So I just came back from a trip to New York City and all I can say is wow, Winona, you’ve got it going on and I think you are giving New York a run for its money.
I know what you’re thinking – New York is so historic, so iconic, so… New York City, how could Winona (or anywhere else, really) possibly compare?
Well, I’ll tell you:
Statue of Liberty, meet Princess Wenonah, a beautifully carved sculpture of a Dakota Indian maiden who stands in the center of Windom Park downtown. With an arm raised to shield her eyes from the sun, she wistfully scans the distance for what is said to be her true love, and she represents the very underpinnings of this historic Native American land. OK, the French government didn’t give her to us, but our sister city in Japan – Misato – erected a matching statue to ours that symbolically faces the direction of Winona. I think that’s pretty close to the same thing. Ha.
Broadway would do well to have a production company like the Great River Shakespeare Festival, a seasonal theater company that brings in actors from across the country for world-class performances each summer. AND, the very cheapest nosebleed seats in the back of most theaters on Broadway are going to set you back more than $70, with good seats topping $500. At GRSF, the very best seats in the house are $49, and you can see any show for the pocket change of $10 if you go on a Tuesday.
Orchestra Hall boasts some of the best classical music performances in the world, but so does the Beethoven Festival each summer in Winona. Seriously. But you say you can see Yo-Yo Ma at Orchestra Hall? Yeah, he’s been here too.
Metropolitan Museum of Art gets a serious run for its money from the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, a graceful museum on the banks of the Mississippi River where visitors can see the work of some of the undisputed best artists in the world. Stand three feet away from Monet, wonder at the use of light and color by Renoir, marvel at works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Matisse. They have an original Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, but so do we – painted side by side with the other one even. Folks, if this museum was in New York City, it would be jam-packed full of gawking tourists every single day.
And people pay a small fortune to go to the top of Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building for a view that sweeps for miles, but gazing for miles from the overlook of Garvin Heights is absolutely free, and incredibly beautiful.
Ellis Island documents the history of immigrants, but so does the Winona County Historical Society in their lovely building downtown. I absolutely swear that square foot for square foot, the historical society has more exhibits, more resources and more information about life in this corner of the world and beyond. The building was gifted with a $4 million addition and renovation that made it an architectural showpiece in Winona, and you don’t even have to take a boat to get there.
And you won’t have to mortgage your house to eat and drink in Winona. A meal at a diner near Time Square that included a hamburger and fries, a chef salad, macaroni and cheese, two sodas and a beer rolled in with a tab of $86. No kidding. It was enough to make me choke on a fry (which I was thankfully able to dislodge with a beer – haha). In Winona at a vibrant and historic eatery like Bub’s Brewing Co. that meal would have been less than $30 with an extra tip for the friendly waitress.
Sure, New York City has some charms that you can only find there, and millions of tourists a year flock to the Big Apple to take them in. But if you are looking for a vacation in a place steeped with history, rich with culture and that won’t set you back an arm, leg, house payment and your next two vacation budgets, allow me to suggest Winona. I promise that you’ll see once you get here why this city really is a smaller, completely charming version of the best New York City has to offer.