100 Free Things to Do in the Midwest
Como Zoo and Conservatory For more than 100 years, Saint Paul's Como Zoo has hosted a menagerie of creatures-zebras, giraffes, lions, monkeys, penguins and more-in an easy-to-navigate area. After visiting the animals, explore the award-winning conservatory (pictured), ride on the historical Cafesjian carousel ($2), or listen to summer concerts at the Como Lakeside Pavilion. comozooconservatory.orgMinnesota Capitol The interior of the 1905 stunner recently reopened for tours after a three-year, $310 million restoration. Forty-five-minute guided tours leave at the top of the hour. mnhs.org See Midwest Living's trip guide to Saint Paul for more travel ideas
Minneapolis Institute of Art (pictured) Collections in this sprawling museum span 5,000 years and a global scope of art, from ancient textiles and scrolls to Monet paintings and Prairie School architecture. The museum is internationally known for Asian art, including a historical Japanese audience hall and a teahouse. new.artsmia.orgFrederick R. Weisman Art Museum In Minneapolis, Frank Gehry's gleaming silver building on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River houses the University of Minnesota's art. The collection includes American modernism, ceramics and Korean furniture. (612) 625-9494; weisman.umn.eduMinneapolis Sculpture Garden A two-year, $33 million makeover reinvigorated the popular attraction with environmentally friendly landscaping and some new art. The star attraction, though, remains Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Spoonbridge and Cherry, with its 5,800-pound spoon and 1,200-pound cherry. (612) 375-7600; walkerart.orgSee Midwest Living's Minneapolis trip guide for more travel ideas
Aerial Lift Bridge Duluth's breathtaking Aerial Lift Bridge rises more than 20 times each day for boats-and skyscraper-size ships-traveling between Lake Superior and Duluth Harbor. A whistle salutes the ships. No matter how many times you see it, the scene never gets old. (800) 438-5884; visitduluth.comHawk Ridge Bird Observatory (pictured) This spot is legendary for its thousands of hawks riding the thermals above Lake Superior and Duluth's Skyline Drive as they migrate south from the beginning of September through the end of October. (218) 428-6209; hawkridge.orgLake Superior Maritime Visitors Center This center's location at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge provides for great ship-watching, as huge freighters pass within 200 feet of the building. While here, check out the two-story steam engine and 50 scale-model exhibits and presentations on shipwrecks. (218) 720-5260; lsmma.comPark Point Beach Located on the world's largest sandbar, Park Point Beach stands east of the Aerial Lift Bridge and faces Lake Superior. Visitors park their cars at the base of a big sand dune and clamber their way up and over it. parkpointbeach.orgSee Midwest Living's trip guide to Duluth and Minnesota's North Shore for more travel ideas
Forest Park The 1,293-acre park is a premier destination for free attractions. Learn about Lucky Lindy's record-breaking flights and the 1904 World's Fair at the Missouri History Museum (pictured); see works by Picasso, van Gogh and Monet at the Saint Louis Art Museum; try some of the 700 hands-on exhibits at St. Louis Science Center; and hang out with 18,000 animals including black rhinos, fennec foxes and red kangaroos at the Saint Louis Zoo. forestparkforever.org
Kansas City, Missouri
Hallmark Visitors Center The world's largest greeting card company makes its home downtown in Crown Center. Take a self-guided tour for a behind-the-scenes look at the artists, writers, sculptors and painters who bring the cards to life. (816) 274-3613; hallmarkvisitorscenter.comThe Money Museum During a self-guided visit to this wing of Kansas City's Federal Reserve Bank, you can design currency, then e-mail a copy to yourself to print at home. Kids will get a kick out of the bags of shredded money the museum hands out as souvenirs. (816) 881-2683; kansascityfed.orgThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (pictured) Recognized as one of the leading art museums in America, this cultural powerhouse packs in more than 34,000 works of art. Grab an MP3 player in the lobby for a free audio tour about the collections, architecture and sculpture garden. (816) 751-1278; nelson-atkins.orgKemper Museum of Contemporary Art If you like your art edgy, funky and sometimes challenging, put a visit to the free Kemper on your KC to-do list. Designed by architect Gunnar Birkerts, the mod exterior sets the tone for an offbeat experience. Inside, the soaring atrium leads into two wings showcasing a buzzy international collection of works from the likes of David Hockney, Georgia O'Keeffe and Willem de Kooning. (816) 753-5784; kemperart.org
