Midwest Living's Best of the Midwest Winners 2022
Each year, our Best of the Midwest Awards celebrates the region's top spots in food, travel, lifestyle and wellness. The list starts here—but no need to hold your applause to the end.
Wellness—Bike Trail: Katy Trail
Missouri If you've ever wanted to bike the width of a state, the Katy Trail makes that possible. Stretching 237 miles across most of Missouri, this appealingly flat bike trail meanders along the old MKT railway. Historic depots double as trailheads, and fun stops like capital Jefferson City, the wineries around Hermann and historic St. Charles provide respite and refreshment.
Wellness—Hike: Hocking Hills
Ohio Marvel at waterfalls, rock formations and recess caves in this rumpled, forested pocket of southern Ohio. Hocking Hills State Park offers seven easy-to-follow loop trails (no doubling back!), with more than 25 miles of hiking available in total. Crave more? Nearby Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve is also gorgeous. Both places offer a wheelchair-accessible path.
Wellness—Spa Experience: Sundara Inn and Spa
Wisconsin Dells Soak in a chic hot tub overlooking the wooded beauty of the Wisconsin Dells region. You might even see a deer amble by. Sundara Inn and Spa blends ancient wellness traditions with modern techniques in treatments, like mud wraps and salt scrubs. Opt to end with a Vichy shower, a therapeutic water treatment using seven shower heads. Ahh.
Wellness—Adventure Course: TreeRush Adventures
Bellevue, Nebraska If crossing swinging bridges and hopscotching between rolling logs suspended in midair sound like your idea of fun, then you've come to the right place. TreeRush Adventures covers 7 acres in Fontenelle Forest. Choose between seven aerial trails ranging in difficulty, where you'll traverse elements of wood, cables and rope, and fly along 10 ziplines.
Wellness—Place to Paddle: Cache River
Belknap, Illinois Guide a canoe between knobby-kneed cypress trees in the Cache River, a floodplain in southern Illinois carved by the Ohio River. The 1,000-year-old trees have distinctively flared bases that can stretch more than 40 feet in diameter. You'll also spot waterfowl and shorebirds as you cut a path through the swamp. Opt for a guided tour with an outfitter like Cache Bayou Outfitters.
Culture—Art Museum: Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit The Detroit Institute of Arts' remarkable Beaux-Arts building houses one of the country's largest collections. Thoughtful curation makes the 100-plus galleries feel educational and accessible to all. Highlights include Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals and the Center for African American Art—the first major museum department dedicated to Black artists' work.
Culture—Botanical Garden: Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis At MOBOT, as locals call it, you can meander through more than 20 themed gardens. Stop and smell the roses—literally—in the Gladney Rose Garden, cross bridges over koi ponds in the Japanese Garden, and get lost in the English Woodland Garden. The Climatron, a turtle shell-like conservatory, is home to a lush tropical rain forest with more than 2,800 plants.
Culture—City Park: Cleveland Metroparks
Cleveland Known as the Emerald Necklace, the Cleveland Metroparks system adorns the city and surrounding counties like a string of 18 leafy jewels. Hike beside shady creeks, wade into the waves on Lake Erie's shore, bike along boardwalks over wildlife-filled marshes or thwack golf balls at one of eight courses.
Culture—Photo Op: Paul Bunyan
Minnesota Coming direct from tall tales to your Instagram stories, Paul Bunyan and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox, stand at the ready for Minnesota visitors. But the question is, which Paul to pose by? You'll find iterations across the state, including a 26-foot version at Paul Bunyan Land in Brainerd and Bemidji's slimmer 18-foot likeness, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Culture—Public Art Collection: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Minneapolis The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is the Spoonbridge and Cherry on top of the Twin Cities. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.) That Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture is the most iconic among 40 in the landscaped garden, which is part of the Walker Art Center, and has been free and open daily since 1988.
