Often touted as “flyover states,” the Midwest doesn’t get half the credit it deserves. Forgotten in favor of big cities like New York and L.A., these Midwest cities have so much to offer — often at half the price of their coastal neighbors. Hang out in any of these locales and you’re bound to see what you’ve been missing. From established craft brewery scenes to delicious regional dishes, all with the history to match, these off-beat cities are sure to surprise you.
Perched on the Ohio River, Cincinnati is often overshadowed by neighbors Cleveland and Columbus. But Ohio's third “C” city is steeped in history, an exciting food scene, beautiful river views, and unique neighborhoods. The “Queen City” also has some of the richest history in the Midwest. It was once at the heart of the Underground Railroad, a history that can be explored at the acclaimed Underground Railroad Museum that sits on the banks of the river. Cincinnati was also one of America’s first wine-growing regions, producing the coveted golden wine.
The city has a strong German heritage that lives on today in neighborhoods like Covington and Over-the-Rhine, as well as in traditions like the annual Zinzinnati Oktoberfest, the largest and best of its kind in America. Cincinnati’s plentiful breweries are also a sign of the past. With over 80 craft brewers in the tri-state area, there’s plenty to pick from, but Rhinegeist’s experimental brews and cool factory vibes is one of the trendiest spots in town. Pair all this with ample green spaces, like the stunning Washington Park, pro sports teams, including the oldest baseball team in America, famous architecture, and fun activities like paddleboat cruises and the Cincinnati Museum Center, and it's a wonder more people aren’t flocking to the city for a weekend getaway.
Gracing the western shores of Lake Michigan, “Brew City” got its start as a booming brewing town and was the birthplace of American beer legends like Miller and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Despite being in the Midwest, Milwaukee has coastal scenery and sprawling lakefront views that stretch the length of the city, rivaling any ocean-front town. The true showstopper of a trip to Milltown is all things culinary and it's no secret that the Midwest is known for having calorie-dense specialties. How else are you supposed to survive those frigid winters? Pop into Solly’s for their famous butter burgers or Kopp’s for frozen custard. No trip to Wisconsin is complete without popping a few fried cheese curds, too.
Aside from delicious treats, Milwaukee is also well known for its cultural treasures. The Milwaukee Art Museum is an intricate masterpiece in itself and holds almost 25,000 pieces while architecture lovers will love strolling the halls of the Pabst Mansion, a Flemish Renaissance Revival-style home that belonged to, you guessed it, the Pabst family.
Straddling the line between the Midwest and the Western U.S., Nebraska is one of those states that’s often forgotten. As the Cornhusker State's largest city, Omaha sits right on the line between Nebraska and Iowa, divided by the great Missouri River. In fact, Lewis and Clark sailed right past what would become modern-day Omaha during their expedition.
Omaha has over a dozen neighborhoods to explore including Little Bohemia and Old Market, both with plenty to explore. One of the best ways to get acquainted with the city, and learn a little more about its history, is at the Durham Museum which tells the story of Omaha, all held within the stunning Omaha Union Station. If you’re looking to see a more natural side of the city head over to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. This is a great way to get an elevated view of the city and the surrounding prairie landscapes. You can also take to the skies, soaring above the Serengeti at Omaha Zoo’s Skyfari experience.
Fargo, North Dakota
Perhaps best known as the setting of the film and TV show of the same name, Fargo is more than its Hollywood status as a middle-of-nowhere town. An eccentric art community, history mecca, and farmer’s market haven come summer, the city was once dubbed the “Gateway to the West” due to its strategic location along the Northern Pacific Railway. Today, Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota and rapidly growing.
Situated on the edge of the Great Plains, Fargo was also at the crossroads of both Sioux and Scandinavian heritage. You can uncover this unique past at the Plains Art Museum or the Hjemkomst Center, which has a replica Viking ship. Norwegian culture further comes to life at the authentic Norwegian Stave Church which is located just outside town in Fargo’s twin city of Moorehead. Those who want to continue exploring the town’s Scandinavian roots through food should seek out knoephla, tiny dumplings in a creamy soup, and savory cheese buttons. Street art and the town's iconic painted bison further seal the deal that this is one of the most unique cities in the entire U.S. With so many amazing things to do, and eat, it's no wonder the city slogan is “North of Normal.”
The capital of the “Hoosier State,” Indy is a city of superlatives. It holds the largest single-day sporting event in the entire world, the Indy 500, and has the most monuments of any city in America, besides Washington D.C. It’s also home to the world’s largest children’s museum, but that’s not the only reason this is also a great place for a family getaway. Fun kid activities like Treasures of the Earth, where children can explore like Indiana Jones, and Playscape, an interactive museum dedicated to playing with water and sand, are just a few things you can experience.
Unlike most major cities in the U.S., Indianapolis isn’t situated on a navigable body of water. Instead, a manmade series of canals that was originally dug in the 1800s, snakes its way through town. The Canal Walk makes for a beautiful stroll in the warmer months, lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. You can even get out on the water with paddle boats, rented from the nearby Indiana State Museum, or just admire the canal from your perch along its shore with a cocktail in hand. Before you leave town, don’t miss out on the towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the heart of downtown.