Branson Landing Visitors crowd the lakefront of Lake Taneycomo for a 120-foot fountain show with fire cannons, special effects and music (pictured). The spectacle starts at noon each day (weather permitting), then runs every hour on the hour. Check the special events page for more free entertainment. (417) 239-3002; bransonlanding.comStone Hill Winery Established in 1847, Hermann-based Stone Hill is the oldest winery in the state; the Branson outpost opened in 1986. Learn about Stone Hill's history during free tours, then sip some reds, whites, rosés, sparkling spumanti and dessert wines in one of six tasting rooms. (417) 334-1897; stonehillwinery.com
More to do in Missouri
Ha Ha Tonka State Park (pictured) Most visitors head straight for the stone ruins that overlook Lake of the Ozarks. And with good reason-no other state park has skeletal remains of a blufftop mansion. But Ha Ha Tonka (80 miles northeast of Springfield) also has wonderfully varied nature trails, which snake along a hilltop, by a spring-fed river and under a natural bridge. mostateparks.com Stephens College The Columbia college's Historic Costume Gallery displays selections from the university's 13,000-piece collection of ethnic and everyday clothing dating from the 1800s to today. stephens.eduUniversity of Missouri Free attractions on the Columbia campus include the Museum of Art and Archeology, where two floors provide a compact look at human history with exhibits ranging from ancient money to modern art. The campus itself is a botanic garden, with thousands of plants in 18 themed gardens interspersed with icons such as Jefferson's grave marker. missouri.edu
National Museum of Mexican Art Discover the nation's largest accredited Latino art museum in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The museum showcases works created by Mexican, Latino and Chicano artists, and traces their influence in shaping Chicago's identity. nationalmuseumofmexicanart.orgGrant Park Chicagoans love to play year-round in what they call their front yard, the 319 acres of parkland along Lake Michigan that incorporates Millennium Park (pictured), Buckingham Fountain and the Museum Campus. Check the city's events calendar for free outdoor concerts and festivals. chicagoparkdistrict.comChicago Cultural Center The world's largest Louis Comfort Tiffany dome, composed of 30,000 stained-glass pieces, crowns the neoclassical 1897 Chicago Cultural Center (free tours offered). Also, enjoy complimentary concerts, performances, films and art exhibits. (312) 744-6630; chicagoculturalcenter.orgConservatories and gardens Twenty-four display gardens fill the 385 acres of the Chicago Botanic Garden (chicagobotanic.org). The 1908 Garfield Park Conservatory shelters 10,000 plant varieties beneath a 2.8-acre glass dome (garfieldconservatory.org). Four display houses show off tropical palms, orchids, ancient ferns and flower events at the Lincoln Park Conservatory (chicagoparkdistrict.com).Lincoln Park Zoo Opened in1868, this neighborhood zoo is one of the nation's oldest. More than 1,200 animals live on the 49 acres, and favorite stops include the sea lion pool, primate house and Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit. lpzoo.orgMoney Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Stop in at this museum in Chicago's financial district to take pictures with $1 million, learn how to detect fake bills and catch up on the history of U.S. currency. Bring a proper ID and prepare to go through airport-style security before being allowed into the museum. chicagofed.org
Lincoln Home National Historic Site Tour the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned. The Lincolns lived in the Greek Revival house from 1844 to 1861. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Pick them up at the nearby Lincoln Home Visitor Center. nps.govLincoln Tomb State Historic Site (pictured) Pay tribute at Lincoln's final resting place, a 117-foot brick tomb sheathed with Quincy granite. On self-guided tours, docents can answer questions about the lives, deaths, and burials of Lincoln and his family. illinois.govOld State Capitol Take a 30-minute guided tour of the building where Lincoln served in the Illinois Legislature, gave his famous "House Divided" speech in 1858 and where his body lay in state following his assassination in 1865. illinois.govGovernor's Mansion Docents lead tours of the impressive 1865 Springfield home, one of the oldest continuously occupied governor's mansions in the U.S. It reopened in 2018 after a privately funded three-year renovation. illinois.gov
