Skip to Content

20 Best Midwest Vacation Spots

While many people prefer the East or West Coast of the United States, the Midwest has many incredible vacation destinations that travelers shouldn’t overlook. 

Whether you’re looking for bustling metropolitans with dazzling skyscrapers and vibrant nightlife or a peaceful getaway by lakes and mountains, the Midwest has it all. While the states are not as warm as their counterparts in the South, there is no shortage of outdoor activities. The Midwest is famous for its friendly people and Midwest hospitality, as well as its rich cuisine and music festivals.

This region has famous monuments and history museums, and artists will appreciate the many galleries with both modern and ancient artwork. It has several family-friendly destinations, with attractions like waterparks, zoos, and campgrounds that all ages will enjoy. If you’re looking for your next place to visit, try one of these amazing Midwest vacation spots.

Best Midwest Vacations

1. Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is located on a peninsula that lies in Eastern Wisconsin. There are miles of shoreline to explore as it sits between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, and plenty of activities for nature lovers.

The county is home to several parks, including Peninsula State Park and Cave Point County Park. Travelers can enjoy everything from hiking, kayaking, camping, and boating with the whole family. If you’re a wine lover, plan a day of wine tasting at Door County’s beautiful wineries. And don’t forget to take home a bottle of wine as a souvenir! 

For an authentic Door County culinary experience, find a restaurant that offers fish boils. It’s a traditional meal in this part of Wisconsin and I’d highly recommend it. Visitors can tour some of the several lighthouses along the peninsula. You can check them out from the lake on a boat or go visit them up close. 

Some lighthouses have even been transformed into museums. At the Peninsula Players Theatre, you can enjoy a show in the country’s oldest theaters hidden in the woods on the lakeside.

Door County is the ideal Midwest destination during the summer and autumn seasons with all its natural beauty. Most of the restaurants and places are closed during the winter since the snowstorms are harsh.  

Door County Sister Bay

2. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of the most iconic Midwest travel destinations. With towering skyscrapers overlooking Lake Michigan, art museums, and a diverse restaurant scene, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy.

Chicago Bean

Every Chicago visitor needs a picture with the popular Cloud Gate sculpture, otherwise known as the “The Bean.” We of course had to do it too. You can find it at Millenium Park, a sprawling 25-acre park with unique art displays and stunning landscapes. We typically see people playing music around the park, and it’s an attraction all on its own. 

A trip to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city from above. Head to 360 Chicago Observation Deck at the John Hancock Center or the Willis Tower’s Skydeck for a panoramic view of the city 

During your stay, you can also check out some of the city’s art museums, like The Art Institute of Chicago but my personal favorite was the Museum of Science and Industry. This huge museum takes almost 2.5+ hours to explore in full and typically includes free tickets to its shows in the dome theater upon paying admission. 

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago has a diverse restaurant scene, with everything from delicious casual eats to high-end gourmet restaurants. But one of Chicago’s most famous dishes is the classic deep-dish Chicago-style pizza, so don’t leave without giving it a try!

Downtown Chicago

3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis is known for its breathtaking lakes and its arts scene. The city can be found near the southeastern part of Minnesota and is close to the border of Wisconsin. 

Visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to see interesting sculptures and pretty landscapes. Another unique park to visit is Mill Ruins Park, where you can see remnants of the city’s old flour mills and factories and learn about the area’s history. The Stone Arch Bridge is another historical spot and is supposedly the second oldest remaining bridge across the Mississippi River. 

Art enthusiasts will find an abundance of museums to visit, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This museum has no admissions cost, with artwork from all over the world and pieces from different eras over the last 5000 years. The Walker Art Center is another must-see collection with fascinating and quirky contemporary art.

Their Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the United States. Many of us from Wisconsin often make the expedition to visit it. Here you can shop to your heart’s content, visit the Nickelodeon Universe indoor amusement park, try out a flight simulation ride, and visit the SEA Life Minnesota Aquarium.

Travelers who enjoy the outdoors can do a trip to Minnehaha Regional Park. It takes you a distance away from the busy city into a peaceful nature area for hiking and visiting an iconic and beautiful waterfall. 

Minneapolis Spoon Bridge

4. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is one of the most diverse cities and home to prominent sports teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. With hot summers and very cold winters, you can plan activities at different points of the season. 

Be sure to take a tour of the Milwaukee Art Museum, from inside and outside, since it’s quite an architectural piece with wings that open up at different times of the day. Another unique place to see is the Harley-Davidson Museum. 

If you’re a sports fan, you can catch a Bucks or Brewers game while in town. The city’s successful sports teams are passionately supported by local fans, making the crowds go lively.  I can’t begin to describe how packed the outside of the Bucks’ arena was when they were in the playoffs. 

