tower sports 125 guest rooms in a range of configurations, including deluxe kings and panoramic studio suites, plus luxe amenities like Frette robes and toiletries from Grown Alchemist. Surprisingly edgy local art hangs on the walls and there is a great coffee shop, bar/lounge, and locavore-minded restaurant (Rosewild) on the ground floor. Norwegian “klubb” dumplings with hearth-roasted carrots, kimchi, and lingonberries? Sign us up!
The Jasper is also pet- and child-friendly. When we visited in mid-August, the concierge provided a Pack N’ Play for the baby and a bag of treats for our Chiweenie. The blackout drapes were helpful when trying to maintain a nap schedule—though it was a shame to shut out our room’s sweeping views of downtown Fargo.
What to do for fun in Fargo-Moorhead
• Top o’ the bucket list for many first-time visitors is taking a photo with the famous Fargo wood chipper, located at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, along with other props from the 1996 Coen Brothers film. (Note: The wood chipper that is displayed outside, nearest to the parking lot, is a dupe. The real one is roped off indoors.) The visitor center itself is housed in a former grain elevator, a nod to the state’s long agricultural history. Don’t miss the Celebrity Walk of Fame: It includes handprints and signatures from Jesse Ventura, Dr. Ruth, Richard Simmons, Bill Gates, Neil Diamond, and Metallica.
• Built in 1926, the nearly century-old, Art Deco-style Fargo Theatre is home to an original Wurlitzer pipe organ. The best way to see it is to get tickets to an event; the former vaudeville venue regularly hosts concerts, festivals, film screenings, and stand-up comedians. Check the calendar for details.
• Or, you know, go to the opera! We saw Johan Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus at the Fargo-Moorhead Opera, then in its 49th season, and it was quite entertaining. Coming up soon: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (October 28-30, 2022) and Puccini’s La Boheme (March 31-April 2, 2023). Tickets may be purchased online or at the door.
• Art Alley, located on 1st Avenue North between 4th and 5th Streets, is the only legal spot in Fargo to throw up graffiti. (Everywhere else requires permission from the property owner.) The wall is a mix of halfway-decent pieces, amateur-hour doodling, and hastily sprayed tag art. For other photogenic backdrops, check out the nostalgic Mario wall behind The Toasted Frog, painted by local artists Dark Elvis and Icky Hiccup; the colorful buffalo train car at the corner of Main and Broadway, painted by Steven Knutson; and the eye-popping “Greetings from Fargo” mural on the west side of Orange Records, a remnant of postcard muralist Victor Ving and photographer Lisa Beggs’ cross-country Greetings Tour.
• The Plains Art Museum houses an impressive collection of traditional and contemporary work by Native American and Great Plains-affiliated artists—the kinds of loaded pieces you rarely see on prominent displays in similarly sized museums. Rotating exhibitions have showcased the talents of Fritz Scholder, Frank Big Bear, Jr., Wendy Red Star, and Star Wallowing Bull, an Ojibwe-Arapaho member of White Earth Nation in Minnesota. Also noteworthy: the enormous James Rosenquist mural in the lobby. Admission is free.
• The permanent collection at the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum in Moorhead focuses on old and new masters of the Midwest, including self-taught prairie artist Annie Stein. Twentieth-century pop stars like Roy Lichtenstein and Joan Miró, Pre-Columbian art, and a smattering of global works also make appearances. Admission is free.
• Visit St. John the Divine, an enchanting Tudor-style Episcopal church in Moorhead. The parish dates to 1875 but the 1899 building was designed by prominent American architect Cass Gilbert. Nowadays, the church doubles as a community center for Sudanese refugees, holding services in Arabic.
• Dive into Viking culture at the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, a.k.a. the Hjemkomst Center, in Moorhead, home of the storied Hjemkomst ship. This exacting reproduction of a 9th-century Viking burial ship was the passion project of middle school guidance counselor Robert Asp. He built it in a Minnesota potato warehouse in 1974 and captained its maiden voyage from Duluth. Asp died of leukemia before he could sail his beloved Hjemkomst (Norwegian for “homecoming”) across the Great Lakes and then from New York City to Bergen, Norway. Two years after his death, his children completed the voyage in his honor.
