Sponsored content Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is a partner of Give Me The Mike
For Twin Cities residents who miss the now closed Holiday Lights in the Park at Lake Phalen in Saint Paul, I have an option you will love.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is a walk-though and drive-through display with more than 4 million lights. Right before Thanksgiving, I visited Somerset, Wisconsin, to see what they have in store for the 2019 holiday season.
Although you just read Somerset, Wisconsin, don’t let the distance stop you from attending. It took me only 40 minutes during rush hour to get to Somerset from Saint Paul, and on the way home, my drive to downtown Minneapolis was only 45 minutes. If you take Highway 36, it’s a breeze. Once you’re at Stillwater, it’s less than 20 minutes. If you’re familiar with Somerset, Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour sits on the site of Float Rite Park, along the banks of the Apple River.
Sam’s is open 7 nights a week from November 29th, 2019 through January 5th, 2020 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). On Monday and Tuesday nights, the half-mile route is drive-through only, giving people who may not want to or be able to walk through the display enjoy it. From Wednesday through Sunday, it is walk-through only and is closed off to cars. From my experience, it’s best as a walk-through experience, as there are a lot of photo opportunities along the route, including a large Christmas bulb you can stand inside.
In addition to the typical lit trees, there’s a great light display dedication to the armed forces along with first responders.
The half-mile light display is just the beginning at Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, there will be a Christmas Market with beverages, treats and gifts for sale. It has the vibe of an adorable European Christmas market. Make sure to pay a visit to the Knoke’s Chocolates booth.
There’s also a large restaurant where you can warm up. General Sam’s Bar & Grill will be open, serving food and drinks.
If you’re heading up there with a group, you have the option of renting out a heated cabin for the evening for $99. It includes a s’mores kit, a visit from Santa and a private home base for your group.
I would love to hear what you think of Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour! Comment below or post on my Facebook page.
Tickets: $10 ages 11-64, $8 ages 65 and better, $5 kids ages 4-10, free ages 3 and under
Half-price for members of the military (bring a military ID)
Cash, credit and debit cards are accepted
Monday – Tuesday are drive-through only
Wednesday – Sunday are walk-through only
Know before you go to Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour:
Wear snow boots and snow pants. You’ll be venturing into the snow to get the best photos. I went before snow fell and conquered some muddy spots along the dirt path.
No outside food or beverage is allowed.
If you’re coming from the Twin Cities, Highway 36 is definitely your best bet. You may want to look up the directions before you hop in the car, as Apple Maps had me a bit lost once I got into Somerset.
Dogs (on a leash) are allowed.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is the presenting sponsor of Give Me The Mike’s 2019 holiday light display guide. Click here for over 50 locations to view lights in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Quality doesn’t have to cost hundreds of dollars. Here is a roundup of companies, including three based in Minnesota, who are making products anyone would love to receive this holiday season. And keep reading for some exclusive deals!
Minneapolis-based Steller Handcrafted Goods got its start eight years ago after owner Julie Steller purchased a pair of repurposed wool sweater mittens. She was determined to make another pair. Today, Steller’s team consists of 13 women who create mittens, hats, purses, coats and more using repurposed wool sweaters and leather clothing along with Nordic braid and vintage buttons.
These Wool Liner and Deerskin Choppers will help any Minnesotan get through a bitter winter. The outside layer is deerskin sourced from Minnesota and the inner layer is a high-quality repurposed wool sweater with polar fleece lining. The cuffs come up to your wrist, meaning that snow and ice won’t find their way in when you’re brushing snow off your car.
Exclusive deal: use promo code DEC2019 to get 10% off orders over $50 through December 31st, 2019.
Redhead Creamery has been making cheese for just over five years on cheesemaker’s Alise Sjostrom’s parent dairy farm. She dreamed to be a part of her family’s business ever since she was 17 years old. They offer tours of the farm, located in Brooten, Minnesota, on Fridays and Saturdays.
Their Best Sellers Basket is sure to please. It includes Redhead’s Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar (named after Alise’s mom), Little Lucy Brie (named after Alise’s daughter), and a bag of Ridiculously Good Cheddar Cheese Curds.
This holiday season, give someone whiskey-flavored cheese! Redhead Creamery teams up with Panther Distillery, in nearby Osakis, to make the North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster, a limited-production cheese which uses Panther’s Minnesota 14 whiskey.
While you’re on their online store, I would definitely throw a jar of the Velvet Bees Honey Butter in your order. You can eat it with a spoon.
Exclusive deal: use promo code LAVENDER2019 to get 15% off all online orders through December 15th, 2019.
Magnetic Wood Bow Tie Box Set $89-99 SwitchWood
photo credit: Lindsey Graham
I was introduced to Virginia-based SwitchWood a few years ago and immediately became obsessed with their bow ties. They are clip on, but what really blows everyone’s minds is that the wood pieces are magnetic, meaning you can switch out the grains with the fabric pieces to create different looks. It makes for a great conversation piece. These aren’t your ordinary bow ties.
