Midwest Travel Ideas

So Jakeline and I have begun some very preliminary discussions about travel plans for (hopefully) later this year. One of the ideas we’ve talked about is flying to Michigan. Part of the impetus is the fact that our friends’ parents live in a town just outside of Ann Arbor, and neither of us has really spent any time in that part of the country.

One of our thoughts was that it would be kind of cool to fly to Detroit, visit with the friends’ family for a little bit, then go on a bit of a road trip. We’d drive through Madison (we once read that this would be an ideal place for us to relocate someday), Chicago, and then up to Minneapolis, where we have a relative. Of those locations, we’ve only been to Chicago once before. We would presumably fly back home from Minneapolis. The trip would last maybe 7 - 10 days.

I guess all I’m asking for are your opinions on whether such an idea would be a fun thing to do, and what you might suggest is worth seeing and doing during such a trip. I realize the idea is vaguely formed, so feel free to ask me for more details if that would help you with a response. We’re just thinking out loud at this point.

Out of the places you mention, I’d spend the most time in Wisconsin. Maybe some of the other Michidopers will chime in, but for me, lower Michigan really isn’t much of a draw, tourist-wise.

Of course, it also depends on what you like to do. You mention a lot of cities - are you interested in city type things, or outdoorsy things, or something else…?

That said, here’s some random thoughts:

  • Ann Arbor by all reports is a cool town. I haven’t been there in ages, though, so can’t comment much.
  • You have two choices if you want to head to Minneapolis from Ann Arbor/Detroit. The southern way, which brings you through Chicago, is more direct. You can also go north, through the Upper Peninsula. Not so direct, but plenty scenic. You could hit Traverse City/Charlevoix area, Mackinac Island, and then drive through the UP. I like this way better, but I’m biased :smiley:
  • Madison is truly a great town, and is on the short lists of places I’d move if I ever leave where I’m at now. Plenty to do there, I highly recommend it.
  • I’d avoid the Green Bay/Appleton/Milwaukee corridor of Wisconsin, and instead concentrate on central Wisconsin. Door County is also nice.
  • Minneapolis is a great town, lots of fun. Check out a play while you’re there if that’s your thing. Spend some time just wandering around downtown and along the river.

I’ve only been to Madison once but I loved it. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant that had the best home fries ever – I left part of the excellent ribeye so I’d have room for all the taters. That’s a first.

I’ve been to a couple of concerts in Minneapolis and totally agree with what Athena said about downtown. It reminded me of Seattle, 30 years ago, great for walking around and people-watching. Plus they have Dreamhaven, an excellent fantasy-SF bookstore (although it’s not downtown).

A friend and her husband have discovered Duluth, Minnesota. I was agog. Duluth? They go a couple times a year and say it’s wonderful, although it’s getting more expensive, as more people discover its charms.


OK, forgive my lack of knowledge concerning Michigan’s geography. If we were to take the northern route, how close would that bring us to Canada’s border? Would it be feasible to make a short side trip across the line given the amount of vacation time we’d have? We’re certainly wanting to include “scenic” on any trip we take, so that aspect definitely appeals to me.

Seattle? SF bookstore? I’m liking the sound of this already – more info please! :smiley:

If driving through Wisconsin, I would recommend, in no particular order:

  1. Cave of the Mounds (Madison area).
  2. The House on the Rock (Spring Green area).
  3. Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio on the Wisconsin River. (Spring Green area)
  4. American Players Theatre June 10-October 8. (Spring Green area)
  5. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. (Northwest of Milwaukee, northeast of Madison)
  6. Devil’s Lake State Park (Baraboo area).
  7. Blue Mound State Park, the highest point in southern Wisconsin. (25 miles west of Madison)
  8. Wyalusing State Park, where the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers meet.
  9. Milwaukee County Zoo.
  10. Take a tour of the Wisconsin Capitol, then walk down State Street to the University of Wisconsin campus, and finish with lunch on the Memorial Union Terrace.

Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

I agree there is lots to see in Wisconsin - a beautiful state with lots of lakes and forests.

Chicago is the most underrated city in the entire USA…if it weren’t for the weather, it would be the number one tourist attraction! Great food, great theater and entertainment, some fantastic museums and art galleries, and the people are genuine and the public transportation is excellent. You probably should plan to spend a few days there at least!

About 80 miles southwest of Chicago is Starved Rock, a great state park and they also recently built a new lodge across from the park with some nice dining and water park and overnight lodging. The entire area is beautiful, on the Illinois River and great for at least a one night stay.

But have a great time - not many people choose those states for a vacation - a shame as there is some beautiful country and lots to do. Enjoy!

What is there to see/do in Traverse City? Just asking–my parents have a cabin in northern Michigan, and are always getting bored there.

It could bring you very close to Canada, if that’s what you want. But it’s not a particularly pretty part of Canada, although the Soo Locks are kinda cool if you’re into that sort of thing.

Here’s some ideas:

From Ann Arbor (or Detroit), drive north ~4.5 hours to Traverse City. Spend a day or two there, checking out the wineries and strolling around the town.

