Five Must Visit Destinations in the US Midwest

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I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the United States twice in my life, spending a little over three months road-tripping and romancing my way through fifteen of the country’s fifty states.

While I’ve hit some of the more iconic places such as New York City, Washington DC, the beaches of Florida and California, and hit a few less common tourist spots like Idaho and Maryland, the two big glaring omissions on my US travel ticket have been the southern US and the Midwest.

The United States of America is a big place with a variety of distinct cultures and landscapes, meaning a trip there is far more than just visiting a country and collecting the passport stamp. Both of my trips to the United States have been different and fascinating, and I know if I’m ever lucky enough to visit again I’ll be similarly amazed by the sheer variety of places to be experienced there.

Coastal American destinations usually grab the attention, but today it’s all about the American Midwest. Referred to as “flyover states” by coastal Americans accustomed to taking nonstop flights to either end of the country, the Midwest carries a reputation for being simple and backward.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as the following five culturally significant American Midwestern destinations prove:

Cleveland, Ohio

Sitting just on the far-east border of what is known as the American Midwest, the old rust-belt city of Cleveland, Ohio serves as a unique peek into the country’s past and present.

Classic mid-20th century downtown architecture towers over both Lake Erie and the city’s roughly 400,000 inhabitants. Intelligent urban planning allows for easy navigation to and from Cleveland’s many attractions including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the city’s highly praised Botanical Gardens.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a must for lovers of rock music. Photo by Tony Fischer.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a must for lovers of rock music. Photo by Tony Fischer.

Chickasaw Nation

Technically located in the mid-southernmost section of Oklahoma, the Chickasaw tribe is a federally-recognized Native American nation with their own constitution, economy, and centers for cultural appreciation and learning.

The story of the Chickasaw people and their forcible removal from native lands at the hands of the federal government is a sad chapter of American history more people should know about. Additionally, the Chickasaw Nation operates a wide variety of resorts, gaming institutions, and outdoor activities.

For those with an interest in America’s original inhabitants, it is a journey not only into their troubled past, but also into their regeneration in a rapidly developing world.

Austin, Texas

One of the most glaring absences on my list of states visited would have to be Texas. The Lone Star State is often described as being like Australia, and it seems a shame that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing it for myself.

It's no Sydney Harbour Bridge, but Austin's Pennybacker (Loop 360) bridge is pretty fine. Photo by Jim Nix.
It’s no Sydney Harbour Bridge, but Austin’s Pennybacker (Loop 360) bridge is pretty fine. Photo by Jim Nix.

“Keep Austin weird” is a slogan you’ll keep seeing plastered on bumper stickers if you ever visit the capital of the Lone Star State. Though originating with efforts to support the city’s small businesses the motto has become a statement referencing Austin culture’s stark contrast with that of the rest of the state. Much like Portland, Austin prides itself on being a cultural oasis in a much more conservative state.

The more traditional regions of Texas ought to be explored as well, but Austin is a one-stop destination for travellers looking for eclectic fun. It’s also host to a number of globally-recognized arts events such as the Austin Film Festival and South by Southwest.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis was once recognized as a city equal to New York and San Francisco. While it has not lived up to its previous reputation as one of the US’ cultural and financial pinnacles, there’s still plenty to be admired about this “big small town”.

If anything, St. Louis is worth visiting for a real-life look at the Gateway Arch, one of the shining examples of mid-20th century neofuturistic architecture perfected by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen.

St. Louis' Gateway Arch is as synonymous with American architecture as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building to my mind. Photo by Kelsey.
St. Louis’ Gateway Arch is as synonymous with American architecture as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building to my mind. Photo by Kelsey.

The city’s zoo remains one of the world’s highest regarded, and the art museum nearby is not in want of masterpieces and fascinating exhibits.

Chicago, Illinois

My sole foray into the Midwest has been a two day visit to Chicago in 2012. There to attend the wedding of two old friends, my visit was a blur of suit shopping, deep dish pizza, seeing The Dark Knight Rises, and attending the wedding in question.

I didn’t get to see such iconic Chicago sights as ‘the bean’ or Wrigley Field, so I’m definitely due a return visit someday.

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The Bean in Chicago is one of the stranger sights on my bucket list. Photo by Justin Kern.

De facto capital of the American Midwest, Chicago, Illinois is perhaps the only Midwestern city likely to be known the world over; thanks largely to a particular sporting team not named the Bears.

An impressively simple mass transit system accessed with relatively inexpensive passes allows for sandbox exploration of this massive American metropolis.

Two whole days could be devoted to the sights and sounds of the Navy Pier and surrounding museums. After that, try and catch a game at Wrigley Field or the United Center, depending on the season – though these days you might not want to count on seeing a home team win.

Your Say

The United States has a lot to offer. The coastal regions are packed with worldly destinations, but don’t underestimate the potential of the country’s Midwestern region. There’s no shortage of unique cities to explore and culture to absorb. Sure you can choose to fly over, but if so, you’re missing out.

What are your favourite spots in the Midwest?

Featured photo by Trey Ratcliff

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