A Few Things That Make White Bear Lake the Best

by | Jul 2023

Erd-Geist Gazebo

Photo: Chris Emeott

A collection of places to explore and people that inspire.

Each year, I’m given the great honor of sharing my White Bear Lake area “picks” as editor. And, each year, it feels more difficult to even begin to hone in on my favorite parts of this beautiful community. Alas, I’ve given it much thought and decided to dig into the places and things that have brought me the most joy this year and in years gone by. While this will include some new favorites, like my best “Bite” and “Must-stop” in the area, I’ll also share a bit about a place that means a lot to me, an organization that is doing important work and an artist whose work has inspired me to embrace a different perspective.

Historic View

The local historic view that means the most to me isn’t a hidden gem, more like a beloved and frequented destination. Following Sunday brunch at Keys Cafe & Bakery during my childhood, I recall fondly the afternoons spent running across the green grass at Matoska Park with my cousins, exploring the lakeshore and climbing up and down the Erd-Geist Gazebo. Today, when I walk to the park, I’m reminded of these moments and, with additional knowledge, the role Matoska Park and this lakeshore have played through the years for generations of visitors and residents. The gazebo, a symbol of love created by a father for his daughter upon her marriage, once sat on the other side of the lake. It was restored in 1974, 2000 and again in 2021, continuing to reveal its historical importance to this community. Long before that, this land was a hunting and harvesting ground for the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations, with the lake and Manitou Island holding significance in local legend. Each time I visit, I have cause to stop and think about all the people throughout history who have viewed White Bear Lake from the land that is now Matoska Park. It’s a legacy of gratitude and enjoyment that I’m thrilled to be a part of.

Matoska Park
2345 Fifth St.

Essential Nonprofit

I think something that we can all agree on is the sheer importance of connection in the White Bear Lake area. While each of the communities around the lake has a distinct personality and offering, there’s one local organization that’s taken on the task of sharing all that goodness in one place—led by some folks who have been monumental resources for myself and this magazine in recent years.

Explore White Bear, spearheaded by Lisa Beecroft of Beecroft Marketing; Bill Foussard of Best Western/White Bear Country Inn and Rudy’s Redeye Grill; and Sara Markoe Hanson of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society, was founded 15 years ago with a mission to promote recreation and events for visitors and residents alike. The organization, which keeps an updated online directory of events, services and things to do, has recently launched a newsletter and sponsors the Manitou Days Beach Dance alongside White Bear Lake Rotary each year. “It’s a great bringing together of different assets in the White Bear Lake community,” Beecroft says. “[Explore White Bear] definitely showcases the pride in our community.”

Manitou Days Beach Dance

Manitou Days Beach Dance. Photo: Explore White Bear

In the next few years, Explore White Bear hopes to begin offering group packages to help coordinate excursions that feature area services, entertainment, dining establishments and recreation opportunities. “It’s just such a great community to be a part of,” Beecroft says. “Whether you’re exploring it for the first time or you’re just learning about new things that have been there all along, [Explore White Bear] is a good place to celebrate our community.”

Explore White Bear
4940 North Highway 61
Facebook: Explore White Bear
Instagram: @explorewhitebear

Must-stop Book Shop

If it’s not already obvious from my career as a writer and editor, I’m quite the bibliophile. And anytime I find myself on a stroll downtown, Lake Country Booksellers is a highlight of my trip. There’s just something about being there, smelling that paper scent and seeing the rainbow of colorful covers. I also love that, among the roughly 5,000 books on its shelves, you’re bound to find stories of this community or books by members of it.

A women-owned business since its founding in 1980 by five area “founding mothers,” each new generation of owners has brought something unique to the business through varying literary interests and specialties. Current owners Faith Basten, Susie Fruncillo, Roberta Kiemele and Nancy Thysell have worked together to build a diverse collection of stories catering to all interests. Though much has changed over the years in the realm of bookselling, Thysell shares that Lake Country is alive and well due to the support of area locals—many of whom have returned to reading in the wake of the pandemic. “For the most part, books are a positive thing for people and make people feel good, and I think for each of us coming to work here, it’s a super positive experience,” Thysell says.