Also on view at the Hjemkomst campus: the beautiful Moorhead stave church, a full-scale replica of the Hopperstad stave church in Norway, and rotating museum exhibitions on everything from Prohibition-era bootleggers to feed sack fashion.
• Traveling with children? Swing through Fargo’s Red River Zoo, which specializes in the care and breeding of cold-climate species. This includes red pandas, grey wolves, Pallas cats, swift foxes, Jacob sheep, and Sichuan takins, which may be the strangest looking creatures on earth. When you’re near the Nature Playground, look for the rainbow fence constructed from 1,000 jumbo colored pencils.
• SCHEELS is a sporting goods store with a 45-foot-tall Ferris wheel in the middle of its Fargo flagship. The SCHEELS Wheel, as it’s dubbed, dates to 1953 and features 12 cars. The 60,000-square-foot retail space is also home to a golf simulator, shooting gallery, a showcase of creepy presidential mannequins, and a fudge shop. Yeah, America!
Where to shop in Fargo-Moorhead
• Vella Kids Boutique in Fargo stocks some of our favorite brands of children’s clothing: Rylee + Cru, Quincy Mae, oh baby!, Mebie Baby, and Mushie. Lots of neutrals and pastels, but nothing too sad beige baby. The sale racks are in the back, FYI.
• Revolver Vintage is Fargo’s first vintage clothing and housewares store. It’s heavy on the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia (Sweet Valley High books, Punky Brewster dolls, Nancy Reagan glasses, etc.) and the shopkeeper is happy to dork out over TGIF.
• Kittsona in Fargo stocks women’s clothing with a North Dakota twist (think: cozy sherpa jackets in buffalo plaid). It’s a go-to for local college students seeking high-neck crop tops, glammy party dresses, and goofy novelty items like dog toys designed to look like beer cans.
• Prairie Petals, next door to Vella Kids, is a houseplant fetishist’s dream. Two black thumbs? Owner Kimberly Hess also sells an array of artful dried arrangements, many made with indigenous twigs and wildflowers collected from her prairie farmland in Minnesota.
• Unglued in Fargo is like Etsy in brick-and-mortar form, hosting crafty-craft workshops and stocking merch from more than 200 local and regional makers. Though we could do without the gnome-hat wine toppers and dog collar bling, we appreciate the selection of handmade jewelry, kooky stuffed animals for kids, hand-printed greeting cards, and small-batch apothecary goods.
• Vinyl Giant Records is the go-to for music geeks, selling new and used albums plus turntables, speakers, and headphones.
• Zandbroz Variety lives up to its name: The 33-year-old store’s breadth of merchandise includes candles, stationery, soaps, crystals, jewelry, globes, and the odd vintage urn. Don’t miss Danz Boys, buried in the back. It’s a 1950s soda fountain turned used bookstore where the walls are hung with taxidermy and old Masonite banners and the shelves are stacked with rare tomes. Prices can be steep but we still enjoy scouting.
Where to eat in Fargo-Moorhead
• One of the best restaurants in Fargo is tucked in a drab strip mall with a liquor store, chiropractor, and tombstone dealer. We’re talking about Luna, which serves breakfast, lunch, coffee, and, starting at 5 p.m. every Monday through Saturday, an impeccable dinner menu. Chef Ryan Nitschke’s fresh-baked, chive-and-cheddar popovers often sell out by 5:30 p.m., so you might have to “settle” for a bowl of unctuous lamb bacon soup as an appetizer. The entrees are forever changing: Maybe you’ll get Amish chicken thighs with farro, burrata, and Meyer lemon. Maybe it’ll be wild Sockeye salmon with red currant chermoula, chanterelles, and shishito peppers. Maybe it’ll be braised beef lasagne. Maybe you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself how mind-blowing the food can be in a Fargo strip mall.
• ThaiKota is a delightful new Northern Thai-style restaurant attached to a gas station in Fargo. You’ll want to try everything — especially the fish sauce-marinated chicken wings, sai aua (sour sausage), and the khao soi (yellow curry with egg noodles). Aroy mak, all of it! Portions are beyond generous, so expect leftovers.