Culture—Bookstore: The Raven
Lawrence, Kansas Founded in 1987 as a mystery-specialty shop, this this college-town bookstore has kept its heavy focus on that genre but expanded to others as well. It's also a leader in the movement to keep local bookshops alive. Cozy up with a page-turner while a raven (statue) or (real) cat watches over you.
Culture—Garden Shop: Groovy Plants Ranch
Marengo, Ohio Channeling the spirit of the Southwest, this worth-the-trip greenhouse and plant shop stocks a massive assortment of cacti, succulents and unique houseplants. Pick out a graphic terra-cotta pot and get your new plant all situated at the store's potting bar.
Culture—Quirky Museum: Rhythm! Discovery Center
Indianapolis Hiding downtown, this unexpected museum marches to the beat of its own drum. Interactive exhibits explore the history and science of percussion. Try out instruments from around the world, see a few from famous rockers and take a swipe at a giant gong. (Worried you'll need earplugs? Somehow the mood isn't a racket, thanks in part to soundproof rooms where you can really get your Ringo on.)
Eat and Drink—Bakery: Ardor Breads and Provisions
Peoria, Illinois The word ardor conveys energy, enthusiasm and passion—and that pretty much sums up Ardor's origin story. Founder Cody Scogin obsessed for years over scientific baking techniques, then translated those skills into his neighborhood cafe. Carb-lovers can choose among a seasonally rotating cast of naturally leavened breads, dazzlingly beautiful laminated pastries and sourdough slab pizzas. If you find yourself driving along Interstate-74, the custard-filled croissants are well worth the exit.
Eat and Drink—Chef: John Shields
Chicago John Shields honed his career at legendary Chicago restaurants Charlie Trotter's and Alinea before moving to rural Smyth County, Virginia. There, he launched Town House with his pastry chef wife, Karen Urie Shields. After four years, the couple moved back to Chicago and opened Smyth + The Loyalist, an upstairs-downstairs restaurant concept in the city's West Loop. Smyth, which carries two Michelin stars, is the high-end counterpart to The Loyalist, a neighborhood bar that griddles one of the city's best burgers.
Eat and Drink—Coffee Shop: Monarch
Kansas City, Missouri Monarch Coffee was a longtime dream for Tyler and Jaime Rovenstine. Brewed with his 13 years of coffee experience and sweetened with her artistic vision, the KCMO shop was born. Behind the large bar—the centerpiece of the light-filled space—baristas craft coffee drinks inspired by cocktail techniques, using ingredients like house-made syrups and aromatic bitters.
Eat and Drink—Distillery: Long Road
Grand Rapids, Michigan There are no shortcuts at Long Road Distillers. Claiming the title of Grand Rapid's first craft distillery, Long Road has a full portfolio of liquors and liqueurs. The standout is the award-winning aquavit, an herbaceous Scandinavian spirit found at festive gatherings. We'll say skål to that!
Eat and Drink—Farmers Market: Dane County Farmers' Market
Madison, Wisconsin At the nation's largest producer-only farmers market, you have to grow it (or make it, raise it, bake it) to sell it. Check the calendar before you visit: There are Wednesday, Saturday, winter and holiday iterations of the market throughout the year, with vendors (and the local bounty) fluctuating with the seasons. One favorite not to miss: Stella's Hot and Spicy Cheese Bread.
Eat and Drink—Ice Cream Parlor: Love Creamery
Duluth, Minnesota This small-batch ice cream shop in the city that's a gateway to Minnesota's North Shore handcrafts its creative ice creams from local and sustainable ingredients, including cream from a Minnesota dairy. Anything not available from a close-to-home grower is sourced responsibly. Flavors change regularly, but look out for fun combos like Chamomile Honeycomb and Salted Black Sesame at the shop's two Duluth locations.
Eat and Drink—New Restaurant: Chapman's Eat Market
Columbus, Ohio After making his name with Rose's Luxury in Washington D.C., chef-owner BJ Lieberman decided to move to central Ohio and open a restaurant in his wife's hometown. Taste cuisine inspired by Italy, Vietnam, Mexico and more via dishes like Com Tam, Radiatori alla Amatriciana and Braised Pork Shoulder.
