"Luxury on the Lake" Wayzata by goodfish

Wayzata Travel Guide: 7 reviews and 25 photos

This is another one of the old Lake Minnetonka towns that was eventually swallowed up by urban sprawl: it's considered a Minneapolis suburb now. Like Excelsior (see those pages), it has retained some of its former, cottage-dweller charms but large concentrations of million-dollar condos and waterside mansions of CEOs and industry moguls nourish the local flavor with a decidedly sliver spoon.

These shores were once home to area Mdewakanton Dakota: a band of which still occupy reservation land near the southern suburbs. Wayzata (wise-ETTA) is an offshoot of the name for their blustery god of the North, Waziya, with the additional "ta" at the end roughly translating to "North Shore." White settlers built the first cabins here in 1852, and the community officially took root when the builder of the Great Northern Railroad, JJ Hill, laid tracks through the then-tiny and remote village in 1867. You can visit the JJ's mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul (see my tip on that).

Rail service made it easy for city residents to escape the oppressive summer heat for Minnetonka's cool breezes, and the following few decades brought a building boom of posh resorts and hotels. A fleet of paddlewheelers carried visitors to inns all over the lake until the depression of 1893 shuttered most of them. If deserted hotels weren't a big enough problem, a dispute with Mr. Hill over relocation of his tracks had him retaliate by moving the depot a full mile out of town, throwing the local economy into the doldrums for the next 15 years.

But by the 1920's citizens of means had replaced the old resorts with summer homes, and boat-building became a profitable community business. The old battle with JJ had been resolved, and he had an elegant new depot built which now serves as the Wayzata Historical Society and Museum. After WWII, the automobile era made the lake even more accessible, and passenger train service was finally discontinued in 1971 - although freight cars still rumble through town on a regular basis. Today, almost all of the old structures downtown have been replaced with new construction housing expensive boutique clothing and gift shops, upscale cafes and assorted financial institutions, and the former boatworks is an office building/restaurant.

I've never felt completely comfortable here among the dignified Old Money, lake cruisers worth more than my house, and dinners costing my first-born - if I had one. No, laid-back Excelsior is much more my style. But it's a pretty place with masses of flowers along main street, and diamonds even this budget shopper can afford sparking on the lake. The bookstore and coffeeshop won't empty your 401, and the beach and parks are free for a paddle or picnic. There's beer and burgers and the Muni, Cherry Garcia ice cream at Ben and Jerry's, and a walk around the backstreets with your cone will turn up a few vine-covered cottages from an era long gone.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Scenic and safe, nice lakeside lounging in summer
  • Cons:Expensive shopping, not much to do in the winter, no hotels
  • Last visit to Wayzata: Aug 2011
  • Intro Updated Nov 24, 2014
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Reviews (7)

Comments (2)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Sep 15, 2015 at 5:56 AM

    Thank you, Kate, for opening another hidden Gem of America to us....Your narration style and amazing photographs are an inspiration...

    • hunterV's Profile Photo
      Sep 15, 2015 at 7:11 AM

      It's not easy for us to make all those updates about the places we have visited...Times do change...(especially restaurants).

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Sep 15, 2015 at 7:13 AM

      They sure do!

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jul 12, 2015 at 2:41 AM

    Kate, I'm sure I would also not feel "completely comfortable" in a town full of rich people and no train service, but I like your tips and photos.

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Jul 12, 2015 at 3:34 AM

      Don, we have very little 'train' (light rail) service in the Twin Cities metro area at all, and trying to fit a system in around the existing infrastructure of highways and bridges is proving to be a very expensive and complicated problem. Out where I live, we have some bus service but it's limited both by route and by operating hours. Unfortunately, a car is a necessity to cover any sort of distance in a reasonable amount of time… :O(

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