The Coen brothers’ black comedy made North Dakota’s largest city famous. Instead of the frozen tundra that movie fans saw on screen, travelers arriving in Fargo will find a bustling city pulsing with entrepreneurial and artistic energy. And with 112 parks and 100 miles of bike trails within the city limits, there’s plenty of green space to explore.
Historic downtown Fargo, with Broadway at its center, gracious parks to the south and the wilds of the Red River to the east, is the perfect base for an active, eco-conscious traveler. This compact, walkable neighborhood is the beating heart of the city, home to locally owned boutiques, intriguing art galleries and entertainment venues and a vibrant restaurant scene that focuses on what’s fresh and what’s local.
Stay in Fargo
As North Dakota’s second tallest building, the Radisson Hotel stands out on the prairie city’s low-slung skyline. Request a room on an even numbered floor for the best city views. (Odd numbers look east across the Red River and into Moorhead, Minnesota.) The upscale hotel offers a free shuttle to and from the airport, train and bus stations, a restaurant and lounge and relaxing whirlpools and a steam room.
For a deep dive into the local art scene, stay at The Hotel Donaldson, Fargo’s only boutique hotel. The 17 guest rooms each feature the work of a different artist, and creations from 75 regional artists are on display throughout the building. The menu in the restaurant and lounge emphasizes local ingredients, right down to the herbs grown on the hotel’s green roof, which doubles as a social center. Take in the sunset from the rooftop patio in the summer or unwind in the hot tub as the snow falls.
Homewood Suites by Hilton rolls out the welcome mat with a free grocery shopping service, complimentary breakfast daily and a free evening social (complete with drinks and a light meal) Monday through Thursday. (If you eat too much, you can burn a few calories on the outdoor basketball court.)
Candlewood Suites offers a well-appointed gym (think ellipticals, treadmills, yoga mats and free weights) and a lending locker that will loan anything you need to make your stay more pleasant, from board games and school supplies to kitchen appliances and grilling tools to take full advantage of the grill in the outdoor gazebo.
Or opt for simple pleasures, like a hearty and complimentary breakfast, free airport shuttle and a dip in the indoor pool at Days Inn and Suites.
Eat & Drink in Fargo
Fargo is surrounded by farm fields and ranches, perfectly positioned for farm-to-table dining. You’ll find local bratwurst topped with sauerkraut at Wurst Bier Hall, pizza crust made with North Dakota wheat at Blackbird Woodfire and tender, Fargo-grown microgreens garnishing the late night happy hour nibbles at Mezzaluna. For dessert, you can’t beat the luscious lemon tarts at Nichole’s Fine Pastry or an old-fashioned sour cream cake donut from Sandy’s Donuts.
When the weather warms up, help yourself to produce from the Little Free Garden sites that dot the neighborhood. Or score more fresh fruits and veggies, gifts, street food and even beer samples at Red River Market, a busy farmers market held July through October.
Wake up with pour-over coffee and house-made simple syrups from Stumbeano’s Coffee Bar, an artisan coffee joint tucked into a cozy basement location. Or sample fair trade coffee and a rotating selection of organic, vegan and gluten-free baked goods made in-house at Twenty Below Coffee Co., a popular gathering spot for local creatives.
When it’s time for something stronger, sample super smooth whiskey, vodka and gin from Proof Artisan Distillers, the city’s only hometown distillery. Then try a handcrafted beer made with local barley at Drekker Brewing Company. The Saturday grains-to-glass tours are free (although a donation to a local charity is encouraged) and include beer samples.
The Fargo Theatre marquee is the most popular selfie spot in town, but the Art Deco interior and statue of Sheriff Marge from the movie “Fargo” are worth a trip inside. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a Wurlitzer organ concert before the film.
For live music, check out the gritty, backroom vibe at The Aquarium, or see a show at Sanctuary Events Center, a church re-imagined as a stately concert venue. The Plains Art Museum offers three floors of thought-provoking art (including an impressive collection of works from regional and Native American artists) and cutting-edge programming in an airy, modern space that (in true North Dakota style) was once a warehouse for farm machinery.
Nearly all of the shops and galleries in downtown Fargo are locally owned and many help you give back, reduce waste and support local artisans while you shop. Others — a fair trade gift, clothing, and home goods store — donates its profits to charitable causes around the globe. Every natty necktie, bowtie and hair accessory at AENDEE is upcycled from fabric scraps and secondhand shirts.
