Midwestern Dreams
September 7, 2010 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Des Moines or Fargo

I want to do a bit of traveling after a conference in mid October. After the conference I want to take a little vacation. I enjoy rural culture, country music, contemporary art, good food, and urban sweetness. I also want to spend more time in the midwest. Both Fargo and Des Moines are about 4 hours away.

I love the neighborhoods of Capital Hill in Seattle, Edgewater/Andersonville in Chicago, and some of North Philly. I love Buffalo, Cleavland, Louisville, and Chicago. I like San Francisco and Seattle. I do not enjoy New York City.

I will be traveling by bus or ride share.

What do you guys recommend?
posted by PinkMoose to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Response by poster: Oh, the conference is in Minnepolis.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:54 PM on September 7, 2010


Madison?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:30 AM on September 8, 2010


Like mizrachi said, if you look you can find rural culture all over the place, including in Minneapolis itself, without wasting a four hour bus ride.

Just comparing size, the Des Moines metro area is 4x the size of the Fargo metro area; Fargo is going to be much, much more rural by comparison (we're the big city out here, though). The weather is also going to be nicer in Des Moines in October. That's an odd weather time up here -- it could be below freezing during the day, or 70 above, you can't predict Fargo weather well.

But, if you come to Fargo, we've got a nice balance of rural and urban. (I hope you checked here, here, here for ideas, too). We've got sporting events, touring broadway shows, a strong arts culture (the Studio Crawl is in Oct, but probably too early for you), but we've got biker bars and country bars and vast farmland as far as the eye can see once you hit the edge of town. If you're looking for specific 'markers' of what you're looking to enjoy in your destination, I can give you ideas, but I'm not exactly sure what is the deciding factor between your two options.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:51 AM on September 8, 2010


you will need to be more specific about what you like about the areas you put in your 'like' list.

Duluth has a lot of character, and i've always enjoyed my visits there.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:52 AM on September 8, 2010


If you like San Francisco and Seattle, yeah, come down to Madison! We've got a free contemporary art museum and tons of good food. There are thousands of Twin Cities kids who go to school here so sharing a ride should be pretty feasible. Or Megabus will take you for 8 bucks.

The only thing I'd say is that (as an Easterner now living here) it's not particularly "midwestern" in the way Des Moines is. But it's as midwestern as Chicago or Minneapolis is.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 AM on September 8, 2010


I grew up in Iowa, went to school in Madison, and now live in Minneapolis. I've been to Fargo and Duluth. My rankings would go: 1. Madison 2. Duluth 3a. Fargo 3b. Des Moines.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:47 AM on September 8, 2010


You know, rereading your question, the fact that you're taking a bus or ride share means you are probably getting around as a pedestrian in the town you end up in? If that's the case, even more weight to Madison for State Street, campus, and the Capitol area.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: I have been to Madison. Madison is awesome. I will go to Madison again. This trip is to go to places I have never been before, and am curious about.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:32 AM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: Before anyone suggests it, I have also been to Bloomington.

I grew up in Edmonton, I love towns that everyone sort of kind of dismisses, but end up having this great mix of rural friendliness and urban sophistication. If Fargo is not very pedestiran friendly, that might change my mind.

Azarel, what do you love about Fargo?
posted by PinkMoose at 7:35 AM on September 8, 2010


Ah, I was going to say Madison, too (good thing I previewed!). In that case, I'd go with Des Moines over Fargo, for sure. I've never been to Fargo, granted, but Des Moines always seemed to have a nice mix of midwestern-brand urban and rural culture, and the weather will almost assuredly be nicer during mid-October.
posted by good day merlock at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: Also, tell me about Duluth?
posted by PinkMoose at 7:38 AM on September 8, 2010


Duluth is great. It's on Lake Superior so it's actually a port city. Big barges regularly come in and out of the harbor, and there's a cool lift bridge that goes up and down all day to let them through. It's very hilly and beautiful. Mid-October is slightly late for Fall color, which is a bummer because holy cow are the changing trees great there.

My sister lives in Des Moines and it's definitely a city that's improved in the last 10 or 15 years. Downtown has seen some revitalization, there is an interesting capitol to visit. There's a new science museum that they did a great job on (though I feel like the science museums/childrens museums around the country are all facsimiles of one another now, probably because there is one company supplying them with exhibits).

