Winona: Shakespeare, Beethoven and doughnuts

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Car hops Ava Hughes, left, and Makalya Corey, right, take orders and serve food to customers in their vehicles at the Lakeview Drive Inn in Winona.

Mark Peterson is biased, of course, but ask him for a must-see in Winona and here's his advice: "The Winona County History Center is one of the places you should visit."

Peterson, the mayor of Winona, also happens to be the longtime director of the Winona County History Center , which houses displays about one of the state's oldest cities.

And with his knowledge of the history of Winona, Peterson knows the value of the two events that draw so many visitors to Winona in the summer, the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Minnesota Beethoven Festival , both of which begin at the end of June.

"When the Shakespeare festival came to town and chose Winona, I tell people it's the biggest event since Laird and Norton opened the first sawmill here," Peterson said. "It had that same transformative effect."

Winona, with its colleges and museums, had always been known as a haven for the arts, Peterson said. "But this really put us on the map, certainly getting recognized for arts and culture," he said of the Shakespeare and Beethoven festivals.


The events draw thousands of summertime visitors to Winona. "They're hugely important," Peterson said.

But there's more to Winona than these two festivals. If you're looking to discover some of Winona's other highlights in between plays and concerts, here are some recommendations from the mayor:

— The Minnesota Marine Art Museum . "It's a gem people should check out," Peterson said.

— A stroll through Woodlawn Cemetery . "I think it's one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the state," Peterson said. The cemetery holds the graves of several prominent Winonans, as well as the 1857 grave of Stephan Taylor, the only revolutionary war soldier buried in Minnesota. Taylor's grave marker is a replica of Fort Ticonderoga.

— Winona has a surprising number of buildings with striking stained glass designs, including Merchants Bank, Winona National Bank, City Hall and the Watkins Administration Building.

— Sample Winona's Polish heritage at the Polish Cultural Institute and Museum , and the Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka, built by Polish immigrants in 1895.

Lake Park, with its spectacular views of the bluffs, is a good place for a rest or a workout. "The bike paths around the lake are one of our most popular things," Peterson said.

Tour options


— The Winona Tour Boat cruises the Mississippi River, departing from Levee Park at 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

— Narrated tours of Winona are offered on the Trester Trolley at 10 a.m and 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Saturday tours are longer than the weekday tours.

Pointour walking tours of historic sites and architectural landmarks of Winona are available at 10 a.m and 1:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays at the Winona County History Center, 160 Johnson St.

Need a quick bite?

Bloedow's Bakery has been named by WCCO-TV as Minnesota's best doughnut shop. Three words: Get there early.

— The Lakeview Drive Inn . "They've been here since the '30s, and still have car hop service and homemade root beer," Peterson said.

— Winona's downtown area has a couple of live music venues, a coffeehouse/bookstore, restaurants and scenic views of the river.


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