The Osthoff Resort. Photo Courtesy of The Osthoff Resort.
The village of Elkhart Lake (80 minutes north of Milwaukee) sports a crystal-clear, 286-acre lake, plus a world-renowned racetrack and irresistible culinary finds. Just outside town, sprawling Kettle Moraine State Forest offers hundreds of miles of trails for biking, hiking and running. Lodging options include The Osthoff Resort, where families come for kid-friendly programming and adults luxuriate in the Aspira Spa’s Thai massage and chakra balancing treatments.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Photo by Jamie Bartosch.
The legacies of Abraham Lincoln and Route 66 keep both the 1850s and the 1950s alive in this capital city. Much like Lincoln, Springfield is memorable for mixing country charm, American history and modern-day savvy. Don't miss the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum—or the Cozy Dog Drive-In.
Red Wing Shoe Company Museum and Store. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
Known for iconic pottery and handcrafted boots, Red Wing’s well-preserved downtown and Mississippi River and bluffs make it one of Minnesota’s most romantic weekend getaways. Check out the size 638½ work boot at Red Wing Shoe Company Museum and Store, drive up to Sorin's Bluff for great views, and take a self-guided tour of Red Wing Pottery Museum before shopping at Pottery Place Mall.
Small towns with personality dot the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, which traverses our nation’s largest remaining tallgrass prairie. Start in Council Grove and drive the 47-mile Flint Hills Scenic Byway south to Cassoday. Make Cottonwood Falls your overnight. Just outside Strong City, you’ll find the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve with more than 10,000 acres of natural prairie.
The historic Amana Colonies await just 5 miles north of busy Interstate-80 in Iowa. Shop for handmade tables, chairs and grandfather clocks; sample rhubarb wine at a local winery; and drive the lovely Iowa Valley Scenic Byway to enjoy pastoral scenes of cornfields, farms and grazing sheep.
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, rent a canoe or kayak to paddle among soaring bluffs, and get up close and personal with butterflies at the Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove.
In 1964, the city of Holland (30 miles southwest of Grand Rapids) purchased what turned out to be the best landmark this Michigan town of 34,000 could hope for: a Dutch windmill built in 1761. Today, visitors can watch it grind grain into flour at Windmill Island Gardens. Nearby, re-created Dutch shops sell wooden shoes and delftware, as well as imported foods. And head just 8 miles out of town to enjoy the golden sand beach at Holland State Park.
Omaha found the perfect recipe for family-pleasing vacations: Combine a world-class zoo with a new baseball stadium, grassy parks and vibrant festivals; throw in a few fun eateries; and finish with a family-friendly hotel. Explore the spectacular Desert Dome and other exhibits at the Henry Doorly Zoo, learn about Nebraska’s pioneer history and railroading legacy at The Durham Museum, wander through Lauritzen Gardens, and if you time it right, take in a game at TD Ameritrade Park.
Indiana Dunes State Park. Photo Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism.
Just an hour southeast of Chicago’s Loop, the Indiana Dunes area offers wide sandy beaches, great birding and easy bike trails. Explore both Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park; trek to the top of Mount Baldy for spectacular views. Nearby towns provide restaurant and shopping options. Spend the night at Songbird Prairie B&B in the woods west of Valparaiso.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad showcases the scenery between Cleveland and Akron. Board the train in Independence, enjoy the ride through the park, and spend the night in Akron—taking in the Akron Art Museum and some shopping before heading back on the train.
Just 10 miles east of Kansas City, Independence offers a mix of stops that delights history buffs. You could easily spend an entire day at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, where multimedia exhibits reveal the plainspoken man who lived down the street before and after his presidency. But save time for the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, where you can take a lively tour through a humble home that hosted statesmen. Find a new appreciation for pioneer life at the National Frontier Trails Museum.
A hip hotel, quirky independent stores, sophisticated museums, peaceful green space—welcome to Fargo. On North Dakota’s eastern edge, this city of 100,000 has cosmopolitan flair without the crowds. See vintage airplanes at Fargo Air Museum, check out the full-scale replica of a Viking ship at the nearby Hijemkomst Center, catch an indie flick at the Fargo Theatre and wander sprawling LIndenwood Park.