Next, head a couple hours north to Mackinac. Spend some time, maybe even a night, on Mackinac Island. It’s a laid back island only accessible by ferry. Cars are not allowed, so there’s lots of horse drawn carriages, that sort of thing.

From there, it’s only about another 1.5 hours to Sault Ste. Marie (Michigan or Canada, take your pick). Take a ride through the Sault locks. Go to the duty-free store on the Canada side.

Next, head west through the UP. This whole part is very scenic, especially if you pick the right roads. Laughing Whitefish Point is the closest site to where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down, and there’s a nice museum there. It’s also a major area for birdwatching, if you’re at all into that. You can also check out Tahquamenon Falls, a very pretty state park with some beautiful waterfalls.

A little further along is Grand Marais, a lazy summer town with a great harbor. Also of interest is Munising, with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore close by. You can take a boat tour of the huge cliffs and rock formations.

On from there, you head into Marquette, the biggest town in the UP. It’s a good place to rest for a night, and there’s nice beaches, great mountain biking, and some good hikes if you like that kind of stuff. You can check out the local whitefish/trout at the local restaurants, or have a pasty if you’re brave. There’s also many different small festivals and events that you might catch if you come at the right time, including a multi-day Bluegrass Festival, A Blues festival, an Art festival (with actually some really nice art/crafts, it’s not kitschy at all), some food festivals (which are kitschy, but it’s fun to hang out at the harbor, have a beer, watch the bands, and eat deep-fried twinkies.)

Head West from there, and you’re in Wisconsin in a couple hours. Marquette to Madison is ~5 hours. Door County is a little closer.

I’ve left out all kinds of state parks, scenic areas, and such - not sure if that’s what you want or not. But that’s the highlights of the northern route, or at least the UP bits.

Hijack on the “moving to Madison” idea: Speaking from experience of having lived in Madison for 5 years and having both friends and family who live there, do a lot of research into the job market in your chosen fields before making any big plans. Having this huge university there (~50,000 students) and being such a great place to live ensures a ready supply of newly-graduated people who will work for cheap because they have no job experience and want to continue living there. I met a ton of people with master’s degrees and higher who were waiters, coffeehouse baristas, and taxi drivers. My sister-in-law who’s an experienced lawyer spent a year or so living there before she could get a job, and unfortunately they moved there before she really started applying.

Dreamhaven here. They’re very nice. We called them from the downtown hotel and got directions to the store, and there was a parking spot right in front! On a Saturday morning! One of the clerks is a friend of George R. R. Martin and we picked up a signed first of Boy’s Life (Robert McCammon) for $25.

As for downtown, we were in an area where the restaurants and bars had outdoor tables, near Planet Hollywood, but I don’t remember the street names. We also wandered around a downtown mall (not the super mall) that had neat stores and an indoor courtyard. I swear, except for the lack of rain, we could have been in Seattle. It had that feel.

What do you like to do?

Visit the Maritime Mueseum when in Duluth. You’ll find Items on every thing to do with the Coast Guard, shipping, wreaks, history, and ecology of the area and Lake Superior. Superior Wisconsin is across the bridge from Duluth.

I love the Apositle Islands and the couple counties at the top of Wisconsin.

Madisonian checking in…

If you come to the cheese state, my would not miss items would be, group by what’s close to each other.

Devil’s Lake near Baraboo.
Wollershiem Winery in Sauk (not for from Baraboo)
Wi Dells Boat Tours in Wi Dells (touristy but really pretty)

New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus (Imagine that. Try the Spotted Cow!)
The Glarner Stueb Restaurant in New Glarus (Roessti potatoes and Fondue!)
Monroe Cheese Factory in Monroe (really awesome cheese and take a tour)

State St in Madison
The Memorial Union at the bottom of State (Babcock Hall ice cream by the lake)
Walk Picnic Point Trail along the lake from the Mem. Union.

And one thing I would tell you to do is go into any Wi Tavern that is not in a bigger town after 9 and have fun. Don’t worry the locals won’t bite, your not cheese flavored.

The Detroit Airport is 30 minutes from the Canadian border town of Windsor . And you can stop off in Mexicantown, downtown Detroit, just shy of the Canadian border before you cross over. :smiley: Bring your certified Birth Certificate or passport before you cross or you may be turned back. :frowning:

You assume too much. :wink:

First of all, my thanks to all of you for the wonderful suggestions. I had no idea how much I was missing in terms of what to see and do.

More specifically, I’ll start by saying :smack: in regards to not having thought about the cheese aspect of Wisconsin. I wish I could have recorded a sound file of me saying, “Ch-cheese f-factory??” with the subsequent drooling and slurping sounds. Talk about a must!

Parks with waterfalls and visiting locks are wonderful ideas as well, as we both very much enjoy the beauty of nature, even if only in small doses at times (you’re talking to people who walked up to the Grand Canyon, went “Wow!” and stared in awe for about 5 minutes, and then were done).

