In Praise of The Mini-Break: Three Oaks Guest Inn
I firmly believe in the restorative power of a getaway — even if it’s only for a day or two, even if you only go a few miles away. A new place always helps me adjust my perspective, which can come in handy when I’m feeling especially bogged down by boring small business things like itemizing expenses and year-end reports.
I could have buckled down and done all that monotonous stuff at home. But I know myself. I’m relentless when it comes to doing things that I love (writing, traveling, editing, networking, researching, taking photos) and utterly distractible when it comes to tasks I hate.
So, being a travel writer, I did what travel writers do. I booked a two day, one night stay at Three Oaks Guest Inn in nearby Valley City, North Dakota.
My friend Jo and I passed through Valley City when I was researching a story about the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway(you might remember our yurt adventure in the snow) and I’ve been meaning to get back. It’s a pretty little town, known for mom and pop eateries and antique shops, a small college and many unique bridges, most of which span the Sheyenne River as it winds its way through the city.
I’ve always liked this place. My uncle has a cabin on nearby Lake Ashtabula, 20 minutes north of town, and Valley City was part of my territory back when I was in radio, so I used to be in town about once a month.
The laid-back vibe of the city hasn’t changed, but there always seems to be something new to check out when I visit. Back in my sales days, I stayed at the national chain hotel. This time, I wanted to slow waaaaaay down and live like a local.
Three Oaks Guest Inn is a cozy little place to do exactly that. The home was built in 1915 and still has all its original woodwork and built-ins. Kara and John Kramin are just the third family to own the building in 100 years and the inn they’ve curated feels comfortable. “I wanted it to feel like visiting Grandma’s house,” said Kara as she showed us around.
And it definitely did. The house feels lived in and a little worn around the edges, but in a good way. It’s definitely not one of those fussy places that’s full of chintz and flowers where you always feel like you’re going turn around and break something.
It’s kind of the opposite, actually. There are mounds of pillows on the sofa, cozy throws on every chair and even a basket warm socks in the entryway encourage you to curl up and get comfortable.
After a quick lunch at Vicky’s Viking Room, a small town gem, we were unpacked, E was napping in one of the three bedrooms upstairs and I was installed at the dining room table.
Let me tell you, getting lost in spreadsheets and a pile of receipts is a whole lot more pleasant when you’re drinking fresh, hot coffee and snacking on homemade Christmas cookies as sunlight streams through the picture window. Work felt downright decadent.
Three Oaks Guest Inn is tucked into a residential neighborhood with a backyard that runs up to the gently curving banks of the Sheyenne. I cover outdoor events sometimes and E loves snow, so we pretty much always have snow pants and boots with us.
We spent the last half hour of daylight tromping along the riverbanks and (E’s favorite) “running down the hills and yelling.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and obviously really awesome when you’re two.
It turns out that Kara and John live a few doors down. I found that out the next morning when my chatty toddler mentioned our escapades while I was paying our bill. Kara said she might have heard us.
In case you don’t speak Midwestern, that’s a polite way of saying the entire neighborhood heard us. It’s a good thing I’m not an undercover reporter.
Speaking of the next morning, behold — our lovely breakfast. I made this baby with my own two hands…well, and a can of whipped cream, some blueberry pie filling and a nifty red waffle maker.
The Three Oaks Guest Inn isn’t licensed to serve food like a B&B, but the kitchen is fully stocked with pretty much anything you’ll ever need to cook for yourself. And there’s plenty of room in the full size fridge, freezer and cabinets to bring your own provisions.
Kara is quite a cook herself and the kitchen cupboards are covered with well-loved recipes (lots of cookies, I noticed) and the cupboards and gadget drawers hold pretty much everything you’d need to give one a whirl. She even sent me home with a few dip recipes for my next party.
The house has an old-fashioned look, but modern conveniences including cable TV, free wi-fi and central air, but it’s not wheelchair accessible. The three bedrooms sleep six and people have been known to curl up on the pull-out sofa downstairs as well. In warm weather, there’s a bed on the screened in porch.
We slept in the blue bedroom for $70 a night, which includes snacks, coffee and ingredients for breakfast. (Kara will bring over something you don’t have to cook if you’d rather go that route.) I’d love to stop back in the summer, when I can take advantage of the fire pit and grill and see the flowers blooming.
I spent most of my time working, but I was still able to watch a movie while I edited photos and did a little oh-so-exciting data entry (there’s a stack of DVDs to choose from), set up a toy train and do a few puzzles with E. We went out to Bridges Bar and Grill for burger night and deep fried gouda bites (chosen by my fledgling foodie) and met my friend Travis for pay-what-you-will coffee at The Vault.
There was time for a long, leisurely bath, a couple craft beers and paging through North Dakota photography and history books in between items on my to-do list. And I was surprisingly productive.
By the time we packed up the car and headed home, I was caught up on my paperwork, a step ahead on my next story and had a long list of new Valley City story ideas to ring in the New Year. And I was a whole lot happier than if I’d tackled the same tasks at home.
I’ve never regretted a single moment or dollar I’ve spent traveling. And that includes mini-breaks to a familiar place.
If you hate adulting as much as I do sometimes (and oh, the struggle is real) you should totally steal this idea and take your own little vacation. Then be sure to tell me about it so I can check it out too.
Valley City is accessible via car (it’s just off of I-94), by bus through Jefferson Lines and by air via the tiny, noncommercial Barnes County Municipal Airport. (Although if you have your own plane, I probably should be asking you for travel advice. And maybe a ride.)
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