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Dining on the patio in the River Valley area

Many restaurants in area communities are set in scenic areas.

Summer is short enough in the upper Midwest. Why then, when you go out to eat during the summer, should you sit inside? That question has been answered in recent years by many area restaurants -- you shouldn't have to.

Patio dining has come on strong lately, and why not? Many restaurants in area communities are set in scenic areas, along rivers, near lakes and in charming downtowns.

One such patio can be found in Prescott, Wis., where Muddy Waters Bar and Grill boasts four separate patios, all overlooking the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

In Hudson, Wis., meanwhile, patios are everywhere near downtown. At the San Pedro Café, guests dine on Caribbean fare and enjoy their well-known wine list and island-themed drinks while sitting under big green umbrellas on the patio. Among the favorites on the menu are the smoked duck nachos and an amazing red grouper.

Just down the street at Pier 500, an enormous patio outside gives diners and drinkers a beautiful view of the St. Croix River. The menu at Pier 500 boasts a couple refreshing takes on local favorites, including walleye cakes, walleye cigars, brie cheese curds and parmesan crusted walleye. Or, take a leap of faith and get the lobster mac and cheese.

Downstream along the Mississippi River you will find the vibrant, tiny and artistic town of Stockholm, Wis. The three main dining options each have patios or courtyards to dine from. There's Gelly's Pub and Eatery, which has a great Sunday brunch. If you insist on dessert after your meal, don't miss the nearby Stockholm Pie Company, which boasts made-from-scratch pies and an outdoor garden and seating area. Bogus Creek Café and Bakery also has large space for outdoor dining.

Across the river in Red Wing, Minn., the Veranda restaurant's patio at the St. James Hotel has a nice view of the Mississippi River. If the weather is poor, just head inside and you can still get a nice view of the river. Across the water is the Harbor Bar, which is well-known for its live music events. Planned for this summer are a classic rock fest (June 30), a blues festival (July 7), a reggae fest (July 28), a Parrothead party (Aug. 4) and a country music festival (Aug. 18).

Also boasting a relaxing patio in Red Wing is the Brickhouse Pub & Grille, located downtown.

In Hastings, Minn., two of the busiest patios in town are located in two very separate parts of town. The inexpensive American Legion downtown is just yards away from the Mississippi River. Cheeseburgers are just $5.50 and the Horsey burger, smothered with onions, garlic and horseradish will ensure you get some quality time by yourself afterwards, unless of course you bring some mouthwash with you.

Meanwhile, in south Hastings, the view from the patio at Me and Julio isn't as good, but a fire pit, a separate outdoor patio bar and made-from-scratch bloody marys keep guests happy. When you try it out, don't be afraid to share. The portions are enormous.

Just north from Hastings is the charming small town of Afton, Minn. where you will find the Sail Away Café. Their menu includes bison steaks, and a number of summer cooler drinks, ranging from mojitos to peachtinis and a red velvet martini.

Also in Afton is the Current Restaurant, where diners must try the Truffle fries and the Ultimate Burger, which includes Angus beef, pulled pork, a roasted poblano pepper, queso fresco and salsa verde. There's also a grass fed beef pot roast and the always popular Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.

Just to the west of Afton is Woodbury, Minn. where you'll find a beautiful patio outside the suburban eatery Sunsets. They feature everything from mussels to brick oven pizzas to burgers to Cajun pork chops and a filet mignon. Sunsets has a wonderful wine list, too.

Nearby in Cottage Grove, motorheads can get their fix at a few outdoor tables at American Motorsports, a racing-themed restaurant and bar.

It's all about the view

There's no doubt that patio dining in Minnesota and Wisconsin has become more popular. What better than sitting outside on one of our nice summer days, enjoying your favorite beverage and good friends. Well, believe or not, but that scenario can be improved upon by one big factor: the view.

While many metro-area restaurants typically have patios set up hastily on sidewalks, there are some in our river valley for whom the view is king. Take, for example, Doc's Landing Pub at Mississippi Dunes Golf Links in Cottage Grove, Minn.

Diners there are treated to an unblemished view of the Mississippi River while they kick back in a relaxed atmosphere. Between the patio and the river sits just a cart path and the putting green on hole No. 9. There are no power lines and no obstructions -- just a great view of the water and golfers coming and going.

In downtown Hastings is The Onion Grille, which has a second level providing ample views of downtown and the river.

The Dock Café in Stillwater has quite the few of the St. Croix. In fact, the City Pages honored the restaurant in 2009 with its "Best view" award. The nearby Freight House Restaurant and Night Club has a location that's hard to beat, too, with its property right along the river. Other options in Stillwater include P.D. Pappy's and the Water Street Inn.