Carleton College was founded in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1866, just 10 years after the town itself, and we graduated our first students in 1874. Fast forward to today, and Northfield is a bustling college town with 20,000 residents, two colleges, and plenty to see and do.
A short walk from campus, Northfield’s main street — Division Street — is lined with locally owned businesses, friendly coffee shops, and a variety of restaurants. Whether you’re looking for an authentic burrito, a newly released novel, or a funny postcard to send to your friends, you’ll find it in Northfield. You’ll also find several grocery stores, a clinic and hospital, and plenty of other amenities a short walk, bike trip, or bus ride away.
What’s there to do in Northfield? Plenty! Here are some of our favorites:
Bakeries: From Ames Mill perched on the Cannon River to the smell of Post’s Malt-O-Meal cereal wafting through the air, it’s clear Northfield has a deep milling history. That legacy lives on in its baked goods. From Martha’s Eats & Treats in Dundas (only open Fridays and Saturdays) to Brick Oven Bakery to Cake Walk to Tandem Bagels, there is no shortage of places to pick up a baked good.
Restaurants: Northfield has a wide range of dining options. You can get “everyday Nordic” at The Ole Store. Coco’s Place and El Triunfo serve up Mexican tacos, tortas, and burritos. Reunion’s classic American fare is topped only by the newly renovated historic building it occupies. Hogan Brothers is the perfect lunch place for soup and sandwiches. Tokyo Grill is our go-to place for sushi. Craving pizza? While every Northfielder has their loyalties between B&L’s Pizza, George’s Vineyard, and Basil’s Pizza, all three grew out of the same family and make a good pizza! If you poll the admissions staff on their favorite burger in town, they’ll send you to the Quarterback Club Family Restaurant.
Dining al fresco: Midwesterners love their pizza farms, and Northfield has one of the best in Red Barn Farm, just five miles southeast of town. South of town is Keepsake Cidery, which not only has locally made hard cider but a great menu, making for a relaxing picnic locale. You can grab a drink overlooking the Cannon River and catch local musicians on the back patio at Contented Cow (which also happens to share a patio with Little Joy coffee shop if cold brew is more your style!).
See a full list of Northfield dining options.
Explore (and shop) historic Division Street
Division Street is the heart of town, and Northfielders take pride in preserving its charming historic nature. In addition to restaurants and cafes, local entrepreneurs have filled its storefronts with interesting finds. Some of our favorites include Content Books (run by a Carleton alumna!); the Northfield Arts Guild, where you can check out the gallery or gift shop of local art; MakeShift Accessories, filled with jewelry and accessories made from reclaimed industrial materials and cultural artifacts; and the Rare Pair, a clothing and shoe boutique that has has long anchored the Bridge Square intersection.
On Saturdays from late May through October, be sure to swing by the Riverwalk Market to browse local arts and crafts and to pick up some produce. Another favorite stop is the Northfield Historical Society, which hosts the Defeat of Jesse James Days the weekend after Labor Day.
Engage with the community
Your understanding of Northfield won’t be complete without learning about Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement. The center connects students with organizations in Northfield and beyond, and facilitates meaningful volunteer experiences, paid positions, and academic or research projects. Our community engages deeply with business and nonprofit partners to tackle such issues as sustainability, educational access, and healthcare.
Explore downtown Northfield
Experience the Arb
Carleton is located on the homelands of the Wahpekute and Mdewakanton bands of the Dakota Nation. One of the ways we honor and preserve these lands is through the ecological preservation and restoration of the college’s 800 acre Cowling Arboretum, or the “Arb.” Community members and visitors are invited to explore the 15 miles of trails that weave through woods, along the Cannon River, and across prairie lands.
If you’re looking for a hike a little further afoot, head to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, 20 minutes southeast of Northfield. Looking to explore the local waterways? Head to The Gear Resource Outfitters in neighboring Dundas to rent kayaks or paddleboards.
Need an afternoon pick-me-up? When you have two colleges in town, you know you’ll find a range of caffeine-flowing study spots. On Division Street, Little Joy is the newest and serves Northfield-roasted coffee. Goodbye Blue Monday has a strong college vibe and art-filled walls. The Hideaway also serves a nice lunch in addition to coffee, teas, and wine.
If ice cream is more your style, stop by The Blast for soft serve, Hogan Brothers for a dozen flavor options, or Coco’s Place, where you can get mangonada, a refreshing mango ice cream layered with spicy and tangy seasoning.
Pick your own
While not far from the Twin Cities, Northfield is surrounded by fields, orchards, and farms. Several local farms invite folks to come and pick their own produce from asparagus to Honeycrisp apples (one of Minnesota’s proudest inventions), depending on which season you visit.
Fireside Orchard is open mid-August through Christmas Eve — in addition to apples, don’t miss the apple cider donuts! Lorences Berry farm offers pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, and asparagus; always best to call ahead to confirm what’s available. Little Hill Berry Farm has u-pick organic blueberries, strawberries, and pumpkins.