During the holiday season, Lakeville, Minnesota, transforms into a magical winter wonderland with crisp, wintry…
Building Trails on Purpose
When you come to Lakeville for the first time, you’ll notice that trails are everywhere. In the neighborhoods, along I-35, through the parks and around the lakes and beaches, ribbons of separated bike and pedestrian routes crisscross the town and connect people to exercise, shopping, dining, school, work and recreation. Efforts to make the city more bike and pedestrian friendly began more than 20 years ago and paved the way – no pun here – for Lakeville to host the Minnesota Iron Man Bike Ride for 11 consecutive years. Since 2013 residents have been surveyed as part of an Envision Lakeville future planning exercise and the results consistently reveal that Lakeville’s residents feel parks and biking and walking trails are a top priority. Currently, Lakeville has 117 miles of paved, non-motorized multi-use trails, 10 miles of nature trails, and 1,106 acres of parks.
Add a mountain bike trail, lots of gravel roads in the surrounding area and two breweries, and we just had to go in for a closer look.
Five Thumb Service
Jen and I checked into the Hampton Inn, Lakeville’s newest hotel, the day before the ride. Like in many other towns, it was a couple of miles from the downtown happenings, but in this case it didn’t mean having to choose between negotiating major roads by bike or driving into town.
A brand new leg of the trail network ran right by the building and all we had to do is roll out and begin exploring. The Hampton Inn didn’t disappoint. Our room was clean and modern and our window looked out over a little pond surrounded by woods. They even had a place to store our bikes overnight so we didn’t have to lug them up to the room and back down. Between the two of us we gave this service four thumbs up, but it really should get five.
Riding Around Town
The next morning we hit the trail early. The plan was an easy route around town, literally, followed by lunch, a road ride out to a place called Hot Sam’s and then a visit to the town breweries, Angry Inch and Lakeville Brewing. It was nice and cool to begin with because the sun hadn’t broken through the haze of Canadian wildfire smoke, yet. We followed the trail through a landscape that was completely different from what we’re used to on our bike rides. We’re simple country folk who live in rural central Minnesota and most of our rides happen in places just like that. So instead of seeing cows, corn and barns we rode through neighborhoods, along streets and past malls, just to turn a corner and ride through another manicured park, then pop out on a quiet street in a commercial area. A jog on Juno Trail took us around the northwestern edge of Lake Marion and its tidy mansions, skirting West Lake Marion and Casperson Parks. The route went north on a bridge over the lake and spit us out just across I-35 from Ritter Farm Park. We ended up crossing the freeway a couple of times and started heading south again, toward downtown Lakeville.
The city was bustling with people. There was a farmers market, brimming with red tomatoes, fragrant dill and spicy peppers neatly stacked on tables under canvas tents. At Dairy Delite’s small roadside ice cream shop, cones, malts and chili dogs (I have a thing for chili dogs) were flowing from the walkup window into the hands of the waiting crowd. Our first stop, however, was to meet up for lunch with Jen’s parents Mike and Theresa at the Mainstreet Coffee and Wine Bar. After that we hit the farmers market, and that’s when we went nuts. A half-hour later we emerged, dazed and clutching several full bags of hot peppers and jars of pickles and salsa. Jen and I didn’t talk about it, but we knew we had done it again and set ourselves up for another weekend of experimental cooking. Luckily, Jen’s parents offered to shuttle our treasures back to the hotel and put them in the fridge.
The Open Road
Before leaving the trail system we stopped at the Lakeville Arts Center to have a look a the colorful sculptures outside. Then it was time to hit the open road to Hot Sam’s. Right after we cleared the huge Amazon warehouse on the southern edge of town, things started to look a little more familiar and rural. Our legs felt good, we had a tailwind and were going downhill on a road with a wide shoulder. It doesn’t get much better than that. Our turn came up sooner than expected and -surprise- the road was unpaved. As of early 2020 we’re rockin’ two Salsa Vayas with 38mm tires and surprises like this are no longer a problem. With an “Oh yeah!” and “Woohoo!” we turned on the gravel road and crunched away, destination Hot Sam’s, where we met up again with our entourage.
If you’re wondering if Hot Sam’s is an antique store, photo op, junkyard, welding shop or theme park, the answer is yes. It’s where you find that John F. Kennedy inauguration ashtray right next to a box of rusty fence finials. High-schoolers come here to have their graduation photos taken -the kind where a young woman wearing a flowing, white dress, jean jacket and cowboy boots leans against the hood of a rusty 1940s Ford pickup while holding a sunflower, you’ve seen it. You’ll also find a hippie van camp peacefully coexisting with a 20-foot buzz-cut fantasy soldier wearing a belt of hand grenades.
