Urban Boating (Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka)

Lake Minnetonka is one of a few places that combines two of my favorite things: boating and urbanism. Last Saturday my father, my two kids and I took our boat out for a voyage to explore the lake and have lunch in excelsior. While our Lund “Mr. Pike” boat (and Mercury “Classic Fifty” motor) is more than thirty years old, it is new to us, having bought it last fall, so every excursion is a chance to explore a new body of water. Lake Minnetonka is definitely worth exploring, and stopping for lunch and strolling the sidewalks of a traditional small town is a great way to top it off.


Lake Minnetonka has an “upper” and “lower” lake, and although it is all the same elevation, I presume the lower lake gets it’s name by being closer to the outlet to Minnehaha Creek, and therefore the sea. We put in at Carson’s Bay, a stone’s throw from the old Deephaven Station of the streetcar system (the thought of taking the streetcar to go boating would be so cool. Damn!). We headed through Crystal Bay and down through the upper lake, cruising through wide open bays and trolling through intimate channels, seeing mansions, marinas, loons and crappie fishermen along the way. The “Classic Fifty” ran well – “long may you run” – Neil Young.


After a couple hours on the boat it was time to stretch our legs, so we hopped ashore in Excelsior. In Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, as he compares why people prefer the desert, the mountains or the sea, “Cactus Ed” expresses his belief that “the most appealing part of the sea, in fact, is its meeting with the land; it is the seashore which men love and not the ocean itself.” He may have a point. After all, on so many of our lakes in Minnesota, there are places on the shoreline that we gravitate to. They may be far from any town, but they are their own little village – there is a marina, a store for gas and bait, food and perhaps a bar where fishermen spin yarns – Minnesota Blarney, if you will – about inflated fish size and the one that got away. They are the Minnesota equivalent of the rural English Pub, the community gathering space. That said, but it is an added benefit when an entire town meets you at the dock, so we chose Excelsior.


We docked at the public boat slips in excelsior, which, get this, have coin operated parking meters. I love that!


Excelsior has much to love, and much of that is found on and near Water Street, the town’s main street. We strolled up Water Street past the shops and restaurants, mostly nestled in older, pre-World War II buildings.


Speaking of blarney – the “craic” – we visited Jake O’Connor’s Irish Pub for lunch.


Beer connoisseurs will want to visit the Excelsior Brewing taproom, which is just off Water Street. Transit enthusiasts can ride the Excelsior Streetcar May to early October. After lunch we stopped by Excelsior Bay Books and grabbed an ice cream cone before setting off across Excelsior Bay and back to the landing.


A few years ago I was at the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver one morning when a man and his dog pulled up in a small motorboat. I was jealous; to live in such a great urban setting AND be able to take a boat to get coffee in the morning is a very good lifestyle indeed! But taking the boat to Lake Minnetonka as an excuse to visit Excelsior will certainly do. Lakes and boating are central to the folklore in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. All you really need is a watercraft that floats (always remember to put in the plug before you launch the boat!), and for a relatively small investment we will hopefully generate some good memories on the water, a enjoy some good urbanism.

By the way, I definitely recommend arriving at Psycho Suzi’s by boat.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

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