I'd still go Duluth over Des Moines though.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2010


Duluth:
  • On the western-most tip of Lake Superior
  • Definitely not flat, like Fargo and Des Moines are
  • Most of the 'stuff' is centralized around Canal Park, but there's also lots of stuff that isn't
  • You can watch the Lakeboats go in and out of the harbor at Canal Park (bring your winter clothes though, could be windy and cold)
  • The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor's Center is pretty neat (and free)
  • The Great Lakes Aquarium was not worth the admission fee IMO
Duluth tourism office website
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:09 AM on September 8, 2010


I just visited Fargo for one night. I was surprised at how sophisticated and interesting the town is. There's a great little downtown area that's pretty lively, a good selection of restaurants and bars. The centerpiece is the Hotel Donaldson which has an awesome lounge / bar and is said to be a nice hotel.

I've also been to Des Moines. It's a bigger city, also has good stuff in the town center.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 AM on September 8, 2010


I grew up in Iowa, and lived in a Des Moines suburb as a young kid. To me Des Moines feels kind of dead, even in the center of town. But, maybe that's gotten better -- I moved out of Iowa 6 years ago. I visited Fargo once and found it surprisingly charming. Lots of neat buildings and neat signs and stuff.

Another town I was pleasantly surprised by was Milwaukee, especially along the river -- nice buildings,, sights, and restaurants, and very walkable.
posted by statolith at 8:22 AM on September 8, 2010


What do I love about Fargo? Lots and lots of things -- I'm a collector and reader, so I love the thrift shops and rummage sales and bookstores and such. The 'small town' atmosphere is very prevalent despite 100,000-150,000 residents (depending on which neighboring small towns you include in the 'metro' area) -- especially from downtown to the north side. South Fargo, out towards the mall, has plenty of big-city amenties, which makes us a go-to place for shopping and events in the region (Grand Forks is beginning to become a worthy rival, though). My kids spent all summer biking pretty much the entire length of town along the river, via moderately-well-kept bike paths. Crime is very low; the 'rough' parts of town are mild compared to larger cities. The lack of excitement and its homogeneous culture make for a pretty boring place for urbanites, but for raising a family and living quietly, it's an excellent place to be.

While I don't particularly 'love' the downtown revitalization, it has produced a LOT of tourist-friendly venues for music and drinking and eating and art and shopping, and has made Fargoans proud of their town again. As someone mentioned upthread, see my comment here, if you're on foot, find someplace downtown to stay, like the Hotel Donaldson (affectionately known as the HoDo); out by the mall isn't very walking-friendly, although there are sidewalks and crosswalks. There are a couple other hotels downtown, so if the HoDo is full or too expensive, try one of the others. Busses run during daylight hours, cabs are available 24/7 but only on-call.

Also, if you're looking for things to do or places to stay, Moorhead, MN is essentially the same metro area; the two towns touch, separated only by a narrow river and a state boundary. If you're staying in downtown Fargo, downtown Moorhead is in walking distance as well. Moorhead's downtown suffered during the 1970s Urban Renewal push - they tore down blocks and blocks of mixed-use buildings (storefronts with apartments above) to build a mall that's mostly vacant now, but there's still fun shops along Main Avenue, like Mother's Records, the Moorhead Thrift Shop, eat at the Grand Junction, etc.

So, if you're coming to Fargo, my suggestions are:
-- Stay downtown;
-- window-shop along Broadway and the side-streets;
-- visit the art galleries on the north end of Downtown;
-- Eat lunch at the Plains Art Museum (there's live music certain days of the week), which also gives you free admission to wander the museum itself;
-- Wander the skyway;
-- catch a movie at the Fargo Theatre;
-- catch a band at one of the downtown bars (probably Dempsey's)
-- order Duane's House of Pizza at least once;
-- Walk down to the Grand Junction on Main in Moorhead for lunch once, hitting interesting shops along the way;
-- If you must take in the mall, catch an early bus and plan on bussing back downtown mid-afternoon;
-- if there's anything going on at the Fargodome, grab a cab and go see it.
-- Depending on if you're into such things, the zoo is a cab-ride away, Bonanzaville (the Fargo-area historical museum) is a cab-ride away, and the Hjemkomst Center (the Moorhead-area historical museum, including a hand-made seaworthy viking ship) is in walking distance from downtown.

I'm sure I'm leaving something out, too...
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:49 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Full disclosure: I'm from Fargo. I don't live there anymore, but I'm always trying to convince people to give it a chance - I don't have an "I Love Fargo" t-shirt for nothing. For a city of its size, Fargo has a good bit of interesting stuff, including the aforementioned Hotel Donaldson, and once you leave the city, your surroundings become incredibly rural, incredibly quickly. The weather in October shouldn't be terrible, though as AzraelBrown mentioned, it could be. At any rate, I vote Fargo!

