Only a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian border lies kitschy, whimsical Grand Marais, a small, historical town in northeastern Minnesota along a double harbor on Lake Superior. Over the years the town has been used for many things yet recently has become a destination in itself with shopping, art, a few fancy restaurants and hotels and of course, as the jumping off point to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe area (a remote 1,090,000 acre/4400 km2 wilderness area within the Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota).

One of many kitchy shops that can be easily found in Grand Marais.

Per the Grand Marais Tourism Association:

Grand Marais has existed for centuries, although it wasn’t always known by its current name. The Ojibwe called this location Kitchi-Bitobig, meaning “double body of water”, and it was a Native American village for many years before any Europeans arrived. It is the translation from the French trappers’ dialect for this large bite out of Superior’s shore that lives today, “great marsh”. Grand Marais has been a fur trading post, fishing village, lumber town, hay fever haven and sports center, and it is now a destination that welcomes visitors enthralled by Lake Superior’s majesty.

As a child, visiting Grand Marais during a trip to the North Shore, was always a highlight. We’d jump in the station wagon, drive north along highway 61, and forty minutes or so later we were there. It felt like an outpost in the middle of nowhere yet we knew that the Old Trading Post and the Malt Shop were there, waiting for us.

After a delicious malt, we would visit our favorite knickknack shop, the Old Trading Post, which had all sorts of small gifts from “up north”.  From homemade maple syrup, to moccasins, agates, toys, Native American dolls and clothing, you could find anything your childish heart desired.

Fast forward thirty years and it was time to bring my children to Grand Marais and check it out. It is funny how after so many years a place can change yet remain the same. The feel of Grand Marais remained untouched and brought back a wave of memories from my eighteen years of traveling there as a child.

Whimsical, kitschy, unusual and trendy all in one small package. Grand Marais has a lot of offer for anyone traveling in that neck of the woods. Here are some of my favorites….

Every small town in America has to have a good old Ben Franklin I haven’t seen one in years but here it was. Of course we had to check it out and see what was inside.

Ben Franklin did not disappoint with its level of junk and knickknacks for sale. I almost fell over laughing when I found the “adult” aisle with this stuff….

And this stuff…..

This button made me completely loose it. You hit the button and it yells “Bull Shit!”. We acted like little children pushing it over and over again, laughing hysterically.

Then there is the trendy, lovely places like this one above.

And this store reminding us how close we are to our Canadian friends.

This was the best store of all as it sold old-fashioned candy from the 50s on. The owner finds it all on the internet and stocks it at her lovely store.

Max and Sophia: Two kids inside a candy shop with their eyes aglow.

Homemade jams, jellies, honeys for sale. Mmmm….I couldn’t resist the fresh strawberry rhubarb jam. I still have it!

I loved this one….it is my grandmother’s name, Viola!

The oldies but goodies….remember the candy cigarettes from the 50s?

You could even buy a candy bag from an era. My mom was going to a 60th birthday party and had fun stocking up on this candy and putting it in the “Bullshit” bag for her friend. Great gift idea, huh?!

You hardly see these candy canes anymore nowadays but I sure remember them from my youth. Think back to the 1970s.

Now really? Are they joking?

There are lots of trendy cafes and restaurants too. These did not exist back in the days of my childhood. Some things have changed in Grand Marais, but not its charm.

For all those Swedish Minnesotans, you’ve got to have your “Sven & Ole’s”. Sven and Ole jokes are still popular today amount us Minnesotans. I claim to be one of Swedish heritage as my maiden name is Anderson. You open a phone book in Minnesota and there are pages of “sons”.

Wouldn’t be possible without taking a photo of my Swedish friends.

Grand Marais is also known as a artist community. There are many painters, writers and other artists that live in that neck of the woods.

I found plenty of interesting street art painted on the back of buildings or other surprising places….

Whoever thought of painting the back of an old, abandoned semi truck?

Art along the side of a co-op grocery store.

A ship painted alongside an old building to remind us of Grand Marais’ historical past.

We left Grand Marais just as we did so many years ago. Untouched. Remembered. And in wonderment of such a nostalgic place. 


    1. So glad you liked the post! I had fun with it and loved playing around with the pictures to make some more vintage and others more dramatic. 🙂 Nicole

  1. Another fun and exciting adventure. Love it. The bullshit bags got my attention. We need to sell that everywhere. It’s an eye opener for the offenders but in a more humorous way.

  2. Love the memories… reminds me of Niagara on the Lake and Port Dalhousie, two quant little tourist towns that seem frozen in time. Was really sad the other day when we went to Port Dalhousie since may of the nice shops are boarded up and soon will be a condo development 🙁 The best ice cream shop is gone and the coolest bar with the biggest outdoor patio.

      1. It is amazing… the maid of the mist is a must! Niagara-on-the-Lake is very cute and a great side trip and if you like wine there are tons of wineries in the area too.

      2. Does the Pope where a funny hat? I LOVE wine! 🙂 I would love to bring the kids to Niagara sometime. I think it would be a lovely family trip and your recommendations would make it even better! Someday!

      3. It is really child friendly. I worked at a hotel and many families would come each summer. It is expensive (BIG tourist trap in places). Let me know if you ever come up and I can tell you where to go and not get soaked… and not from the mist ;). It is easy to do in a few days, a long weekend is best. day for the falls, another for N-O-T-L and one to wander or do a few extras.

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