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The Arts
Jul 01, 2013

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Great Getaways

Top spots to visit this summer—all within a day's drive.
Story: Matt Sorrell

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Central Canal photo by Lavengood Photography

243 miles from STL • Airport: Indianapolis International Airport

Even when it's not hosting the Indianapolis 500 Memorial Day weekend, this bustling metropolis is still running at top speed. The city has a selection of six cultural districts that house the best of its entertainment, dining and shopping experiences. The savvy visitor can hit several at a time on the new Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a 7.5-mile bike and pedestrian path that connects five of these districts: Fountain Square, home to the vintage bowling venue Action Duckpin Bowl; Indiana Avenue, an icon of African-American culture that once hosted the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald and remains home to a variety of music venues; Mass Ave, rife with arts attractions like the IndyFringe Theatre Festival, Aug. 15-25; The Canal and White River State Park, where you can explore the area via an authentic Italian gondola; and the Wholesale District, home to the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Be sure to sample from the city’s eclectic craft brewery scene with the likes of Sun King Brew- ing Co., Broad Ripple Brewpub and Black Swan Brewpub—or better yet, jump on The Indy Brew Bus. (They’ll even keep your growler cold for you onboard!)


Oval Beach photo by Felicia Fairchild.

407 miles from STL • Closest Airport: Gerald R. Ford International Airport (Grand Rapids, MI)

The towns are considered the state's premier beach destinations, and for good reason— Saugatuck's Oval Beach was rated by Conde Naste's Traveler Magazine as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world. Boat charters are readily available for both fishing and sailing, so it's easy to take advantage of all that pristine water. It's also the self-proclaimed Art Coast of Michigan, providing artists with plenty of inspiration—so it’s no surprise that there's an abundance of galleries and artist studios where visitors can admire and purchase the fruits of their labors. (Don’t miss the Discovery Art Center, the oldest local artist co-op in town, featuring 14 island artists.) When it comes to accommodations, you can’t beat the quaint and comfy B&Bs, like the Seymour House, which boasts 11 acres and all the amenities of a traditional B&B in a brick Italianate-style home circa 1862.


Miller Brewery photo courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee.

373 miles from STL • Airport: General Mitchell International Airport

Just 90 miles from Chicago, Milwaukee might be the largest city in Wisconsin, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. It has many of the attractions and amenities of the bustling urban area to its south, but without the accompanying sprawl— and it's extremely walkable. Take a stroll along the RiverWalk, which winds along the Milwaukee River for a couple of miles through the heart of the city. While you're taking in the skyline, enjoy RiverSculpture!, an outdoor art gallery along the walk that features permanent and rotating installations from national, regional and local artists. RiverWalk is also the site of numerous events throughout the year, from live music to aquatic competitions like the Milwaukee River Challenge, which brings in rowers from across the Midwest each September. If you don't feel like exploring on foot, take in the sights on a river cruise, and discover why Outside Magazine named Milwaukee one of the best river towns in America. Back on dry land, check out the Harley Davidson Museum or head over to the Miller Brewery and learn about the beer that made Milwaukee famous.


Gibson Guitar Factory photo by Steve Roberts.

248 miles from STL • Airport: Memphis International Airport

Sure, Memphis is known for its world-class barbecue—and rightfully so—but there’s plenty around town to keep you busy between bites. Fuel up at Charles Vergo's Rendezvous for your proper fix of Memphis barbecue culture before reveling in Memphis' musical heritage with a visit to the Gibson Guitar Factory to see how the company turns out its iconic axes. Don't miss Sun Records, the birthplace of rock and roll, and the Stax Museum, which celebrates the city's status as a soul music mecca. And, of course, no music fan can go to Memphis without a visit to Elvis' Graceland. Get a sense of the history of the city with a visit to the Civil Rights Museum, located in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, or the Mud Island River Park and Mississippi River Museum, which commemorate the importance of the river to the city's growth and prosperity.


Tootsie's Orchid Lounge photo by Kris D'Amico.

308 miles from STL • Airport: Nashville International Airport

Nashville is Music City—the place where all aspiring songwriters have to trek at least once to see if they've got what it takes to make it big. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, in addition to other famous venues like the Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Opry) and Music City’s signature honky-tonks, including Robert's Western World, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and Paradise Park Trailer Resort. But tunes aren't the only thing going on in Nashville. The city also has a burgeoning culinary scene that's well worth exploring. Dine at cutting-edge restaurants like The Catbird Seat, quaff craft cocktails at watering holes like the adjacent Patterson House and enjoy top-notch gourmet burgers at The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden. Culinary fans on the move can hit up The Filling Station and get their growlers filled with craft brews to-go before discovering what the city's numerous food trucks are serving up (and where) at nashfoodtrucks.com.


Chicago skyline photo courtesy of Chicago Convention & Visitors Bureau.

