If you love art and being outdoors, take an afternoon to check out public art in downtown Grand Forks. This is the perfect time for a road trip. The weather is crisp and sunny, you might still see some fall foliage on the way and everything on this itinerary is outdoors, so you can stay safe and practice social distancing.
There are stops on this route where you can go inside to pick up food, drinks, new art for your house or just warm up for a bit. But please practice COVID-19 safety precautions to keep yourself and the workers safe. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose, stay at least six feet from anyone else inside, sanitize your hands often and don’t stay inside any longer than you have to.
Let’s see some art!
Grand Forks combines accessible public art (especially sculptures) with outdoor recreation and city strolls in a way that seems effortless. Start downtown at Town Square (3rd Street South and DeMers) to take a photo with one of The BIG Heads, perhaps the city’s most photographed public sculptures.
To get to the second one, just walk through the pocket park just across the 3rd Street South to see some of the coolest sculptures in the state. I love how they’re just tucked away, hiding in plain sight.
The sculptures begin along a pretty wall ivy and fill in the space between Sledsters and The Urban Stampede, one of the coolest coffeehouses in the state. I highly recommend grabbing a cup of coffee and something sweet there, then heading back outside to stroll through the sculptures.
They flank the excellently named Kim Holmes Alley of Love (named for a local chef). A few more pieces are set into, along and across from the Sledster’s exterior walls.
The art is ever changing
Head east on 4th Street to see the art spilling out onto the sidewalk outside Browning Arts and YOU ARE HERE. Sometime you’ll find paintings, sometimes collages and sometimes sculptures, but it’s always eye-catching. I take a photo every single time. (Masks are required when you venture inside to buy.)
From here, you’ll see the second big blue head standing outside the Grand Forks MTC at 4th Street and Kittson Avenue. This one is often decorated and there are panels featuring regional artists along the bus shelters to the east of the building too.
Eating and Drinking
There’s a mural in the alley behind Half Brothers Brewing Company. You should definitely take a photo before you pop in to pick up some beer to go. (I have the amusingly named Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows in my fridge right it’s delicious.)
There’s food inside if you’re hungry. They’re known for their pizzas, but I have a weakness for the sandwiches on wheat bread made from the spent grain leftover from the beer brewing process.
Brick and Barley is also a great spot for curbside. They offer 48(!!!) beers on tap as well as pizzas, burgers and elevated bar bites.
Save room for dessert. They ship their cookies nation wide, sell pints of locally made You Betcha Ice Cream and (gasp!) have a make your own ice cream sandwich on the menu.
The Toasted Frog is my favorite non-fussy fine dining spot in town. But if I’m being honest, half of the reason I go is for the fried pickles. They’re incredible — easily one of the best appetizers in the entire state.
Now get outside
In warm (or even just above freezing) weather, it’s nice to eat outdoors. I like the picnic tables in Town Square and the amphitheater set into the grass near DeMers and 3rd Street. You’ll have a view of the Red River and the Flood Memorial Monument. The obelisk illustrates just how high the waters rose during the flood of 1997.
This sculpture is located along The Greenway a 2,200-acre network of green space along the banks of the Red and the Red Lake Rivers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. It’s twice as big as Central Park and you can be outdoors here in every season. Walk or bike the mixed used trails, go fishing along the river bank or use it to access parks, disc golf courses and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails in wintry weather.
For a fun photo opp, snap a pic from the Sorlie Memorial bridge. You can straddle the North Dakota-Minnesota border while you’re at it!
If you like this road trip, you can read more about public art in Grand Forks (and around the state) in my new book Midwest Road Trip Adventures. I’ll be covering public art in North Dakota all year, thanks to a generous grant from The Arts Partnership, so keep reading for more free public art road trips all over the state.
I’m always looking for new destination ideas, so feel free to send me your favorite spots to visit. If you’re an artist (especially someone creating new public art), I’d love to chat with you.
What about you?
What’s your favorite kind of public art?
Which public art installations do you love?
Where do you go when you’re in downtown Grand Forks?
What’s your favorite social distancing road trip?
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