Best New Midwest Attractions, Hotels and Restaurants: 2013
- Yorktown entering Saugatuck Harbor.
Great Lakes Grand Discovery
Talk about a dreamboat trip: a seven-night cruise from Chicago to Toronto calls at some of the region’s most impressive destinations, including Michigan’s Mackinac Island. The Yorktown exudes class and comfort, and on-board experts lecture about the history and culture of the stops. Fares start at $4,395, but the all-inclusive trip is worth that once-in-a-lifetime splurge. (800) 257-5767; traveldynamicsinternational.com
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, Glen Arbor, Michigan
Last summer, the first 4 paved miles opened, stretching between the cute town of Glen Arbor and the Dune Climb. When it’s done, the 27-mile nonmotorized trail will run from the northern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore through Empire and give visitors an up-close way to enjoy this pristine sand-dune-spotted landscape. (231) 941-4300; sleepingbeartrail.org
- Photo Courtesy of Up Comedy Club/John McCloskey
Up Comedy Club, Chicago
Part of the ambience of the Second City comedy club is its sparse stage and worn-down decor. But now Second City offers the same caliber of comedy in a more spacious and comfortable theater on the building’s third floor. Plus, guests can try some of the city’s famous foods while they’re there for the show, including an Italian beef sandwich and nationally known Eli’s Cheesecake. No joke! (312) 662-4562; upcomedyclub.com
- Photo by Beth Schatz Kaylor.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn, North Dakota
Snap photos next to statues of the explorers talking to Mandan Indian chief Sheheke out front. Inside the beautiful timber-frame building, slick touch screens entice visitors to interact with history, and attractive displays reveal details of that 1804–06 expedition. Bonus: Admission includes cool Fort Mandan down the road. (701) 462-8535; fortmandan.com
- Photo courtesy of Peoria Riverfront Museum.
Peoria Riverfront Museum, Peoria, Illinois
Part science center, part history museum, part art gallery, this beautiful complex along the Illinois River celebrates past, present and future in thoughtful, sophisticated ways that all ages can enjoy. (309) 686-7000; peoriariverfrontmuseum.org
- Photo Courtesy of Dallara IndyCar.
Dallara IndyCar Factory, Indianapolis
Settle into a race car seat during a 10-minute movie about the Italian company’s role in motorsports, then explore the 20,000-square-foot museum that includes a simulator of a qualifying run at the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Paninis and gelato at the on-site Lino’s Coffee shop offer even more to love about this Italian racing oasis. (317) 243-7171; indycarfactory.com
- Photo courtesy of The Children’s Museum of Green Bay,
The Children’s Museum of Green Bay, Green Bay, Wisconsin
A fun mix of hands-on activities entertains and educates the toddler to early-elementary-school set. Kids can zip down a fire pole, douse virtual flames with a fire hose and climb into a Great Lakes lighthouse. (920) 432-4397; gbchildrensmuseum.org
- Photo courtesy of Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari.
Mammoth, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana
Our writer admits to shrieking when he dropped 32 feet at a 45-degree angle on the world’s longest water coaster, which opened last year in southern Indiana. (877) 463-2645; holidayworld.com
- Photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Zoo.
Sea Lion Sound, Saint Louis Zoo
An $18 million project has given these noisy, lively swimmers a see-through underwater-tunnel home, an 811-seat amphitheater for shows and a high-diving platform that just about guarantees oohs and aahs. (800) 966-8877; stlzoo.org
- Photo Courtesy of Silver Dollar City.
Outlaw Run, Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri
Opening in spring 2013, the $10 million thrill ride in this Ozarks park promises new records for wood coasters, including the steepest drop (at 81 degrees) and a double barrel roll. (800) 831-4386; silverdollarcity.com
The Villas at Gervasi Vineyard, Canton, Ohio
Stucco walls, stone fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and large travertine-tiled baths with heated floors deck the 24 suites that opened to complement the on-site restaurant. In the morning, guests brew Italian java and then enjoy fresh-baked breakfast treats (delivered in a charming wooden box) at the communal table in the shared living room. gervasivineyard.com
- Photo Courtesy of Hotel Lincoln/Paul Dyer.
