5 Small Town Getaways in the Midwest

Keep your miles and credit card points. If you’re a Midwesterner in desperate need of a weekend getaway, there are so many unique towns filled with gorgeous natural scenery, historical main streets and diverse dining options to escape the hustle and bustle of your daily routine.

Let us tell you about 5 of our favorites and why you should visit too.

Frankenmuth, Michigan 

Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, this picturesque little town is about 5 hours away from Chicago. Immigrants from Franconia, Germany settled here in 1855 and their heritage still lives on today.

Come for the Bavarian style architecture, the beer gardens, the German specialty shops and fun local events. The area itself is very peaceful and the drive from Chicago is quite beautiful. Lots of wineries and scenic spots along the way. 

Main attractions 
  • Historic downtown: Enjoy historic main street with fun shops and eateries. If you have time, take the Bavarian Belle Riverboat or a carriage ride around town.
  • Catch a local event: Check the calendar before you go. There are several events throughout the year, like the All Glow Balloon event in summer or Oktoberfest in the fall.
  • Frankenmuth Brewery: If you enjoy craft beer, enjoy a pint at one of the oldest breweries in Michigan.
  • River Place Shops: Enjoy more than 40 unique shops styled like a European village. Our favorite store was Enchanted Forest with lots of merchandise to create your own miniature fairy garden or hobbit shire.
  • Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland: This is the world’s largest Christmas store! And it’s beautiful inside. The store is organized by themes: Cookie ornaments, Baby ornaments, Hobby-related ornaments, etc.
Must Eat 
All-you-can-eat Chicken Dinners: You can go to both Zehnder’s or Oma’s at the Bavarian Inn, depending on your budget. (Oma’s is a bit cheaper.) And while you’re there, you should also try their authentic German specialties like Schnitzel and Sauerbraten.

Michigan City, Indiana 

Just a short 1.5-hour drive from Chicago, this small town on the south shore of Lake Michigan is most commonly known for its outlet mall and proximity to the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Michigan City is close enough for a quick day trip, yet it still has that small-town feel. Even on our way to another town in Michigan, we like to stop here to grab a quick bite to eat. It has a charming town center, beautiful views of the lake and beautiful Airbnb options in the area. 

Main attractions
  • Indiana Dunes National Park: Whether you want to enjoy a day at the beach, scout for rate species of birds or hike through 14 distinct trail systems, this offers miles of excitement and relaxation.
  • Friendship Botanical Gardens: Tucked through the beautiful valley of Trail Creek, this garden is home to muskrats, groundhogs, wild turkey and a diversity of wild life. Go for a hike or a fun picnic by Lake Lucerne.
  • Old Lighthouse Museum & Pier: If you’re into nautical history, this is a cool little museum to visit. Beautiful location too.
  • Washington Park Zoo: Founded in 1928, the zoo is home to 200 animals and fun recreational areas for the family.
  • Go bar hopping: There are plenty of options to enjoy a few cold ones, starting with the Shoreline Brewery, Sunset Grille or Matey’s.
Must Eat
The pizza at Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria: This family-owned business is tucked in a lush, quiet area of town and it’s the perfect stop to truly enjoy an evening of pizza and their signature sangria. We could be here for hours! Try their meatballs too!

Door County, Wisconsin 

Located between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County is known for its beautiful natural parks and the long strip of picturesque little towns along the shoreline. It takes a good 5 hours to get there from Chicago.

Door County has been called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and for a good reason. You’ll fall in love with the pristine beaches and each town’s unique personality, not to mention the variety of local farms and amazing food produced locally. You might need more than a weekend to get the most of it. 