I would recommend starting with a wood bow tie box set, which will get you one bow tie with two sets of grain, meaning you’ll have two different bow ties. In addition to bow ties, they make sunglasses, cuff links and more, all made of wood.
Exclusive deal: use promo code SWITCH to get 20% off everything on SwitchWood’s website through December 20th, 2019.
Mary Bruno inherited her letterpress print shop from her father, who was an art professor at St. Cloud State University. He acquired old letterpress equipment in the late 80’s and early 90’s, which Mary is now putting to good use.
A self-proclaimed “professional cusser”, Bruno was placing swear words, along with edgy, irreverent sentiment, on cards before it was a thing. She’s been at it for nearly ten years.
Cards are the mainstay of Bruno Press, and there is a LGBT selection is available. They’re sold online and in the Twin Cities at Mitrebox Framing Studio, the Electric Fetus and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
In addition to cards, Bruno Press makes to-do lists, note cards, calendars, and coasters.
Exclusive deal: use promo code LAVENDER to get free shipping on all online orders through December 20th, 2019.
You will find the work from dozens of Minnesota makers at the following stores:
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is home to more than 4 million Christmas lights! It’s located less than 20 minutes northeast of Stillwater in Somerset, Wisconsin. If you go on a Monday or Tuesday night, you are able to drive-through their display, making it more accessible for those who aren’t able to walk around the half-mile light tour. Between Wednesday and Sunday nights, Sam’s Christmas Village is closed off to vehicles and is a walk-through experience.
With 5 million lights, Bentleyville is America’s largest free walk-through lighting display
It’s located at Bayfront Festival Park, a 20-acre park located on the shores of Lake Superior
Complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn and roasted marshmallows are provided
Get your photo taken with reindeer
Kids 10 and under who visit Santa receive a knit hat
Bentleyville is an official collection site for the Salvation Army. Bring a non-perishable food item or new, unwrapped toy when you visit. Donations are distributed to Salvation Army Corps in Duluth, Cloquet, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, International Falls, and Superior, WI
You can drive through the park to enjoy the lights. Tune your car’s radio to 89.1 FM to hear synchronized music. The music is also broadcast throughout the park if you want to get out of your car to see things up close.
Everything is free! That includes wagon rides, free concessions, and free horse drawn carriage rides on December 14th and 21st. Donations are accepted.
Original location in Anoka, satellite location in Blaine
The original owner, Hans, passed away from cancer in 1997, just two months after being diagnosed
The bakery exchanged hands multiple times and eventually went into foreclosure
When the current owner, Kelly Olsen, bought it, it had sat vacant for 4 years. She says “everything needed help”.
The community rallied behind the new ownership to help Hans’ Bakery reopen in February 2014. The Food Network caught wind of the buzz and featured them before they opened. On their first day, they sold out of everything they had in the store.
The Texas Donuts are the size of your head. And they cost only $5.
The Beehive, and the smaller Beesting, are eye-catchers. The sweet dough pasty is filled with Bavarian cream, topped with candied almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. If you’re really hungry, order it as a cake.
There are 10 Information Booths strategically placed around the Minnesota State Fair. Fair officials tell me each booth will answer 1,200 to 1,500 questions per day. That’s up to 15,000 questions total and up to 180,000 questions over the 12 days of the State Fair.
That’s in addition to the 500 phone calls the State Fair will get each day during the Great Minnesota Get Together with questions. They also answer questions via email and on social media.
Here are answers to the top five questions asked by Fairgoers at Minnesota State Fair Information Booths:
1. Where can I rent a scooter?
There are five electric mobility scooter and wheelchair rental spots at the Fairgrounds, but if you know you need one, you can rent it before you even head out to the Fairgrounds.
The rentals are handled by HomeTown Mobility. You can call them at 877-928-5388 to reserve an electric scooter or a wheelchair for a full day rental.
The scooters are available for half day and full day rentals. They are first come, first served.
Full day: $65
Half day: $45 (from 7 am – 3 pm or 3 – 11 pm)
In addition to mobility scooters, you can rent wheelchairs, wagons for kiddos, single and double strollers.
All day prices:
Single stroller: $15
Double stroller: $17
For more information about mobility on the Fairgrounds, click here.
2. Where is an ATM?
There are ATMs scattered about the Fairgrounds. To find the one closest to you, look on a map — they’re marked with a $.
Note that a $3 convenience fee is charged to all ATM transactions on the Fairgrounds. That’s in addition to any fee your banking institution may charge. Bottom line: bring plenty of cash.
There is a Bremer Bank at Visitors Plaza located at the middle of the Fairgrounds. It’s open from 7 am to 4 pm.
Sure, they’re marked on a map, but not all bathrooms are created equal.
In my opinion, the best bathrooms at the State Fair:
North: near the North End along Murphy Avenue
South: next to the International Bazaar
East: just south of the Kidway on Cooper Street
West: At the west end of the West End Market along Dan Patch Avenue
5. Where can I get breakfast?
The days of the dining halls at the State Fair have dwindled down immensely.
