Hastings’s first European settler, Henry Bailly, came to this strategic spot, where the St. Croix River meets the Mississippi, in 1850 under the guise of running a trading post, but he really was in wait to claim the site for development the moment the ink dried on the Dakota treaties. That, as anticipated, happened the next year, and a city was soon plotted and named for Henry Hastings Sibley, the future first governor of Minnesota.
It was a city poised for greatness. Steamboat travel was difficult upriver of this point, so many warehouses, mills, banks, and other businesses associated with river trade rose here, and the city prospered. Navigational improvements later organized by shippers allowed the commercial emergence of Minneapolis and St. Paul and spelled the end of Hastings’s prominence.
Just 20 minutes from St. Paul, this city of 18,000 is a popular day trip from the Twin Cities . Most come to shop the galleries, gift shops, and antiques stores along historic Second Street, whose two busiest blocks remain largely intact from the beginning of the 20th century.
The Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau (111 3rd St. E., 651/437-6775 or 888/612-6122, www.hastingsmn.org , 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., closed Sat.–Sun.) gives out a free map with a detailed walking tour that highlights most of the 64 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the modest Fasbender Clinic (now Edward Jones Investments), a Frank Lloyd Wright design at the corner of Highway 55 and Pine Street, and the imposing LeDuc Historic Estate (1629 Vermillion St., 651/437-7055, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun. May–Oct., $6 adults), an 1865 Gothic Revival home in the process of being filled with period furnishings.
An elevated observation platform at Lock and Dam #2, just northwest of town, lets you watch boats and barges get a 12-foot lift. Another worthy diversion is Vermillion Falls, located on the west side of town just off U.S. Highway 61. The small falls lies behind the Gardner Flour Mill (now known as ConAgra), the oldest continuously operating flour mill in the state, and drops into a narrow gorge that runs around the city. Downstream is the almost haunting Ramsey Mill ruins, built by the state’s first territorial governor in 1857.
Outside of town, the Alexis Bailly Vineyard (18200 Kirby Ave., 651/437-1413, www.abvwines.com , 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Fri.–Sun. June–Nov.), the state’s first winemaker using all locally grown grapes, opens their doors for tastings ($2–5) and sales. To get there head south on U.S. Highway 61 to 170th Street East, and then west for two miles.
Although it is only open to the public the last weekend in July during the Antique Power Show, you should drive past the Little Log House Pioneer Village (13746 220th St. E., 651/437-2693, www.littleloghouseshow.com , $12 adults), a large and impressive collection of old buildings and vehicles spread across 40 acres. It’s six miles south of town.
Across the Mississippi River from downtown Hastings, the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center (12805 St. Croix Trl., 651/437-4359, www.carpenternaturecenter.org , 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily) is a private 725-acre facility. The small interpretive center has a few nature displays, plus animals caged and mounted. Outside are a flower and herb garden and environmentally friendly apple orchard. Ten miles of scenic trail cross the forest, savanna, and restored prairie; some trails overlook the St. Croix River, others lead down the bluffs to its shore. Unfortunately you can’t escape the Highway 10 traffic hum.
This is a great area to explore on a bike. The Route (200 2nd St. E., 651/437-4010, www.theroute.net , 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun.) will rent you one for $25 a day.
No matter the season, Afton Alps (6600 Peller Ave. S., 651/436-5245 or 800/328-1328, www.aftonalps.com ) is a one-stop recreational hub, with downhill skiing, golf, and mountain-bike trails.
During the summer, classic cars (built in 1976 or earlier) converge in downtown Hastings for Cruise-ins every other Saturday night. There are food and merchandise vendors and a general atmosphere of old-fashioned summertime fun.
All of Hastings’s hotels are on the south side of town on or near U.S. Highway 61. The cheapest is the locally owned Hastings Inn (1520 Vermillion St., 651/437-3155, $50–60), with large, basic rooms.
Much newer and nicer is the Country Inn & Suites (300 33rd St., 651/437-8870 or 800/456-4000, www.countryinns.com , $83), also with a pool and whirlpool.
For something special try the 1880 Classic Rosewood Inn (620 Ramsey St., 651/437-3297, www.classicrosewoodinn.com , $117), one of the city’s most beautiful historic homes, which has been renovated for all-out luxury. Your hosts have plenty of experience: They opened Minnesota’s first bed-and-breakfast in 1982, the now-closed Thorwood Inn. Ask about packages including massages and tours of nearby wineries, as well as arranging a private dinner at the inn.
Casual, but still white-tablecloth, the popular Levee Café (100 Sibley St., 651/437-7577, www.leveecafe.com , 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri., 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat., 8:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun., $6–27) has a wide-ranging menu of sandwiches, pasta, steak, and seafood. This is a popular place for weekend brunch.
The Red Rock Café (119 2nd St. E., 651/437-5002, 6 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.–1 p.m. Sun., plus dinner 5–9 p.m. Wed.–Sat.) is a classic diner with a to-go espresso counter in the front. Breakfasts are fresh and filling—the eggs Benedict are lovely—and lunches and dinners are hearty meat-and-potatoes stuff.
Visiting boaters can dock up and stock up at Hastings Marina (1111 1st St. E, 651/ 437-9621).
Go Carefree Shuttle (651/437-8877, www.gocarefreeshuttle.com , $35 one-way, reservations required) vans go to the Twin Cities  from the AmericInn (2400 Vermillion St., 651/437-8877) twice a day.