Eat and Drink—Brewery: Toppling Goliath
Decorah, Iowa Did you know a little college town in northeast Iowa has the second-best brewery in the world? At least that's what BeerAdvocate thinks. In our book, though, Toppling Goliath is number one. They sell several of their signature IPAs by the can in stores, but to try special experimental and seasonal brews, you'll have to visit the taproom.
Eat and Drink—Cidery: Wilson's Orchard and Farm
Iowa City, Iowa Nestled in a pretty valley a short drive north of Iowa City, Wilson's Orchard and Farm was established in 1985 as a U-pick orchard. Now, they make hard cider with apples grown on the farm. Of their 100 varieties, they chose Gold Rush apples to make the flagship cider, Goldfinch. Other varieties blend in cherries, blueberries and blackberries. Taste them all in Rapid Creek Cidery, the orchard's excellent restaurant and bar.
Eat and Drink—Food Hall: The Garage
Indianapolis How do we love The Garage? Let us count the ways. Spicy dumplings. Lobster rolls. Arepas. Poke bowls. Raw oysters. Craft cocktails. Shall we go on? This food hall in Indy's trendy Bottleworks District has 16 vendors (and more on the way) slinging all types of cuisine. But don't view it as fast food: Sit and stay awhile or browse local vendor booths.
Eat and Drink—Supper Club: Heston Supper Club
La Porte, Indiana You'll know you've found Heston Supper Club by the giant neon sign that says EAT. A straightforward, no-frills, just-good-food approach has kept Heston's packed since 1982. Order the restaurant's famous slow-roasted prime rib in a "modest" 14-ounce portion, a 20-ounce house cut or the 28-ounce Heston—for those real-hungry eaters. End your meal with the warm Double Chocolate Gooey Cake or Mile High Cheesecake. What's a little more indulgence?
Eat and Drink—Winery: Stone Hill
Hermann, Missouri Stone Hill Winery is one of the oldest in the country—175 years to be exact. German immigrants brought winemaking to Missouri in the 1800s, and that spirit lives on here. With a vibe that melds Rhineland and heartland, Stone Hill offers tours through its historic cellars and tastings among the hillside vineyards.
Travel—College Town: Madison
Madison, Wisconsin "Town" is a bit of an undersell. Situated on an isthmus between lakes Monona and Mendota, Madison is not just home to the University of Wisconsin, it's also the state capital. The campus fuels a diverse food, nightlife and cultural scene (and a hefty dose of quirky, progressive personality). So there's plenty to do on a visit, whether you've snagged a ticket to see the Badgers play or not.
Travel—Culinary City: Minneapolis
Diverse. Multifaceted. Inventive. The adjectives to describe Minneapolis' culinary scene could go on. And one more joined the list in 2021: reverent. When the groundbreaking restaurant Owamni opened last year, it introduced decolonized cuisine to the city. Chef Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef, cooks solely with ingredients that are indigenous to North America—nothing introduced by colonizers. It's an overdue preservation of the food that sustained the region's original inhabitants for so long.
Travel—Family Attraction: Navy Pier
Chicago Step up and get your tickets to the best family fun around. Your crew can spend an entire day (maybe more!) taking dizzying spins on Navy Pier's rides, digging up dinosaur bones at the Chicago Children's Museum or soaking up the sunshine at Polk Bros Park. (Psst, parents: There's also a beer garden in summer.)
Travel—Historical Site: Conner Prairie
Fishers, Indiana Experience life on a 19th-century homestead at Conner Prairie (minus the outhouse). Visitors step back in time to a re-created 1830 village where townspeople stroll in traditional dress, and blacksmiths and woodworkers demo their trades. You'll even find period games and live animals.
Travel—Icon: Route 66
Illinois and Missouri Get your kicks on Route 66. This iconic highway basically invented the classic road trip. Snaking from Chicago to California, it dips down through Illinois and scoots across Missouri before heading out west. Along the road you can still find vintage gas stations, historic roadside motels, drive-ins and plenty of photo ops.
