No Place Like Nokomis

March 12, 2012

The Trails along Lake Nokomis Parkway

The Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis is but one of the things that sets our great city apart from other metropolitan areas. It’s our calling card, and it helps some forget we live through blizzards and ice storms five months of the year. But sadly, for many, the Chain conjures images of just a few bodies of water and their upscale surroundings.

On the edge of downtown, Lake of the Isles sits adjacent to the quiet and quaint Kenwood neighborhood, known for its beautiful old homes and lakeside mansions. Calhoun, named for a pro-slavery U.S. senator, is a summertime meat market with trendy Uptown stores, bars and restaurants within walking distance. And Harriet butts up against the very desirable Linden Hills area, rich with liberal values and, well, riches.

Southwest side of Lake Nokomis with a view of the Cedar Ave. bridge.

They’re amazing areas, every one of them, and we’re lucky to have them for their scenic and recreational value. But what of that other large lake sitting quietly out of the way in southeast Minneapolis?

Perhaps it’s a marketing problem…but nestled just to the north of Mall of America and MSP Airport, Lake Nokomis feels like the hidden gem of Minneapolis…an area time somehow kind of forgot. For five years, I’ve lived two blocks off its south shore, and if you’ve never stopped by (the lake, not my house), you ought to know what you’ve been missing.

By contrast, Nokomis lacks some of the accoutrements of its more well-regarded aquatic brethren. There’s no LA Fitness, no Chino Latino. There is no Nokomis Beach Club, where the trendsetters live and work out and no clubs where college kids congregate to be part of a scene. And if there is a single old-money mansion along Nokomis’ perimeter, I have yet to find it.

"You are here" at Lake Nokomis...a bit removed from the "other" lakes by more than just geography

Yes, Nokomis is comparatively sleepy and laid back. A seemingly disorganized conglomeration of nice and not-so-nice — but almost always older — homes. Retail establishments are few and far between. But don’t let those things fool you. Our little corner of Minneapolis has real character. A grittiness unlike other areas of the city. We’re largely blue collar and our neighborhoods are diverse.

Our homes hearken back to the days when Minneapolis sprawled southward to previously undeveloped farmland. These days, in the winter, our MAC-updated houses shield us not just from the cold, but from the flight patterns overhead.

Dog friendly Nokomis Beach Coffee will make you forget Starbuck's.

Spring, summer and fall offer some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities all around Nokomis and at nearby Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek. We have all the requisite baseball diamonds and soccer pitches to keep kids and kids-at-heart healthy and active, and grabbing a post-game cone at Grand Ole Creamery on Cedar is the perfect idea on a hot day.

When American Express created its Small Business Saturday campaign, Nokomis is exactly the area it was supposed to benefit. Passing up The Home Depot in support of tiny Nokomis Hardware just feels good. And in many ways, a trip to Bergen’s Supervalu is so much more appealing than Cub or Rainbow — good selection, nice produce and senior discounts I look forward to enjoying in a couple decades.

A great meal at al Vento should be near the top of the list of things to try in Nokomis, and Buster’s on 28th Ave. is an awesome little bar/restaurant with microbrews and the best burgers…maybe in the entire city. And to start any week off on a sweet note, you simply have to make a Sunday morning stop at A Baker’s Wife Pastry Shop.

Nokomis Hardware on 34th

A Baker's Wife Pastry Shop... and a cow

Unspectacular on the outside, Buster's on 28th is well worth the trip!

It might be interesting to see what a little marketing push could do for the Nokomis area. On the flip side, I would be nervous about what it would do to our neck of Minneapolis. The people are what make Nokomis the great place it is. You don’t have to be beautiful or rich. You can walk or jog or ride our trails wearing what you want while being as friendly or anonymous as you wish. We don’t judge in the Southeast. And while it’s often busy around our lake, it never feels like the insanity of the scene at Lake Calhoun. And that’s a great thing. Perhaps we want to stay just a little hidden.

Do not misjudge this post — I would never knock on the more “elite” lakes that have their own pages on Facebook. I love them all, and they make our town unique. But Nokomis just feels a little special. More homey. More real. So when summer rolls around, do yourself a favor on a warm, sunny day. Skip the trendier scenes of Minneapolis’ “other” lakes and spend a few hours in Nokomis. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.


You have to try the meatball white pizza at Fat Lorenzo's. No really, you have to.

Seriously solid take-out at Singapore!

Great Chicago dogs at Chris & Rob's


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