The owners of Lake Country Booksellers, from left to right: Susie Fruncillo, Roberta Kiemele, Nancy Thysell and Faith Basten

The owners of Lake Country Booksellers, from left to right: Susie Fruncillo, Roberta Kiemele, Nancy Thysell and Faith Basten. Photo: Chris Emeott

Over the years, Thysell says she’s seen Lake Country become a destination. “It’s a community hub, a gathering spot. It feels like a place people can come and just spend time and ask questions and kind of just be,” she says. “It gives a community an identity.” On a recent trip, I was able to get my hands on The Bear, a book by Andrew Krivak that has stirred local programming and conversation as the subject of White Bear Center for the Arts’ NEA Big Reads Grant. And as I moved about the store, listening to delightful conversations between visitors and staff, it reminded me again how wonderful it is to have a small town bookstore to call our own here in White Bear Lake.

Lake Country Booksellers
4766 Washington Square; 651.426.0918
Facebook: Lake Country Booksellers

Inspiring Human

There are many photographers out there—each with a unique way of seeing and capturing the world in a still frame. In this role, I’ve been so impressed by the area artists I’ve come across. That’s especially true of Josh Driver, a White Bear Lake landscape photographer whose work showcases the natural beauty of this area in crisp detail and from unique points of view. When I first discovered his work on Instagram, it was an image of three maple trees in full color that caught my eye. Since then, Driver’s exploration of water, motion and dronescapes have often stopped me in my tracks. Driver started photography in 2016; since then, the hobby has taken him on adventures across the region, particularly along the North Shore. “I’m always just attracted to water. My wife and I moved to White Bear Lake three years ago, almost to the date, so part of me is still in ‘What’s new?’ especially with the camera,” Driver says. “… Generally speaking, a new environment is always attractive. And then, the more you step into the same environment, the more you actually get to see the essence of it.”

Dronescape of White Bear Lake, captured by Josh Driver

Dronescape of White Bear Lake, captured by Josh Driver

In 2022, Driver purchased a drone and recently captured his favorite local photo yet: A panoramic image of White Bear Lake that he plans to share with the public at Marketfest. During the week, Driver works as the executive director of St. Paul nonprofit The Hospitality Center; on weekends, you can find him on local explorations with his family and camera, seeking unique perspectives of beloved natural wonders. While Driver never felt the term “artist” suited his work as a photographer, he’s come to terms with the label. “If I don’t create daily or weekly, I go crazy. Photography is a wonderful medium to go and create,” Driver says. “… I’m not a watercolor artist; I’m not a sculptor; I don’t have the patience for that kind of thing. I know that. I just think that this is me going, ‘This is how I’ve been made. This is who I am.’”

Pontoons docked in White Bear Lake, captured by Josh Driver

Pontoons docked in White Bear Lake, captured by Josh Driver

Josh Driver Photography
Facebook: Josh Driver Photography
Instagram: @joshdriver_photography

Bite (or lack thereof)

This may be a controversial pick for reasons of personal ice cream eating habits. Let me start by clarifying, I do not necessarily bite ice cream, but if I was to bite any frozen item it would be the Lemon Sorbetto from Orso Bianco Gelato. If you’ve picked up our last issue, you may have read the piece I wrote on Orso Bianco. It’s a relatively new addition (opened in May 2022) and a very welcome one, with a focus on authentic Italian gelato flavors and techniques. “There’s a real science to it,” co-owner Mark Schwartz says. “I have an engineering background, so I’m interested in all the details like why is it different from ice cream? Why does it taste like this and why do you do that?”

Having had the opportunity to enjoy trips to Italy and other European countries, I will say that I deeply missed the distinct gelato and sorbetto that I enjoyed while meandering narrow cobblestone streets. Lemon is a classic flavor in sorbetto, a dairy-free version of gelato. It’s super tart, tastes like summer and is by far my favorite bite in White Bear Lake. My second favorite flavor (by a small margin) is the Orso Bianco signature flavor—a white chocolate stracciatella.

Orso Bianco GelatoPhoto: Chris Emeott

Orso Bianco Gelato. Photo: Chris Emeott

I felt beyond lucky to enjoy these and other spectacular flavors while interviewing owners Cinzia Falcomata and Schwartz. “We like the community of White Bear. It’s just such a nice community,” Schwartz says. “… We have two boys that are 10; when we’re not [at Orso Bianco], we’re either swimming, canoeing or snorkeling in the lake, and it’s just a great place to grow up. We wanted to be a part of that community.” To learn more about their story, flip through the pages of our May/June issue, visit whitebearlakemag.com or, even better, stop by in person for great conversation and gelato.

Orso Bianco Gelato
2216 Third St.; 651.207.4922
Facebook: Orso Bianco Gelato
Instagram: @orsobiancogelato


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