Main attractions
  • Washington Island: Hop on the Ferry to this magical island, located 7 miles northeast of the tip of the peninsula. Start your day at Island and Bread Company for a farm-to-table breakfast. Then, climb 186 steps to the top of the island in Mountain Park for great views of the island.
  • Whitefish Dunes State Park & Cave Point Country Park: Both the beach area and rock formations in Cave Point are must stops during this trip.
  • Peninsula State Park: This is another beautiful park to hike, explore and enjoy great views.
  • Cherry picking: If you happen to be there during cherry season, stop by Lautenbach’s Orchard to pick your own or get a taste of their cherry wine.
  • Drink the local wine: There are lots of great wineries to choose from.
  • Waterfront Park: Located in Sister Bay, this is one of the best picnic spots on the peninsula.
  • Anderson Warehouse Graffiti: Stop by the town of Ephraim to take some selfies next to this funky gallery. It dates back to the 1800’s and its walls are covered with the names of sailors and visitors. It’s encouraged too.
Must Eat
Fish Boil: Scandinavian settlers brought this cooking method over a century ago. A huge pot of fresh white fish, potatoes and onions bubbles over an open fire. When the fish is done, a small amount of fuel oil is tossed under the pot causing the water and fish oils to boil over.

Swedish food: Located in the town of Sister Bay, you’ll find Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant by the unusual sights of goats grazing on its roof. It’s one of the most beloved restaurants in the area and locals go for their meatballs and Swedish pancakes.

Holland, Michigan 

About 3.5 hours from Chicago, on the shore of Lake Macatawa, you’ll find the city of Holland. It’s better known for its Tulip Time festival, drawing more than 500,000 visitors annually.

Come to learn more about its Dutch culture and heritage, and also to relax in one of the area’s pristine beaches. Also, if you love gardens and farms, this is a beautiful area to explore. Springtime is the most popular time to visit. 

Main attractions
  • Windmill Island Gardens: Transport yourselves to a field somewhere in Holland. Come here to enjoy the beautifully manicured gardens and take a guided tour of the DeZwaan windmill, the only working windmill in the country. There are also very cute shops with Dutch crafts and products.
  • Nelis’ Dutch Village: While this is primarily a Children’s park, it’s worth a visit for the traditional Dutch dancing performances and the specialty shops, including cheese shops and Dutch souvenirs. It also looks like a small Dutch village.
  • Local Market: This is one of the first things we did when we came here. Great place to grab some provisions for the day ahead. You also get a chance to learn more about what’s produced locally.
  • Lake Macatawa: While in Rome, make some time to relax by the beach and enjoy a picnic with the local produce.
  • Craft Brew and Wines: You’ll have a few options to choose from. We really enjoyed New Holland Brewing’s beer garden at Pub on 8.
  • Big Red Lighthouse: Looking for a beautiful Instagram approved spot? This is it! It’s right by the Holland Channel too with plenty of history.
  • Blueberry picking: If you happen to be there during blueberry season, stop by Bowerman Blueberry Farm to pick your own or try interesting treats at their shop.
Must Eat
The Balkenbrij at Pub on 8: The gastropub by New Holland Brewing is the mastermind behind this brilliant dish, a fried pork loaf topped with a sunny side up and a bed of braised cabbage. Get it with a pint of the local beer, of course.

New Glarus, Wisconsin 

Also known as America’s little Switzerland, New Glarus is a village in Green County, Wisconsin. It’s located 2 hours and 45 minutes from Chicago and 40 minutes from the city of Madison.

Get a taste of Swiss culture, including old-world style architecture, traditional eats and fun events. And because this town is a little secluded, you will truly feel like you’re in another country.

Main attractions
  • Swiss Historical Village: Learn about the village’s history by strolling through 14 different buildings showcasing how life was like when the settlers arrived. There’s an authentic 1850s log cabin and 1890s cheese factory, among other interesting buildings.
  • New Glarus Brewing Company: Enjoy a free self-guided tour and relax with a pint of beer at this beautiful property. The views of the village from here are incredible.
  • Historic downtown: You want to take your time exploring downtown. There are so many unique buildings and shops selling cheese, pastries, souvenirs and antiques.
  • Chalet of the Golden Fleece Museum: Built in 1937, this chalet is an authentic copy of a Swiss Bernese mountain chalet and it holds the unique collection of Edwin Barlow, founder of the Wilhelm Tell Drama — one of New Glarus’ most popular festivals.
Must Eat
Swiss Specialties at New Glarus Hotel Restaurant: Get a Swiss Sausage Platter, a Kaesechuechli or the Pork Geschnetzlets. Everything on the menu is good! And if you come for dinner time, you might be able to catch a music performance too!

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