Um, what’s a pasty, and why does it require bravery to consume?

Sounds like our kind of place! Wonderful. We’d probably also try to catch a taping of “A Prairie Home Companion” while we were there.

What is the particular appeal for you there? Natural beauty, or a things-to-do spot?

That will be a concern for us no matter where we decide to go, but thanks for relating the personal experience. It is the one thing that scares me about moving away from a major metropolitan area. What’s the population of Madison?

Again, thanks to all of you. If you’ve got 'em, keep 'em coming. Nobody has said anything that we would rule out (pending finding out what a “pasty” is). We’re very open to ideas.

A pasty looks much like a large empanada, filled with potatoes, steak, and perhaps rutabegas. They’re often served with ketchup (yuk) or with gravy (yum). Cornish in origin, they are a traditional food in the UP of Michigan, favored by the miners who could take them deep into the mines with them for a hearty lunch.

I second Door County. It’s one of our favorite places for a long weekend.

Here in Madison, several other people covered a lot of my suggestions, but I have a few to add:

  • If you’re into architecture, visit Monona Terrace (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright). It has a beautiful view of the lake.
  • Other brewpubs in the area: the Great Dane, Capital Brewery, Angelic Brewery. Good food all around.
  • For restaurants, try Quivey’s Grove, Himal Chuli, Monty’s Blue Plate.
  • Monroe Street and Williamson Street/Atwood Avenue are fun for shopping and people watching.

And the state parks around here are great. If you’re into hiking, I recommend Governor Dodge (in Dodgeville, about 40 minutes from Madison). There are tons of trails to choose from, and all of them offer something a little different.

If you move here, welcome! It’s true that the job market can be a little difficult, but it’s so worth it because of the lifestyle.

The city of Madison is about 220,000; Dane County, which basically defines the metropolitan area, has around 450,000.

Although I don’t have good suggetions, I like this thread because as a relative newcomer to Madison I also want to hear all the regional suggestions!

When are you planning on making the trip? THE make or break factor in any mid-western road trip is the weather.

There’s a couple critical questions to answer before getting to deep into this.

  1. What do you like to do when you travel.

  2. When are you coming? In other words what weather are planning for?

Taking the northern route is very scenic, I especially like the northwoods of Wisconsin. However there’s simply very little to do. Looking out the windows as you drive will be great, but in the end it’ll be 600+ miles of woods and topography. That’d suck IMHO, and by taking the southern route you still get a good taste of that type of scenery while going between Madison and Minneapolis. I especially like the Lacrosse area.

A few things to hit.

Saugatuck, MI - Very kitschy, quaint little resort town. Lots of fudge shops, antiques, and a nice harbor. Very much like what you’ll find in Door County and parts of the Mackinac area.

Chicago - A no-brainer. Depends if you’re looking for the city experience or the resort/rural one. You could easily spend 7 days here, just depends if that’s what you’re looking for.

Starved Rock, IL - Cool resort area with granite cliffs and boating. A little out of the way, but not too bad.

Wisconsin Dells, WI - Very touristy, but there’s no shortage of crap to do. Similar geography to Starved Rock.

Madison - Already been covered, fun town. College town.

Minneapolis - Another excellent and underrated city.

So I suppose you should prioritize your goals. If you’re city folks who like that atmosphere, you have to spend extra time in Chicago. Minneapolis is cool, but it’s no substitute for Chicago. Say 3 days in Chicago, 1 in Minneapolis. If you enjoy small secluded resort towns, bed and breakfasts, scenery, hikes, etc, then you might want to look into that type of stuff. Unfortunately it seems difficult to do both at once in a weeks time, things are spread out and the urban sprawl of the 3 big cities you’re close to mean you’ll have to go out of your way to find nature.

In response to the questions about what time of year we’d be visiting…

…the answer is wide open. There are a couple of schools of thought. We almost always travel right around our anniversary, which is early April, and we found a killer deal from LA to Detroit at that time ($240 per person, round trip, including taxes and other fees) which makes it attractive. We would also really like to travel at the same time our friends are going back to see the parents, which is mid-June. However, it’s more expensive to do it then. And although it wouldn’t scare me off, I’d be leery of the heat/humidity factor, as I am a wimp in temperatures above 80 degrees (don’t ask me why I live in LA).

Beyond that, we’re open to whenever. I’m sure we wouldn’t want to do it in the very dead of winter, but I wouldn’t be opposed to encountering some snow. Jakeline may feel differently about this, though. :smiley:

As for what we want to do, I really don’t know. We are open to the “urban” experience because it’s still something different and some place we haven’t been. The exception to this, again, is Chicago. We both loved the city the one time we went, but if we were trying to see multiple places, I don’t think either of us would feel the need to spend several days there. We’d probably rather spend more time in the places we hadn’t been (Michigan at large and Minneapolis). Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Jakeline popped in here and provided more specifics that I’m not able to.

However, the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life was when we were in Chicago, and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reliving that experience. There’s still plenty of the city we haven’t seen.