More to do in Illinois
Cantigny Park (pictured) Cantigny Park's manicured gardens, hiking trails, military museum and sprawling mansion make up the 500-acre former private estate of Chicago Tribune publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick. Parking costs $5-$10 but admission is free. (630) 668-5161; cantigny.orgJohn Deere sites In Moline, see farm equipment and history displays in the Eero Saarinen-designed John Deere World Headquarters; climb on tractors or try a bulldozer simulator at The John Deere Pavilion; take a Harvester Works factory tour; or tour the Deere-Wiman House and Butterworth Center, built in the late 1800s by descendants of John Deere. johndeereattractions.comThe National Great Rivers Museum Steer through locks on an indoor barge simulator, one of 20 interactive exhibits at the Alton museum. Take a 45-minute walking tour of the adjacent Mississippi River locks for a bird's-eye view of boat traffic. meetingoftherivers.orgState Parks Illinois charges only for sites with beaches ($1 a day); all other state parks have free admission. See the rock formations at Garden of the Gods and the steep ravines at Starved Rock. dnr.state.il.us
Cleveland Metroparks Pick a park, any park. Nicknamed the Emerald Necklace by locals, the extensive Metroparks system loops through 18 natural preserves and 21,000 acres of green space. Hike, bike, geocache and bird-watch. clevelandmetroparks.comCleveland Museum of Art It's not every day you get to commune with creative masters like Renoir, Monet, Dali and Picasso for free. The Gallery One interactive learning center holds touch screens called "lenses" where you can create a virtual painting or access information about the diverse collections in this University Circle icon. clevelandart.orgLake View Cemetery (pictured) This 285-acre property is rich with stories of the famous people buried here, including John D. Rockefeller. Be sure to stop at the hilltop monument housing the flag-draped casket of President James A. Garfield. lakeviewcemetery.com
Cincinnati Art Museum This encyclopedic art museum holds a treasure trove of more than 60,000 objects spanning 6,000 years. Don't miss the locally produced Rookwood pottery on display in the area highlighting Cincinnati's Golden Age from 1830 to 1900. (513) 721-2787; cincinnatiartmuseum.orgEden Park (pictured) Check out the panoramic views from Mount Adams hilltop park's Ohio River Valley overlooks. Popular landmarks worth a photo op include the Hinkle Magnolia Garden, the Spring House Gazebo and the Bettman Fountain. (513) 352-4080; cincinnatiparks.com
More to do in Ohio
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Seventeen acres of airplane hangers-featuring hundreds of planes and thousands of items of Air Force memorabilia-make this a must-visit in Dayton for aviation buffs. Call ahead if you want a spot in one of the Behind the Scenes tours held on Fridays. (937) 255-3286; nationalmuseum.af.milState parks Ohio's parks are as diverse as the state's geographical landscape. One of our favorites is Hocking Hills State Park, with fascinating sandstone caves and hollows. Highlights include 100-foot-high Ash Cave, Old Man's Cave, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs. (614) 265-6561; ohiodnr.comToledo Museum of Art (pictured) With more than 30,000 significant works, including Picasso, Matisse and Monet, the Toledo Museum of Art can be a full-day experience. Short on time? Grab one of the "My Guide" brochures to explore one of six themed tours. (419) 255-8000; toledomuseum.orgAriel-Foundation Park, Mount Vernon Artists used high-concept recycling to reinvent the 250-acre site of the abandoned Pittsburg Plate Glass factory, about an hour from Columbus. Salvaged steel makes up a cherry red, Hydra-like sculpture; frosty blue crushed glass "flows" down a man-made grassy platform. Explore the grounds for free. arielfoundationpark.org
