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BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY Minneapolis 2004 - Duluth

There are quaint American cities without Duluth's windblown bohemia, lakeside burghs without Duluth's severe beauty, and party towns without Duluth's excessiveness. But combine these fascinations into one place, located less than three hours north of the Twin Cities, and you have an almost obligatory road trip for anyone interested in culture as well as nature. For the latter, by the way, Duluth is cooler than down here even on a hot summer day--like the feeling of going down into your basement. The historic port city on the mouth of Lake Superior is so under-run with tourists in the off season that you can virtually count on seclusion along the beach at Park Point, a six-mile-long spit of sand and wispy grass that looks straight out of a French New Wave film. Cross back over the Aerial Lift Bridge toward Superior St., and stop by Hepzibah's candy store for a truffle (394 Lake Ave. S., www.hepzibahs.com). Then explore the Central Hillside neighborhood, home of most of the city's great bands (including Low and their brother band, the Black-Eyed Snakes), plus enough antique, magazine, and coffee shops to keep geeks geeked. (Speaking of which, Duluth is home to the nation's only Geek Prom.) But don't miss the sights that sink into the mind's eye: the old Glensheen Mansion, the Superior Hiking Trail, Leif Erickson Park's rose garden. And once you've cushioned your stomach for a night's hard living (at any of a dozen good, cheap restaurants), check out the half-dozen great live-music clubs: among them, Beaner's Café (324 N. Central Ave., 218.624.5957), Pizza Lucé (11 E. Superior St., 218.727.7400), Fitger's Brewery (600 E. Superior St., 218.722.8826), and the sporadically reopening NorShor Theatre (211 E. Superior St., 218.727.7585). Pick up copies of The Reader Weekly and The Ripsaw News for full details and events, and check out the web log listed above for a better taste of their flavor, which is often wry, ready for fun, a little on the desperate side.

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