Exploring Our College Town: Saint Peter, MN

Welcome to Saint Peter, Minnesota, a small but mighty college town. Home to Gustavus Adolphus, one of the best private colleges in Minnesota, Saint Peter offers an inclusive community and a comfortable place to dive into a busy college life while also letting you enjoy nature and relax. At the same time, you’re close enough to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Mankato to take advantage of everything that’s offered in the big city, too.

It’s a common misconception that attending school outside a major city means you’re missing out, but Gustavus busts that myth wide open. Saint Peter is a classic-feeling college town that is open and accepting, a place where anyone can feel secure walking around at any time of day. In academics and atmosphere, Gustavus is truly one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. 

Saint Peter has plenty of great local businesses that offer everything from food and drink to home essentials and little luxuries. And in addition to practical goods and services, there are parks, a golf course, sports, and outdoor activities when you need a break from your academics. 

Our home in the Minnesota River Valley offers natural experiences in a variety of locations just minutes from the Gustavus campus. Indoors, outdoors, and all year round, there are so many things to do in Saint Peter and the surrounding area. 

Where is Saint Peter, Minnesota?

Students seeking to attend a private college in Minnesota are in luck: Gustavus offers everything you might want or need, academically and geographically. Sure, it gets a little cold in January, but, the state of Minnesota is a hidden gem — it’s #5 on the list of US News & World Report’s Best States to Live, ranked #7 for our Natural Environment, and within the Top Ten for Opportunity — a statistic any graduate will appreciate. 

And when it comes to colleges near the Twin Cities, Gustavus can’t be beat. We’re based in peaceful, scenic Saint Peter, MN, just 10 minutes from Mankato and 52 minutes south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Our welcoming campus is located in one of Minnesota’s most beautiful natural regions: the Minnesota River Valley. In fact, the Gustavus campus has what we think is the town’s best view of the whole valley.

What is there to do in Saint Peter?

Once you’ve gotten to know the 340-acre campus, you can branch out and discover your new favorite spots in this quaint college town. From great food to all the different kinds of activities available, you can find the perfect Saint Peter destination.

Gustie Go-To Restaurants

Here are a few of the awesome places to go for food when you’re in Saint Peter:

  • River Rock Coffee & Tea: A cozy cafe with exceptional coffee and delicious pastries. This student favorite focuses on local, organic, and seasonal ingredients and makes all of its bakery and artisan bread from scratch. 
  • El Agave: A classic Mexican restaurant serving up all your favorite dishes.
  • Diamond Dust Bakery: Offers high-quality, made-from-scratch bakery items, lunch specials, pasta salads, and more. A great place for a study session!
  • Patrick’s on Third: The best burgers in town! Something’s always going on at Patrick’s — Trivia on Tuesday nights is a Gustie favorite.
  • 3rd Street Tavern: BBQ and Southern comfort food; what’s not to love? Stop in and pick up some brisket to fuel up.
  • Minnesota Wing King: During your four years at Gustavus, you can try all 37 sauces on their excellent chicken wings.
  • Nicollet Cafe: A classic diner serving American classic home-cooking for breakfast and lunch. 
  • Chankaska Creek Winery: For those seeking an elevated experience, take a trip out to Kasota to visit this vineyard and distillery to sample some of Minnesota’s finest wine, spirits, and wood-fired pizza.
  • Paddlefish Brewery: A new microbrewery owned and operated by two recent Gustie graduates. 

Downtown Saint Peter Shops

Downtown Saint Peter’s got a small-town vibe as a nice place to stroll around.

  • Saint Peter Food Co-op: A full-service grocery store with a deli, hot bar, and cafe. Perfect for grabbing lunch on the go or stocking up on supplies. 
  • Swedish Kontur: A Scandinavian gift shop featuring everything from Swedish crystal and clogs to Norwegian gnomes and knitwear.
  • La Mexicana Market: Serving up authentic Mexican dishes alongside a fully-stocked Mexican grocery store, you can pick up anything from chiles rellenos to Tajin. 
  • Cheese & Pie Mongers: Whether you’re looking for pies, cheese, or both, you’ll find them here. 
  • Riverside Thrift Shop, Church of Saint Peter Thrift Store, and more: spend an afternoon flipping through the racks at local thrift stores — you just might find a treasure. 
  • Cooks and Company: Stocks the finest in kitchen and barware, so if you’re looking for something to make your student housing experience more delicious, come find it here.
  • Smallest Cog to get your bike tuned-up or repaired.

This is just a partial listing of the wide variety of stores in Saint Peter, so if you’re looking for something specific, it’s worth a visit to the Saint Peter Chamber of Commerce!