I've visited Des Moines and it was eh. I might be the only liberal midwestern twenty-something who doesn't like Madison at all. Duluth is nice, though.

If you choose Fargo and find yourself in need of recommendations, you can mail me.

(AzraelBrown, do I know you?)
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:53 AM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: I am leaning towards Fargo. Someone is going to have to make a big argument in favor of Des Moines soon.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:12 AM on September 8, 2010


I think you should keep Duluth in the running.
posted by gimonca at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2010


I've been to all three (I live in Minneapolis) and would rank them as Duluth by a mile, then Fargo, then Des Moines. Duluth is a fantastic little city. It has the best architecture of the three, a vertical aesthetic that kind of reminds me of the West Hills of Portland (Oregon) and amazing geography to go with it. Des Moines is a typical midwestern small town that became a big city, but I downgrade it somewhat because it seems like it's always under construction, sprawls too much for my taste, and is not very easy to navigate. Fargo to me seems like it could be about twelve other towns I've been to in western Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Maybe I just missed it, but I don't get the SPECIALness of Fargo.
posted by norm at 11:13 AM on September 8, 2010


Oooh, I am uniquely set up to answer this question!

I currently live in Chicago....in Edgewater/Andersonville. I travel to Buffalo every year for the holidays (my fiance is from there). So I think I pretty well understand the vibe you're looking for.

I grew up in North Dakota. I just went back a month ago to visit.

The only reason to go to Fargo is if you like chain restaurants and strip-mall culture. Is is, frankly, one of the duller towns in North Dakota in terms of unique culture. There is nothing MORE opposite than Andersonville or Buffalo than Fargo, actually. I think you'll be disappointed. I mean, one of the great things to do there is "see a movie in the theater" or "go to the mall."

Actually, the one single reason to go to Fargo is because I think they now have a Kroll's Diner.
posted by Windigo at 12:53 PM on September 8, 2010


Okay, so I live in and love Des Moines. We have a great Art Center, fantastic restaurants and all sorts of great shops and whatnot. I grew up here, and spent most of my adolescence convinced I would leave and never come back. It has truly, in the last decade or so been revitalized and offers many of great live music venues and the like.
That being said, I have trouble seeing it as a vacation destination unless you know someone here and are visiting. The biggest issue, I think, is what norm said about the sprawl (I would contend that yes, we are under constant construction, but I don't think that's so unusual in a big city.) If you don't have a car, it makes the visit very difficult. Not impossible, because we do have buses that run from the West side to downtown, but you'd still be missing out on a lot.
Plus, I'm not sure what your tastes run, but some of the revitalization of downtown has been toward the twentysomething clubber demo, which can be super-obnoxious. Based on your destination description, I'd say Des Moines isn't the right fit.

But I do love it here.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:59 PM on September 8, 2010


I grew up in Iowa and now live in Minneapolis. I love Des Moines, but you really need a car. I like Fargo, but it can be dull, depending on the time of year. I adore Duluth. The city is beautiful, the surrounding countryside is beautiful, the lake is awe inspiring.
posted by Malla at 3:04 PM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: Some follow up questions:

a) How does one get to Duluth.
b) Does Des Moines have the central downtown with the HoDo that Fargo does?
c) Are there any bars that i could safely line dance in each city?
d) I like the thrift stores, and the viking stave churches, and bonzonaville, of Fargo
e) is there a bus system and how expensive are taxis in either city
f) where am i most likely to fall in love with a cowboy
posted by PinkMoose at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2010


a. I-35 out of Minneapolis, two and a half hours (possibly less, depending on your degree of driving insanity).
b. It's got a central downtown, but not a HoDo, to my knowledge.
c. I have no idea.
d. DOES NOT COMPUTE AS QUESTION
e. yes, taxis are cheap compared to big cities in all three; I think your costs are far cheaper in Duluth, though, as it is pretty walkable.
f. Superior, Wisconsin, just across the Bong bridge.
posted by norm at 5:50 PM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: d is intented to be, are there similar things to do in Des Moines.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2010


Response by poster: and also a) by bus
posted by PinkMoose at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2010


I spent two years in Iowa in grad school. Des Moines is within two hours of the Kalona Amish community , the Herbert Hoover library and the Amana Colonies . One of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites is a bit farther away.
posted by brujita at 9:56 PM on September 8, 2010


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