Most people associate this town with its famous Sheboygan Bratwurst Company, but visitors with an appetite for more can find standout shopping, lakeside dining and contemporary art in this city 55 miles north of Milwaukee.
It’s hard to deny the appeal of the Windy City. Thousands of restaurants and bars, dozens of topnotch museums, a vibrant theater district, boutique hotels and engaging outdoor spaces make for a whirlwind weekend. Grab a Chicago CityPass to bypass long entrance lines at several major attractions, and be sure to take at least one of the historical tours offered by groups like the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Neighborhood Tours.
Faribault Woolen Mill. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
Along the Cannon River, 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities, Northfield and Faribault draw visitors with Victorian downtowns, funky boutiques, cafes, riverside bike trails and parks, and cultural events bolstered by nationally known prep schools and colleges. Start your trip in Faribault with a bike ride or hike, then tour the nation's only remaining mill that crafts raw wool into blankets. Spend the second day in Northfield and learn how Jesse James left his mark on the town.
Some activities are as much fun for adults as they are for kids: Learning about exotic animals, watching a baseball game, playing with craft supplies or eating a meal that’s as messy as it is delicious. Kansas City offers ageless entertainment options at every turn, ensuring a thrilling getaway for the whole family. Don't miss Kaleidoscope at Hallmark's Crown Center headquarters, the Kansas City Zoo, Union Station's Science City or a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.
Michigan's Little Bavaria (population: 4,900) draws visitors with old-world atmosphere, festivals, shops and fried-chicken dinners. Stock up on ornaments and other festive decor at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, which bills itself as the world's largest holiday store, and work up an appetite for the all-you-can-eat fried-chicken dinners at Zehnder's.
Downtown Decorah. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
People arrive from around the globe to watch Decorah’s most famous residents—a pair of bald eagles nesting by the Trout Hatchery. But Decorah offers much more than these Internet celebrities, including a new bike trail, beautiful bluffs, a charming downtown, artsy shops and a Norwegian-American museum.
No matter what your mood, Minneapolis offers something to suit: beautiful lakes nestled among hip arts communities, tree-lined trails behind modern museums, vibrant nightlife blocks from high-class cultural attractions. Highlights of a weekend getaway include visits to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Mall of America or Nicollet Mall, and Minnehaha Park.
Family activities and fall color star in the the hometown of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton (population: 7,200). Explore historic barns and let the kids climb a huge treehouse at Arbor Day Farm; tour Morton's mansion at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park; and spend the night in Lied Lodge and Conference Center (pictured), with its stunning lobby and on-site arboretum.
Once home to Lakota Sioux tribes, the Black Hills’ rugged granite formations, clear streams and labyrinthine caves possess a captivating beauty and an almost-spiritual power. Days quickly fill with hiking, fishing, exploring Native American history and tracking down bison for those one-of-a-kind vacation pics. You could spend a week or more here, but if you have only two days, highlights include driving the spectacular Needles Highway in Custer State Park, touring Jewel Cave National Monument and visiting iconic Mount Rushmore National Monument.
Distinctive museums, eclectic shops and local flavors attract visitors to Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University. Stroll through the leafy campus to see the Brunnier Art Museum, Memorial Union and the Stanton Memorial Carillon, and catch a play, symphony or sports game in the evening. The next day, browse the shops of downtown Ames and visit lovely Reiman Gardens.
View over Lake Winona. Photo Courtesy of Visit Winona.
An appealing mix of culture and nature flow through Winona—a treasure of a city sitting on a giant Mississippi River sandbar. Sample wines at local vineyards, learn about the area at the Winona County History Center, and reflect on art at the riverfront Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Nature buffs will enjoy scenic hikes, pretty drives and kayak rentals.
An inventive summer-long Shakespeare festival—including created-on-the-spot plays—stars during weekends in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. While you're in the area, explore Normal’s Uptown neighborhood with funky cafes, pizza joints, and book and record shops. Bloomington’s restored 1800s buildings house farm-to-table restaurants, shops and live-music venues, while inside the three-story courthouse, a museum highlights the area’s historical treasures.
Sandhill cranes. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.
Thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in Kearney in spring to rest on their migration north; the Rowe Sanctuary offers guided bird-watching trips for enthusiasts. After seeing the cranes, travel to Grand Island to explore the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer—and to shop along West Third Street, also known as Antique Avenue.
