Michiganders are pretty proud to call the mitten state home. Tattoos and T-shirts of the state outline, weekend staycations “up north,” brewery hopping from Founders to Shorts to Bell’s, coffee snobbery at MadCap, college sports and always carrying two perfect Michigan maps on the ends of each wrist are all benefits of being a midwestern mittener. Still, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and why not celebrate Michigan’s perfect location with a weekend trip elsewhere. Here are five great cities to visit under five hours away.
Miles from Lansing: 364
Recommended Stops: Bradbury’s Coffee, The Old Fashioned, Graze, Madison Farmer’s Market, State Capital building
In many ways, Madison is the Grand Rapids of Wisconsin. Stretched between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona and only slightly bigger in population, Madison provides amazing breweries, memorable farm to table restaurants, artistic expression, and a cleanly downtown. The farmer’s market bustles with locals as it frames the Wisconsin Capital building with tents rich of produce. Yes, as the state’s capital, Madison has the historical wealth of Lansing. So, pretty much, if Lansing and Grand Rapids got down and had a baby, he would have run off to Wisconsin.
Population: 2.705 million
Miles From Lansing: 218
Recommended Stops: Gaslight Coffee Roasters, The Purple Pig, Intelligentsia, Chicago Institute of Arts, The Shedd Aquarium
Michiganders too easily forget how close the Windy City is, but the third largest city in the U.S. and 24th in the world is a mere breeze away. And it is definitely worth the short drive (stay on 94–whatever you do!). The key to having a memorable experience in Chicago is knowing which neighborhoods to go to. Imagine a massive, dirty man with some really hip pockets in his oversized coat. That’s Chicago, and the good thing is, there is a pocket for everybody.
If you’re a shopaholic or first-time tourist roam the Magnificent Mile. If you’re more interested in blending in with the locals, try Logan Square. And if you’re a history buff, explore Old Town.
With a little planning and a craving for adventure, you can get a lot out of a trip to Chicago. But if you’re looking for Illinois without the massive dirty man, check out Champagne.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Population: 2.809 million
Miles From Lansing: 303
Recommended Stop: Lee, The St. Lawrence Market, WVRST, The Distillery District, The CN Tower, Hockey Hall Of Fame
If you’re looking for a home away from home, Toronto is the place to be. Not only will venturing across the border offer a break from these divisive American times, but 51% of the city’s population was not even born in Canada. It’s the kind of place where the less you fit in, the more you fit in. In fact, so many transplants have migrated to the city that 911 operators have translators ready with 150 different languages represented.
In many ways, Toronto is a typical big city, but it is clean, safe, dominated by residential buildings, and jampacked with culture. Not to mention, the food scene is absolutely amazing.
Miles From Lansing: 315
Recommended Stop: Over The Rhine, Findlay Market, A Tavola, BLOC Coffee Company, Rhinegeist Brewery
If you’re a chili fanatic, you need to go to Cincinnati, the Chili Capital Of The World. Fortunately, however, there is a lot more to do in Ohio’s southern-most city than summon seven different shades of diarrhea. The food and coffee scene is superb, the art and culture is relevant, and the weather provides a warmer getaway for frozen michiganders to thaw out in winter months (notice I said warmer; it ain’t Florida, kid.)
Bordering mountainous Kentucky and sitting on a river separating the two states, Cincinnati has a lot to offer, from delicious food, creative community, and a big city feel (without the big city) to not-so-far natural beauty.
Distance From Lansing: 349
Recommended Stops: Primanti Bros, University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning
Okay, this city might be a tad over five hours, but who’s counting? The University of Pittsburgh’s centerpiece, The Cathedral of Learning, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and alone is worth the drive from Michigan as it transports you to another time. It is the kind of place you wouldn’t hate getting lost in.
Pittsburgh is a college town with a lot of extra flare and littered with local gems. College students there are the same as we have in Michigan, but the city is beautiful and just close enough to make it worth a visit, if only for a weekend.
So, plan a trip to one of these five cities, or go visit a local city you’ve never explored. Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Traverse City, Marquette, and everything in between all have hidden gems. Just, whatever you do, stay clear of Indiana.