Downtown Walking Tours Detroit Experience Factory and Pure Detroit both lead free tours of downtown landmarks, including the lavishly decorated 1929 Guardian skyscraper (pictured). detroitexperiencefactory.org, shop.puredetroit.comCampus Martius Park Locals gather at the revitalized Woodward Avenue roundabout for open-air lunches, concerts and other activities. campusmartiuspark.orgDetroit Historical Museum Most displays at this recently revamped museum focus on local history and nostalgia-a Motown tribute, a Lionel Trains exhibit and an Underground Railroad vignette-but additions like the interactive Kid Rock music lab are sure to build its fan base. detroithistorical.orgGM Renaissance Center One-hour tours at the General Motors headquarters detail GM's symbiotic relationship with the city. Check out the latest models in the GM showroom before drinking in skyline views from the 72nd floor of the Detroit Marriott. gmrencen.com
Traverse City, Michigan
Clinch Park Beach You'll find public beaches all along the region's 180-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shore, but this 1,500-foot beach and marina includes a trail that conveniently connects to downtown Traverse City. (231) 947-1120; traversecity.comInterlochen Center for the Arts (pictured) More than 600 events are presented each year by students, faculty and guest artists. Motion-picture screenings, visual art exhibitions and music recitals are usually free. Many other performances are low cost. (231) 276-7200; interlochen.orgTART Trail Stretching 10 miles across Traverse City, TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail) is one of several paths in a linked system that extends to the winery-dotted Leelanau Peninsula. Jog, bike or stroll past beaches, forests and city streetscapes. (231) 941-4300; traversetrails.org
More to do in Michigan
Meyer May House (pictured) Considered one of the country's most complete Frank Lloyd Wright restorations, the Meyer May House in Grand Rapids was originally designed for a prominent clothier. Steelcase purchased the property in 1985 and reopened it in 1987 after an extensive restoration. meyermayhouse.steelcase.comMichigan State University sites The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing explores contemporary art through the lens of a collection dating back to ancient Greece and displayed in a striking shell of pleated stainless-steel and glass (broadmuseum.msu.edu). At the MSU Museum, culture and science illustrate how humans and nature interact; tools, quilts and a fur trader's cabin join dinosaurs and skeletons at this Smithsonian Institution affiliate (museum.msu.edu). The W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, established in 1873, has 2,000 different taxa in four groupings, including endangered and threatened species (cpa.msu.edu/beal/).University of Michigan spots The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology's collection of 100,000 finds in Ann Arbor include Latin inscriptions, artifacts of Greco-Roman daily life, Parthian pottery and ancient coins (lsa.umich.edu/kelsey/). The Huron River intersects the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, featuring prairie, groves of magnolias, peonies, wetlands and a 10,000-square-foot conservatory (lsa.umich.edu/mbg/). The university's Museum of Art, in a 1910 Beaux Arts building and a glass-walled 2006 addition, showcases a global collection ranging from medieval to modern, inclugin an impressive collection of Tiffany glass (umma.umich.edu).
Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial A glass wall in White River State Park honors recipients of the nation's highest military tribute. Each day at dusk, the memorial's sound system plays recorded stories of medal winners and the conflicts in which they fought. (317) 233-2434; inwhiteriver.wrsp.in.govThe Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park: 100 Acres This former quarry has become a place to admire modern art among woodlands, meadows, wetlands and a lake. Seasonal guided tours run on weekends. (317) 923-1331; imamuseum.org/100acresSoldiers and Sailors Monument (pictured) Climb 330 steps (or ride the elevator for a small fee) to the top of this landmark for a 360-degree view of downtown Indy. The 1902 monument honors Hoosiers who gave their lives in each of the nation's wars. (317) 232-7615; iwm.in.gov
More to do in Indiana
Indiana University Visit the Lilly Library (containing one of the world's 14 original Gutenberg Bibles, Ian Fleming's James Bond manuscripts and 30,000 mechanical puzzles. (Also worth a stop in the future but currently closed for renovations: the Indiana University Art Museum, with 30,000 artworks in an I.M.Pei-designed building). In Bloomington.