297 miles from STL • Airport: Chicago O'Hare

Chicago is the third largest US city, so trying to figure out what to do on a visit there can be overwhelming, to say the least. Streamline your itinerary to avoid overload. During the summer months, the city is home to an abundance of festivals that are perfect for planning a trip around, including Taste of Chicago (July 10-14); Pitchfork Music Fest (July 19-21); the Chicago Air and Water Show (Aug. 17-18); and the Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival (Aug. 22-Sept. 2). Park yourself on a series of famous barstools on one of the Chicago History Museum’s History Pub Crawls, or climb aboard and explore one of the city's vibrant neighborhoods on an L Tour. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers tours of the city's most important buildings, including one by boat on the Chicago River that features 50 of the city's most important edifices. There is also a variety of tours that sports fans can get in on, like the guided tours available behind the scenes of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.


Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial photo by Dan Kerron.

848 miles from STL • Airport: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Home of the South by Southwest Music Festival, Austin is widely regarded as the ultimate live music destination—as proven by iconic venues like the Continental Club, where Stevie Ray Vaughan honed his chops; Antone's, home of the blues; and The Broken Spoke, which keeps the flame of honky-tonk and western swing alive. The city is also a bastion of diversity, as the home of the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, dedicated to the history and culture of African-Americans, and the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center. Foodies will have no shortage of places to indulge their appetites—from Franklin Barbecue, famous for its brisket and the never-ending line of hungry customers, to the new high-end eatery Congress, by “Iron Chef” contestant and James Beard Award nominee David Bull. As if all this weren't enough, Austin is also in the heart of the not-to-be-underrated Texas wine country, with approximately 30 wineries within just a short drive of the city limits.


408 miles from STL • Closest Airport: Dane County Regional Airport (Madison, WI)

Like many great summertime getaway spots, water is the main attraction here. The Wisconsin Dells’ abundant natural resources and sprawling state parks make it easy to enjoy the great outdoors. Be sure to get out on the water, whether it's fishing on Lake Delton, parasailing on the Wisconsin River or paddling in Mirror Lake State Park. Take a river tour by amphibious vehicles called Ducks or by river boat or jet boat. Then, hop on a horse or hitch a ride on a horse-drawn wagon to explore the area’s narrow canyons. You can even ride the rails through some of the most colorful countryside in Wisconsin, courtesy of a historic steam-powered train. They don’t call it the Water Park Capital of the World for nothing. The Dells boasts some of the most elaborate water parks in the country, many connected to lodging and lots of additional family fun. Four of them offer day passes (many others require a resort stay), including the well-known Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Parks.


Mall of America photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis.

560 miles from STL • Airport: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

The Twin Cities are the perfect destination for groups or couples who have, let's say, differing interests—there's definitely something for everyone here. Nearby lakes Minnetonka and Waconia offer all of the outdoor recreation anyone could desire, from hiking and biking to boating and fishing at areas like Lake Waconia Regional Park, while the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington boasts some 500 stores and the mall-based Nickelodeon Universe theme park, complete with a roller coaster. Visitors can experience the Minneapolis Riverfront via its amazing parks (we recommend Nicollet Island Park, with its view of the first dam on the Mississippi), and culinarians will feel right at home on Eat Street, thanks to its selection of eateries running the gamut from the West African fare of Akwaaba Restaurant to the eclectic Asian offerings at Gangchen Bar & Restaurant and beyond. All of the Twin Cities’ attractions are easily accessed on two wheels. In fact, Minneapolis was recently named one of the top 50 most bike-friendly cities in the US by Bicycle Magazine.


Fourth Street photo by Dan Dry.

261 miles from STL • Airport: Louisville International Airport

Louisville gets ample attention each May for the Kentucky Derby, but the city has a lot going on year-round. Inside the city proper, check out the vibrant Fourth Street Entertainment District, which boasts a variety of dining, retail and entertainment options—don't miss The Kill Devil Club, which features a cocktail menu from KC's own Ryan Maybee of The Reiger Hotel Grill & Exchange fame. As a tribute to its river town roots, visitors can take a cruise on the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating steamboat of its type in the world that has been traveling the Ohio River since 1963. A trip to Louisville wouldn’t be complete without also paying tribute to the city’s own Muhammad Ali. (The champ opened the Muhammad Ali Center downtown in 2005.) Of course, Kentucky is famous for its fine bourbons and horses, making Louisville the perfect base of operations for day trips to nearby distilleries like Buffalo Trace and the area's many thoroughbred farms.


South End Lighthouse photo courtesty of Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce.

622 miles from STL to Charlevoix, MI, then take the ferry to Beaver Island

If you're looking for solitude, Beaver Island is the perfect destination. Located 30 miles off the coast of Lake Michigan and bound by historic lighthouses on either end, the island is just 13 miles long and six miles wide, giving it the feel of a private resort. But while the island is secluded for sure, there's also plenty to do. Beaver Island is known for its plentiful fishing and outdoor recreational opportunities, from hunting and camping to boating and beach fun. Be sure to check out the scenery from above in a WWII-era Army bi-plane trainer, courtesy of Marshall Aviation's Beaver Island Scenic Adventure Rides. Or simply enjoy the relative isolation of the island from one of the natural beaches. Hint: There might be some reception issues with cell phones and other electronic devices, so check with your carrier before heading out—unless, of course, you want to go completely off the grid.


