Winter Weary? Staycation Ideas for the Fancy and the Frugal

Illustration by DWITT

Illustration by DWITT

For the Frugal

By Bill Lindeke

No matter how many generations your roots stretch back, winter is the true test for any Minnesotan. By the time February rolls around, the months of shortened days, numb appendages, icy streets, and long, cold nights take their toll.

To make it through the last seasonal stretches, we often need to indulge in a few creature comforts and put the cold out of mind. If you’re winter weary and on a budget, here are some ideas for a staycation that won’t break the bank.


A Minnesota State Park Camper Cabin // Photo courtesy Uniquely Minnesota

A Minnesota State Park Camper Cabin // Photo via Uniquely Minnesota

Getaway retreat without getting away

Set up basecamp for the weekend at a camper cabin in Afton State Park. At $65 to $70 a night, the rustic lodging feels like a getaway retreat while still being within shouting distance of the Twin Cities. Cabins have electric heating so you’re guaranteed to stay warm inside of the old school log walls. Then get out your warmest boots, and take a hike. Believe it or not, walking in winter can be rich and rewarding, and you ought to take at least one walk a day. On Saturday, February 3, you can hike along a trail lit with candle luminaries, warm up around campfires along the way, and enjoy some hot cider and other refreshments.

Little Box Sauna // Photo by River Otter, courtesy Little Box Sauna

Little Box Sauna // Photo by River Otter, via Little Box Sauna

Sweat it out in the Little Box Sauna

Ah, the sauna. It’s no coincidence that one of the only Finnish words to make it to our regular parlance is their near-magical method of surviving wintertime. For an urban sauna experience, look to the Little Box Sauna, an architecturally-modified “mobile hot spot” that parks itself around town during the winter. From February through the beginning of March, the Little Box Sauna will be at the Walker Art Center. Get a group together, pop into the sauna for 90 minutes for just $20, and have a great conversation while you expel the wintertime tension from all your pores.

Little Szechuan Hot Pot // Photo courtesy Little Szechuan Hot Pot St. Paul Facebook

Little Szechuan Hot Pot // Photo via Little Szechuan Hot Pot St. Paul Facebook

Hot pot at Little Szechuan

Likewise, there’s no cure for winter like steaming broth, and my go-to seasonal broth cure-all is the hot pot at St. Paul’s Little Szechuan. Hot pot involves a giant bubbling pot of variably spicy broth, a group of people, and plates of any imaginable vegetable, thin sliced meat, or seafood. Get a group of adventurous folk together and huddle around an all-you-can-eat steaming pot for $28.99. You will walk out red-cheeked and restored.

The 50’s style Riverview Movie Theater in South Minneapolis // Photo via Riverview Movie Theater

A film at the Riverview

“Summer blockbusters” are a thing, but to my mind, there’s no better time to watch movies than long winter evenings. And there’s no better place for a cheap night out than the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis’ ‘50s retro, second-run, community gem. A big screen, quality sound, and prices straight out of the 1990s (tickets run from $2 to $3) combine for a great time no matter how mediocre the film.

The Como Park Zoo Conservatory during the 2017 Winter Flower Show // Photo courtesy Como Park Zoo Conservatory Facebook

The Como Park Zoo Conservatory during the 2017 Winter Flower Show // Photo via Como Park Zoo Conservatory Facebook

Stroll through the Como Park Conservatory

To thrive in a Minnesota winter, I recommend at least a monthly dose of Como Park’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, where a glass-enclosed tropical jungle awaits you. The paths lead you through flowers, ferns, and trees from around the world, things you’ve never heard of, and—in the case of all the varieties of spice trees—many things you have. The orchids are particularly astounding, as they thrive on the warm side of the frosted glass.

A Boca Chica dish // Photo courtesy Boca Chica Facebook

A Boca Chica dish // Photo via Boca Chica Facebook

Happy hour at Boca Chica

The happy hour menu at Boca Chica on St. Paul’s West Side offers one of the city’s great deals for local Mexican tradition. Get a margarita, complementary tortilla chips, and some of the spiciest salsa around. I particularly like the flautas, thin and just the right amount of crispy, while the guacamole, queso, and salsa are arranged to form a Mexican flag. Meanwhile, the restaurant walls boast murals depicting Mexican history, including a crying conquistador. If you time it right, you can fill your stomach and enjoy a few drinks without breaking a $20 bill.

Folks Folkdancing // Photo courtesy Tapestry Folkdance Center Facebook

Folks Folkdancing // Photo via Tapestry Folkdance Center Facebook

Contra dancing at the Tapestry Folkdance Center

The most time-tested remedy for seasonal inertia is a night of dancing, and whatever style suits your fancy, you can find it somewhere in town. I recommend the Tapestry Folkdance Center in the Longfellow neighborhood, which has a wide variety of traditional folk dance nights that come with a introductory instruction lesson. Contra dancing is my favorite, because you get to briefly meet just about everyone in the room. You’ll find yourself walking home afterward having gotten exercise, listened to great music, and having rubbed shoulders with dozens of strangers of all ages, all for just $10.

The Dubliner Pub and Cafe // Photo by Kevin Venerus, courtesy Dubliner Pub and Cafe Facebook

The Dubliner Pub and Cafe // Photo by Kevin Venerus, via Dubliner Pub and Cafe Facebook

Sea Shanty Sing at the Dubliner Pub

A good wood-laden Irish pub is the perfect antidote for seasonal affective disorder, and there are plenty of high quality Irish pubs in the Twin Cities waiting for you on a February evening, full of nooks, fireplaces, camaraderie, frothy pints of beer, and stiff pours of whiskey. For a real place-displacing trip, try a few hours at St. Paul’s Dubliner Pub, especially during Sea Shanty Sing (the second Monday of the month). You’re guaranteed a room full of people shedding coats, pounding their feet on the worn wood floors, and singing tales of shipwrecks and long-lost loves. You’ll get a unique perspective on the comparatively milquetoast hardships of a Minnesota winter.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated the camper cabins at Afton Alps have wood stoves. The cabins have electric heat, whereas the yurts, which are also available to rent, have wood stoves.

Want to get fancy? Check out Jahna Peloquin’s picks for a staycation here.

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