The Hop MKE (pictured) The new streetcar connects Milwaukee's central train and bus station to many of the city's attractions and hotels. Take advantage of free rides for the first year of service (through about November 2019). thehopmke.comSt. Joan of Arc Chapel This little Marquette University chapel has a big history. Originally constructed in France more than five centuries ago, the Gothic chapel was dismantled and moved to Long Island in the 1920s. It was later moved to Milwaukee, painstakingly reassembled and rededicated in 1966. Tours are free; donations welcome. marquette.eduThomas A. Greene Geological Museum Lapham Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee houses a collection of 75,000 fossils and minerals found by the namesake amateur geologist, who lived in Milwaukee in the late 1800s (uwm.edu).See Midwest Living's list of Top 10 Things to Do on a Budget in Milwaukee.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens Stroll 16 acres of outdoor gardens, including a vast Rose Garden showcasing hardy shrub varieties in a space inspired by Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright. Be sure to see the Thai Pavilion (pictured), crafted without nails or screws by Thai artisans. (608) 246-4550; olbrich.orgChazen Museum of Art A $43 million expansion is a work of art in itself. Inside, dedicated galleries display African, Asian and 21st-century international works. chazen.wisc.eduCapitol Free guided tours higlight architecture and art-mosaics, stained glass and murals of the impressive 1917 building, the tallest in Madison.National Mustard Museum Located 7 miles west of Madison in Middleton, the quirky yet classy museum features a variety of mustards on The Great Wall of Mustard, antique mustard pots, a few simple displays and a video explaining the condiment's history, as well as free mustard tastings. mustardmuseum.comSee Midwest Living's Madison, Wisconsin Trip Guide.
More to do in Wisconsin
Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour (pictured) Take a 30-minute trolley tour through the enormous Jelly Belly warehouse off of I-94 in Pleasant Prairie. Learn how the company makes more than 150 different treats, including candy corn, taffy, gummies and its signature jelly beans. The tour wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Jelly Belly Sample Bar to try a spectrum of flavors. jellybelly.comKohler Design Center Upscale plumbing fixtures, kitchen and bath design ideas, and a museum of town history fill a three-level showroom. Explore to get inspiration for a decorating project. Three-hour guided tours of the Kohler factory across the street are also available. us.kohler.comSC Johnson Headquarters and Wingspread Free tours of these Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structures in Racine shed light on the architect and his work with the Johnson family. Ninety-minute tours of the headquarters touch on the architectural highlights of the 1939 administration building, such as the distinctive lily-pad-shape columns in the "Great Workroom." Wingspread, built for SC Johnson leader H.F. Johnson in 1939, is the largest single-family home designed by Wright. Visitors get a 30-minute introduction to the house from a guide and video, then have time to wander the 14,000-square-foot home and part of the grounds. scjohnson.com
History and art in Des Moines
Iowa State Capitol (pictured) Take a free guided tour of the gold-capped capitol to get the full story of this Renaissance-style structure, built between 1871 and 1886. Don't forget to stop by the grounds' stunning outdoor monuments overlooking downtown. legis.iowa.govDes Moines Art Center The 5,000-piece collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper and Georgia O'Keeffe. Large, airy galleries reflect the styles of architects Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier. desmoinesartcenter.orgPappajohn Sculpture Park Twenty-eight modern sculptures valued at more than $40 million scatter across a two-block downtown park. View on your own or request a tour from The Des Moines Art Center, which curates the collection. Snap a photo from inside the popular Nomade sculpture. desmoinesartcenter.orgState Historical Museum of Iowa Listen to tapes of coal miners at work, learn about Iowa's prominent role in Hollywood filmmaking and carry pioneer-era water buckets with a shoulder yoke at this museum in the trendy East Village neighborhood. iowahistory.org
More to do in Iowa