Hotel Lincoln, Chicago
A bubbly staff in 1950s-style rockabilly dress (guys in bow ties, girls in polka dots and nerdy glasses) welcomes guests to this Lincoln Park gem. Playful accents—including a front desk made of dresser drawers—in the 184 rooms help you feel like you’re staying with artsy friends rather than in a big-city hotel. Don’t miss the seasonal dishes at fine-dining standout Perennial Virant on the first floor. From $229. (312) 254-4700; hotellincolnchicago.com
- Photo by Kendra L. Williams.
The Cheshire, St. Louis
British-lit fans find a luxurious respite near Forest Park. Each of the 108 rooms bears the name of an author, and classy Tudor accents throughout complement modern pillowtop mattresses. From $169. (314) 647-7300; cheshirestl.com
- Photo by Lori Erickson
Deadwood Mountain Grand, Deadwood, South Dakota
A $50 million project has turned a former gold-ore processing plant into a lovely boutique hotel and casino. The complex acknowledges its past with old photos on its walls but recognizes travelers’ desire for plush appointments and restful colors. From $135. (877) 907-4726; deadwoodmountaingrand.com
- Photo by Laura Billingsley.
Hotel Greenfield, Greenfield, Iowa
Just an hour southwest of Des Moines, this 1920s boutique hotel has reopened after a complete restoration. The lobby’s richly patterned rugs, leather armchairs, baby grand piano—even the old-fashioned room keys—are reminiscent of a bygone era, and you’ll find rooms with antique furniture, soft carpeting, silky sheets, Wi-Fi and free bottled water. From $79. (641) 343-7323; hotel-greenfield.com
- Photo Courtesy of Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
Cleveland rocks—a lot!
When we tried to decide which of Cleveland’s new destinations to include on our list this year, we were a bit overwhelmed. How could we tout the Greater Cleveland Aquarium (pictured) and its cool warehouse-feeling maze of tanks in the historic Powerhouse complex but leave out the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland? The museum just moved into a hexagonal building in the Uptown neighborhood to better showcase its changing exhibitions. And we couldn’t possibly forget the nearby Cleveland Museum of Art, a free-admission gem in University Circle that will wrap up its ambitious expansion project in 2013. Then there’s the Cleveland Play House, a regional theater company that performs in the recently renovated 506-seat Allen Theatre, a former 3,000-seat movie palace. A few blocks from the internationally renowned Cleveland Clinic, The Tudor Arms Hotel has turned a 1931 Gothic-style property into a boutique DoubleTree hotel with European accents and plush amenities (from $120). And that just reflects some of the $2 billion the city and its investors have spent on tourism infrastructure during the past few years. Ready to go? Contact Positively Cleveland. (800) 719-1311; positivelycleveland.com
The Root Restaurant and Bar, White Lake, Michigan
Ignore the jarring strip mall locale northwest of Detroit. Stunning organic decor of wood and stone hints at an excellent, locally sourced menu touting house-made bacon, Guernsey Farms’ cream, roasted Miller Farm chicken and Michigan salmon. (248) 698-2400; therootrestaurant.com
Do-Rite Donuts and Coffee, Chicago
Don’t knock $14.95 for six doughnuts until you’ve tried the beauties from this spot in Chicago’s Loop theater district. Carrot cake? Peanut butter and jelly? Chocolate ganache? Yes. Please. (312) 488-2483; doritedonuts.com
- Photo by Trevor Meers.