When you come to Brew City, you need to do a tour of one of the city’s many breweries, especially the Lakefront Brewery. Milwaukee also has some fantastic restaurants and some dishes the city is renowned for including cheese curds, fish fry, and frozen custard. 

Near the south side of Milwaukee, you will also find beautiful Domes that house tropical plants from all over the world. 

Milwaukee, WI

5. Put-in-Bay, Ohio

Put-in-Bay is found on South Bass Island in Lake Erie off the northern coast of Ohio. This small village is a historical location as it was a Navy operations base during the War of 1812. The Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial serve as a remembrance of the Battle of Lake Erie, which was an astounding United States victory. 

Nowadays, Put-in-Bay is a quiet Midwest destination for families. It’s a peaceful town where you can spend time relaxing on the lake and taking in the scenery of the area. At Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center, you can enjoy the natural limestone caves, mine gemstones, and climb the rock wall. 

Adults can spend a day at one of the town’s wineries tasting wine. Look at the event calendar for the town since it’s a popping place to be during the summer with festivals and fun activities. 

Put In Bay

6. Rockford, Illinois

You can find Rockford in the northern part of Illinois, almost bordering Wisconsin. 

If you like being outdoors, head to Rock Cut State Park, where you can camp, hike, kayak, bike, and spot local wildlife. Camping at the park is one of the most unforgettable memories I have of the city. There are designated camping spots that have everything you need, with posted grills and bathrooms in the vicinity. 

At the Burpee Museum of Natural History, you can check out a dinosaur exhibit. Another place of interest for travelers is the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens, a historic house where you can see Swiss-inspired buildings and a pre-Columbian Native American conical mound. 

Rockford is well-known for its gorgeous Anderson Japanese Gardens. They’re the perfect place for a peaceful, reflective walk through a beautiful outdoor landscape with the Rock River right next to them. 

For another distinct garden experience, visit Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, which has indoor tropical gardens and a gorgeous patio area. There are also a few great golf courses in Rockford, like the Aldeen Golf Club. Another fun fact about Rockford is that there seems to be an endless supply of storage facilities here. 

Rockford, Ill, Anderson Gardens

7. Indianapolis, Indiana

Racing fans will recognize this iconic Indiana city right away. Home to the Indianapolis 500 race, Indy as it’s commonly called, is known as the heart of motorsports. You’ll want to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on your trip to look at some cool cars and racing memorabilia. 

But if you’re not a car racing fan, don’t worry! There are plenty of other things to do in Indianapolis. Take a trip to Monument Circle in the center of the city to see the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. At White River State Park, you can walk or bike the trails on the waterfront for some fresh air and exercise. Eagle Creek Park is another peaceful park with waterways, walking trails, and even zip lines for the adventurer. 

Indianapolis is also home to one-of-a-kind museums, like the Eiteljorg Museum, where you can learn about Native American culture and art. If you have kids, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a must-visit, with an incredible dinosaur exhibit and planetarium.

There is also a thriving restaurant and brewery scene. Whether you’re into racing or not, there’s plenty to enjoy in Indianapolis.


8. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks is a gorgeous lake area in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. Since Lake activities are the main attraction here, try everything from water skiing to tubing and kayaking.

On special holidays, you can see boat races and fireworks. Get a fishing license and bring your fishing gear to catch fish anywhere from shore or on a boat.  

The popular Ha Ha Tonka State Park has hiking trails to explore, sinkholes to see, and other attractions like a burnt down 20th century mansion. Make time for the open-air Amphitheater and catch a music show or other events. 

For a fun day with the whole family, head to Big Surf Water Park and try the exciting water rides and slides to cool down. From golfing to horseback riding, there are activities for all ages. You can’t deny that Lake of the Ozarks is up there as one of the best places to visit in the Midwest.

Lake of the Ozarks

9. Cincinnati, Ohio

The bustling city of Cincinnati can be found in the center of Ohio next to the Ohio River. It’s another gem for tourists coming to the Midwest. Cincinnati is famous for its historic art deco architecture, beer, and being home to the first professional baseball team in the country, the Cincinnati Reds. 

A themed riverboat cruise is an iconic activity you can’t miss. The option is there whether you prefer a sightseeing cruise or a romantic evening cruise complete with dinner. Visit Findlay Market to get some fresh bread, delicious meats, and colorful produce, as well as browse the art vendors’ stalls for a souvenir to take home. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is another fun thing to do with kids. 

Cincinnati is also home to lots of museums, like the Cincinnati Art Museum, which was founded in 1881 and is home to European works from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. If you’re looking for something a bit more unique, the American Sign Museum has a flashy, quirky collection of signs and also displays some equipment used to manufacture them. 

Cincinnati has everything from fascinating museums to trendy restaurants and peaceful parks.