Travel—Large City: Chicago
After nearly two years of pandemic shutdowns, the Windy City is coming back stronger than ever. The museums, sports, entertainment and shopping are world-class. The diverse dining scene spans award-winning restaurants, neighborhood gems and icons like hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches. And with Lake Michigan lapping at the city's doorstep, there's epic scenery to boot.
Related: Top Things to Do in Chicago
Travel—Mid-Size Town: Des Moines
Des Moines is the fastest growing metro in the Midwest, which means the secret that Iowans have long known is out. You can do all the touristy things, like gape at the Capitol's spectacular law library, visit the (free!) Des Moines Art Center or attend an Iowa Cubs game. Or you can live like a local, lining up for Salvadoran pupusas at the Downtown Farmers Market, shopping in the East Village, and dining at inventive restaurants like St. Kilda and Harbinger.
Travel—Small Town: Ephraim
Ephraim, Wisconsin Choosing a favorite town on the scenic Door County Peninsula is a tall order, but if we must (cherry) pick a favorite, it's Ephraim. The harborside town serves up stunning sunset views, trendy coffee shops, and homey bed-and-breakfasts. For classic vibes, sip a house-brewed root beer under Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor's red-and-white striped awning.
Related: Top Things to Do in Door County
Travel—National Park: Teddy Roosevelt
North Dakota Don't let the moody designation of "badlands" fool you. The dramatic landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a layer cake of color. Look down into canyons carved by rivers, climb among towering hoodoos, and spot lazy bison and windswept feral horses. The park consists of two main North and South units—but insiders make the trek to the lesser-known third unit, Elkhorn Ranch, to visit the site of Teddy Roosevelt's North Dakota home.
Travel—New Hotel: Surety Hotel
Des Moines Fans of original hardwood floors, midcentury modern decor and quirky touches like a bedazzled raccoon in the bar will love Surety Hotel. This boutique hotel revitalized a 108-year-old building in the heart of Iowa's capital. Its restaurant, Mulberry Street Tavern, showcases the city with local art, pottery and coffee (from hometown roaster Blk and Bold).
Travel—Beach Town: Traverse City
Traverse City, Michigan Lake Michigan is the sparkling, blue-green backdrop to this beloved vacation town. (Yes, it does get crowded in summer, but there's room to roam.) Enjoy a rich dining scene, boutique shopping and all things cherry. (Orchards blanket the nearby hills, and the National Cherry Festival is a huge draw each July.) The city sits at the base of the Mission Peninsula, a hub of Michigan winemaking. And sandy beaches abound. For the ultimate view, climb to the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes, then jump or roll your way back down.
Travel—Best Fall Drive: Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Michigan It's a long schlep for most of us—but with 7 million acres of tree coverage, the UP really is the ultimate fall destination. Once there, savor the rugged Great Lakes scenery, picturesque lighthouses and tumbling waterfalls (and, of course, a meat-filled pasty, the region's signature dish).
Travel—Boutique Hotel: Shinola Hotel
Detroit Inspired by Detroit's manufacturing legacy, the Shinola brand began with watches—and they've also assembled a great hotel. Attached to a Shinola store, it's a hangout that's open for stop-in visitors as well as booked guests. Sip cocktails by the fireplace in the lobby, decked out in local art. If you do stay, be sure to note the custom bathrobes, with "Detroit" embroidered on the back.
Related: Chic New Boutique Hotels
Travel—Family Getaway: Lutsen Resort
Lutsen, Minnesota Perched on a pebbled Lake Superior beach, Lutsen Resort opened in 1885. Since then, generations of families have been coming to this resort year-round. Book a modest room in the historic lodge, or choose from a variety of splurgier cottages. Summer activities include swimming, fishing and kayaking, while winter brings the opportunity to ski and snowshoe.