• In keeping with the Southeast Asian theme, stop by Tea & Crepe for Thai rolled ice cream. Toppings are choose-your-own adventure, so we chose subtle lime ice cream showered in coconut, miniature mochi balls, and condensed milk.
• The one place we always visit in Fargo is BernBaum’s, a fantastic Jewish-Nordic deli selling cold-smoked lox with scrambled eggs, latke brisket with carrot horseradish, hearty bowls of matzoh ball soup and potato knishes, and an Israeli lamb meatloaf sandwich with harissa and spicy zhug sauce. Co-owners Brett Bernath and Andrea Baumgardner turn out some terrific vegan options, too—like a “reuben” sandwich with roasted beets, smoked carrots, and cashew cheese. We like it so much here, we usually visit twice: First for breakfast or brunch and again for a box of pastries to go. The chocolate rugelach, sticky-delicious orange rolls (available Saturdays and Sundays only), and classic black & white cookies are divine.
• With four locations across North Dakota, Kroll’s Diner is an all-day staple. The 1950s-style diner serves German and American standards, including breakfast fleischkuechle (sausage, American cheese, and scrambled eggs wrapped in a pastry and deep-fried) and knoephla, a lumpy yellow dumpling soup that is so popular it sells it in half-gallon to-go buckets.
• Sushi Burrito Cafe in Fargo makes—you guessed it—sushi burritos. Boba tea, too. We get ours to go and eat it at the shaded picnic tables in Oak Grove Park, a 36-acre green space with a disc golf course and North Dakota’s largest horseshoe complex.
• Würst Bier Hall in Fargo has long communal tables, a tremendous beer list, and delicious sausages. Try the buffalo-and-cheddar variety with sauerkraut—or the rattlesnake-rabbit combo if you’re more daring. The one thing you shouldn’t miss is the salty, warm, house-baked pretzels with hot beer cheese for dipping. They come three to an order and good god, they’re next level.
• Everest Tikka House in Moorhead is a solid Nepali and Indian restaurant tucked inside the decrepit Moorhead Center shopping mall. The atmosphere is charmless, but everything we ordered was tasty, especially the steamed momos. To save some cash, split the enormous Nepali thali between two people. It comes with chicken, goat, fish curry, daal fry, saag, aloo cauliflower, aloo achar, radish pickle, basmati rice, and dessert.
• No-frills East African restaurant Rugsan Cuisine is popular with Fargo’s Somali community. We understood why after tucking into the chicken and rice and the flaky, beefy, perfectly seasoned sambusas.
• Red River Market in Broadway Square is downtown Fargo’s main farmers market. It runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., early July through late October. In addition to the usual produce and baked goods, look out for fresh salsa from Uncle Jesse’s Produce, spicy fermented carrots from Farmented Foods, and bags of freshly roasted beans from Thunder Coffee in West Fargo.
Where to drink in Fargo-Moorhead
• When it comes to coffee, our top pick in Fargo is Youngblood Coffee Roasters. The shop sells Ritual chocolate bars and all manner of caffeinated beverages including a unique nitro oat latte served with a dash of maple syrup. Twenty Below Coffee Co., with locations in both Fargo and Moorhead, is also great. Besides hiring absurdly nice baristas, the label roasts its own micro-lot single-origin beans. Ample workspace and plenty of seating nooks make it a popular gathering spot, especially on weekends. The creative toasts are worth trying too.
• Fargo Brewing Company is one of the oldest breweries in town. Its ale room has 14 fine beers on tap, but our favorite spot for hopheads is Drekker Brewing Co. Try the juicy-tart People Eater, a sour made with Thai basil and 200 pounds of blueberries, or the Ectogasm, a New England-style hazy IPA brewed with Citra and Mosaic hops. Aside from being large enough to fit you and few hundred of your nearest and dearest, Drekker keeps drinkers busy with fire pits, Jenga towers, and games of Trivial Pursuit. Junkyard Brewing Company in Moorhead, meanwhile, has achieved cult status for its experimental beers. Try the Tangerine Super Slush, a fruited sour brewed with lactose and and a hint of Madagascar vanilla beans.
