With so many legendary things to do in Grand Forks, North Dakota, it might just be the coolest city you’ve never visited.
When you roll into town, you’re immediately greeted by a winky smile on the city’s water tower – and the cool factor doesn’t stop there. Grand Forks is filled with cool places to eat, things to do, and friendly people you’ll never forget. Here are some of our favorite (and very cool) things to do in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Things to do in Grand Forks: get saucy at Red Pepper
Your first stop in Grand Forks must be Red Pepper. Grand Forks residents will tell you there’s no reason to mess with perfection, which is why the iconic Red Pepper has remained basically unchanged since it opened in 1961.
Locals wait patiently in line for tasty tacos, cheese tostadas, and the famous grinder. They are all served on thin paper plates and with strangely addictive sauces. When you go, be sure to try one of their ever-popular grinders. It’s a basic sub sandwich, but taco meat and a mysterious white sauce take it to a whole new level. Trust us on this one. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, order the garbage plate.
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Warm up with a cup of coffee
In the heart of downtown, warm up with a cup of coffee at Urban Stampede or try one of their brightly colored, cool “concoctions.” We tried the Blueberry Muffin and the Green Machine concoctions paired with a freshly baked scone. Both smoothies were made with all natural ingredients and not loaded with extra sugar or calories.
For a super-cool experience and delicious cup of coffee, ask one of the talented baristas for a pour-over. It takes a few minutes to craft your cup of Joe, but it’s well worth the wait and something you don’t see at most coffee shops.
Things to do in Grand Forks: grab a bite
In my humble opinion, Grand Forks may well be the bar food capitol of the world. With dozens of bars and restaurants serving up local brews and fried favorites, there are tasty burgers, nachos, and wings on every corner.
The Toasted Frog, for instance, offers upscale bar food alongside well-crafted cocktails. This North Dakota favorite also has daily pasta, steak, and fish specials and serves new twists on old favorites. Be sure to try their fried pickle appetizer. There’s nothing quite like biting into a fresh-out-of-the-fryer dill pickle spear wrapped in Havarti cheese and a wonton wrapper. You’ll find similar fried pickles on menus across North Dakota, but this is the original. Dipped in a creamy Sriracha sauce, it is also our favorite.
Check out the cool art in Grand Forks
Do public art projects get any cooler than this? Grand Forks is full of interesting and totally Instagramable art. Take a walk around town and find unique art like this giant blue head with a planter for hair!
Also, watch for the installation of metal light pillars downtown designed and created by a local artist. We saw the metalwork in production at Badman Design, and can’t wait to return to see the project installed. The design honors the Red River that runs through town, and will, in part, commemorate the flood of 1997 that changed Grand Forks forever.
Artist David Badman is a metalsmith and jewelry designer who has been in downtown Grand Forks for more than 33 years. Stop in the studio to meet this cool dude and see (or purchase) some of the pieces he’s designed.
Things to do in Grand Forks: enjoy the outdoors
After the flood of 1997 destroyed much of the downtown, residents knew that rebuilding everything just wasn’t a wise option. Instead, they turned the flood-prone areas into the Greenway, a 2,200 acre outdoor recreation wonderland that takes Grand Forks’ cool factor to a whole new level.
Take a bike ride (you can rent one in town) or go for a jog on more than 20 miles of beautiful trails that snake along the banks of the scenic Red River. Try to make par at one of two golf courses or three disc golf courses. Feeling a little more outdoorsy than that? Cast a line and do a little shore fishing or even set up camp and sleep under the stars in this zone that’s twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
Outdoor adventure doesn’t stop there. Head a little ways out of town and find Turtle River State Park. We had fun hiking the trails and enjoying the woods, while seeing others camping, mountain biking, and fishing.
In the winter, the park is a great destination for cross-country skiing. It is a quiet, relaxing place that provides a nice escape from the city.
Visit a brewery
After all that exercise, you’ll probably want to wet your whistle, so head to one of Grand Forks’ great breweries like Rhombus Guy’s Brewing Company. Sit back and sip one of their cold beers while munching on some great food. Ann tried the veggie burger and has raved about it ever since. I loved the appetizers (I could eat all the pretzel sticks) and found my Cuban sandwich to be absolutely delicious.
The real stars, however, are the great beers brewed and bottled right there in the building. Rhombus Guys offers a wide variety of beers from dark to hoppy to light and refreshing. Truly, there’s something for every taste.
Also located in Grand Forks are Half Brothers Brewing Company, Oxford Brewing Company, JL Beers, and Brick and Barley. We didn’t have a chance to visit all of those on this trip, but we definitely will try to get to them the next time we’re in town.
Engage in a little retail therapy
Unwinding with a little retail therapy is another of the many enjoyable things to do in Grand Forks. Chic downtown boutiques like Kittsona and Geneva’s Found Goods sell clothing, North Dakota gift items, and décor. You’re sure to find a cool souvenir and maybe will even get to check some boxes on your holiday shopping list.
Have some dessert
At the end of your day, you’ll be looking for one more thing to do in Grand Forks: have dessert. And the only thing hard about that in Grand Forks is deciding where to go for it.
You really must stop by Widman’s, a candy shop unlike any other. They’re famous for their “Chippers,” which are ripple potato chips covered in milk, dark, or white chocolate, as well as other candy confections like peanut butter. Each bite is the perfect embodiment of the sweet-salt cycle. You’ll tell yourself you’ll just have a few, but you know that’s a lie. Simply looking at this picture makes my mouth water!
But Chippers aren’t the only candy offered at Widman’s. They’ve taken the cool factor to a whole new level with a wide variety of chocolate-covered treats that we promise you’ve never thought of or thought you wanted to try. Sample their chocolate-covered green olives or bacon, for instance. Really. Looking at the plate you can see that they sell well.
If you’re looking for a more traditional (and literally cooler) dessert, may we suggest T and Crepe Café? Order a bubble tea and then step up to the counter and watch with eager anticipation as they pour sweet cream and your choice of flavorings on a frozen flat top. See as they mix, knead and hand roll your ice cream to come up with a creation like this:
Or stand and watch as they prepare a fresh crepe for you. It’s fun to see the building process from batter on the flat top to the fresh ingredient-filled treat below. Yum!
One more cool thing we didn’t do in Grand Forks
Sadly, we were not in Grand Forks during hockey season. However, we understand that seeing a University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena is, by far, THE COOLEST thing to do there. Guess we’ll have to come back.
Have you visited Grand Forks, North Dakota? What are your favorite things to do there?