American history unfolds in all its retro-kitsch glory on Route 66. Unplug from the modern everyday on a nostalgic, friendlier-than-a-front-porch journey along the Illinois stretch of Route 66, where throwback gas stations, diners and antiques shops make for fun stops.
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Farm-to-table restaurants, award-winning wineries and fabulous resorts dot the shore from Traverse City through Charlevoix and Petoskey to Harbor Springs. The 35-mile Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore feels a million miles from anywhere, and Michigan's famed Tunnel of Trees leads to the legendary Legs Inn, known for its Polish dishes atop a bluff.
Bike trails and B&Bs only begin to define the sweet pleasures in Lanesboro and Northfield. Little River General Store rents bikes to those who want to ride the Root River Bike Trail. Shop for local and regional art at Lanesboro Arts Center, and sample fruity wines at Scenic Valley Winery. In downtown Northfield (92 miles northwest), visit where Jesse James’ outlaw gang met its end in 1876 at Northfield Historical Society Museum.
Iowa's capital city, Des Moines, has evolved into a sophisticated weekend destination with reasonable prices. Parks and trails compliment boutique shops and independent gastronomy gems.
Outdoor-lovers explore Hocking Hills’ caves and wooded trails 60 miles southeast of Columbus. Acres of fern-filled valleys, forests and sweeping overlooks cradle Conkle’s Hollow Rim Trail and 100-foot-high Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. A variety of lodgings, from rustic to luxe, promise restful overnight stays.
Food plays a starring role in Madison, whether you're at the famous farmers market or locavore eateries. But there's much more to explore, including Olbrich Botanical Gardens, art museums and Lake Monona. Badgers games draw crowds to State Street and University of Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium.
Old West spirit meets urban energy in Wichita, where travelers find contemporary fine arts and a restored Old Town. Wander 17 acres of themed gardens at Botanica, The Wichita Gardens. Make sure to visit the Old Cowtown Museum, which captures the rowdy spirit of Wichita’s early days, and the Wichita Art Museum, with its extensive glass collection.
One Chicago CityPass ($98) grants holders access to up to five attractions in addition to sweet perks (go ahead, skip the line). Interested? Here's how we'd make the most of a weekend in Chicago with a pass.
If learning about architecture (and staying in gorgeous hotels) sounds like a perfect getaway, then Columbus stands ready to wow you. The town is filled with more than 70 buildings created by famed architects, including Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Excellent restaurants and shops round out a weekend.
Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s cool hometown, supports a world tour of great restaurants, shopping and art. The campus’ beautiful outdoor sculpture garden and newly renovated and expanded Museum of Art merit a couple of hours. The walkable downtown has dozens of classy, independently owned shops, and there’s a weekend farmers market in the Kerrytown neighborhood.
Covered bridges and lush farmlands give way to bountiful vineyards south of Lake Erie. The popular, self-directed Bridges Driving Tour features 18 covered bridges, and more than 40 wineries hide among the tiny farm communities along the Lake Erie shore. Along the way, consider dropping in at the soda fountain at Rees' Corner or paddling the Grand River in Rock Creek.
The University of Iowa anchors Iowa City, which boasts a blossoming cultural scene and eclectic dining options. The two-block Ped Mall abuts the University of Iowa campus and holds many of the city’s best shops. Tour the Old Capitol Museum (Iowa’s original capitol) and the free Museum of Natural History next door in Macbride Hall.
South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, entices vacationers with a large park surrounding waterfalls, nearby kayaking and canoeing opportunities, charming boutiques, a strong arts scene and delicious dining. Spend time exploring Falls Park, shop along Phillips Avenue, and get up close and personal with butterflies at the Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove.
Husker football, college museums and a booming Haymarket district entertain visitors in the state capital. Guided tours of the state capitol highlight its distinctive tower design and murals celebrating Nebraska heroes. At the Sunken Gardens of Lincoln, annuals bloom in themed displays.
Exploring the beautiful terrain along Lake Superior into Canada reveals stunning state parks, lively towns and a few lighthouses. As the gateway to the 150-mile-long North Shore Scenic Byway, Duluth stands out with its Canal Park neighborhood, miles of lakeside trails and fantastic dining.
Look past the kitschy souvenir shops in Nashville to enjoy cool boutiques, classy inns and inspirational tree-filled vistas in Brown County. More than 20 local artisans show their works, including pottery, jewelry and baskets, at Brown County Craft Gallery. Work off a meal from Artists Colony Inn or Story Inn by hiking in Brown County State Park, T.C. Steele State Historic Site or Hoosier National Forest.
Brew City maintains ties to its German heritage (beers and brats, anyone?) while celebrating the present at an iconic art museum and fantastic festivals along Lake Michigan in the state’s southeast corner. Admire the 90-foot-high vaulted ceiling at the Milwaukee Art Museum, be sure to go on at least one brewery tour and scope out architecture and views from Lake Michigan on a cruise with the Milwaukee Boat Line.