Travel—Historic Hotel: Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel
Omaha Legends abound at the Cottonwood, which opened in 1916 as the Blackstone Hotel and hosted the Kennedys and Richard Nixon. It also claims the invention of the Reuben sandwich and Butter Brickle ice cream. The hotel's new identity bosts a modern makeover that nods to its storied past.
Related: Check Out Our Guide to Omaha's Revitalized Blackstone District
Travel—Holiday Town: Galena
Galena, Illinois If a Hallmark movie town came to life, it would look a lot like Galena, where evergreen garlands drape across charming brick storefronts, horses pull carriages down the street and (on one night of the season) 5,000 luminarias glow along the streets. After a day of gift-shopping at the dozens of cute shops, warm up with a Bakehouse Latte (honey and vanilla) and a white chocolate gingerbread cupcake from the new Galena Bakehouse.
Travel—Revitalized Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine
Cincinnati Once home to the city's German immigrants, Over-the-Rhine (OTR, if you're in the know) has always drawn hungry visitors to its historic Findlay Market. In recent years, nonprofit real estate developers began investing in local businesses and today, the revamped commercial district buzzes with bars, breweries, coffee shops, diverse restaurants and local boutiques.
Related: Top Things to Do in Cincinnati
Travel—Road Trip Destination: Black Hills
South Dakota Hit the road to South Dakota's Black Hills, named for the deep green evergreens that give the hills their dark appearance. But getting there is half the fun, especially with stops at attractions like the Corn Palace and Wall Drug. The Black Hills boasts some of the country's most iconic landmarks, like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Just beware a bison traffic jam might be in your future.
Travel—Spring Destination: Holland
Holland, Michigan Founded by Dutch immigrants, this Lake Michigan town explodes with color each spring, when thousands of tulips burst into bloom. The show starts in April and culminates during the Tulip Time festival (May 7–15 this year), a celebration of Dutch culture and heritage.
Related: The Top Things to Do in Holland
Travel—Summer Resort: Grand Geneva Resort and Spa
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin The largest resort in a town known for summer getaways, Grand Geneva spreads across 1,300 acres. Amenities include golfing, horseback riding, biking, scootering, archery, volleyball and even skiing in the winter. Just make sure you take some time to relax by the pool overlooking the resort's private lake, or with a treatment at the award-winning spa.
Travel—Unique Stay: Mohicans Treehouses
Glenmont, Ohio Nestled in the woods of northeast Ohio, The Mohicans offers nine rental tree houses. (And they all book fast, so plan your trip early.) The unique designs include a two-story tree house with a spiral staircase, a little red schoolhouse and even a converted Airstream in the trees.
Travel—Urban Neighborhood: Grand/Summit Avenue
St. Paul Eat. Shop. Repeat. That's the plan along St. Paul's Grand Avenue. Nibble an almond croissant at Wuollet Bakery and get supplies to make your own at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Snag a reservation at James Beard winner Hyacinth. And end your day with a cone from Grand Ole Creamery. One block north, Summit Avenue boasts one of the country's best collections of Victorian mansions.
Travel—Winter Recreation: Boyne Mountain
Boyne Falls, Michigan With 60 trails and 415 skiable acres, Boyne Mountain (again) tops our list for winter rec any bluebird or fresh powder day of the year. If you don't have your ski legs yet, you can ride a chairlift to the top to walk across the world's longest timber-towered suspension bridge.
Travel—Sports Town: Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin Even if you're not a Cheesehead, watching the Packers play at Lambeau Field—the oldest continually operating NFL stadium—is a quintessential Midwest experience. If you can't make it to a game (it's notoriously hard to get a ticket), guided tours of the stadium are offered daily, except on home-game days.
Travel—State Park Secret: Palisades
Garretson, South Dakota Northeast of Sioux Falls, near the Minnesota state line, towering red rock cliffs line Split Rock Creek at Palisades State Park. In spring, the banks burst with wildflowers. Take a walk atop the 50-foot cliffs or across the 1908 iron bridge. The park is also a favorite spot of rock climbers.