5 things to do in Fargo-Moorhead

Moorhead’s Hjemkomst center is a defining symbol for the city. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

Ah, Fargo-Moorhead. The land of great floods, sugarbeets and woodchippers, right? Well, yes. But, as you may or may not know, there’s more.

Fargo and Moorhead are on the Red River of the North, about 3.5 hours from the Twin Cities up I-94, or 5 hours from Duluth. Its Scandinavian heritage is proudly displayed, but the cities are also home to Latinos, Native Americans, African-Americans and, most recently, Kurds. Take a drive down Main Avenue in Fargo and you’ll find a good selection of Asian grocery stores similar to University Avenue in St. Paul.

1) Explore Norwegian heritage

Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center (Norwegian for homecoming) has two big attractions. First, the Hjemkomst Viking ship.

The Hjemkomst Viking Ship that sailed from Duluth to Norway in the early 1980s. It was built by Robert Asp from Hawley, Minn. (and his family and friends) MPR Photo/Nate Minor.

Anyone that builds a ship, drives it across northern Minnesota in the dark to Duluth then sails it to Norway deserves our respect, and attention.

Shields were sold to sponsors on the Hjemkomst ship. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

Here’s a recent film made about the adventure. After you see the ship, step outside into the Hopperstad Stave Church.

The Hjemkomst Center also serves as the Clay County Historical Society. Markus Krueger from the center told me that Norwegian culture is their main focus, but that current and future exhibitions will feature other ethnicity groups. Next year, the center will host an exhibit on Mexican immigrants in the Red River Valley.

2) Feed your mind

The two major art museums are the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo and the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead.

Moorhead’s Rourke Art Museum caters toward local and regional artists. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

The Rourke, housed in an old post office on Main Avenue, prides itself on its collection of regional and local art. The museum’s executive director Tania Blanich said that doesn’t preclude them from bringing in national names (or international, like in the current Moritz Götze exhibit).

The Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

The Plains is the larger of the two, set in a remodeled International Harvester building from the turn of the 20th century. The museum’s director and CEO Colleen Sheehy says the museum actively pursues big-name artist who may not necessarily have a connection to the area. Andy Warhol was the subject of an exhibition this past spring.

North Dakota native James Rosenquist’s The North Dakota Mural hangs above the lobby in the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, N.D. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

Local theater companies include the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre and Theatre B.

3) Take a stroll through downtown, and beyond

The Fargo Theatre on Broadway, downtown Fargo’s main street. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

From the Plains Art, head east a few blocks toward Broadway — downtown Fargo’s main drag. If you still have art on the mind, art galleries include, among others, Ecce, Boerth’s and the Spirit Room.

Other highlights are the Fargo Theatre, complete with a wood carving of Marge the cop from Fargo. The infamous woodchipper is out on the west side of town at the visitor’s center.

If you have more than just a day or two and want to get around in style, volunteer at the Fargo-Moorhead Community Bike Workshop. Put in a little bit of time helping others fix their bike, and you’ll be given assistance in building your own.

From downtown Fargo, head toward the Red River. The best walking path in the city follows the river from downtown to I-94. On your way back, detour through Island Park, the city’s nicest park in the summer.

The Red River south of Main Avenue in Fargo.MPR Photo/Nate Minor

4) Time to eat

Hands down, Nichole’s Fine Pastry is the place to go for dessert. Owner Nichole Hensen, a North Dakota native who went to culinary school in California, started the pastry shop about 10 years ago.

The chocolate tower, the fruit tart, and red velvet cupcakes are her best sellers, she says. And locals know that you have to get to Nichole’s early on the weekends for the chocolate croissants. Trust me, it’s worth it.

For coffee, the Red Raven Espresso Parlor is a favorite with artists and writers (complete with a small library of socially conscious books). For my money though, Atomic Coffee on Broadway offers the best combination of food, drink (including beer and wine) and people watching.

If it’s still before 1 p.m., head over to La Unica in Moorhead. What looks like a storage locker actually houses the only Mexican grocery store in the area, and from 8 a.m.  to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, they serve the best Mexican food in town. Just make sure you grab plenty of napkins — La Unica is takeout only.

Usher’s House, set in a stone WPA building on the Red River is a safe bet for a good burger or sandwich (closed on Sundays though). Habib Cuisine, a Middle-Eastern/East African restaurant, makes the BEST chai I’ve ever had (and only $1) and is probably the only place in town you can choose from chicken or goat. Don’t let Grand Junction subs’ dingy facade scare you — the bread is made fresh and the cooks have no regard for calorie counts.

WF Maxwells, the Hotel Donaldson, and MezzaLuna are the core of the area’s fine dining options.

5) Gosh, it’s flat up here

The flatlands make for great sunsets, and long, long dusks in the summer. Even after the sun goes down, it’s light enough for walks for nearly an hour. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

The Red River Valley is very flat, even by Midwestern standards. On your way out of town, stop right at the valley’s edge to see how pretty flat can be at Buffalo River State Park.

Train tracks border one side of Buffalo River State Park. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

The park used to be the shore of Lake Agassiz, a huge glacial lake that stretched from the Red River Valley north to the Hudson Bay. It’s why the valley is so flat today. You can spot huge boulders here and there in the park that were carried by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Watch out for thistle on your hikes at Buffalo River State Park. MPR Photo/Nate Minor

Bobolinks, prairie chickens, marbled godwits and upland sandpipers are some of the wildlife that frequent the park. In the late spring, the prairie flowers bloom and give the park a wonderful spring smell. Most of the terrain surrounding Fargo-Moorhead is farmland, so Buffalo River really is a treasure for the prairie grasses there.

What suggestions do you have for visitors to Fargo and Moorhead? Share them in the comments