The Flint Hills Scenic Byway passes through our nation’s largest remaining tallgrass prairie, providing seemingly endless views. The $24.5 million Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan takes visitors on a visual journey of the tallgrass prairie that once dominated mid-America. Just outside Strong City, you’ll find the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, with nearly 11,000 acres of prairie. Head to the visitors center for ranger programs and tours; more than 40 miles of hiking trails are open year-round.
The other "twin," Saint Paul's energetic neighborhoods give Minnesota's state capital a personality all its own. Walk in the serene sunken gardens at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory or browse upscale shops along Grand Avenue.
Rapid City and the Badlands, 75 miles apart on I-90, combine for a great list of must-do stops. Awe-inspiring buttes, pinnacles and spires fill 242,756-acre Badlands National Park, and the nearby Minuteman Missile Site gives engaging tours of Cold War history. Stop at kitschy Wall Drug, a roadside attraction since 1931, on your way to Rapid City.
Nebraska's biggest city is drawing national attention with its booming arts and culinary scenes. Stroll the cobblestone streets of the Old Market; explore museums such as the Joslyn or Durham; wander 2 miles of paths at Lauritzen Gardens; and splurge on dinners at hidden gem Taste Bistro or the trendy Boiler Room.
History infuses almost everything in Springfield. Much of Abraham Lincoln’s past lives on here, but beyond that, you’ll find a carillon, classic eats and ghost stories.
Talk about a great deal: Gorgeous free museums balance a lively professional sports scene. Pretty parks, the blues, ethnic foods and great breweries await in St. Louis neighborhoods. Be sure to take a half-day at the Gateway Arch to see a film about the Arch’s construction and ride up in a Jetsons-like pod.
The three largest Great Lakes (Huron, Michigan and Superior) lap against the shores of the upper arm of Michigan, where beauty and bounty feel timeless. Spend the night in a light station, explore a shipwreck museum and journey to natural attractions such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The "Waterpark Capital of the World" ranks as one of the most kid-friendly vacation spots in the Heartland with more family activities than you can cover in a weekend. Spend the day on lazy rivers, bumper boats and rides like a water roller-coaster, or seek thrills on Bigfoot Ziplines. World War II-era duck vehicles take visitors off-road past fern-filled canyons and plunge into Lake Delton during Original Wisconsin Duck Tours.
Smack in the middle of the state, Indiana's capital offers luxe lodging, a museum-packed park, a new bicycle trail and eclectic shopping. It's also a great place to experience the arts, with local attractions including Indianapolis Arts Center and Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Barbecue, shopping, great museums and dueling pianos make for a lively weekend in Kansas City. Don't miss the gorgeous, free-admission Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with its striking outdoor sculptures. Kids (and adults) will enjoy attractions such as the Kansas City Zoo, Worlds of Fun and Science City.
Detroit's economic situation continues to be challenging, but travelers will also see the results of a decade-long revitalization effort. Stroll along the landscaped RiverWalk, line up for tiger-filled shots at Comerica Park and visit one or more of the area's excellent museums.
This reservoir in central Missouri has a rep as a full-throttle boating vacation destination. Spend days swimming, fishing or cruising on the lake. For a change of pace, explore Ha Ha Tonka State Park or visit Bagnell Dam Strip in Lake Ozark for old-time photos, arcade games and penny candy.
The Queen City's crown jewels include pro sports, a bounty of great museums—including the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, the Taft Museum of Art and the three museums at Union Terminal—and a standout zoo. Cincinnati also is home to great places to sample regional foods. Graeter's Ice Cream churns out original flavors like Black Raspberry Chip, and Findlay Market sells a great mix of ethnic, traditional and organic foods.
Lakeside family fun defines Brainerd Lakes, 130 miles north of the Twin Cities. Stay at lakeside cabins that make it easy for travelers to unplug; fill days on the lakes or at local attractions such as Paul Bunyan Land, Croft Mine Historical Park and Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
Less than an hour northwest of Kansas City, cute shops, cozy B&Bs, ghostly tales and the legacy of Amelia Earhart breathe energy into the historical streets of Atchison and Leavenworth. Take an overnight getaway to shop at Nell Hill’s, wander through the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and unwind at a luxe B&B in Atchison. Then head to Leavenworth for a glimpse of the frontier military lifestyle at Fort Leavenworth—and to shop at an eclectic mix of stores.
The Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and cowboy-themed, squeaky-clean Medora Musical promise plenty of fun. Learn the history of the area at the Center of Western Heritage and Cultures or Chateau de Mores State Historic Site, then explore the national park by car, foot, horseback or bike.
The remote, lake-filled, 1 million-plus acres of the Boundary Waters near Canada lure adventurers who mix days of hiking and canoeing with legendary characters, tiny towns and excellent pie.
Generations of families have made northwest Iowa’s chain of five glacial lakes their summer destination. Around Okoboji, you’ll find nostalgia in the waterfront amusement park Arnolds Park, hours of beachside fun and great lakeside cocktails.
Let us help you plan your best vacation ever with the 2016 edition of Best of the Midwest®. You'll find trip guides, instant itineraries and other travel inspiration for 134 destinations throughout the region. Look for it at newsstands or order online at The Meredith Store.