Above: Bill Dubbs grew up in Edina and has owned three different houses there. He and Evans like the sense of community Edina offers, as well as its central location. All photos by Spacecrafting unless otherwise noted.
In Twin Cities real-estate lore, Edina has always been one of the most desirable locations—a perfect confluence of suburban charm, excellent schools, upscale amenities, superior shopping, and access to the city, all bundled with the ineffable cachet that comes with living in Minnesota’s richest zip code.
But Edina itself isn’t just a monolithic haven for the monetarily blessed. The city of 49,596 has 45 separate neighborhoods, all with a slightly different character and cost: Though the median home price in Edina is $396,000, one can pay as little as $215,000 or as much as $7.95 million. The most exclusive homes tend to be clustered in such West Edina neighborhoods as Indian Hills, Hilldale, Rolling Green, and Parkwood Knolls, and in the northeast neighborhoods of Country Club and Sunnyslope.
Above: 50th and France, Edina’s shopping district.
It’s tempting to think of the Edina Country Club and Interlachen Country Club as Edina’s social centers, but the truth is that much of the city’s social scene revolves around its superb schools, where parental involvement and a generous tax base provide an ideal foundation for academic achievement. Students at South View and Valley View Middle Schools feed into Edina High School, which as recently as 2014 was rated by U.S. News and World Report as the best high school in Minnesota, and one of the top 200 high schools in the country.
One thing millions of dollars will not get you in Edina is a house on a lake. Waterfront property here typically means a house that backs up to Minnehaha Creek. The tradeoff is close proximity to the city’s cultural center, 50th and France Ave., and nearby Southdale and Galleria shopping centers, and the rest of the metro.
Above: home in the Rolling Green neighborhood.
Originally a 5,000-acre farm owned by railroad magnate James J. Hill, North Oaks is a semi-private haven of natural splendor located 10 miles north of St. Paul, adjacent to Vadnais Heights and Shoreview.
Preserving the area’s natural beauty has always been one of the community’s top priorities. In North Oaks, there are no square grids or “blocks” as they are normally thought of; instead, the roads meander and weave in lazy ribbons through gently rolling hills and around Pleasant Lake, a modest-sized body of water kept pleasant by restricting watercraft to canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats. There are five smaller lakes within the boundaries of North Oaks as well, and the priciest properties tend to come with shoreline and a view.
Above: The Opdahls moved from St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood to North Oaks three years ago. Their home feels like a true retreat from the bustling world outside but is close to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and their gym—all 25 minutes from downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis.
“Woodsy” is the word that comes to mind when one is in North Oaks, and that’s no accident. The roads are laid out to suggest a country drive, and the properties, many of which are large and stately, are unobtrusively nestled in forests of mature maples, oaks, and elms. Indeed, many of the most exclusive properties are so nestled that they can’t be seen from the road.
Privacy with a healthy dose of peace and quiet is what North Oaks residents prize. And if they want to socialize, they can head over to the North Oaks Golf Club, where an extraordinarily well-manicured 18-hole golf course awaits, one sculpted out of the natural contours of the land using the same philosophy of preservation that has guided development in the rest of the community.
In a very real sense, North Oaks is its own little world, separate and apart from the busy bustle that surrounds it. Escape is only a freeway away, but you’d never know it from a patio inside the borders of North Oaks—and that’s just the way residents like it.
Above: North Oaks Golf Club. Photo by Steve K. Jelland.
The most visible amenities that distinguish Minneapolis from all other cities are Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles (along with the smaller Cedar Lake). These three connected bodies of water are, for many, the jewels around which their lives are organized.
It’s not hard to see why. Lake of the Isles’s serpentine shoreline is ideal for long, leisurely walks, and Lake Calhoun’s wide-open waters are perfect for the recreationally inclined. Nearby Uptown is the epicenter of trendy nightlife in the Twin Cities, and buzzworthy restaurants abound. Taken together, all of these attractions within such close proximity create an appealing mix of nature and nurture, with city bustle and bucolic bliss an equal measure away.
Above: Jeff Bengston and his partner, David Bjork, have lived in Lowry Hill near Lake of the Isles for three years. Says Jeff: “The architecture, gardens, and parks are wonderful. We walk and bike around the lake a lot, too, and always run into people we know. That’s how we get our neighborhood news. It’s like living in a little village.”
Many of the stately homes along the shores of Lake of the Isles are iconic mansions built during the city’s industrial heyday. These are houses that come with names—the Clifford House, the Mapes House, the Ford House—and long, well-documented histories. When residents of the Twin Cities want to impress visitors, they take them for a driving tour around the lakes to gawk at the grand houses and bask in the undeniable charm of it all.
Though exquisite homes can be found in any of the neighborhoods around the lakes, the Lowry Hill and Kenwood neighborhoods at the north end of Lake of the Isles are the oldest and most desirable. The look of these neighborhoods hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. Renovations and interior updates abound, however, often keeping period exteriors and adding modern amenities inside. Along the lakes, some older houses have been replaced by larger, more modern homes, but the architectural imperatives in these areas are still a fondness for the natural—wood, brick, stone—and plenty of good taste.
Above: Lake of the Isles Parkway.
Located on the north shore of Lake Minnetonka, between Wayzata and Mound, Orono is a community that defines itself by its enticing proximity to water, lots of it. Not only do many of the roads have the word “shore” in them—Shoreline Dr., North Shore Dr., and so on—many of the houses have an exquisite view of Lake Minnetonka or one of its many bays and tributaries—Stubbs Bay, Maxwell Bay, Lafayette Bay, Smith Bay, and North Arm—along with a dock, a boat, and all the other perquisites that go with the Lake Minnetonka lifestyle.
In general, because travel times to downtown are a bit longer, Orono real estate is a relative bargain compared to other cities along the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Prices go up the closer one gets to the water, as does the grandeur of houses, many of which can be accurately described as “palatial.” But if one is willing to live in a house without a dock, Orono’s inland properties offer an attractive combination of plush living, natural splendor, and ample acreage.
Above: The Windlers live on a 1-acre lot in the forested inner regions of Orono with handy lake access. The family enjoys the small-town feel of the area, but appreciates the proximity of other lakeside cities such as Wayzata and Excelsior, as well as the easy commute downtown.
Life off the water in Orono is pleasantly upscale and bounded on all sides by plenty of natural beauty. A dense forest of oaks and pines provides peace and privacy, and the further away from the lake one is, the cheaper all that privacy is. Lots of one or two acres and more are not uncommon; nor are long, winding driveways and backyard swimming pools. Big houses with lots of land mean plenty of families, too, a fact that’s especially apparent during the summer months.
Orono doesn’t have a downtown per se, but the tiny village of Navarre provides essentials, and downtown Wayzata is just down the road. The average home value in Orono is more than $800,000—and many enjoy a splendid house, on the water, with a fueled-up boat, and a view to die for.
Above: aerial view of Lake Minnetonka.
By Tad Simons
Photos by Spacecrafting