The shores of the Great Lakes are peppered with vibrant urban areas, charming small towns and beautiful parks. Discover them for yourself on this 1,516-kilometer road trip through six states where you’ll encounter countless adventures, delicious cuisine and the friendly spirit for which the Midwest is known.
Starting Point: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Start your journey by flying into Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s General Mitchell International Airport. Here, you can rent a car before heading into the city. Milwaukee is a charming city known for its brewing traditions and beautiful location, where three rivers meet Lake Michigan. Enjoy both the beer and city’s scenery on a brewery boat tour on the Milwaukee River, where you can relax and soak in the sights while sipping locally crafted brews. Then devote some time to the shops, galleries and restaurants found in the Historic Third Ward. While here, be sure to stop by the Public Market, which is filled with some of Milwaukee’s best food vendors. This is a great place to stock up on snacks (like local sausage and cheese) before hitting the road.
Be Wowed By The Windy City
About an hour south of Milwaukee, Chicago, Illinois, dazzles with its stunning skyline, world-class museums and magnificent public art. Start your visit with an architecture cruise along the Chicago River; while on the water, knowledgeable docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation offer insight into the history of the city’s towering skyscrapers. Then, take a stroll along the Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue lined with designer shops and high-end restaurants. Follow Michigan Avenue south across the Chicago River to Millennium Park, home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (known as “The Bean”) to snap a photo of the skyline reflected in the curved steel. At the end of the day, enjoy a drink at Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, legendary for its potent cocktails and for its connections to Chicago’s notorious mob history.
Home Of The King Of Pop
The drive from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, offers a glimpse of charming, small-town life in the Midwest. On the way, stop in Gary, Indiana — the birthplace of legendary Pop singer Michael Jackson — to hike the rolling sand dunes or relax on the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. About two hours northeast you’ll find Grand Haven, Michigan, where the Musical Fountain delights locals and visitors alike on summer weekends with synchronized displays of water, lights and music.
Detour To Detroit
Rather than heading southeast from Grand Haven towards Columbus, take a detour due east across the heart of Michigan — through vast expanses of farmland and several small, quaint towns — to Detroit. Separated from Canada by the Detroit River, which flows from scenic Lake St. Claire into Lake Erie, Detroit makes a great stop for your Great Lakes road trip; after all, this is Motor City. During the early and mid-20th century, this Michigan city was the epicenter of the U.S. automobile industry. You can learn all about Detroit’s motor history at one of several automobile museums located around town.
Detroit’s other claim to fame is its music. The city welcomed the 1960s with a brand new sound: Motown. While in town, stop by the Motown Historical Museum, housed in a recording studio where gold records were cut by such music legends as the Jackson 5, the Temptations and the Supremes. A visit here will help you find your groove for the three-and-a-half-hour drive south through verdant Ohio farmland to Columbus.
Sports And Snacks In Ohio
The capital city of Ohio, Columbus boasts a vibrant atmosphere steeped in rich German heritage, which you can experience at Roscoe Village, a living history center located in nearby Coshocton. This scenic city on the Scioto River is home to one of the largest universities in the nation, Ohio State University. The school’s American football team, the Buckeyes, is a source of pride for many locals. If you’re passing through in the fall or winter, don your red shirt (that’s the team color) and cheer on the team in Ohio Stadium. To get a taste of the city, head to the North Market. Open since 1876, the indoor food hall houses more than 30 vendors serving barbecue, pizza and sausages, among other delicious foods.
An hour-and-a-half southwest of Columbus, Cincinnati, Ohio, boasts a variety of kid-friendly attractions, including the Cincinnati Zoo. The second-oldest zoo in the USA houses dozens of fascinating animals, including tigers, gorillas, elephants and sea lions. If you’re interested in baseball, be sure to stop by the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, or catch a game at the Great American Ballpark. When it’s time for dinner, seek out some Cincinnati-style chili, a Greek-inspired meat sauce typically served over spaghetti or a hot dog. Try a hearty serving at Skyline Chili.
End Of The Road: Indianapolis, Indiana
Your road trip will end two hours northwest of Cincinnati in Indianapolis, Indiana. Take a break from your car and watch the professionals drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the annual Indy 500 automobile race takes place every May. For a breath of fresh air, take a leisurely gondola ride along the city’s Central Canal, which meanders through the heart of White River State Park where you’ll find such popular attractions as the Indianapolis Zoo and the Indiana State Museum. Celebrate the end of your journey with dinner at St. Elmo Steak House, a landmark in downtown Indianapolis since 1902. With a satisfied appetite, return your car at Indianapolis International Airport before heading home.
What you need: A comfortable pair of walking shoes, a good collection of road-trip tunes and a hearty appetite.
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