The Hamline Dining Hall is still going strong. When I asked the Minnesota State Fair’s Media Relations team what their favorite foods are, they mentioned the gluten-free muffins are top notch. Get their full list of hidden gem foods by clicking here. The Hamline Church Dining Hall in on Dan Patch Avenue between Underwood & Cooper.
Another food on that list is the Peg Muffin, available at The Peg, the State Fair’s only full service restaurant. The Peg Muffin is a sandwich with fried egg, sausage, tomato and cheese. The Peg is on the outside of the Agriculture Horticulture Building across from the International Bazaar.
The Minnesota State Fair’s website is a must-visit before you head out to the Great Minnesota Get Together. Watch my segment on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to learn about State Fair Bingo cards and how to create a custom list of what you want to see and eat at the Fair.
When you look at gross sales per day, you could say the Minnesota State Fair is the biggest restaurant in the world. In 2017, they brought in over $51 million in food and beverage sales in 12 days. In comparison, Tao in Las Vegas brings in $42 million in sales over an entire year.
Attendance during the State Fair is big, too. In 2019, over 2.1 million people walked onto the Fairgrounds, making it the most attended in the Fair’s history. Six daily attendance records were set.
I have worked at the State Fair for more than 15 years. Each year, I’m there at least 10 days. I have attended the Great Minnesota Get Together every year since 1990. I have seen (and eaten) a lot.
Don’t park at the Fairgrounds. It’s $15 to park at the Fairgrounds, which is the cost of an admission ticket (the cost of three Pronto Pups). Oh, and it’s cash only for parking. My best bet: use the park free, ride free service overseen by Metro Transit. To avoid being crammed on a Metro Transit bus with a bunch of people for 45 minutes, park at a park and ride site near the Fairgrounds. I really like the station on the University of Minnesota campus. The bus takes the U of M Transitway, which goes directly from the Fairgrounds to your car on a road not open to the public, making for a quick trip. See the full list of free park and ride spots here. The U of M lot is #14 on the map. Note that many of the lots fill up quickly; the State Fair does a great job updating which lots are full on their social media channels.
Take a photo of your group when you get inside the Fairgrounds. The Fair is massive. Some days, nearly a quarter-million people come through the gates. It can be easy to lose your little ones. Take a picture of those tiny Fairgoers right when you get in the gates. You’ll be able to show the photo to police and will know exactly what they’re wearing. Information booths also have free wristbands kids can wear so they can reunite with you quickly in case they get lost.
Don’t pay for water. Backpacks, bags and coolers are allowed on the Fairgrounds, meaning you can pack water, pop and snacks for the kiddos. Just know that you’ll have to carry around whatever you bring with you — the Fair doesn’t have lockers or a bag check. You won’t be able to bring a cooler with you to a show at the Grandstand. No outside alcohol is allowed onto the Fairgrounds.
If you have to buy water, don’t pay too much. Prices for bottled water can vary greatly on the Fairgrounds. The Coca-Cola booths are one of the worst spots to get hydrated. Please don’t pay more than $1.75 for 20 oz. Check out this article for spots you should circle on your map if you need H2O. Remember you can bring a water bottle on the Fairgrounds and water bottle filling stations are scattered about. I’m serious about this one. A great food vendor (they shall not be named) is charging nearly $4 for a 20 oz bottle of Dasani. It’s robbery.
Speaking of beverages, start studying what you will drink. A list of the specialty beverages served only at the Fair is available online. The brochure will also be available in print form at information booths (you may have to ask for it, as it’s not always sitting on the counter).
Don’t get stuck in the Food Building. The Food Building is one of the most congested places on the Fairgrounds. It’s also one of the most delicious. Two of my top 10 Fair foods come from that one spot. But don’t get stuck in the hot, sweaty mess. Check out my video tutorial on Food Building shortcuts which are rarely used.
One of the best parts of the Great Minnesota Get Together is the people watching. Photo courtesy: Minnesota State Fair
Enjoy the people watching. All walks of life make their way to the Fairgrounds, and State Fair officials embrace that, offering a State Fair bingo card that’s free to download. The State Fair does not offer prizes for completed bingos.
If it’s your first time at the Minnesota State Fair, I recommend using this guide to make sure you taste the most iconic foods at the Great Minnesota Get Together.
Click here to see a feed with all of my Minnesota State Fair advice.
The 2020 Minnesota State Fair runs August 27th thru September 7th.
The Minnesota State Fair is over 320 acres of food on-a-stick, animals and people watching. However, when there are nearly a quarter-million people walking around — or worse, huddled in one spot eating corn-on-the-cob — you could get a bit frazzled.
My other favorite day is Thrifty Thursday, which is always the first day of the State Fair. Everything is clean, people are happy, there are discounts on admission and there are typically less people who attend the first day, although it is higher than days 6 and 7.
So what dates should you avoid? The second Saturday, which is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, is always the worst when it comes to large crowds. In 2018, more than 270,000 people attended the Fair that day alone. That was an all-time single day attendance record. Compare that to the 120,000 people who attended on day 6 — a difference of over 150,000 people.