For a uniquely local souvenir, head to two of the city’s best gift emporiums. Zandbroz has been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades and offers a tempting array of pretty paper products and jewelry as well as a great selection of books from authors in the region. Unglued is a love letter to the modern crafting movement, an explosion of cute, quirky and gleefully snarky handmade products from local artists and makers.
Walk & Bike Fargo
Photos courtesy of Great Rides Fargo
Walkability is integral to downtown Fargo’s charm. Look up for signs that give the walking time to various destinations and colorful street art. Then look down to find snippets of local history erected on street corners and inlaid into murals in the sidewalks along the Broadway intersections.
For a more educational stroll, download a PDF or mp3 version of the “Look Around Downtown” walking tour. The tour details the history and architecture of the city along three different routes.
A bike is also a great way to see Fargo — just ride on the street or walk your bike on the sidewalk downtown. Catch a basketball game or crash the massive autumn tailgating parties at North Dakota State University or watch RedHawks minor league baseball in north Fargo. Then head south through Island Park (the oldest park in the city and a popular swimming, strolling and picnic spot) and cruise by the historic homes in the Hawthorne neighborhood. It’s located north of 13th Avenue S. between University Drive and the Red River.
The most soothing spots in town are along the river’s banks. Hop on the trail downtown and walk or pedal south to Lindenwood Park, home to picnic shelters and fishing spots in the summer and miles of cross-country skiing trails in the winter. Bike rentals (including trikes and surreys for the whole family) are available during the summer months. Call 701-356-2106 for more information.
To see two states in one ride, cross over the river into Minnesota on the 1st Avenue, Main Avenue, NP Avenue and Lindenwood Park bridges. You’ll find a network of parks that offer pretty river views and outdoor activities all year long, including kayak and canoe rentals when the weather’s warm.
From April through October, you can rent a bike from one of 11 Great Rides Bike Share stations downtown and on the North Dakota State University campus. Buy a 1-Day pass for $4, a cancelable monthly membership for $15 or pay $4 an hour for shorter trips at any kiosk. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. BCycle members from most U.S. cities can use the Fargo stations.
Hector International Airport offers non-stop flights to 10 U.S. cities and navigating the modest, five-gate airport is a breeze. There’s no bus service from the airport yet, but five taxi companies and local Uber drivers can get you where you need to go.
Fargo’s tiny train station is located downtown, just a few blocks away from our recommended hotels. The city is served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder route, which links Chicago, Minneapolis, Spokane, Portland, and Seattle. Fargo arrival and departure times are in the wee hours of the morning, so plan accordingly.
Jefferson Lines offers bus routes into Fargo from 12 other states and five North Dakota cities. Buses stop at the Stamart Travel Center and across from North Dakota State University on the city’s north side, where passengers can connect with local bus service.
MATBUS connects Fargo to the greater metro area through 25 routes. Buses operate from 6:15 a.m. until 11:15 p.m. weekdays and 7:15 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Saturdays.
The cash fare for adults is $1.50, $0.75 for seniors over 60, children in kindergarten through 12th grade and the disabled. Children preschool age and younger ride for free. Purchase a 1-Day Pass for $5, a 14-Day Pass for $21 or package of 10 or 20 Single Ride Tickets at the Ground Transportation Center in downtown Fargo weekdays from 6:15 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:15 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.
Buses kneel and are handicap accessible. Bikes and strollers are allowed. Bike racks on the front of the bus hold two bicycles each.
Downtown Fargo is also served by LinkFM, a free circular bus that runs between the city center and downtown Moorhead every 12-15 minutes. Buses run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Board at the pink LinkFM signs.
trivago Tip: December looks to be the most expensive month for Fargo travel with hotels averaging $124/night. February is your cheapest month at $98/night, but you can get Fargo in the summer at a reasonable $113 to $117/night from June through August.
See you in Fargo!
Green, friendly, affordable Fargo still flies under the radar, attracting most of its visitors from other states in the Upper Midwest and the prairie provinces of Canada. But bike share expansions, trail improvements and new parks and green spaces (combined with news coverage of the region’s start-up culture and economy) mean that this prairie city won’t be a secret for long. Demand for more eco-friendly hotels like Element Fargo — and local support for the walkable neighborhoods growing up around them — will provide eco-conscious travelers with new places to stay and play for years to come.