• Wild Terra set up its cidery and taproom in a converted 19th-century stable. The light-flooded, greenery-filled space is the perfect spot to parse the fruity, funky, spicy nuances of a cider flight and split a pizza with someone you love (or at least like).
• Harold’s On Main in Moorhead is a hip cocktail bar with ties to a group of musicians. Though it pays tribute to the long-shuttered Ralph’s Corner Bar with $3 Hamm’s pints and Heggies pizzas, its striking interior is very now with pine green vinyl booths and a graphic striped floor.
Side trip to Grand Forks
Grand Forks is just 80 miles north of Fargo and well worth the side trip if you have a night or two to spare.
Start your visit on the Greenway, a year-round recreational destination encompassing 2,200 acres of open space lining the Red and Red Lake Rivers. It was constructed as part of a flood protection system created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following the devastating flood of 1997. More than 56,000 people were evacuated before the rivers crested at a record high of 54 feet, flooding 75 percent of Grand Forks and 95 percent of East Grand Forks, forever altering the landscape.
Today you can BYO bikes, strollers, and rollerblades or rent cruisers from The Ski & Bike Shop to ply the Greenway’s 20-plus miles of multi-use trails. Points of interest along the way include the somber monument commemorating the 1997 flood and the painted blue rocks near Riverside Dam.
Another way to see the Red is to get on the water. Jim Grijalva, law professor at the University of North Dakota and founder of Ground Up Adventures, rents kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards via Boathouse on the Red, a duo of bright blue shipping containers parked just off the Greenway.
Burn enough calories biking or paddling and you should reward yourself with a treat from Carol Widman’s Candy. Her North Dakota sampler features white and milk chocolate-covered sunflower seed bark and Carol’s famous “Chippers,” chocolate-covered Red River Valley potato chips.
For breakfast, we like the Nutella, strawberry, and banana crepe from French Taste, a creperie founded by former UND marketing student Warren Sai. For lunch, we recommend the eclectic, adventurous plates at Ely’s Ivy, because where else in North Dakota can you chase deep-fried frog’s legs with a camel burger?
For dinner, you can do no better than Harry’s Steakhouse—one of the best supper clubs in the Midwest. The beautiful steaks come from cows raised on ranches in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, a.k.a. “the Napa Valley of Beef.” And goodness gracious, get the hash browns served “Harry’s Style,” with onion, applewood smoked bacon, and crumbled blue cheese. They’re legend ’round these parts and you’ll have leftovers for days.
If time permits, scout the contemporary works at the North Dakota Museum of Art; catch a sundown race at River Cities Speedway, an oval dirt-and-clay track showcasing NOSA outlaw sprint cars, street stocks, and Midwest modifieds; and take a stroll through the Sertoma Japanese Garden, a small but enchanting park whose traditional stone lanterns were a gift from the people of Awano Town, Grand Forks’ sister city in Japan.
To sleep, we like Staybridge Suites Grand Forks, which we’ve stayed at twice now. It’s new-ish, clean, and kid-friendly: The hotel has a heated zero-entry wading pool in addition to a regular swimming pool and hot tub and the guest rooms (all of them suites, technically) include a full kitchen and separate bedroom with blackout curtains (crib upon request). Pets are welcome too.
Day trip to Carrington
If you’re pressed on time, considering making a day trip to Carrington instead, about two hours northwest of Fargo. The town of 1,977 is home to Cows & Co. Creamery, where the gouda is as good as anything you’d find in the Netherlands and the creamy, dreamy gelato gives Italy a run for its Euros.
Also nearby: Dakota Sun Winery & Gardens, maker of award-winning fruit wines. Smirk all you want, wine snobs: These bottles are the embodiment of the fruits they feature—not too heavy, not too sweet, a true taste of North Dakota. Most of the produce (aronia berries, golden chokecherries, crabapples, etc.) is grown on-site at the family-run winery, too, which is open from June 1 until September 1. A tasting ($15) includes a dozen samples of Dakota Sun’s 35+ fruit wines and a self-guided tour of the lovingly tended flower gardens.
And hey, even better if you can time your day trip to the state’s annual sunflower bloom.