Cool cities and small towns to visit in the Midwest

THE MIDWEST HAS beautiful landscapes, innovative restaurants, craft breweries, and vibrant towns. These iconic images seem so natural and right to so many people that they easily obscure the contingent and contested culture of the American Midwest. In accepting what the region has become and the image it projects (or what other people project onto it), we sometimes lose sight of its diversity, its exceptionalism, and the paths its residents have chosen not to follow.


“Prodesse quam conspici” (“To produce rather than to be conspicuous”), the motto of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is a fitting credo for the American Midwest as a whole. In the popular imagination, Midwesterners are generally considered proudly ordinary people who speak dialect-free American English and go about their business without fanfare or drama. Performers born there tend to leave, though pride in life and place is given a visible presence. Those who remain daily demonstrate the workings of a democratic culture that embodies what many people consider the fulfillment of the American Dream.


What it doesn’t have, however, is much of a marketing budget — and that means many folks don’t actually know how much the region has to offer. When California has a tourism budget that’s 25 times the size that of Iowa, you can see how the coasts manage to suck up all the attention. But never mind all that. In lieu of billboards, glossy magazine spreads, and Insta-influencers, let’s get down to it. Here are some of the coolest towns in the Midwest, brought to you by someone on the inside.


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