Bourbon Street photo by Richard Nowitz.

677 miles from STL • Airport: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

One of the most unique and historic of American cities, New Orleans is much more than just Carnival and the revelry of the French Quarter after dark. Get out to the neighborhoods and check out some of the fabulous architecture, like the Victorian splendor of the Garden District, which includes famous residences like Anne Rice's former digs and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor's one-time pad. The city is known for its historic cemeteries, as well, and day trips reveal the splendor of nearby plantations like Twin Oaks in Natchez, LA. As the home of classic libations like the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, The Big Easy also has a rich cocktail history. Take the Gray Line walking tour of some of the city's most famous bars if you’re really thirsty, or explore the funky shopping opportunities on Magazine Street at emporiums like Girl Is A Gun for vintage frocks and H. Rault for fine antiquities. NOLA has long been a bastion of LGBT acceptance, and the city hosts a variety of festivals that celebrate this community, like Southern Decadence, Aug. 28-Sept. 2.


Aquapalooza photo courtesty of funlake.com.

188 miles from STL

Missouri might be land-locked, but it does boast the largest man-made lake in the country. The ever-popular Lake of the Ozarks offers top-notch boating, fishing and other water- bound activities along its 1,150 miles of shoreline. But there's lots to do back on land as well, like visiting area wineries and exploring the castle ruins, trails and caves at Ha Ha Tonka State Park (also accessible by water). Main Street Music Hall offers Branson-style musical variety shows for those seeking quality entertainment, and anyone who likes to shop till they drop will be in heaven at nearby Osage Beach Premium Outlets, which house 110 retailers offering deep discounts on brands like BCBG, Coach, Polo and more. Likewise, vintage bargain hunters will have a field day at the area's antique stores and flea markets.


American Jazz Museum photo courtesy of Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.

248 miles from STL • Airport: Kansas City International Airport

Long revered by barbecue and jazz fans, Kansas City has recently garnered accolades as one of the country's major new cocktail cities as well. The Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, featuring some of the most respected spirits pros in the country, happens Aug. 21-25 and is a great way to experience the city's emerging cocktail culture. Sports fans never have a shortage of games to watch in KC—case in point: the Major League Soccer All-Star game is hosted on July 31 at Livestrong Sporting Park. Art-lovers should note that the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is featuring an exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through mid-August, a show that will surely draw regional and national attention. While you’re there, don’t miss the American Jazz Museum, celebrating KCs legacy as one of the cornerstones of the art form, and the adjacent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, showcasing the history of those who played in this segregated league.

Day Trips

Hannibal, MO
(117 miles from STL)
Visiting this scenic riverfront town, the boyhood home of Mark Twain and the inspiration for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” is like stepping back in time.

New Haven, MO
(64 miles from STL)
Nestled on the banks of the Missouri River, New Haven is just minutes from several of the area's best wineries. It's also home to Cedar Creek resort, complete with a seven-acre fishing lake, nine-hole golf course and various hiking trails.

Meramec Caverns
(65 miles from STL)
The largest of Missouri's commercial caves is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Tours of the spectacular caverns are available year-round.

Bonne Terre, MO
(59 miles from STL)
Originally a center of lead mining in the area, Bonne Terre is now known for its parks and outdoor activities. Who would’ve thought that one of the old mines, now underwater, is a popular SCUBA destination?

Elephant Rocks State Park, Belleview, MO
(89 miles from STL) The main attractions are the elephantine granite boulders that provide plenty of climbing fun, as well as history—many 19th-century miners carved their names in the surface of the rocks.

Great River Road, Alton, IL
(24 miles from STL)
This scenic route stretches from Alton, IL, to Grafton, IL. In addition to the stunning scenery that includes soaring bluffs, there's plenty of antiquing to be done along the way.

Springfield, IL
(97 miles from STL)
The state capital and former home of Abraham Lincoln, this hamlet is full of historical sites, as well as prime shopping opportunities.

Cahokia Mounds State Park, Collinsville, IL
(11 miles from STL)
Experts believe that Cahokia was larger in size than London circa 1250 AD. Explore this settlement and its wide variety of structures built by ancient Native Americans.

Hermann, MO
(81 miles from STL)
Settled in 1837 by German immigrants, this picturesque town on the banks of the Missouri River is known for its abundance of wineries and quaint shops.

Augusta, MO & Defiance, MO
(38 miles from STL)
These two neighboring towns just west of St. Louis are home to some of the finest wineries in the area. They’re also premier biking destinations, thanks to their proximity to the Katy Trail.

Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton, IL
(44 miles from STL) Located on the Great River Road, this park's bluffs boast gorgeous views of the Illinois River. It's also famous for its wintering population of bald eagles.

Related Stories:
If You Build It...
New to Town: Foodie Field Trips
Drinkers' Guide to STL

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