Cincinnati Ohio

10. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and home to the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. The building is famed for its architecture and is open for public tours the vast majority of the time.  On the waterfront, visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, where you can enjoy the fresh air and exotic plants and flowers. 

We stayed at The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club last time we came to Madison, and it provides a beautiful view of the building in case you’re looking for a place to stay in Wisconsin. 

Head to Lake Monona or Lake Mendota to take in the lake views, go kayaking, or ride a bike since it’s one of the most bicycle-friendly cities. If you prefer indoor activities, check out some of the city’s many museums, like the Chazen Museum of Art or Madison Children’s Museum. 

No trip to Wisconsin would be complete without trying some of its infamous cheese, so don’t forget to get some cheese curds at CurdGirl while you’re there! Add Milwaukee to your road trip itinerary if you want to explore another great city in Wisconsin.

Madison Capitol Building

11. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island transports you to another time as you won’t see a single car in sight here. Cars are banned on the island, so plan to travel by horse instead of catching an Uber. Explore Mackinac State Park’s trails and see its scenic Arch Rock. 

There is much to do on the island, from booking a Great Turtle kayaking tour to a carriage tour and exploring some of its hiking trails. The island is also home to two butterfly houses and an art museum. It’s certainly a unique choice to spend time in the Midwest, as you probably won’t find many places like it.  

Mackinac Island

12. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells offers one of the best Midwest vacations for families. The city’s Noah’s Ark waterpark is the largest outdoor waterpark in the country, while The Wilderness Resort is the country’s largest indoor waterpark. Downtown Wisconsin Dells has boat tours you can go on, including their scary ghost boat tour.

The city of Wisconsin Dells offers more than just water parks too, with spas like the Delton Grand Resort Spa and Sundara Inn & Spa, making it a good place for an adult vacation. The downtown area is filled with pubs and unique stores like Ripleys Believe It Or Not. You can also attend a magic show at the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater. 

rick wilcox theater

If you’re heading to Wisconsin Dells in the winter, head to the Christmas Mountain Village, where you can enjoy activities like skiing, snow tubing, and golfing. It also has the Wisconsin Deer Park for visitors looking to feed some deer. The city is home to all-inclusive resorts in Wisconsin with waterparks like the Chula Vista Resort.

Wisconsin Dells Ripleys

13. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids is a riverside city that’s actually world-famous for producing fine furniture. But there are plenty of things to see in Grand Rapids besides fancy desks. The city is home to a number of interesting attractions with beautiful gardens. 

The Grand Rapids Art Museum houses impressive art collections from the Renaissance period down to the modern day. The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, where exotic flora meets sculptured art, is worth a visit. 

At Fulton Street Farmers Market, you can grab some fresh produce and baked goods when the weather’s warm. In the evening, hit one of the city’s more than 80+ breweries for dinner and a beer.

Grand Rapids Dam

14. Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines is a hub for the insurance industry in the U.S., which to be honest, sounds a bit boring. But the reality is that Des Moines has plenty of other things to see for midwesterners. The capital city of Iowa is a diverse and exciting destination with attractions for everyone.

During your visit, you can tour the Capitol Building, a historical landmark crowned with a massive 275-foot gold-leafed dome. The city also has an extensive trail system where you can go on a walk or a bike ride. 

Enjoy spending a day at the art museums and head to the Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park for a day of admiring unique artwork. You can catch a concert, musical, or dance performance at Des Moines Civic Center. Science fans young and old, should visit the Science Center of Iowa, an interactive and educational experience for the whole family with engaging exhibits and a planetarium. 

The Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market has hundreds of vendors and is a fun spot to walk around and try produce from local farms. I’m sure we all know that Iowa is quite well-known for its vast countryside. 

With many museums, parks, and restaurants to visit, there’s nothing boring about Des Moines! If you’re a bicyclist, the High Trestle Trail Bridge is quite the structure.

Des Moine High Trestle Trail Bridge

15. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Looking for a lakeside vacation destination with lots of outdoor activities? Lake Geneva is the perfect romantic spot! One of our favorite activities was seeing the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre. I had never visited a magic show before this one and it certainly lived up to the hype. 

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva’s pristine waters are its main attraction, and the resort town has plenty of beaches to spend a day on the lake, including Big Foot Beach State Park. Rent a boat, picnic on the shore, or go swimming and enjoy the beautiful lake to the full during your trip. You can also stay in a lakeside hotel like I did with the Delavan Lake Resort. 

If you’re looking for land activities, head to the Royal Oak Farm Orchard for apple picking and fall fun. At Lake Geneva Adventures, go on an adrenaline-filled zipline tour or challenge yourself to complete the high ropes obstacle course. While we had initially booked tickets for it, we didn’t get to do it since it was canceled due to the weather. 

One thing you need to do in Lake Geneva is go to Safari Lake Geneva. On a car tour, you can feed many animals like bison and ostriches. I’d recommend being careful around the bison since it didn’t have many manners when we fed it.

