City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Duluth, MN?

Outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, history buffs and music fans all will find something (and likely several somethings) to love about life in Duluth. The city is a favorite travel destination for Midwesterners and a great place to put down roots. The scenery simply cannot be beat, as the city perches on the edge of Lake Superior, the largest and westernmost of the Great Lakes, and features thousands of acres of green space and woodlands.

If you’re looking to advance your education, you will be pleased to note that this city offers excellent public and private institutions of higher learning, including a medical school. Speaking of medicine, the clinics and hospitals in Duluth are top-notch. Read on to learn about Duluth’s climate, housing, business, the endless recreation opportunities—and a whole lot more.

Medium-sized city with easy access

1. Medium-sized city with easy access

Whether you’re arriving by land, air or boat, you’ll be impressed by Duluth’s accessibility. Exits from Interstate Highway 35 can take you downtown, to the bustling lakeshore, the breathtaking Skyline Parkway or to the North Shore Scenic Drive. The latter is a 142-mile journey to Grand Portage that truly is scenic and features numerous opportunities to take in Lake Superior, towering pines, gift shops and restaurants.

At Duluth International Airport, Delta Airlines offers daily service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, the largest metropolitan area in Minnesota. United and American offer direct flights from Duluth to Chicago. While cargo ships carrying iron ore and grain are the mainstay of Duluth’s harbor traffic, city officials and local agencies are investing in infrastructure to accommodate cruise ships. Tourism leaders are promoting the region to cruise line operators who say they anticipate interest in Great Lakes leisure cruises in coming years among financially secure Baby Boomers seeking new travel options.

Increasingly diverse population and cultural interests

2. Increasingly diverse population and cultural interests

In this northeastern quadrant of Minnesota, one of the U.S.’s northernmost states, Duluth ranks among some of the most livable communities in the country, scoring great marks on various surveys for amenities, housing and weather. That’s right. Stereotypes aside, Minnesota is not a vast, frozen wasteland. In fact, those who enjoy outdoor ice hockey and ice fishing prefer some frigid months.

Duluth’s 86,000-plus residents are primarily English-speaking Caucasians, but the city is growing increasingly diverse, particularly on the college campuses, and is home to a well-established American Indian community. In fact, the Fond du Lac tribe operates the Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth and the Black Bear Casino in nearby Cloquet.

Multiple colleges and universities are important to Duluth, but this is not your typical college town. Yes, students can find plenty of nightlife to complement their hours in the classroom, but they are just as likely to join the locals in volunteering with community organizations or enjoying the bountiful outdoor recreation opportunities. From the lakeshore to the city’s impressive hills, leisure time recreational pursuits and cultural options abound. Keep reading for more about that!

Distinct seasons and natural beauty

3. Distinct seasons and natural beauty

You can experience the highs and lows, pros and cons of all 4 seasons when living in Duluth. The cooling breezes off Lake Superior are welcome in the heat of summer, but the “gales of November” described in Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” can be a wee bit blustery. Average temperatures range from a low of 2 degrees F and a high of 19 in January to a low of 55 and a high of 76 in July. The average annual snowfall is 85 inches. That makes for some great skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

Between summer and winter, though, comes that most glorious Minnesota season: Fall. It’s hard to find fault with autumn in Duluth. The landscape is bright with deep orange, crisp yellow and flaming red leaves. What could be better than sweatshirt-and-bonfire or sweatshirt-and-football or sweatshirt-and-anything weather on a sunny fall Saturday? Duluth’s parks and trails are perfect venues for hikes that will give your cheeks a healthy, rosy glow.

And don’t forget Spring, a time of blossoms, birdsong and babbling brooks. When winter makes its exit, folks in the northland swap their ice skates and snow shovels for tennis rackets and mountain bikes.

High living standard and excellent services

4. High living standard and excellent services

Duluth residents enjoy a median income of $43,518 in a city where the unemployment rate is just 2.9%. Duluth is a beautiful, welcoming place to live and work, or live and study, or live and retire. The median age of the folks who live in Duluth is a shade less than 34. Their average commute time to work is 17 minutes.

