Best Tourist Attraction - 2013
Is there anything more essentially Minnesotan than Laura Ingalls Wilder? Okay, so Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, and even New York (home to husband Almanzo) also claim her. But only we have Walnut Grove, her family's onetime stamping ground lionized by Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, and the rest of the gang on the long-running television series. Tourists from all over the region, especially those who have checked off visits to all her Midwestern homes, make the pilgrimage to this sleepy southwestern Minnesota town every year to attend its summer pageant, check out museum memorabilia from Ingalls Wilder's life (both actual and televised), compete in the annual Laura and Nellie lookalike contest, and pick up their own slate and pencil, rag doll, or bonnet in the adjoining gift shop. The family lived here twice when Laura was seven and 11, and only for short periods of time before moving on to Iowa and South Dakota in search of better opportunities in what were challenging times for westbound pioneers. While home sites like that in DeSmet, South Dakota, offer a greater chronological glimpse into the family's life (and figure more significantly in the book series), it's impossible not to feel a rush of nostalgia as you walk "On the Banks of Plum Creek" — which you actually can do — and stand over the remains of the Ingalls family's actual hillside sod dugout, noticing a number of landmarks mentioned in the book of the same name.