Traveling the Midwest
The nation’s heartland is as diverse as it is sprawling, proved by the attractions of these 11 cities. And you can go out of Michigan without leaving your Midwestern comfort zone.
Biking along the lake in Chicago
Photographs by Cindy Loose
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1. Omaha, Neb.
// City leadership is in the midst of a major campaign to bring visitors to Omaha. But it’s more than just the new slogan. “O,” which replaces the stodgy and cryptic “Omaha: Rare, Well Done.” In fact, a $2-billion investment of public and private funds has given Omaha a major face-lift, including a new $90-
million performing-arts center.
Sleep: The Cornerstone Mansion Inn B&B (cornerstonemansion.com; 888-883-7745) is an inn built in 1894 that was home to one of Omaha’s most prominent families, the Offutts.
Eat: You may run into Warren Buffett at Gorat’s Steak House, where he’s a regular. But the prices aren’t for billionaires
only. Dinner for two can be
had for less than $50. Also consider The French Café in the
Old Market for an authentic Parisian feel.
See & do: Remember Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?
Omaha took that fame seriously, and honors it with a first-rate wildlife kingdom that is the state’s No. 1 attraction.
Contact: visitomaha.com, 866-YES-OMAHA.
2. St. Louis
// St. Louis has seen better times, but it still has lots to offer, including numerous historic sites and museums, the Mississippi River, and the Arch. You also can try to catch the Cardinals, the Rams, or the Blues. Oh, and don’t forget the museum for bowling.
Sleep: The Omni Majestic (omnihotels.com; 314-436-2355) is a boutique hotel in a renovated building from 1913. It’s about five blocks from the Arch and other attractions. Outside of town, you’ll find luxury at the Ritz-Carlton in suburban Clayton.
Eat: For five-star fare in a formal setting, the place to go is Tony’s, where tuxedoed waiters deliver Italian haute cuisine.
• If it turns out you don’t like the cheesy substance called Provel that is popular on St. Louis pizzas, don’t mention it to the locals; they’re quite proud of it.
See & do: The city’s museums and historic sites include the St. Louis Art Museum, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, and the Scott Joplin House.
Contact: explorestlouis.com, 800-916-8938.
3. St. Paul, Minn.
// Some may prefer St. Paul’s big sister and next-door neighbor, Minneapolis. But the smaller city is a great base for those who love historic buildings and the genteel pace of an earlier time. On Summit Avenue alone, 373 grand homes survive, and at least an equal number of Victorian, Queen Anne, Tudor, and Georg-ian Revival homes grace surrounding streets. The hometown of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was also once the place where Al Capone came for R&R.
Sleep: The St. Paul Hotel (stpaulhotel.com ; 800-292-9292) is a National Historic Trust property that has hosted gangsters and J. Edgar Hoover alike.
Eat: W.A. Frost & Co. was once a drugstore where F. Scott Fitzgerald sipped Cokes. It’s now an upscale continental restaurant.
• The Zander Café is a simple storefront restaurant that serves some of the best food in St. Paul.
See & do: Consider planning your trip to coincide with an evening when Garrison Keillor
is in town taping Prairie Home Companion at the renovated Fitzgerald Theatre. Information: prairiehome.org; 651-290-1221.
• To arrange a walking tour of Summit Avenue, where gracious old homes line pleasant streets, call 651-297-2555. Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald can grab a city map and stroll past places that represent highlights of his life, including his drinking haunt, the University Club.
Contact: stpaul.gov; 651-265-4900.
4. Topeka, Kan.
// From John Brown’s battle for the abolition of slavery to the 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka has been home to key figures. All are highlighted at various Topeka attractions. Throw in low prices for food and lodging and some family-friendly attractions, and Topeka could make for an intriguing weekend visit.
See & do: The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site & Museum provides information about the suit that ended with the Supreme Court ruling that white- and black-only schools were unconstitutional.
• The First Presbyterian Church is worth visiting for the Tiffany stained-glass windows designed under the supervision of Louis Tiffany himself.
Sleep: Brickyard Barn Inn, (brickyardbarninn.com ; 877-234-BARN) occupies a converted 1927 dairy barn with rooms furnished with English antiques. Breakfast — usually highlighted by a custard French toast, vegetable frittata, or three-cheese omelet — is included.
• The Woodward, (thewoodward.com ; 785-354-7111) has six separate historic inns on a single street in Topeka. The main building is a Gothic Tudor mansion built in 1923. Room rates include breakfast and evening dessert.
Eat: Boss Hawg’s Barbecue has won numerous state and regional awards. Its motto: “Horrifying vegetarians since 1995.”
• Drive up to Bobo’s Drive-in, where carhops take your order and deliver food to your auto. Recently featured on the Food Network, it’s known for homemade apple pies and onion rings, made fresh daily.
// The investment of more than $2 billion in private and public funds over recent years has so completely transformed downtown Milwaukee that the old sitcom girls Laverne and Shirley would no longer recognize it.
The brick warehouses and aging piers along the river now house trendy restaurants along an attractive river walk. Yet, the city hasn’t abandoned its roots: Beer, sports, and motorcycles remain.
See & do: Even the outside of the Milwaukee Art Museum is dazzling. Internationally renowned architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava created an addition that features a pair of enormous, angelic white wings made of steel and concrete that open and close.
• The Harley-Davidson Museum tells the 105-year-old history of the world’s most famous and beloved motorcycle. Displayed Harleys include one owned by Elvis Presley.
Eat: For hip and trendy eats, there’s Roots Restaurant and Cellar, where organic, locally grown ingredients end up in beautiful-to-behold gourmet-quality entrees.
• Hearty German food can be found at the 106-year-old Mader’s. John F. Kennedy is among the presidents who’ve dined here.
• Consider trying authentic Serbian food at the down-home, offbeat Three Brothers. Stuffed cabbage, hand-rolled sausages and phyllo filled with meat,
spinach, and cheese are served at 1950s-style kitchen tables.
Sleep: The Pfister (pfisterhotel.com; 800-472-4403) was billed as the “Grand Hotel of the West” when it opened in 1893 as the most lavish hotel of its time. It routinely wins Four Diamonds from AAA.
• Iron Horse Hotel ( heironhorsehotel.com; 888-543-4766) is opening soon in a 100-year-old renovated warehouse. The hotel will welcome all comers, but is built to accommodate bikers, with tough leather furniture, hooks for jackets, and covered parking.