The shores of the Great Lakes are peppered with vibrant urban areas, charming small towns, and beautiful parks and beaches. Discover them for yourself on this family-friendly road trip through five states where you’ll encounter countless adventures, delicious cuisine and the famously friendly Midwestern spirit. What you need: a comfortable pair of walking shoes, a good collection of road-trip tunes and a hearty appetite.
Start your journey by flying into Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s General Mitchell International Airport and picking up a rental car. Milwaukee is a charming city known for its brewing traditions and scenic location where three rivers meet Lake Michigan. Take in the waterfront 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, Milwaukee’s Arts and Fashion District. 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.
A little over 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 offer insight into the history of the city’s towering skyscrapers and historic buildings. 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 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.
The drive from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio offers a glimpse of charming, small-town life in the Midwest. Once you arrive, there’s plenty to see and do – visit a popular historic district by stopping by the city’s German Village or enjoy an urban oasis on the riverfront when you stroll down the new Scioto Mile. In the evening, check out one of the city’s microbreweries or take advantage of its lively music scene at one of the local clubs.
On the way, Michael Jackson fans will want to stop in Gary, Indiana – the birthplace of the King of Pop – to hike the rolling sand dunes or relax on the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Southwest of Columbus, you’ll find your next stop: Cincinnati, Ohio, which boasts a variety of family-friendly attractions like the world-famous 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.
Drive northeast and you’ll find Grand Haven, Michigan, where the Musical Fountain delights locals and visitors alike on summer weekends with displays of water, lights and music. Get your body moving on a hike in one of the area’s many parks or on a gorgeous bike trail along the lake. If it’s sunny, don’t miss the beaches or a fishing trip. Make sure to take a walk around the boardwalk and visit the Grand Haven Lighthouse.
Head east across the heart of Michigan through farmland dotted with small, quaint towns to Detroit. Separated from Canada by the Detroit River, which flows from scenic Lake St. Claire into Lake Erie, “Motor City” Detroit is an iconic stop for your Great Lakes road trip. During the early and mid-20th century, this Michigan city was the center 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 is also known for its contribution to U.S. music culture. It’s most famous for Motown, but the city was also important to Techno, Hip Hop and other genres. While in town, stop by the Motown Museum, housed in a recording studio where gold records were cut by music legends like the Jackson 5, the Temptations and the Supremes. A visit here will help you find your groove for the last leg of the drive to Indianapolis.
Your road trip will end in Indianapolis, Indiana. Take a break from your car and watch the professionals 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. Here you’ll also find popular attractions like 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. When your appetite for the road is satisfied, return your car at Indianapolis International Airport before heading home.
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