Historic Mayo Clinic. Photo by Kendra L. Williams.
Home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester was providing topnotch TLC long before medical tourism became a trend. It also has hospitality down to a science, welcoming visitors with classy cuisine, chic shopping, sophisticated galleries and close to 5,000 hotel rooms. Explore the history and architecture of the Mayo Clinic, and learn more about the Mayo family legacy while touring Mayowood Mansion.
Indianapolis’ museums, parks and restaurants balance big-city culture with little-tyke appeal. Interactive exhibits at the Indiana State Museum, lawn seats with run-around space at baseball stadium Victory Field, animal experiences at The Indy Zoo and biking at White River State Park will keep visitors of all ages coming back for more.
With the superb Cleveland Museum of Art, the lakefront Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, gorgeous Cuyahoga Valley National Park and a first-class orchestra, it’s difficult to deny the lure of Cleveland. Whether you’re in the mood to explore high arts, pop culture or nature’s beauty, this city offers a weekend of interesting attractions.
Famous pottery, a cozy bed-and-breakfast and outdoor rec draw visitors to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, 40 minutes east of Madison. See the renowned Ephraim Faience Pottery Studio and Gallery, which sells heirloom-quality, hand-thrown Arts and Crafts Revival-style vases, tiles and more. Shop for boutique wines at Lewis Station Winery. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail, a 52-mile path following the old Chicago and Northwestern Railway, as well as Zoloski Marsh, a new wetland and grassland under restoration.
A city known for its lovely art glass, Toledo Mud Hens baseball team and pretty architecture also boasts a stunning cathedral, formal gardens and a great zoo. Highlights of your stay can include visits to The Toledo Museum of Art, Wildwood Preserve Metropark, the Toledo Zoo and boutique hopping.
Great outdoors, grown-up eats and topnotch museums make for a cultured getaway—especially appealing in the summer when University of Illinois students head home. Take time to admire the works at Krannert Art Museum and Spurlock Museum; go for a stroll at the University of Illinois arboretum or Allerton Park and Retreat Center; and savor a gourmet omelet at Radio Maria Restaurant, or enjoy seasonal entrees and interesting vintages at elegant wine bar Bacaro.
Pearl of the Lake riverboat. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
Bald eagles, a beautifully crafted carousel and freshwater pearls add whimsy and character to Lake City and Wabasha, nestled along Lake Pepin where the Mississippi majestically widens. Explore hands-on exhibits and programs at the National Eagle Center, marvel at the hand-carved carousel and vintage toy exhibits at Lark Toys, take a cruise on Pearl of the Lake and learn about the pearly clams that were once cut into buttons before pearls were replaced by plastics.
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.
Explore the German heritage that small-town Hermann (population: 2,600) proudly maintains in its food, wine, beer, museums and famous wine trail. The wine tradition here dates back almost 175 years, so you'll find unique activities on the Hermann Wine Trail, such as touring underground cellars dug by hand before the Civil War. Choose from a variety of restaurants offering wurst and other German foods, as well as a selection of first-class lodgings, including the Alpenhaus Gasthaus, where you can indulge in dessert by candlelight in the old wine cellar.
View from Eagle Point Park. Photo by Barb Sanford.
The state's oldest city, Dubuque has lively historical districts near the mighty Mississippi. Explore the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium; take the Fenelon Place Elevator or drive to Eagle Point Park for stunning blufftop views; cruise the river on the Spirit of Dubuque paddle wheeler; and don't miss the lovely Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the only all-volunteer arboretum in the country.
Possesses, a sculpture by Jason Graham at ArtPrize.
Each fall, Grand Rapids' ArtPrize is part art walk, part city tour and entirely vacation-worthy. Start at one of seven exhibition centers to purchase a map and register to vote in this 19-day celebration that lets the public choose the winner of a $250,000 grand prize. ArtPrize easily fills a weekend, but for something different, walk through the Heritage Hills district, where more than 1,300 homes reflect 60 architectural styles.
