(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007)
Wherever we go, readers get straight to the point and ask for our tips on the Midwest’s best places to eat, things to see, drives to take. In 20 years of covering the region, we’ve found a lot to love, but if you want the short list of our all-time favorites, here it is.
GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA Lake Superior’s North Shore is home to the Grand Marais Art Colony, which dates to 1947, making it Minnesota’s oldest active artists’ colony (800/385-9585; grandmaraisartcolony.org).
BROWN COUNTY, INDIANA For more than a century, southern Indiana’s forested hills and hollows have inspired working artisans, who now number more than 100 in the area. Brown County is so definitive in this category, it has trademarked the phrase, "The Art Colony of the Midwest" (800/313-0842; browncounty.com).
SAUGATUCK AND DOUGLAS, MICHIGAN These Lake Michigan villages claim the highest number of art galleries per capita among Midwest small towns, and there’s no doubt it’s a popular regional destination for art-hungry travelers (269/857-1701;.saugatuck.com).
ZINGERMAN’S, ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN Exceptional local ingredients and sharp-witted approach turned this college-town landmark into a global mail-order business. Deli chef Rodger Bowser says, "We take local farmers market products and give them shock value. " When Midwest Living® staffers need to keep relatives happy at Christmas, we often rely on Zingerman’s staples, such as sour cream coffee cake (734/663-3354; www.zingermans .com).
SHAPIRO’S, INDIANAPOLIS For a century, the Shapiro family’s Reuben sandwiches have towered above the plate like monuments to great local eats (317/631-4041; www.shapiros.com).
MANNY’S, CHICAGO Politicians. Construction workers. Home-sick New Yorkers. They all flock to the Near South Side for Manny’s pastrami sandwiches, matzo-ball soup and potato pancakes (312/939-2855; www.mannysdeli.com).
MADISON, WISCONSIN Only Madison could assemble this bohemian rhapsody of local produce, entertainment, art and political activism on the state Capitol square. The Dane County Farmers Market is open outdoors each Saturday, April through November, and there’s a food-only Wednesday market in summer. It’s so popular, the wait to join the 300 vendors is about three years (608/455-1999; www.dcfm.org).
DES MOINES Even as Iowa’s capital is trading its farming image for a more metro personality, one of the city’s star attractions remains the May-through-October Saturday market. The 200-plus vendors are happy to serve up slices of Americana (515/286-4928; www.knowdowntown.com/events/farmersmarket).
CLEVELAND The world’s flavors meet four days a week under the clock tower at the West Side Market, founded in 1912. More than 100 vendors serve ethnic takes on produce, baked goods, meats, spices and more (216/664-3387; www.westsidemarket.com).
IRISH HILLS, MICHIGAN Seventy shops and hundreds of dealers line the "Antiques Alley" on US-12 along this 110-mile route southwest of Ann Arbor (800/536-2933; www.visitlenawee.com).
KANE COUNTY FLEA MARKET, ST. CHARLES, ILLINOIS Talk about one-stop shopping. The first weekend of each month brings up to 1,000 dealers to this far-west suburban Chicago fairground (630/377-2252; www.kanecountyfleamarket.com).