Like every American teenager, I dreamt about driving across the country in a car I couldn’t afford, with no plans, windows down, and music blasting. There was just something cool about it. But, that didn’t happen until a few months after I had graduated college.
Lol, Not exactly a teenager anymore.
Me and my friend Jessy, as I fondly called her, finally made our dream a reality. From Ohio to Las Vegas and back in a convertible, her dad gave her—An apology gift for cheating on her mum and causing a divorce. I wish my dad had cheated and got me a convertible, too, thinking about it now.
Apology gifts aside, it was a fun trip, and I enjoyed it. Especially the new delicacies I tried.
Having traveled through the Midwest a couple of times since then, I can tell you something about it.
The Midwest is known as ‘America's Heartland’ and is considered the broadest representation of American living because of its location in the middle of the country. It's a critical role in the nation's manufacturing and farming industries.
The Midwest has different characters to it. The largest cities like Chicago give you a more urbanized and industrialized vibe, while the small towns like Grand Marais in Minnesota give you a more laid-back and country vibe. A single trip gives you the best of both worlds.
What are Midwesterners like?
Whenever I decide to visit a new place, I'm often anxious about how accommodating or hospitable the locals are. Midwesterners are genuinely nice people. They would smile and wave at every person they met, whether friends or strangers. So, don't be surprised when a stranger smiles at you in a supermarket. They'll even show up on your doorstep with a home-cooked casserole to welcome you to the neighborhood. And if they see a wrecked car in your driveway or hear of any death in the family, they’d offer sympathy. They just try to make your life easier.
The Midwest Weather
Weather in the Midwest can be unpredictable and extreme. The summers are uncomfortably hot, and the winters are freezing. Midwesterners never know whether to wear a crop top or a winter jacket. According to a 2016 study by Save On Energy, the top 10 US cities for unpredictable weather features Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, and St. Paul— all located in the Midwest.
When you visit the Midwest, be prepared for the weather.
Things To Know Before Visiting The Midwest
The Midwest is a unique place. You’d come across words and phrases you won't hear elsewhere.
We say ‘cans of pop’ not ‘Soda’
In the midwest, what you know as Coke or Sprite (sodas) are called ‘Pop.’ According to the New York Times, there are places in the Midwest where 75% of people say pop instead of soda. Called pop cos of the noise fizzy drinks make when you open them.
Sneakers are called tennis shoes
Midwesterners don't say sneakers. They say tennis shoes. Non-locals are confused since the term doesn't refer to just shoes used to play tennis.
There are no parties without a game of cornhole
Cornhole (or bags) is a favorite game among Midwesterners. Cornhole is a lawn game in which players throw 16-ounce fabric bean bags at a raised platform (board) with a hole in the far end. Whether it's a family get-together, birthday party, or just a backyard barbecue, cornhole is a game that everyone enjoys.
Ranch on every food
Don’t be surprised if you are served ranch with raw vegetables or salads. Midwesterners like to put ranch on everything. It tastes heavenly on pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and raw vegetables.
Cinnamon rolls and chili
In school cafeterias in Nebraska and Iowa, it's not uncommon to see a cinnamon roll served alongside a bowl of chili. Some people say the combination started because the two foods were paired together in lunch shipments, and since then, it's become a staple combo in homes and restaurants in the area.
It's a dish, not a casserole
Midwesterners love a good casserole, but you probably will hear them call it hotdish, depending on where you're in the region. The term hotdish is typically utilized in Minnesota and North Dakota upperparts. I think of how it's made. It makes sense.
Although Culvers make the best butter burgers I have ever had, they are best known for their signature custard (a richer, creamier version of ice cream). The best part is that there's a flavor every day, and you can choose to have your custard in a cone, cup, or sundae, like a concrete mixer (Culver's version of a blizzard) as a shake or malt. Wisconsin and Illinois have the most Culver locations, but the chain in other Midwestern states can be found.
