Often this time of year, you’ll find the Hamilton family biking or walking the Zephyr trail, or from their house to the Lake McKusick bridge (with a stop to look for turtles) with kids Ella, 12, Oren, 10 and Lewis, 7. Like so many, they long to get outside after a winter spent at the St. Croix Valley Rec Center or in their backyard skating and playing hockey. “We love the river and any associated activities—camping, swimming, fishing with the kids,” Leah Hamilton says.
Hamilton, 39, and her husband Pete, 40, are longtime Stillwater residents. The speech and language pathologist at Stillwater Junior High met her math teacher hubby at the same school he now teaches at (Stillwater Senior High School) 25 years ago. Their kids attend Stonebridge Elementary. But as with so many families, a little “adult time” can be coveted and tricky to come by.
Good thing they live in Stillwater. “The plethora of things to do in Stillwater on a summer night is just amazing,” Hamilton says. So true—in fact, there are so many options, we couldn’t even pretend to be inclusive, so with the help of the Hamiltons and her siblings, Jarl and Kirsten Wilson and Rachel and Kevin Klancher (also all educators in the Stillwater School District), we’ve compiled a few of their favorite picks for that rare evening out sans kids.
(So many romantic rendezvous for the Hamiltons begin and end at Dock Café—the food and drink pair perfectly with views that go on even after the sun goes down.)
Food and drink
It comes as no surprise that the water plays a role in many intimate occasions in the St. Croix Valley.
“We love taking our pontoon, which is kept at the Boomsite Marina, down to the Andiamo boat docks to either pick up a pizza from the Grand and eat as we cruise up or down the river, or park the pontoon in a slip and eat downtown—Leo’s, Green Room, patio of Smalley’s—they even let us bring our dog, Penny (a German short-hair pointer) to the patio, and they bring her water,” Hamilton says. “Sometimes we take the pontoon all the way down the river to eat in Hudson or cruise up north to the high bridge.”
So many romantic rendezvous begin and end at Dock Café—the views just really are hard to beat. The chocolate crème brulee at Marx is a favorite treat, Hamilton says, as are burgers at Leo’s or nachos and wings at Smalley’s.
Hamilton’s 36-year-old brother, Jarl Wilson, and his wife Kirsten, also 36, have a 6-year-old, Irene, and a 4-year-old, Thomie, as well as a dog named Mia. “A typical date night would be grabbing a drink at one of the local breweries (likely Lift Bridge Brewery) and then a bite to eat at one of the great restaurants in Stillwater (possibly Smalley’s or Tin Bins),” Kirsten Wilson says. Tin Bins also tops the list for Rachel and Kevin Klancher (both 41) when they take a date away from daughters Julia (14), Lauren (11) and Brynne (9), as does Marx, Lolo and Dock Cafe.
To close out any night, time at one of Stillwater’s many bars is paramount; the combination of great brew masters and mixologists, as well as live music, is enticing. “Sometimes we just cruise Main Street,” Hamilton says, noting the atmosphere of the shops and lights on a warm evening. “[For example] the six of us have gone out to the Lion’s Mane.”
Other times, a “day-date,” perhaps, the Hamiltons grab a coffee at Chilkoot Café or the coffee shop at Valley Bookseller. “We love to grab a cup of coffee at Supreme Bean and walk along the Brown’s Creek trail,” Wilson says.
Each couple enjoys shopping downtown; favorites include 45 degrees, and Hamilton, Wilson and Rachel Klancher each separately reference the great clothes they’ve found at Collaborations and Enchante. Of course, the antique, consignment and specialty boutique options abound on (and off) Main Street, a pastime made easier when the wee ones aren’t in tow—take, for example, a cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill or Rivertown Inn chef Ray’s gourmet kitchen. “We also enjoy walking along the river with ice cream (Leo’s or Nelson’s),” Wilson says—or consider combining a love of walking, food and drink, and the great outdoors with Stillwater’s Foodies on Foot tour, she says.
(Sisters-in-law Rachel Klancher, Kirsten Wilson and Leah Hamilton take advantage of time sans kids to stop into the quaint shops Main Street offers, prioritizing Enchante and Collaborations, but also remembering their husbands with a stop at 45 degrees.)
Steal of a Deal: Gondola Romantica
Yes, it is true: Stillwater boasts Venetian Italian Gondola, which regularly cruises the St. Croix River under the skilled and guided eye of an experienced gondolier.
On a budget, options to pack a picnic or bring some wine are quite affordable. There are also a number of packages from Dock Café, the best deal of all being the Midweek Venetian Getaway. Available only Monday through Thursday, the 45-minute cruise is complemented with a meal at Dock Café, all for just $159 for two.
A special occasion option that also utilizes the delicious Dock Café menu is a five-course offering, followed by a “very special” one-hour cruise, very special, owners say, because Gondola Elegante cruises include red carpet, roses and a gondolier in traditional 16th century dress ($295 for two). Nelson Street by Dock Café
Quick Reference: Find the Stillwater Spots Mentioned Above
Food and Drink
- Dock Café
- The Grand
- Green Room
- Lift Bridge Brewery
- Lion’s Mane
- Marx Fusion Bistro
- Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar
Shopping and Attractions