As our staff began its first-ever search for the Greatest Midwest Town, we had to make some tough calls to choose just one candidate from each Midwest state. In the end, these towns prevailed with their outstanding attractions, dining options, outdoor activities and local pride. Now it’s your turn to vote and help us name the winner, who will get a primo feature in our July/August issue this year. You can vote once daily through February 29. Here’s a little background on each nominee.
Galena, Illinois For generations, travelers have come to this town to admire the surrounding countryside and browse independent shops. But Galena is so much more than rolling hills and Main Street shopping. Hikes explore sacred Native American spaces, river cruises ply storied waters and new (and newly renovated) restaurants help redefine a weekend here. visitgalena.org
Columbus, Indiana Architecture buffs have been flocking to Columbus since the 1940s when Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen designed the new First Christian Church. Now the city shows off more than 70 buildings by famed architects and is all the more welcoming for its grand lodgings, shops and restaurants. columbus.in.us
Decorah, Iowa In the state's forested northeast corner, Norwegian spirit fills this college town along the Upper Iowa River. Canoeists float quietly past downtown and the Luther College campus on one of the area’s most renowned float trips. Nearby, Seed Savers Exchange has created a destination gardening experience with its displays and bank of 20,000 vegetable, flower and herb heirloom seeds. visitdecorah.com
Lawrence, Kansas Civil War sites pepper this town that offers a classic college-town blend of highbrow culture and down-to-earth fun. Big draws include the Natural History Museum, the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and Jayhawks sports at the University of Kansas. A highly respected local music scene keeps evenings and weekends lively. explorelawrence.com
Traverse City, Michigan Along the shore of northern Lake Michigan, you’ll find all the must-haves for travelers: scenery, food, arts and outdoor adventure. Downtown sits along the lower edge of Grand Traverse Bay’s West Arm, which means boating, paddleboarding and beach time. Restaurants and craft breweries appealing to a wide array of palates line streets, and the surrounding countryside overflows with vineyards, orchards and roadside fruit stands. traversecity.com
Duluth, Minnesota In Duluth, many great things come together: Lake Superior, miles of sandy beaches, rugged coastline, lighthouses, bicycling and art galleries. Shops and restaurants cluster along the harbor, and a walkway leads to the shipping canal, where visitors watch skyscraper-size freighters pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge. visitduluth.com
Branson, Missouri Branson's main drag proudly keeps it old-school with country music shows and kitschy shops. Nearby, there's a theme park beloved by generations and the forested shores of Table Rock Lake that call out to mountain bikers, zipliners and hikers. Recent additions like the Branson Landing shops and several classy golf courses round out the southern Missouri experience. explorebranson.com
Nebraska City, Nebraska Family activities and foliage star in the hometown of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton. The Frank Lloyd Wright-style Lied Lodge and Conference Center has an on-site arboretum and Olympic-size swimming pool. Branch out to other local favorites, including Arbor Day Farm (home to a soaring tree house) and Arbor Lodge State Historical Park with its 72 tree-filled acres. gonebraskacity.com
Medora, North Dakota The rugged badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park surround this town, where the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and stagecoach rides deliver a taste of the Wild West. For 50 years, the Burning Hills Amphitheatre has presented the Medora Musical, a tribute to Teddy, the West and America. The Bully Pulpit Golf Course takes golfers through meadows and into badlands canyons. medorand.com
Put-In-Bay, Ohio In the sole village on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island, guests tour the island in golf carts or on bikes, making trips to beaches, parks, and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. Families putt around on mini golf courses while the college-aged crowd heads for Key West-style bars. And if you love to fish, this is the place to do it: The surrounding waters are rich with trophy walleye. visitputinbay.com
Rapid City, South Dakota The base camp to every bucket-list family trip to the Black Hills, Rapid City boasts some of the region’s best restaurants and breweries, plus museums that provide the backstory on surrounding landmarks like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Downtown street corners are marked by statues of every president through George W. Bush, and crowds gravitate to Main Street Square for weekly concerts. visitrapidcity.com
Bayfield, Wisconsin At the edge of Lake Superior, this harbor town forms a gateway to music, art and the wilderness of the Apostle Islands. Visitors kayak to sea caves, hike through forests or simply stroll down Bayfield’s corridor of culture, Rittenhouse Avenue. The sun sets to music coming from the tent of the old-fashioned Big Top Chautauqua, which draws acts like Melissa Etheridge and Lyle Lovett. bayfield.org
Want to receive digests of the midCetera blog? E-mail email@example.com with the subject line "Subscribe."