Lake Geneva Safari

16. Omaha, Nebraska

Nebraska likely brings to mind corn fields and grazing cows, as agriculture is a thriving industry in the state. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for tourists to enjoy. In fact, Nebraska is rich in history and culture, and its largest city, Omaha, is the perfect place to experience it all. 

The Old Market is a historic neighborhood and a picture-worthy spot where you can grab a bite to eat and browse the unique shops lining the cobbled streets.

One of the best things to do in Omaha is visit the Durham Museum. Learn about the history of the western region of the U.S. in the historic Union Station building, which was once a train station. Marvel at the architecture and landscapes of the Joslyn Castle & Gardens, a Scottish Baronial-style mansion built in 1903.  

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is among the top zoos in the country, with incredible indoor and outdoor exhibits, including the world’s largest indoor desert. Walk the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and stand in two states at once on the border between Nebraska and Iowa. 

Omaha also has an awesome culinary scene, with plenty of farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, and of course the infamous Omaha Steaks. Adults can have fun here as there is plenty of nightlife in Omaha with bars, live music, and more entertainment for the night owls in your travel group. 

Omaha downtown

17. St. Louis, Missouri

Found alongside the Mississippi River, St. Louis is one of Missouri’s biggest cities. It’s famous for its barbecue and blues music. History buffs will appreciate Gateway Arch National Park, which is near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

Baseball fans can catch a Cardinal’s game at the Busch Stadium. You can also escape the city and go explore Forest Park, a 1300-acre green space perfect for picnics, bike riding, and just taking a relaxing stroll. Within the park, you can find some of St. Louis’s iconic museums and attractions, like the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, and the World’s Fair Pavilion.

Head to Soulard Farmers Market for fresh food and flowers and a taste of St. Louis’s history. When you’re in St. Louis, you can’t leave it without first trying its iconic barbecue. So in the evening, I recommend you check out the restaurants for an authentic St. Louis experience.

St Louis arch

18. Black Hills, South Dakota 

The Black Hills is a mountain range in South Dakota where travelers can see the iconic National monument of Mount Rushmore. The impressive attraction is a wonder of engineering, and you can learn all about it at the Mount Rushmore visitor center. 

What might be surprising to find out is that Mount Rushmore isn’t the only National Monument carved into these mountains. The Crazy Horse Memorial is another huge mountain monument that depicts a Native American warrior known as Crazy Horse. This one, however, is still under construction and has been since 1948.

After you visit the monuments, go see the amazing nature in the Black Hills. Custer State Park is a great place to start. Here you will see wildlife from buffalo, deer, prairie dogs, mountain goats, and many others. You can go for the day or camp overnight inside the park. Wind Cave National Park is another unique attraction where you can tour a huge network of box work caves.

Black Hills is the perfect Midwest destination to explore wildlife, landscapes, and interesting monuments with the whole family.

Black Hill Mt Rushmore

19. Traverse City, Michigan

People who enjoy spending time in the outdoors will like Traverse City. It’s easygoing compared to the big cities in the Midwest. 

One of Traverse City’s main tourist attractions is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where travelers can experience gorgeous sandy beaches, picturesque views of Lake Michigan, and forest trails teeming with local wildlife. If you prefer to go out on the lake, rent a boat or book a trip and enjoy a day out on the water.

Traverse City is considered the Cherry Capital of the World, so if they’re in season, be sure to get some fresh cherries or go pick them yourself at a local orchard. But cherries aren’t the only fruit that thrives here. The city is also home to a number of vineyards and wineries, like Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Add a relaxing evening of wine tasting to your itinerary. 

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is an old mental hospital complex built in the 1800s that’s been converted into a dining and shopping spot. At the Dennos Museum Center, marvel at the different exhibits, including a one-of-a-kind collection of Inuit art. 

Clinch Park is one of the city’s most popular beaches, with amenities like picnic tables to spend a comfortable day at the beach. Traverse City is also home to eight historic lighthouses if you’re into those. 

Traverse City

20. Kansas City, Kansas

This Kansas City is located in Kansas (as opposed to its Missouri counterpart) and is the third largest city in the state. Sports fans have no shortage of teams to root for, with the Superbowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs making it their home. Racing also plays a big part as Nascar enthusiasts can attend a race at the Kansas Speedway. If you’re more of a soccer fan, buy a ticket to go see Sporting Kansas City. 

You can stay at everything from luxurious resorts to all-inclusive resort stays. Take your kiddos to an amusement or water park and watch them have fun. Visit the Kansas City Plaza if you’re looking to do some shopping with the family. 

Overall, Kansas City is a great spot for families, sports enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a good time right in the center of the Midwest. 

Kansas City Scout Statue

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *