The city of Brainerd, Minnesota, is located on the Mississippi River and is just a couple hours from Minneapolis. The city itself isn’t a big draw, but many people come to the area to enjoy the countless year-round outdoor recreational activities available, including fishing, boating, and swimming on the nearby lakes, golfing, hiking, camping, biking, snowmobiling, skiing, and much more. Nisswa, about 15 minutes north of Brainerd, is where many outdoor tourists visit. Visit the Brainerd Lakes official website for more information.
The small downtown has a few historic buildings and antique shops. I visited on a Friday afternoon and it was very quiet.
The water tower, a symbol of the town, is located near the downtown and is impossible to miss.
Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum
A government complex of several buildings, including the Crow Wing County Courthouse and Brainerd City Hall are just a block from the commercial downtown area. The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum, housed in the old county jail built in 1917, is the most interesting place in town to visit and is very well done.
The museum has three levels and covers many different aspects of life in Brainerd and Crow Wing County, from Native American times to the lumber and mining days, railroads, famous athletes from the area, and more recent times.
An original jail cell is on display, and the words “County Jail” still appear on the outside of the building.
Free guided tours of the attached sheriff’s residence are also available upon request.
The museum is open from 10am to 3pm daily Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is US$3 per adult (as of August 2015). Tours of the sheriff’s residence are not given after 2pm.
Next to the county courthouse is a small memorial to veterans of all wars.
Paul Bunyan Land
For family entertainment, east of town is Paul Bunyan Land. There are plenty of activities for kids such as a petting zoo and rides. A replica pioneer village has over 40 buildings filled with antiques from the late 1800s to early 1900s. I didn’t visit. General admission is US$18.95 (as of August 2015). It’s open from 10am to 6pm daily in the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
For a good coffee, stop into Coco Moon on the corner of Laurel and 6th. They have the typical stuff along with a few house specialties available hot or iced. It’s closed Sundays.
For food, I didn’t have anything in town but did have breakfast in next door Baxter. 371 Diner is a 50s style diner serving big hearty breakfasts all day and typical diner fare with friendly service. You’ll find all kinds of chain restaurants and stores along 371 in Baxter and Washington St. in Brainerd with a few locally owned places mixed in.