When I talk to travelers from Australia, the UK, Germany, or anywhere else that is not America about visiting the United States, they always rattle off a short list of the U.S. cities that they have visited or plan to visit. New York. Los Angeles. Miami. Las Vegas. Maybe San Francisco or Washington D.C. if they are extra adventurous.
Even though these cities are pretty cool, a U.S. itinerary that only includes them is incredibly incomplete. I mean, America is a HUGE country. And limiting yourself to only large, well-known cities on the coasts is really doing the rest of the United States a great disservice.
As a born-and-raised Midwestern girl, I’m always a bit miffed that foreign travelers tend to skip over my part of the country. Yes, we have lots of cornfields and cows. But Middle-America also has some gems that I think visitors would really enjoy if they actually took the time to visit them.
The Windy City is slowly being added to more travelers’ American bucket lists. But it is still nowhere near as popular as it could (and perhaps should) be. Sure, it’s a bit harsh in the winter. But during the other seasons Chicago is pretty awesome. With great public transportation, cool neighborhoods, and impressive architecture, there’s more to do and see in Chicago than most people realize.
- Get a view: See the city from above at either the Willis Tower Skydeck or the John Hancock Observatory. Both offer great views of downtown Chicago.
- Grab a bite: Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza – grab a slice at Gino’s East, Giordano’s, or (my favorite) Pizano’s.
- Go to a museum: Chicago has plenty of cool museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry (my favorite) and the Field Museum (they have dinosaurs!).
- Get on the water: Sure you can get out on Lake Michigan, but did you know you can also cruise down the Chicago River? I recommend a Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour.
- Catch a game: Head to Wrigley Field to catch a Cub’s game in the National League’s oldest ballpark in the U.S. Or try to spy the latest Stanley Cup champs (the Blackhawks) in action.
- Go out: Chicago has great nightlife – catch live Blues, or some of the city’s famous improv shows any night of the week.
A little further south, the “Gateway to the West” is also a fun U.S. city that is often overlooked. It gets super hot and humid here in the summer months, but St. Louis is nevertheless a great stop in Middle America. With plenty of history and a quirky vibe (not to mention a nice spot on the Mississippi River), I’ll bet you didn’t know you can:
- Get a view: You can’t visit St. Louis without taking a ride up the 630-foot Gateway Arch. It will give you fantastic views over the city and the river.
- Grab a bite: Famous St. Louis foods include “St. Louis pizza” made with Provel cheese (try some from Imo’s) and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (try a “cement”).
- Go to a museum: St. Louis has the requisite art and history museums, but if you want something a bit different, head to the City Museum, which is akin to a giant playground.
- Get on the water: You can’t come this close to the Mississippi without getting out on it. Try a riverboat cruise near the Gateway Arch.
- Catch a game: Want some sporting action? Why not catch a Cardinals baseball game – they’re one of the oldest franchises in the MLB.
- Go out: St. Louis boasts great jazz, blues, and even ragtime.
Lastly, I’ve put Pittsburgh on this list. This Pennsylvania city had a rough time during the fall of steel mills in the 1980s, but has come a long way in the last couple of decades. Today Pittsburgh is usually named one of the most “livable” cities in America – and I also think it might be one of the most underrated.
- Get a view: Head up the Duquesne Incline to see the “three points” from atop Mount Washington. From here you will also understand why Pittsburgh is known as “the City of Bridges.”
- Grab a bite: Grab an overflowing sandwich at Primanti Brothers – and be sure to go to the original location in the Strip District.
- Go to a museum: Pittsburgh has great museums, including three Carnegie institutions (history, art, and science), and even a whole museum dedicated to the art of Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol.
- Get on the water: With not one, not two, but THREE rivers flowing through it, there’s actually a lot of water around Pittsburgh. Book a sightseeing cruise on the Gateway Clipper to learn more about the city.
- Catch a game: Pittsburgh LOVES its spots. Steelers (football), Pirates (baseball), and Penguins (hockey) games are always fun.
- Go out: For a fun night out, head to Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side.
So are you surprised? I’ll bet you didn’t know you could do all of these things in Middle America. Now that you know, though, don’t skip this part of the U.S. next time!
What is your favorite city in the Midwest?