It’s where old cars get transformed into clownfish and sheet metal pieces into giant roosters. Seen from Tweety Bird’s perch in the corn-crib-turned-birdcage, it’s a peaceful setting by a little pond, but there’s a buzz in the air. Kids, of course, enjoy running around and looking at the colorful displays. They must feel like somebody finally understood their drawings and made them come to life. Adults either amble through the grounds until they give up processing it all, put their hands on their hips and mutter “That’s different”, or they cut loose and have fun. Like my father-in law who insisted on wedging his 6-foot something frame behind the wheel of a one-seat airplane-because he was now a pilot.
Angry Inch Brewing
With Hot Sam’s in the rear view mirror, we moved on to the leisure part of the day. There was important business to be done at Angry Inch and Lakeville Brewing.
We plopped down on the shady patio of Angry Inch, where they were celebrating their 5-year anniversary, ordered a flight and got to work. After some deliberation I had a set of three beers in the final running. I loved the Samoan Kisses milk stout with its hint of coconut, but the season wasn’t right for a stout. I’ll have to revisit this one when we come back to ski at Ritter Farm Park this winter. The runner-up was Hobo’s Haze, an East Coast IPA. This surprised everyone, myself included, because hazy IPAs and I have had a rocky relationship ever since they appeared. My favorite pairing was the Four Horsemen IPA, which had just enough bite for me. It tasted way better than the name implies with no trace of death, famine, war or conquest.
Lakeville Brewing Company
At Lakeville Brewing, right across the parking lot from Angry Inch, the crowd was hopping inside of the taproom and in the spacious, shady beer garden. We sat down at a picnic table outside and studied the beer and food menus. There was a lot to choose from, but I finally narrowed it down to the top three. Berry Nice Volume 2 fruit beer was a good thirst quencher after smoldering in the sun all day long. The Clarabelle Milk Stout made the list for the same reason the Samoan Kisses at Angry Inch did. I’ll revisit this second place in the winter after skiing. The winner at Lakeville Brewing was the Farmhouse Remedy Saison. It was surprisingly high in ABV, almost eight percent, but the yeast flavor still came through. Not an all-day sipper, but a good note to end a day on. Plus, it came with an edible flower. At least I hope it was edible, it tasted like a Nasturtium.
Our food arrived lightning-fast for how busy they were, and it was excellent. My Crispy Pork Tenderloin sandwich ended up being a huge slab of meat that barely fit the bun. Everyone was happy, so we ordered one more thing off the menu: A round of beers for the kitchen. Yes, you can do that.
We sat for a little while longer and talked about everything and nothing and saw a steady stream of people move in and out of the beer garden. When the Lakeville Fire Department drove by the brewery, people started pumping their fists in the air and, sure enough, they honked their horn much to the delight of the crowd. Right at that moment it was easy to forget that we were only 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis and even though Lakeville has seen tremendous growth in the last few decades, there’s still a touch of rural here.
Mountain Bike Trails
The next day was not a rest day. Before we left town we visited the West Lake Marion Mountain Bike Trail, which occupies a small sliver of land between the shore of Lake Marion and I-35. About five miles of singletrack offer options from easy to advanced through a wooded setting. There’s a short warm-up loop with berms, moguls and ride-around jumps right after you pass through the gates. “My kids love it”, one rider told me.
Ritter Farm Park
After that we went for a walk at Ritter Farm Park, just across the freeway from the mountain bike park. Its hiking trails snake through a varied, hilly landscape of oak and open areas along the western edge of Lake Marion and accommodate people on foot and horseback. In the winter a lot of these trails are groomed for skiing and snowmobiling. There’s a dog park, nature center and archery range and picnic area to round out the recreational offerings here.
We got in a good one-hour walk to shake the legs out and worked up an appetite, so before the final curtain in Lakeville, we went back to downtown for lunch.
The Long Minnesota Goodbye
I don’t know how to explain it, but B-52 Burgers and Brew has a cool vacation-like vibe. There’s a covered outdoor patio, but a glass garage door that runs the front of the building turns inside seating into outside seating when the time is right, kinda like dining near the pool bar in an exotic location. Maybe this is commonplace in the world now and I need to get out more?
I longingly eyed the extensive tap list, but went with soda, instead. Our food came lightning-fast again (this must be a city ordinance) and there was a moment of silence as we worked on our lunches. Despite feeling no effects of last night, Jen liked The Hangover sandwich-think breakfast on a burger-and my Nashville Hot Chicken hit the spot, too. They both came with the restaurant logo, a B52 airplane, branded on the bun. There was love and romance in the air as we traded sample bites, which meant shoving a sandwich in each other’s face with arms stretched across the table and guessing how big of a bite the other person wants. It was that good.
The very last stop before we hit the road was Dairy Delite, just down the block from the restaurant. We took our waffle cones for a short walk to a little park with a water fountain and kept on procrastinating the inevitable: The drive home, unpacking and reality. This short Trail Pairings trip to Lakeville could easily be expanded into a longer one. There are more parks and trails than we had time for and that’s not even including fishing and kayaking on Lake Marion. In the winter you can even bring the skis, snowshoes and fatbikes and that’s what we intend to do.
I think I already know a beer to go with it.