Connecting With the Community

Gustavus students have several opportunities to work with local businesses and nonprofits, either as part of a class or through internships. Some recent examples include collaborating with the Nicollet County Public Health Department and sustainability projects with the City of Saint Peter. There are also numerous service opportunities offered through Gustavus:

  • Big Partner Little Partner: A mentorship program that pairs Gustavus students with youth from Saint Peter and the surrounding communities. Its mission is to foster friendship, emotional skill-building, and personal growth through mentorship.
  • Study Buddies: Volunteers work directly with K-12 students, lending a hand with whatever’s needed, including tutoring, reading and math support, and other classroom tasks. 
  • Pound Pals: Pound Pals volunteers visit the Saint Peter Pound each week to walk dogs and socialize cats awaiting adoption. Pound Pals volunteers also help organize animal awareness presentations and assist the pound with fundraisers. 

Art, Music, and Cultural Festivals in Saint Peter, MN

One thing that Saint Peter’s full of is festivals! There’s always something coming up. Grab a friend or meet a new one and check out an event that speaks to your interests. Here are a few examples of Saint Peter’s finest fests:

  • The Rock Bend Folk Festival is held in September. It’s a free, all-ages festival that celebrates southern Minnesota’s arts and crafts, food, fun, and of course, music! 
  • The Ambassadors’ Blues Fest, held on the second Saturday of June, features food vendors, art exhibitions, libations, and all the blues your achin’ heart can handle. 
  • Old Fashioned July 4 Celebration brings over 10,000 to the parade and festivities at Minnesota Square Park.
  • Maker Fair Minnesota in October celebrates handcrafted arts and foods with over 200 artisans and attracts almost 5,000 shoppers.
  • The Festival Of Nations is a multicultural celebration in May that features artisans, culture-bearers, and creators sharing and selling their beautiful items. There’s also interactive art, music, and dance, and traditional food and drinks to enjoy.

Local Natural Wonders in Saint Peter and Mankato

Given Gustavus’s incredible location in the Minnesota River Valley, you’ll have access to some of the finest outdoor activities, whether on campus, in Saint Peter, or farther afield in Mankato. Here are a few of our favorite things:


  • “The Arb”: You don’t have to go too far to enjoy Gustavus’s 125-acre Arboretum. Hosting miles of trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, you’ll also find trees seemingly made for hammocks when you’re ready to relax. First-year students plant tulip bulbs during orientation. Ranked as one of the best small college arboretums in the country!
  • Gusties on the Go Bike Program: This program provides a fleet of traditional bicycles and e-bikes that can be rented out — free of charge — to students who want to get around campus and explore the Saint Peter area by bike.

In Saint Peter and Mankato

  • Traverse de Sioux Treaty Center gives visitors the chance to learn about the complex historical significance of the site. It also offers trails along the Minnesota River for hiking, off-road biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. 
  • Seven-Mile Creek Park is a great place for a hike and is home to white-tail deer, wild turkeys, and nesting and migratory bird species. 

Just 10 minutes from Saint Peter: Mankato, MN

One of the best things about the colleges near Mankato is, well, Mankato – one of the best small college towns in the U.S. according to Schools.com. Known as the Greenseam due to rich surrounding farmland, it’s a hub for cutting-edge agribusiness. Forbes also ranked Mankato as one of the top 20 places for business and careers — perfect for Gustavus graduates who’d like to stay close to Saint Peter but want to level up to a bigger city. 

Art, Music, and Cultural Festivals in Mankato, MN

  • RibFest, the Mankato Solstice Music Festival, and Art Splash are just a few of the big events Mankato hosts each year. Expect food and drink vendors, arts and crafts, performances, and fun! Check out their websites for more information.
  • The Mankato Civic Center and the Vetter Stone Amphitheatre host local, national, and international acts throughout the year. Catch your favorite artist here! 
  • The incredible Kiwanis Holiday Lights are illuminated from November–December each year. While it’s a free event, non-perishable food and cash donations are welcome. You can walk or drive through the display — if you time it right, you might be able to visit Santa and his reindeer.

Shopping and Restaurants in Mankato

Mankato has two main shopping areas. Whether you’re looking for unique local specialty stores, restaurants, or bars in the walkable Old Town area or big-box stores and chains near the River Hills Mall area, Mankato’s got it all. 

