It all started as a Google search, as so many things do. Fourteen months prior to our Fargo vacation, I was in Charleston with my best friend Lemon, and we both set out to run 12-milers as we trained for our respective half-marathons. “We should take a runcation together,” she mused. “I wonder what the best race in all 50 states is?” Which is how we found ourselves on a long weekend trip to Fargo, North Dakota a year and change later.
Now, I’m a planner, but planning for a trip a full year in advance is even beyond my typical Type A tendencies. Nevertheless, Lemon and I booked our Airbnb nine months in advance, put the dates in ink in our planners and roped our husbands into a couples getaway well before fall even rolled around. I may not know what the next week looks like for me in terms of work and travel commitments usually, but by God, I knew my 2018 spring calendar was going to be anchored by a trip to North Dakota.
I’ll admit: I knew little to nothing about Fargo before arrival. In fact, I had no idea it was less than four hours from Minneapolis by car! There’s an airport in Fargo that Lemon and her husband flew out of back to Austin, but seeing that I can fly into Minnesota for less than $100 each way, I opted for a round-trip to MSP, a couple days’ detour to see friends, then a rental car that took me the rest of the way to North Dakota.
And what did I find while there? Well, let me tell you.
Fargo is more than a Coen Brothers film
You’re all likely rolling your eyes at me right now—”duh, Kristin, we all know that”—and I’m sorry to be a cliche, but the snowy vision I had in my head of North Dakota was one of Frances McDormand and William H. Macy and some, erm, colorful locals. That couldn’t have been further from the Fargo we experienced: green and alive and brimming with educated, cultured and, gosh-darnit, as friendly locals as they come. Being from Tennessee, I thought that even us Southerners could take a cue from North Dakotans on hospitality! We met so many locals who were eager to show off their town and, most importantly, direct us to the best beer spots in Fargo. Which brings me to…
North Dakota has an impressive craft beer scene brewing
If there’s craft beer, I’m going to sniff it out, and Fargo-Moorhead, the greater metro area that also includes a tiny little blip of Minnesota, boasts six breweries. We made it to just three—I know, I know, I’m losing my game—but I couldn’t get enough of the viking-themed Drekker Brewing Co.’s sour lineup; I seriously would have camped out here my entire stay and not left if they let me. I loved the ambiance and funky brews on tap at Junkyard Brewing Company. And a flight on the patio at Fargo Brewing Co. is a must as it’s the OG of local breweries.
It’s also got a cidery
SVV and I are borderline obsessed with fermented goods, so when I stumbled upon Wild Terra Cider and Brewery, I knew somebody up there was looking out for me. Beyond being just plain darling, Wild Terra offers a wide array of ciders on tap for every taste bud and is finally starting to put out a few of its own, in addition to house-brewed kombucha (gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it!). Plus, I had, hands down, the best meal I tasted in all of North Dakota while killing time there on a Sunday, so I definitely recommend saving a visit for Wild Terra for when you’re also craving a bite to eat. A bonus: All the food is vegan/vegetarian.
And a sweet side, too
You know the way to this sweet-lover’s heart is through sugar, and I happened to be in Fargo the same week that both Silver Lining Creamery and Scoop ‘n Dough opened. So naturally I had to visit both! I also made sure to swing by Sandy’s Donuts on my way out, which was a holy experience indeed. Tea & Crepe and Insomnia Cookies had also been on my to-eat list, but alas, a girl can only squeeze in so many sugar runs between brewery stops, I’ve been told (*shrugs*).
The downtown is positively charming
When I went to Sioux Falls a few years back, I stumbled into the creative confines of numerous artisans and entrepreneurs who were using the lack of recession repercussions in this part of the country to their benefit by breathing new life into the old brick buildings that dotted their downtowns. Fargo is similar in that its historic downtown was flanked with indie boutiques and shops, including Unglued, the very artisan collective I fell in love with in Sioux Falls that was born in Fargo. (The South Dakota location has since closed.) I don’t shop a lot on most trips, but let’s just say I came back from Fargo with a new dress. And a purse. And a necklace and two pairs of earrings. And a cloth cactus for our rental house. And three graphic prints. And two T-shirts for SVV. OK fine, I shopped a lot in Fargo, but it’s not my fault—the stores there are just too darn cute (and affordable, I might add).
It has an avid running culture
I confess that since moving back to the South, I have exactly two running seasons: spring and fall. The rest of the year? It’s either too hot or way too cold. So the fact that Fargo’s running scene is so robust despite the amount of snow it gets in the winter is just a testament to the fitness community and its commitment to healthy living. What Lemon and I had read online about the Fargo Marathon being one of the best was no lie; I’ve run dozens of races of all distances—10Ks, half-marathons, even a full—and this race had the best energy and crowd support I’ve ever witnessed. More than 10,000 runners come out for the Friday night 5K while nearly that same number runs the half or full the following morning. It’s flat, it’s green, it’s scenic and it’s wonderfully attended. I wouldn’t be opposed to making this an annual ritual to kick my butt back into regular running shape.
It’s home to an adorable boutique art hotel
Not a big fan of chain hotels when you travel for fun? Neither am I, usually. And while I stayed in an Airbnb the first couple nights, I relocated to the Hotel Donaldson for my final night in Fargo, and my corner room blew me away with its art collection. Each of the 17 rooms features a different artist and, as such, has its own creative touches; mine, room 15, was outfitted with the most dazzling, colorful glass collection by John Offutt. The HoDo has both a ground-level restaurant and lounge, both of which I took advantage of, though the Sky Prairie rooftop bar was closed during my visit. My friend Em assures me it’s magical.
My takeaway from my four days in Fargo? In a nutshell, North Dakota isn’t all bison and flatlands, though the western part of the state has plenty of that, too. For those cruising through this region of the Great Plains, you’ll be surprised—and, hopefully, delighted like I was—by the urban sprawl of Fargo-Moorhead, its quaint downtown district and the bevy of outdoor adventures that surround it.
Have you been to Fargo? Did you expect it to look more like the movie?