The New Midwest Vacation
More hip small towns
A green, artsy attitude comes naturally to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, a tiny Flint Hills county seat surrounded by the world's largest remaining tallgrass prairie (80 miles southwest of Topeka). Equally natural in this prime cattle-grazing country is an appreciation of beef and fresh local ingredients like those served in the dining room of the AAA Four Diamond Grand Central Hotel and Grill.
Artists offering classes in painting, mosaics and fiber arts bring a new creative spirit to Nashville, Indiana, a southern Indiana artists' enclave (left), 60 miles south of Indianapolis). The forested hills that have staved off development and inspired generations of painters also bring outdoorsy types. Nearby Brown County State Park, the state's oldest and largest, and vast Hoosier National Forest offer miles of trails.
First, antiques and specialty shops resurrected historic Galena, Illinois. Then, artists and foodies began to infuse their own brands of inspiration into this 1800s river port and lead-mining boom town. Now, galleries and studios, several with hands-on art experiences, mingle with other shops, and chefs teach cooking classes. Meanwhile, antiques shops and B&Bs are flourishing.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2009.)