Old Town

  • Mom and Pop’s Ice Cream: A locally owned shop with 32 flavors of ice cream along with dairy-free and vegan options — something for everybody!
  • Tune Town: A well-stocked record store where you can pick up the newest releases on CD or vinyl, record accessories, K-Pop box sets, and autographed albums. If you’re lucky, you might come across some free record crates to dig through out front!
  • Pagliai’s Pizza: The oldest pizzeria in Mankato and one of the oldest restaurants in the city. Using a cheese blend created specifically for Pagliai’s, every pizza is made from scratch: the dough, the sauces, chopped vegetables, and sliced meats for a great pizza, every time.
  • Once Read: One of (if not the) oldest used bookstores in Mankato. Stop in, browse through the wide selection of books, and exchange some of your own.
  • Sidetracked: You’re bound to find something quirky at Sidetracked, a curious art salon and art thrift shop with a free maker space called Art for All. 
  • Pulp Comics: A high-quality comic book and game shop for the Mankato area. Along with a large selection of current Manga, check out the tabletop games, toys, and art, too.
  • Atlantis Hobby: Another store focusing on tabletop games, cards, and aquarium supplies. An unexpected combo, perhaps, but somehow, just right. 
  • Coffee Hag: Live music, local art, and great coffee in a true community space. 

River Hills Mall Area

  • Big-box department stores like Target, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Scheels Sporting Goods 
  • Specialty and clothing retailers, including Ulta and H&M
  • Chain restaurants like Applebee's, Chipotle, and Olive Garden

Outdoor Activities in Mankato

  • Sakahta Hills Singing Trail consists of almost 40 miles of flat, accessible, paved bike trails in Mankato. 
  • Mt. Kato takes full advantage of the natural landscape of the valleys created by the confluence of the Le Sueur, Blue Earth, and Minnesota rivers. It’s an outstanding place for skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and mountain biking.
  • Chesley Skate Park: If you’re into skateboarding, trick biking, inline skating, or scooter riding, this is the place for you. 
  • Minneopa State Park offers visitors a chance to drive through a 325-acre bison preserve AND visit a double waterfall. Hike down into the gorge for a glimpse at wildflowers, cliffs, and an active beaver population!
  • There are lakes and rivers for kayaking and canoeing, numerous golf courses, indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, frisbee golf, zip lining, and even a place where you can drive a tank.

For more information about Mankato and all it has to offer, visit the website of the Mankato Chamber of Commerce.

Take a Day Trip to the Twin Cities!

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is a central hub for activities, shows, food and shopping. You don’t have to feel “stuck” in Saint Peter if you don’t have a car? At Gustavus, we know that there’s life beyond Saint Peter. That’s why we organize buses to take students on day trips to the Cities. Past experiences have included:

  • Shopping at the Mall of America
  • Taking in a Broadway show (“Hamilton”, anyone?)
  • Visit to the State Capital
  • Valleyfair
  • Cheering on the local teams at professional sports games for the Twins, Vikings, Wild, MN United, and Timberwolves

In addition to the attractions, you can do a little networking with more than 14,000 Gustie alums working in the Twin Cities. These connections open up the potential for summer internships and professional opportunities after graduation.

And of course, you can make your own way up there with a group of friends to spend a day or weekend in the city, shopping the vintage stores in Northeast, munching your way down Eat Street, biking around Lake Phalen, or taking in a show or concert at famed venues like First Avenue & 7th Street Entry or the Armory. For more information on things to do in Minneapolis, visit Meet Minneapolis. Read more about all that St. Paul has to offer here.

The Indigenous History of Saint Peter

Saint Peter is situated at the confluence of the tallgrass prairie, big woods, and Minnesota River. Archaeological finds show that this area has been populated by Indigenous people for over 9,000 years. In 1851, the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota signed the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux with U.S. Government representatives that promised education, goods, money, and a reservation in exchange for land. This contract was signed on land that currently is part of Saint Peter. However, before the Senate would ratify the treaties, they removed the provision for a reservation. The U.S. Government also kept over 80% of the money promised to the Dakota and left the Dakota people starving. This conflict was the primary cause of the Dakota War of 1862. This war ended with the largest mass execution in American history. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato. Over 150 years later, in 2019, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz extended a formal apology to the Dakota people. 

At Gustavus, the President’s Council on Indigenous Relations works to educate students within the Gustavus community about Indigenous issues that affect the College. Acknowledging that the College is in Dakota territory; getting the community involved by learning more about Indigenous ways of life, values, and traditions; and reading a land acknowledgment before on-campus events demonstrate that Gustavus holds itself accountable for the past and is actively working to improve its relationship with the Indigenous community.

Saint Peter, MN: A Great Place to Live and Learn

There are numerous reasons to attend Gustavus, including the great atmosphere, beautiful location, and quiet comfort of Saint Peter. When you’re not studying, there’s plenty of ways to have fun. In addition to having more opportunities to form better relationships with your peers and your professors, you’ll attend school in a safe, accepting environment that’s designed to expand your mind — and your future. 

Check out Saint Peter when you take a tour of the campus