Because before there was Dubai, there was Chicago. Some of the greatest architects, from Louis Sullivan to Frank Gehry, have left their imprint on Chicago. And the skyline continues to evolve. The best way to keep up with the changes: a riverboat tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which takes you through the city’s past and into the future. Plans are also under way for Santiago Calatrava’s twisting, 2,000-foot Chicago Spire, set for completion in 2011.
Because lakes have beaches too. Untouched shorelines?Check. Rolling dunes?Check. Scenic views of Lake Michigan?Check. Just an hour outside of Chicago sits the Midwest’s answer to Cape Cod: Indiana Dunes, a stretch of lakeshore with eight powdery beaches and a 17,249-acre preserve. Visitors can climb several of the dunes, hike the preserve’s trails, and swim in the lake.
Because of the hopping literary scene. Since 1922, aspiring authors have come to Iowa City (pop. 63,000) to enroll in the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a pioneering program of fiction and poetry writing. Flannery O’Connor glided through, as did Raymond Carver and T. Coraghessan Boyle, and more recent stars like Michael Cunningham, ZZ Packer, and Adam Haslett. The town is also home to Prairie Lights, an independent bookstore and local institution; it hosts at least three major-league readings every week and broadcasts the events on public radio. This year, the store celebrates its 30-year anniversary with a line-up as ambitious as ever: Ethan Canin, Marilynne Robinson, Francine Prose, and Amy Bloom.
Because avant-garde art and architecture are giving the Great Plains a new edge. When the small but striking Kyu Sung Woo–designed Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art recently held its opening gala in Overland Park, 13 miles from downtown Kansas City, the sight of New York’s art-world luminaries descending en masse on the heartland surprised no one. This was, after all, just the latest addition to the Kansas City area’s buzzing art scene, which in the last couple of years has witnessed Stephen Holl’s addition to the city’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (just across the border in Missouri) and the transformation of the Crossroads district into a gallery-filled square mile. It’s all enough to make you feel like you’re not in Kansas (City) anymore.
Because Mackinac Island is timeless. It’s not as though this six-square-mile island at the juncture of lakes Huron and Michigan is immune to change. The 41-year-old Mustang Lounge, a local watering hole, just reopened after a complete renovation. And every couple of years, the legendary 1887 Grand Hotel unveils an addition, such as the Gate House restaurant, where gentlemen can finally dine sans coat and tie. But with a ban on motorized vehicles and a position as a National Historic Landmark to maintain, Mackinac’s sensibility is decidedly traditional—just the way we like it.
Because paddling is fun. If you were dragged to the Boundary Waters as a child, maybe you remember more portaging of canoes than you’d care to. Go as an adult and you’ll find Minnesota’s sprawling northern wilderness an enchanted world of glassy lakes, glacier-carved cliffs, and pristine boreal forests. Arrange a guided trip with Wilderness Outfitters, the area’s top tour operator.
Because we love pigs. What’s the most prized animal in the country these days?The Berkshire pig, whose meat is found on the menus of ingredient-driven restaurants from Momofuku in New York to Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Those kitchens have to fly in their supplies, but chef Jonathan Justus, owner of the farm-to-table restaurant Justus Drugstore in the little town of Smithville, only has to drive a few miles to pick up his. It’s this ideal location, paired with Justus’s “make it from scratch” philosophy, that has made his year-old restaurant the apotheosis of locavore dining. On the menu this summer: the pig (naturally), served with a blueberry-ginger sauce and heirloom polenta from nearby War Eagle Mill.
Because sometimes you have to travel all the way to Omaha to find the perfect accessory. “This city is buzzing,” says former InStyle fashion editor Alice Kim, who left New York last year to set up shop in Omaha’s up-and-coming Old Market area. Her boutique Trocadero holds an eclectic mix of Kim’s favorite things (Giuseppe Zanotti pumps; John Derian decoupage plates). The walls, meanwhile, are lined with fashion-show invitations and notes from her designer friends, including Thakoon Panichgul, who was raised in Omaha himself.
9 of 15Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Gerald Blank
Because of the underrated beauty. Travelers looking to experience North Dakota’s memorable skies (and landscapes) should head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park where you can hike more than 100 miles of trails and tour the former president’s cabin—he lived here in 1884 while working as a cowboy. Take along the upcoming State by State (October, Ecco), an anthology of essays edited by Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland. In it, Louise Erdrich writes about her home state, North Dakota. Here, a preview in her own words: “Shattering, spectacular, inescapable. The North Dakota sky is a former tallgrass prairie heaven tarp that stretches down on every side and quiets the mind. In the summer, distance melts off into mirage, a jitter of shaking air on hot dust. When the sun is magnified by a dust storm, it can fill the sky like a nuclear dawn. Sounds travel as far as the ear allows. Vision stretches as far as the eye can strain. Pure sky pulls you right out of yourself and yet bears down so close it seems crushing.”
Because in Cleveland, Old World meets new kids on the block. Combine alternative gallery owners, steelworkers, celebrity chefs, and transplants from the Old Country, and you get an idea of Cleveland’s Tremont district. Hidden among Russian Orthodox churches, blue-collar bars, and Polish restaurants like the 85-year-old Sokolowski’s University Inn, you’ll find newly opened hipster hangouts. After dinner at Michael “Iron Chef” Symon’s Mediterranean-style bistro Lolita, everyone heads to Prosperity Social Club, a late-night lounge and pool hall.
Because you can still get your kicks on Route 66.Pops—a combination gas station, diner, and soda shop north of Oklahoma City—has added a futuristic twist to that iconic highway. With its dramatic cantilevered steel canopy and 66-foot bottle sign, the store is impossible to miss from the road. Inside, more than 400 different sodas line the walls, making this the fizziest pit stop in all of Oklahoma.
Because of the Badlands, of course. Immortalized in Terrence Malick’s bleak 1973 film, the arid Badlands, which stretch south and west from South Dakota’s 244,000-acre Badlands National Park, have a reputation that precedes them. But this austere, otherworldly landscape also offers surprises for first-time visitors: fossil beds that are up to 37 million years old, and numerous free-roaming bison, fox, and bighorn sheep.
Because of the Appalachian twang. For 25 years, the Mountain Stage radio program, broadcast out of Charleston, West Virginia, has been the premier venue for up-and-coming musicians. The performances, which are open to the public at the Cultural Center Theater have helped regional talents—from legendary guitarist Doc Watson to country-folk singer Iris Dement—reach a broader audience. This year, keep an eye out for the Punch Brothers and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Because who can resist a good camp classic? Northern Wisconsin’s favorite wilderness retreat, Canoe Bay, has upped the ante for lakeside cottages with four recently opened cabins. The striking two-story structures blend a modern aesthetic (cathedral ceilings; panoramic windows) with sustainable design and old-fashioned comfort. Cedar decks incorporate recycled wood, fireplaces are made from local stone, and Arts and Crafts–style rugs keep things cozy.