American Gothic House Center This small but informative center next to the American Gothic House (pictured) in Eldon includes exhibits on Grant Wood's American Gothic painting and its many parodies; a 30-minute film on Grant's life and works; a gift shop; and best of all, a well-stocked wardrobe of American Gothic-style clothing so visitors can create their own parodies. americangothichouse.netField of Dreams The site of the 1989 film Field of Dreams, this century-old Dyersville farm still attracts visitors that come to hit balls, play a game of catch and run the bases. On some summer Sundays, "ghost" players return to the field to continue spreading the joy of baseball. fodmoviesite.comMaytag Dairy Farm A visit to Newton's Maytag Dairy Farm, home of one of the country's most famous blue cheeses, is a must for cheese lovers. Tour the office building and shipping facility before sampling the creamy Maytag Blue. maytagdairyfarms.comDriftless Area Education and Visitor Center Displays in the $3.6 million Lansing center explain the geology and wildlife of the Driftless Area, rolling hills in northeast Iowa and neighboring states. allamakeecountyconservation.org/driftless-centerGrant Wood Studio Take a volunteer-led tour of the small Cedar Rapids studio where regionalist artist Grant Wood lived and worked from 1924 to 1934. The studio's on the second floor of a late 19th-century carriage house; on the first floor, see a half-hour video about Wood's life and art. crma.orgThe National Pearl Button Museum Hands-on exhibits bring Muscatine's once-booming pearl-button industry to life. Peek into a barrel used to steam mussels, sew buttons onto cards, and feel the difference between true pearl buttons and pearl-looking plastic buttons. muscatinehistory.orgUniversity of Iowa museums The Museum of Natural History in Iowa City teaches about Iowa's 500-million-year ecological history through collections of insects, bird and mammal specimens. mnh.uiowa.edu Old Capitol Museum's restored interior addresses the history of territorial government from when Iowa City was the capital. oldcap.uiowa.eduState parks Iowa's 85 state parks are free. Two favorites are Elk Rock at Red Rock Lake and Pikes Peak on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. iowadnr.gov
Keeper of the Plains (pictured) A nod to the tribes that once inhabited the area, this statue stands on sacred ground at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers. The Keeper also serves as the focal point of a $20 million restoration and river beautification project. wichita.govWichita Art Museum Come on Saturdays for free admission to this Art Deco gem that opened in 1935. Glasswork, historical and contemporary, makes up a big part of the collection. The on-site Muse Cafe has a light, lovely menu. wichitaartmuseum.org
Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site (pictured) Visit the former Monroe Elementary School for exhibits and films that explore the context and effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end segregation. (785) 354-4273; nps.govFirst Fridays Artwalk See great art in the renovated turn-of-the-20th-century NoTo district, as well as downtown and midtown, each month. artsconnecttopeka.orgState Capitol Just some of the treasures at this stately landmark: 500-pound oak doors, gorgeous brass-and-copper stair railings and 22-carat gilding that highlights the magnificent architecture. (785) 272-8681; kshs.org
More to do in Kansas
International Forest of Friendship (pictured) Created for Amelia Earhart's 200th birthday, this Atchison arboretum and aviation memorial features trees from around the world and a 1-acre earthwork portrait of Amelia Earhart. A plaque-filled path called Memory Lane meanders through the trees, honoring important contributions to aviation. ifof.orgRobert J. Dole Institute of Politics Interactive exhibits focus on the legislative process and the value of civil service. The center also contains exhibits about Kansas senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole and a World War II memory wall. doleinstitute.orgFort Scott National Historic Site Civil War and frontier days feel real when reenactors dress in soldier's uniforms and drill on the parade grounds surrounded by 20 restored buildings. A shuttle tours the 1840s town and its grand mansions en route to the National Cemetery, where graves date back to before the Civil War. nps.gov/fosc
Boys Town Immortalized in a classic 1938 film, Boys Town is still a refuge for troubled youth. Tour the garden, chapels, Hall of History and Father Flanagan House museum. boystown.org Joslyn Art Museum (pictured) One of the nation's finest examples of Art Deco architecture wows with its interior made of 38 kinds of marble from around the world. The 11,000-piece permanent collection includes everything from Greek pottery to modern art. joslyn.orgLewis and Clark Landing and Riverfront Park This 23-acre park marks the landing site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s. Check out interpretive exhibits honoring the famous explorers before walking across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge between two states. visitomaha.comSt. Cecilia Cathedral Gawk at the architecture, stained-glass windows and stunning pipe organ during guided tours of this Spanish Renaissance-style cathedral. Donations appreciated. stceciliacathedral.org Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters Learn about the difficulties Mormons encountered during their westward migration in the mid-1800s. See a full-size log cabin, covered wagon, artifacts and a handcart you can try to pull. lds.orgSee Midwest Living's list of Top 10 Things to Do on a Budget in Omaha.
