If you live outside of the United States (or, possibly, in it) and have heard of the small city of Fargo, odds are good that it’s from the Coen Brothers movie than won Frances McDormand her first Oscar.
But adventurers willing to explore the largest city in North Dakota will find an underappreciated art scene, incredible craft beer and cider and friendly locals in this off-the-beaten-path destination.
Here are the best things to do in Fargo when you travel there – woodchipper not included:
Belly up to the (snack) bar
A cool, crisp morning in Fargo pairs beautifully with a bagel from BernBaum’s.
The tiny downtown deli is a mix of Scandinavian and Jewish traditions – it may sound weird until you realize how much both cultures appreciate smoked fish.
A bagel and lox plate is a solid bet, but if you’re feeling adventurous – or dreaming of Tel Aviv – ask for za’atar, labneh and other Middle Eastern flourishes.
If you prefer sweet to savory, head to Sandy’s Donuts for your standard cream-filled bismarks along with edgier offerings like “dirt and worms” (that would be crushed Oreos and gummy worms).
Down the block is uber-fashionable coffee shop Young Blood, where baristas swap out vinyl records between making lattes. You won’t need Shazam to tell you what song is on – employees will display the record cover above the register for reference.
At dinner time, head to the HoDo Lounge (inside the Hotel Donaldson, which we’ll get to later) for tastes of fresh food from the Red River Valley region. Highlights include shrimp and grits (who knew they could be so good so far north?), seared tuna steak and the obligatory bison burger.
BernBaum’s, 115 Roberts St N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 306-4131
Sandy’s Donuts, 300 Broadway North, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 478-1155
Young Blood, 623 2nd Ave N, Fargo, ND 58102, (218) 770-4728
Craft a beer menu
Like many other Midwestern cities, Fargo has a thriving beer scene.
If you’re in downtown Fargo, several excellent breweries are in walking distance, most notably Fargo Brewing and Drekker – the former is known for pale ales and shandys while the latter is faux-Scandinavian (the name, as a sign in the tasting room explains, is a made-up word intended to sound Nordic) with hearty IPAs.
If you were planning to check a bag, Fargo Brewing sells its best beers – including, sigh, a Wood Chipper IPA – in cans ready to be packed up.
Downtown is also home to Wild Terra, North Dakota’s first cider bar.
The menu helpfully breaks down the major types of cider (“cider beer does not exist”) as well as meads and honey wines, and vegetarians having a tough time in the area will appreciate the plant-centric bar snack menu.
If you feel like a drive, it’s a ten-minute trip over the Red River to Fargo’s sister city of Moorhead, Minnesota.
There, Junkyard Brewery is beloved by locals who appreciate their daring brews like hoppy peach sour and guava milkshake (no, really, it’s better than it deserves to be).
Fargo Brewing Company, 610 University Dr N Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 478-BEER
Drekker Brewing Co, 630 1st Ave N #6, Fargo, ND 58102 (701) 540-6808
Wild Terra Cider and Brewing, 6 12th St N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 639-6273
Junkyard Brewing, 1416 1st Ave N, Moorhead, MN 56560, (701) 936-5545
Stroll along Broadway
If Fargo has a main drag, it’s Broadway, where in just a few minutes you can pass by a boatload of independently owned shops. The treasure of them all is Zandbroz (the second syllable is pronounced “bros,” like “cool story, bros”) Variety.
“Variety” is accurate – the shop sells new and used books, candles, perfume, greeting cards, stationery, herbal tea, pottery, jewelry and more, all with a hearty helping of North Dakota pride.
Although the eclectic mix could be overwhelming, it works because every item feels hand-chosen.
Just down the block is Unglued, where local makers sell their crafts – as the store helpfully explains, “it’s like Etsy in real life.”
Next door is Stabo Scandinavian Imports, a place for North Dakotans – many of whom have Scandinavian heritage – to go full hygge with knitwear, chocolates, baking supplies and more.
But the centerpiece of Broadway is the Fargo Theatre, a National Register of Historic Places-listed Art Deco cinema and theater whose neon sign is the most recognizable image in town.
Even if you’re not going to see a performance, you can usually get a staff member to let you poke around inside the building.
Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 239-4729
Unglued, 408 Broadway N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 205-1597
Stabo Scandinavian Imports, 406 Broadway N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 282-0421
Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 239-8385
Look at, and sleep among, art
Fargo’s small downtown is packed with bookstores, record shops, music venues and other ways to experience art and culture.
The Plains Art Museum, which is free to visit, has a small but lovingly curated collection focusing on local work, including by local Native American tribes like the Lakota and Sioux (ND is the Sioux State, after all).
The highlight? A piece by renowned pop artist James Rosenquist, who was born in nearby Grand Forks, and created a North Dakota-themed mural as a special commission.
While Fargo’s hotel scene is still slow to catch up, the city is lucky to have a bona fide gem downtown – the 17-room all-suite Hotel Donaldson, aka HoDo.
Each room is decorated with work by a different artist, so look online and request which room you’d like based on your medium of choice – blown glass, charcoals and paintings are among the offerings.
If you want to be surprised, ask for room nine, which is one of the few to rotate out – students who win art scholarships get to display their pieces here.
Meanwhile, the best room for romance is number 17, which has an in-ground bathtub filled dramatically by a pipe from the ceiling.
Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 551-6100
Hotel Donaldson, 101 Broadway N, Fargo, ND 58102, (701) 478-1000