Nearby Put-in-Bay attracts bigger crowds, but Kelleys Island, the largest U.S. island in Lake Erie, has quiet appeal. Hop on the ferry in Marblehead, Ohio, for a scenic weekend of bike riding and shore time on one of the Midwest’s loveliest beaches. Be sure to see the island's glacial grooves, limestone channels carved by glaciers.
For legions of Packer fans, Green Bay stands as a pilgrimage destination. Lambeau Field is their temple, and the Packers’ owned-by-the-fans identity feeds their faith. Even opposing fans find themselves awed on stadium tours. But there's a different side of this working-class city of 101,000: fantastic restaurants, appealing trails and topnotch attractions for all ages, including the Green Bay Botanical Gardens. Whether your blood runs green, gold or just plain red, you’ll come away rooting for Titletown.
Iowa Speedway. Photo Courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office.
The thrill of NASCAR racing, along with a lively town square and Iowa’s most famous cheese, bring visitors to Newton, a half-hour east of Des Moines. Catch a day at the races, then visit the shops and restaurants on Newton's quaint town square. Visit Maytag Dairy Farms for a wedge of Iowa's famous aged Maytag blue cheese.
More than 300 years ago, Native Americans lived in the area that’s now called Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. More than 100 years ago, barons of industry built their summer homes there. Now, you can find out why this hamlet 80 miles northwest of Chicago’s Loop has such staying power. Enjoy boat trips, swimming, observatory tours, boutique shopping, inventive restaurants and pampering lodgings.
Richmond, Indiana, an antiques hub 70 miles east of Indianapolis, has new reasons for you to visit: a Tiffany Stained Glass Tour and a Chocolate Trail. Start at the visitors center and ask for a Chocolate Trail Passport; stops include Ghyslain Chocolatier, set in a renovated brick factory. Another pamphlet in the visitors center offers a tour of Richmond's cache of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass. Spend the night in a gracious B&B, and set aside plenty of time for antiques shopping.
Discover the Czech Village, Grant Wood’s art and studio, and impressive museums in Cedar Rapids. Start your visit with a tour of historic Brucemore mansion, then take in attractions such as the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, African American Museum of Iowa and Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Have fun one evening doing the Czech Village dine-around: Order a drink at the Red Baron Bar and Dance Club, head to The Blue Toad for Czech specialties, and end with a kolache at Sykora Bakery.
Mark Twain's stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn began in this Mississippi River town (population: 17,500). See the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum; explore the cave complex that inspired Samuel Clemens' stories of the underground adventures of Tom and Becky; and watch local actor Richard Garey perform as Mark Twain.
A topnotch botanical garden, museums and vibrant warehouse district draw visitors to Wichita. Wander 17 acres of themed gardens at Botanica, the Wichita Gardens. The city's Old Town houses more than 100 shops and restaurants in an eight-block, brick-paved district. Make sure to visit the Old Cowtown Museum, which captures the rowdy spirit of Wichita’s early days, and the Wichita Art Museum, which houses an extensive glass collection.
A string of 1,200 garage sales transforms a scenic drive on Ohio's Lincoln Highway into a treasure hunt for a few days each summer. Small towns, a haunted prison and great bargains await among farm-flecked landscapes.
Near the Canadian border, Grand Forks has an interesting downtown, cool shops and big festivals. The Ralph, a luxe arena, draws thousands of visitors eager to take in a hockey game or concert. And no visit to the area is complete without a stop at Widman's Candy Shop, best known for chippers, chocolate-covered potato chips that become addictive.
Founded in 1867 as a railroad stop near a frontier fort, Hays, an I-70 community of 20,000, tempts with a mix of specialty shops, restaurants, historic attractions and a quality museum. Be sure to see Fort Hays, where you can peer through rifle slits in the blockhouse of an 1870s Army post, and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, with its excellent fossil collection.
Art, history and a splash of kitschy fun mingle in Eureka Springs, a Victorian town nestled in the wooded hills of Arkansas, 50 miles southwest of Branson. Eureka Springs flourished in the 1800s when visitors flocked to drink from the town's mineral springs. Gingerbread-trimmed houses sprouted like wildflowers from the Ozark bluffs, and hotels opened to accommodate the crowds. Eureka Springs deteriorated with the advent of modern medicine but has emerged as an artists' colony and wedding destination—and, especially when the summer heat mellows, a lovely end to a fall drive.