Black Oak Grill, Branson, Missouri
Stop at this restaurant in Branson Landing for upscale comfort food like chicken-fried flatiron steak topped with mushroom gravy or a grilled five-cheese multigrain sandwich served alongside thick, basil-flecked tomato soup. (417) 239-0063; blackoakgrill.com
Blue Mountain Culinary Emporium, Orange City, Iowa
With an Out of Africa mystique at the semiprivate Passport Club and northern plains cuisine at the Blue Mountain Smokehouse Grille, an evening here promises great cocktails and smoked meats in a restored barn. (712) 737-3153; bluemt.co
Butcher and the Boar, Minneapolis
Unabashed meat fans will love plates of protein with German and Southern influences, such as turkey braunschweiger, wild boar links and green chile chorizo. Thirty craft beers and head-turning desserts add to a special night out. (612) 238-8888; butcherandtheboar.com
- Photo by Ashley Petry.
Late Harvest Kitchen, Indianapolis
Seasonal ingredients meet unexpected twists, like in the Brandade, a scrumptious dip made from pureed cod; the LHK Salad, enhanced by shavings of licorice-flavor fennel; and noodles topped with fresh asparagus and foraged morels. (317) 663-8063; lateharvestkitchen.com
- Photo courtesy of Till.
Till, Columbus, Ohio
Their claim to serve super-organic “dynamic” food might sound a bit pretentious, but the dishes taste anything but, especially the cannellini-portobello mushroom burger with cheese grits, the classic English ploughman’s lunch and the silken gelato. (614) 298-9986; tillfare.com
Lot 2, Omaha
Fresh, robust flavors inspire American and French-influenced cuisine. A delicious a la carte dinner of pork shank, falafel and creamy stuffed dates earns this destination a well-deserved spot on our list. (402) 504-4200; lot2benson.com
- Photo by Amanda Glazebrook.
Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, Chicago
The next time you’re on the Magnificent Mile, go here for a mind-blowing dry-aged steak dinner. Sides served in hot cast-iron dishes complement outstanding cocktails and memorable sauces. (312) 321-8823; mjshchicago.com
- Photo copyright Lisa Waterman Gray.
Mestizo, Leawood, Kansas
Food Network star and chef Aarón Sánchez brings Latin American flair to the Kansas City suburbs. Crisp pork belly bathes in a chipotle glaze, and wild mushrooms sidle up alongside roasted chicken mole, while fruity sangria starts it all off. Bueno! (913) 752-9025; mestizoleawood.com
Prairie Kitchen and Bar, Minneapolis
A renovation at the Hyatt Regency produced this new restaurant. Its locally inspired menu ranges from a martini called Purple Rain to a local goat cheese ice cream parfait served in Red Wing Pottery. Try the griddled PB&J made with creamy chestnut butter and Scandinavian-inspired lingonberry jam. (612) 596-4640; prairiekitchenandbar.com
- Photo by Kendra L. Williams.
Syrah Restaurant and Wine Bar, Green Bay, Wisconsin
The name? From the grape. The menu of daily features suggests wine pairings for each meat and fish offering, whether it’s seasonal dishes or lamb osso buco and applewood bacon-seared scallops. (920) 406-9463; syrahgb.com
- Photo by Kim Ranegar
Evil Czech Brewery, Culver, Indiana
The name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the owner’s Czechoslovakian heritage and Gordon Ramsay style in the kitchen, but we found nothing evil in the beer, locally sourced food and service. Choose from up to eight microbrews on draft, including the flagship Lucky Dog and the 7 AM (with hints of oatmeal and cream). (574) 842-2663; evilczechbrewery.com
Journeyman Distillery, Three Oaks, Michigan
Oh, the irony. An 1880s corset factory once owned by a staunch Prohibitionist has become a place where carefully crafted whiskey, gin, vodka and rum flow freely. (269) 820-2050; journeymandistillery.com
- Photo courtesy of Wobbly Bobby.
Wobbly Bobby British Pub, Rapid City, South Dakota
It’s impossible to have a bad night when you can choose from 48 on-tap beers, read The Sunday Times of London, linger over Scotch eggs and toast the wobbly bobby—British slang for a drunken police officer. (605) 721-7468; wobblybobby.com