More to do in Nebraska
Homestead National Monument of America Get an in-depth look at the 1862 Homestead Act that granted more than 270 million acres (about 10 percent of the United States) to pioneers. A heritage center has videos and interactive exhibits; visitors to the monument can also see a homesteader's cabin and restored prairie area. Seasonal activities include living-history demonstrations. In Beatrice (about 40 miles south of Lincoln). (402) 223-3514; nps.govNebraska State Capitol (pictured) Hourly tours include a climb up this Art Deco marvel's 400-foot tower. This is one of the Midwest's best capitol buildings, with intricate mosaics and extensive statuary. (402) 471-0448; capitol.org
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Falls Park (pictured) The Big Sioux River drops 100 feet in a series of dramatic waterfalls. Take the elevator to the top of the five-story viewing tower for the best vistas, then stroll the park's paved walkway. visitsiouxfalls.comOld Courthouse Museum Three floors of regional history exhibits attract visitors to this restored 1800s building that was once the Minnehaha County Courthouse. A restored circuit courtroom and law library occupy the second floor. siouxlandmuseums.comPettigrew Home and Museum Tour the 1889 Queen Anne-style home of South Dakota's first senator, Richard Pettigrew, and learn what life was like in Sioux Falls during the late 1800s. siouxlandmuseums.com
More to do in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore National Memorial (pictured) One of America's most iconic landmarks, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills offers much more than a view of the 60-foot faces. Walk to the sculpture's base with a ranger; explore the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village; visit the Sculptor's Studio; and watch the Evening Lighting Ceremony. Although admission is free, there's a fee for parking. nps.gov South Dakota Air and Space Museum Get a look at historical aircraft, such as bombers and fighters, at this free indoor-outdoor museum just east of Rapid City. sdairandspacemuseum.comThe Corn Palace See a movie and tour this landmark that was established in 1892. Early residents gathered to celebrate the harvest season with a fall festival; now, the colorful, half-block-long Mitchell building hosts stage shows and sporting events. The exterior gets redecorated every year with murals made of corn, other grains and grasses. cornpalace.orgAkta Lakota Museum Artifacts, artwork and interactive exhibits in Chamberlain share the story of the Lakota people. Life-size dioramas show how women skinned bison and prepared for long winters; elaborately beaded clothing and shoes reveal a balance between practicality and artistry. aktalakota.orgRedlin Art Center Watertown artist Terry Redlin imbues his paintings with a distinctive light to pack emotional punch in his depictions of wildlife and nostalgic American scenes. redlinart.comSouth Dakota State University museums The Agricultural Heritage Museum in Brookings display machinery and household furnishings related to farm life. agmuseum.com Head to the South Dakota Art Museum down the street to admire South Dakota native Harvey Dunn's prairie paintings. sdstate.eduSpirit Mound Lewis and Clark braved Native American warnings against stopping at this spot. Walk to the top of this grassy hill near Vermillion to see the prairie as they did and read signs about the story of the mound, the expedition and wildlife. spiritmound.com
Bismarck, North Dakota
North Dakota State Capitol Building (pictured) Nicknamed "The Skyscraper on the Prairie," North Dakota's 241-foot-tall capitol is the tallest structure in the area. Take a guided tour, including a visit to the 18th-floor observation deck. nd.govFormer Governors' Mansion State Historic Site Restored to its 1893 appearance, this Victorian house was home to 21 chief executives between 1893 and 1960. Visitors learn about the restoration process as well as Victorian lifestyles. history.nd.govNorth Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum The recently expanded center traces state history from dinosaur days to the present. Exhibits include fossils and casts of sea creatures that lived in the area 80 million years ago, along with artifacts used by Native American peoples who inhabited North Dakota from 13,000 years ago to the 1860s. statemuseum.nd.govSee Midwest Living's Bismarck and Mandan Trip Guide.
More to do in North Dakota
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (pictured) Discover Fort Union's storied history as the most important fur-trading site on the upper Missouri by touring the Bourgeois' House, watching a reenactment of a typical trade and exploring the Bodmer Overlook hiking trail in Williston. A self-guided tour, ranger-guided tours and living-history programs are available. (701) 572-9083; nps.govKnife River Indian Villages National Historic Site Once the site of a major Native American trade center, Stanton's Knife River Indian Villages preserve remnants of the legacy of the Plains tribes. Explore a reconstructed, furnished Hidatsa earth lodge, a museum and 15 miles of trails, one of which passes through the remains of the village where Sacagawea lived before Lewis and Clark arrived. (701) 745-3300; nps.gov