While you may have never heard of Faribault (FAIR-ih-bo) you likely are familiar with its products: Tilt-A-Whirl carnival rides, Faribault Woolens, and Butter Kernel canned vegetables. You might also have seen the city before since its historic downtown stood in as Wabasha  in the Grumpy Old Men movies.
Fur trader Alexander Faribault established his first post in the area in 1826 before moving to the present town site, where the Straight River joins the Cannon, a decade later. He established the town in 1852, immediately following ratification of the Traverse des Sioux Treaty, and within a few years it was a prosperous city.
Today this quiet town has more buildings on the National Register of Historic Places than any other community of its size in Minnesota.
The many schools established during the 1860s, including the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, both still in operation (the Faribault Regional Center—variously known as the School for Idiots and Imbeciles, the Minnesota Institute for Defectives, and the School for Feeble-Minded and Colony for Epileptics—closed in 1998), led to the moniker “Athens of the West.”
A good time to visit town is the third weekend in September for the Faribault Area Airfest (www.faribaultairfest.com ), which features a variety of airplanes and hot air balloons. The Tree Frog Music Festival (www.treefrogmusic.org ) runs concurrently.
The oldest building in the city, the Alexander Faribault House (12 1st Ave. NE, 507/332-2121, call to schedule a tour, $2) was built in 1853 by the city’s founding father. It was one of the first (possibly the first) wood-frame homes constructed in southern Minnesota and is one of the state’s oldest surviving buildings.
More history is on display at the Rice County Historical Museum (1814 2nd Ave. NW, 507/332-2121, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., plus 1–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun. summer, $3 adults), where much of the space is taken up by a well-executed mock Main Street display. The Native American artifacts are also interesting. A log cabin, church, one-room schoolhouse, and shed filled with farm machinery sit out back.
The adjacent Faribault Woolen Mills (www.faribaultmills.com ), the last sheep-to-blanket mill left in the nation, diverts the largest number of visitors off the freeway (just follow the signs). They have been weaving top-quality wool fabrics, most famously Faribo blankets, since 1865, and free tours (10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) of the entire operation are available; tours begin at their large outlet store (1819 2nd Ave. NW, 507/334-1644 or 800/448-9665).
Faribault is the eastern terminus of the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, a 39-mile paved path leading to Mankato along an old railroad bed. The trailhead is along Highway 21, just north of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce (530 Wilson Ave., 507/334-4381 or 800/658-2354, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., www.visitfaribault.com ).
You can also depart town along the Cannon River, a state-designated Wild and Scenic River. It’s a generally peaceful 16-mile, six- to eight-hour paddle down the mostly wooded valley to Northfield , and there are several campsites along the way.
For a quiet hike, follow the 10 miles of trails at the River Bend Nature Center (1000 Rustad Rd., 507/332-7151, www.rbnc.org ), particularly those along the Straight River. The 743 acres of forest and prairie is a good bird-watching area, and the Interpretive Center is filled with animal mounts. It is located on the southeast edge of town: Take Highway 60 and follow the signs.
If you are going to stay in town it should be at the family-run Lyndale Motel (904 Lyndale Ave. N., 507/334-4386 or 800/559-4386, $49), which sits on the Cannon River—you can watch herons wade in the river right from your room.
Outside of town, guests at Dancing Winds Farmstay (6863 Country 12 Blvd., 507/789-6606, www.dancingwinds.com , $85–119) can spend time with the resident goats, help with chores, cook for themselves, go on long hikes—or not, according to their own schedules.
Faribaultians love The Depot Bar & Grill (311 Heritage Pl., 507/332-2825, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., bar open until 1 p.m. Sun.–Thurs. and until 2 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $6–23), in a renovated train depot downtown by the river. The menu covers sandwiches, salads, steak, seafood, and Southwestern.
South of town near the junction of Lyndale and I-35 is the wonderful El Tequila (951 Faribault Rd., 507/332-7490, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily, $3–15), with real-deal Mexican.
You can sample some Somali at Banadir (211 Central Ave. N., 507/209-1624, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $6–8).
Jefferson Lines (888/864-2832, www.jeffersonlines.com ) buses stop at Nelson’s Market Place (430 2nd Ave. NW).