In addition to the seemingly endless array of recreational opportunities and gorgeous natural attractions, Duluth offers affordable housing, exceptional cultural events, and countless coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. Those establishments range from the mom-and-pop variety to chains to classy one-of-a-kind venues with mouth-watering menus featuring locally sourced meat, poultry and vegetables. You won’t go hungry in Duluth—and you won’t be bored.

Duluth spans 67.79 square miles and features 11,000 acres of green space, including 129 parks. If you, or those who visit you, like to walk or bike, look no farther than this city with 12 miles of paved, accessible trails, 85 miles of bike-optimized, multi-use trails, and 150 miles of unpaved hiking trails.

Oh, and the cost of living in Duluth is considerably lower than the U.S. average.

Outstanding healthcare

5. Outstanding healthcare

Duluth boasts two hospitals: St Luke’s and Essentia Health’s St. Mary’s, both of which offer an array of specialty services, including cardiac care, gastroenterology, orthopedics, pediatrics and neurosciences in addition to general and emergency medicine and intensive care. The two health systems, which operate numerous clinics in addition to the hospitals, both are planning renovations and new facilities to ensure that Duluth residents and visitors have access to state-of-the art medical buildings and equipment.

The local health care continuum also includes rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, and a variety of home care services. Emergency medical services, including Life Link III air ambulances, are at the ready throughout the region.

Excellent educational opportunities

6. Excellent educational opportunities

Duluth public schools offer not only pre-K through grade 12 education, but also career and technical education, adult basic education, and community education programs. Elementary students may enroll in Spanish immersion and Ojibwe language immersion programs, the latter designed to enrich students’ learning by teaching core academic subjects in Ojibwemowin and developing appreciation of American Indian and other cultures.

Private pre-school, elementary and high schools in Duluth include Lakeview Christian Academy, The Marshall School, Montessori School of Duluth, Stella Maris Academy, Stone Ridge Christian School and Summit School.

Four colleges/universities call Duluth home: Lake Superior College, The College of Saint Scholastica, Duluth Business University and University of Minnesota Duluth. Also nearby are the University of Wisconsin Superior and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet.

Employment variety and low unemployment

7. Employment variety and low unemployment

The tourist industry is a major force in Duluth as 3.5 million visitors contribute $400 million to the economy each year. And that means myriad employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled workers at tourist attractions, shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and the convention center. Health care facilities in the city employ 8,000 people, accounting for about 30 percent of the jobs in the community.

Duluth is a regional center for banking and retail activity and is home to an array of heavy and light manufacturing plants (steel, cement, metal and wood products, electrical equipment, textiles and prepared foods), oil refineries, food processing plants, lumber and paper mills, fisheries and grain elevators. The numerous schools, colleges and universities in Duluth employ thousands.

If you’re looking to start a business in Duluth, make note that the city provides economic development services to businesses and entrepreneurs. Their services include technical assistance and facilitation of land purchases.

The city’s workforce development team is dedicated to ensuring that the community has a skilled, diverse and adaptable workforce to meet existing and future needs, and to enhance Duluth’s prosperity.

So many, many things to do

8. So many, many things to do

Hiking, biking, running, camping, climbing, curling, skiing, sledding, snowboarding, boating, kayaking, fishing, sightseeing are just a few. The outdoor recreational opportunities in and around Duluth are legendary. Even if you’d rather watch than participate, outdoor offerings abound. Catch one or more of the Duluth Huskies amateur baseball team’s 36 home games.

Visit the Lake Superior Zoo. Watch the Aerial Lift Bridge rise to accommodate cargo ships. Wander Canal Park, popping into a pub or shop or perhaps cheering the finishers of Grandma’s Marathon in June. Visit the harbor during Festival of Sail in August to see—and tour—replica wooden sailing ships of days of yore. Another August option: the Bayfront Blues Festival, an outdoor event that draws some 20,000 fans each year to hear more than 30 acts such as Jonny Lang and Blues Traveler.

