The Midwest boasts a variety of attributes, though it’s not often associated with extravagant summer getaways. Instead, its claim to fame lies in affordability. A significant portion of the “most budget-friendly cities in the United States” are situated in the Midwest. It seems like the trick is finding something fun to do in the flyover states, or at least fun enough to keep people from flying away.
St Louis Vacations
There was a time before trains when riverboats were king, and St Louis was the premier city in the Midwest. Of course, it was the “Gateway to the West” in those times and still holds on to some of its pioneering spirit today, including the iconic Gateway Arch. To paraphrase – a pioneering spirit embiggens the smallest man. That’s a perfectly cromulent thing to say in St Louis because of the thriving culture still with cosmopolitan roots from when St Louis was America’s crossroads.
St Louis is well connected to Midwestern cities by roads and a reasonable distance for weekend getaways. When you arrive, pick your hotel well as a base for your adventure because each neighborhood offers different things to do. Absolute budget travelers will enjoy the St Louis Zoo, perhaps the best free zoo in the country. Urban explorers will want to stay downtown for the Arch and riverfront attractions, while others might want to get closer to Six Flags, a first-class coaster park.
You’ve seen Jim Carrey fly to Nebraska in Yes Man, but the quintessential Midwestern travel movie has to be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris rode to the top of the Sears Tower, visited the Art Institute of Chicago, and took in a game at Wrigley Field – all classic Chicago things to do. If they ever remake Ferris, he’ll probably take a selfie at The Bean. Chicago is America’s 3rd largest city, with seventy-seven distinct Community Areas, so plenty of urban adventures are around.
Chicago grew because of its premier overland connectivity, so driving there is easy. Flying is as well with two major airports and the L-Train to take you around when you land. The hotels and restaurants are lower priced than in New York or Boston, and some people say Lakeside Park and the Navy Pier can go toe-to-toe with Central Park or the Boston Commons. In any event, there’s plenty to do in the Windy City to put it in the lead-off position for Midwest Vacations.
Some say visiting Detroit for Devil’s Night is a riot, but they haven’t witnessed the Motor City Renaissance. Old favorites, like the Ford Museum and Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, are still draws, but with urban revival projects like the Eastern Market and a world-class sports and entertainment district, Detroit is getting rave reviews. Even the Heidelberg Project is bringing a ray of light to overcome urban blight. If you haven’t been to Motown lately, you really should go. Plus, you can’t beat the summer weather.
Detroit’s hotels and restaurants are a remarkable value, and there are many well-priced city tours as well. The airport has many Frontier and Spirit flights arriving from across the country, and it’s pretty close to drive to from most of the Midwest.
Upper Peninsula Getaways
If you point to home on your right mitten and talk about trolls living below the bridge, you must be a Yooper, don’t ya know. The Upper Peninsula has the most remote wilderness east of the Mississippi, from Isle Royale National Park, with more moose than people and remarkable diving at the Alger Underwater Preserve. Some of those people remark about how clear the water is and how well preserved the wrecks are; other’s just say how cold the water is. Even if you don’t brave the water, there are still plenty of hiking and scenic drives in the UP.
It’s hard not to have a budget vacation when you’re basing your vacation on road trips and outdoor recreation. However, you can even get a room on Mackinac Island for under $100 in the shoulder season. Oh, and by the way, fall is fabulous in the UP. Summers are pretty dang nice too, but be sure to pack your bug spray.
West Virginia Weekends
If you don’t want to drive across the country to the UP, take the country roads home to wild, wet, and wonderful West Virginia. The Gauley and New River are home to the east coast’s most extreme white water, and the New River Gorge has become an outdoor adrenaline playground, including the longest and fastest ziplines in the East. Don’t worry; there are plenty of hiking, paddling, and bike trails for the less amped outdoor lovers.
Like the UP, West Virginia vacations are naturally well-priced because you arrive by automobile and focus on outdoor adventures. You might want to save room in your budget for some big thrills, but that’s easy to get with the reasonable lodging offerings and a burn rate much lower than in big cities.
Lake of the Ozarks
The Lake of the Ozarks is conveniently located in the heart of Missouri, in the Heartland of America. It’s been called the “Best Recreational Lake in America.” Lake of the Ozarks has more shoreline than the entire California coast, so it’s a boater’s paradise. On land, visitors will enjoy the beaches of Lake of the Ozarks State Park and the stunning beauty of Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Lake of the Ozarks is a tremendous value, especially if you have a camper or a boat. Seemingly every cove offers some unique experience, from show caves to Caribbean-themed beaches. Lodging ranges from boutique hotels to golf and spa resorts and a surprising array of restaurants. Whether by land or water, Lake of the Ozarks is one of the top vacation destinations in the Midwest.
A wise man once said quantity has a quality all its own. Now, he might have been a genocidal dictator, but that’s not the point of this segue. It’s to say Branson earned its nickname of “Live Music Capital of the World” with over 100 live shows running at any given time. Branson has more seats than Broadway at much lower ticket prices.
Branson has just about every family-friendly entertainment option you could think of. That’s not to say there isn’t a romantic side to Branson as well. With just a little shopping, you can find boutique hotels at the edge of town and fabulous Ozark Mountain getaways like biking in Dogwood Canyon, spa days, wineries, and boating on Table Rock Lake. Of course, everything is remarkably affordable with all this competition, and Branson is within a day’s drive of 50% of the U.S. population.
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Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman aka Coleman Concierge. In a nutshell, we are a Huntsville-based Gen X couple sharing our stories of amazing adventures through activity-driven transformational and experiential travel.