If you prefer indoor entertainment, Duluth’s got that covered, too. Let’s start with the Great Lakes Aquarium, the nation’s only all-freshwater aquarium. Or how about the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in downtown Duluth, where you can opt for a ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad? The Duluth Art Museum offers exhibitions, receptions and hands-on classes. A handful of other galleries dot the popular lakeshore area, showcasing the works of regional artists. Amsoil Arena (on the lakefront, of course) is the venue for myriad sporting events and political rallies, and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (you guessed it, on the lakefront) hosts nationally known musicians and comedians.

Can’t decide whether you want to spend an afternoon indoors or outdoors? Glensheen is the perfect place to get a dose of both. This historic 12-acre estate on Lake Superior’s shore features lush gardens, a sprawling lawn and a 39-room mansion built for the influential Congdon family in the very early 1900s.  Also, along Lake Superior is the Fitger’s brewery complex, which features boutiques, restaurants, a hotel and outdoor stairs to the lake walk.

Want to see a ballet or listen to the symphony? There’s no need to drive 150 miles to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Check out the Minnesota Ballet, which is based in Duluth, and the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. If theatre is your thing, visit the Duluth Playhouse, which at more than 100 years old, is one of the United States’ oldest community theatres.

Pros and cons of living in Duluth

9. Pros and cons of living in Duluth

If cold and snow are not your jam, Duluth could take some getting used to, particularly if you need to drive on the steep hillside of this city that has been called “the San Francisco of the Midwest.”  Driving on pothole-pocked streets can jar your teeth, jangle your nerves and wreak havoc on your vehicle. But you’ll gain the respect of your warm climate friends when you learn to masterfully steer your vehicle up and down the slippery hills and around the potholes.

Plus, these are minor annoyances compared to the community’s positive vibe, abundant natural resources, just plain breathtaking beauty and seemingly endless entertainment and recreation opportunities. Whether you’re a ballet-and-symphony aficionado or love pool halls, bowling alleys and beer joints, you’ll find plenty of what you’re looking for in Duluth.

Plentiful neighborhood choices

10. Plentiful neighborhood choices

Ten distinct neighborhoods, each with their own charm, make up Duluth’s residential scene. Congdon Park, for instance, is home to the lovely Tischer Creek, Northland Country Club and the Glensheen mansion and many other stately reminders of Duluth’s history. Across town, West Duluth features many apartment buildings and small, single-family homes.

City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Duluth, MN?

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Residents of West Duluth tend to be in the lower middle-income bracket, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less proud of their neighborhood than the folks who live in more upscale parts of town. West Duluth is home to the Duluth Grill, a wildly popular restaurant once featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

No matter which neighborhood you visit or move into, that area is certain to have great stores, restaurants, pubs and wonderful up-north character. Throughout the city, you’ll see quaint historic homes on tree-lined streets. And each neighborhood is sure to feature historic homes as well as newer construction—and that incredible view of the greatest of the Great Lakes.

Real estate options for young, old and everyone in between

11. Real estate options for young, old and everyone in between

Looking for an affordable fixer-upper? Student housing? Senior or assisted living? Or maybe a half-million-dollar dream home with a view of the big lake? No matter what you’re in the market for and no matter what your housing budget, you can find the great home in Duluth.

City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Duluth, MN?

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The median price of currently listed homes is $224,900. Average apartment rent is $747 per month for a studio, $992 for a one-bedroom and $1,293 for a two-bedroom.

If a house seems like too much but an apartment not enough, you may want to consider a condo. Imagine renting or owning a condo near Lake Superior, or on the hillside overlooking the city and lake.

Throughout Duluth, you’ll find housing options that will make you’ll feel like you’re living in a vacation home every day!

With your newfound knowledge of Duluth, its employment, education, entertainment and recreation opportunities, you now have a feel for what it might be like to call Duluth home. If you’re considering buying a house in Duluth, you’ll want to speak with an experienced real estate agent. A trusted agent can help you think through all aspects of buying a home.

Best wishes for a great experience with your next move! If you have found this article helpful, please share it with a friend or colleague who might find it useful as well. Thank you!


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