Puppy chow for every occasion
Puppy is the best snack you'll ever have. It’s a staple at midwestern parties, get together, and sleepovers. It's made by coating Chex cereal in chocolate, peanut butter, vanilla, butter, and powdered sugar.
Pizza in different shapes and sizes
St. Louis locals love their thin crust, while Chicagoans love their thick deep-dish crust. There's also Detroit-style pizza in square slices and a crispy, thicker crust.
Natural Wonders in the American Midwest
The Midwest has some of the most amazing sights in America. My favorite places to visit are:
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave gives me Jurassic Park vibes. If you've ever seen the Jurassic Park film, you know exactly what I'm talking about. This cave is considered one of the most wonderful natural attractions in the whole state. The stalagmites and stalactites are the forms of myth, and the water elements are super unique. If you are claustrophobic, I don't think an adventure through the Mammoth cave is for you.
Wildcat Canyon – Oglesby, Illinois
Illinois is recognized as a fairly balanced state with gorgeous bodies of water. But only a few people are aware of the hiking trails and trailblazing that can be experienced there. The Wildcat Canyon is located in the Starved Rock State Park, where the waterfall sits. Anyone who visits this place is blown away by its beauty and serenity.
Eagle River Chain of Lakes – Eagle River, and Three Lakes, Wisconsin
The Eagle River is the largest inland chain of lakes on Earth. The 28 different lakes are connected by small channels, most big enough for a canoe or kayak to pass through. It is also considered to be the best lake for fishing in Wisconsin.
Seven Pillars – Peru, Indiana
Also known as ‘The Cliffs’ and located on the shore of the Mississinewa River, the Seven Pillars rock formation is an exceptional spectacle of wind and water erosion. This magnificent formation is not widely known and is one of Indiana's best-kept secrets. The spaces behind the pillars are often used by the tribes of the Miami Nation of Indiana in the area as a meeting place.
Maquoketa Caves – Maquoketa, Iowa
Formed by a glacier thousands of years ago and with more caves than any state park, Maquoketa Caves is one of Iowa's most unique outdoor attractions. A Visit to this cave can be a fun time for the whole family. It would also be helpful to bring flashlights. If not, you'll have to buy some. I plan to visit again soon to explore the rest of the caves.
The Midwest is a unique place.
It includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
The Midwest is known for its great vacation spots, thousands of quaint cities, and old towns perfect for history lovers. On your trip through the Midwest, you'll find plenty of delicious food and come across some words you won't hear elsewhere.
You’d also come across genuinely nice people and bother line too helpful.
I've always enjoyed visiting the Midwest, and I think it's time for you to fulfill your teenage dream. Take the Midwest America trip, and you’d be glad you did.
You know, Nomad, there’s a guy at university with me who says “cans of pop” and “tennis shoes.” At first it was so funny for me, but then we got to know each other better and he told me where he was from. He invited me to visit, but I refused. And now, after reading this article, I really wanted to visit these wonderful places and plunge into the special atmosphere of Middle America!
Are there people in America who haven’t seen the movie Jurassic Park? lol. Now I will constantly think about what I need in Kentucky. I love places like Mammoth Cave, but this is where I haven’t been yet. Just for the sake of it, it’s worth going to the Midwest! You’re right Nomad, these are real wonders of nature!
I just adore strangers who are able to smile at me just like that. I am such a person myself and often face bewilderment or even discontent on the faces of others because of my smile. Perhaps just for this I should visit the Midwest. It is always especially interesting for me to read about the differences in the colloquial names of something, there is something in it…
This is very enlightening! So one can even call Midwesterns a culture within a culture because some of these things like hospitality and readiness to help a total stranger is a total opposite of let’s say, New Yorkers. It was very interesting for me to learn about some Western slang, thank you for this insight! The second part of the article is fascinating because it describes natural wonders of Midwest. I didn’t know there are so many things to see. Maquoketa Caves seem most curious – I always loved caves. Overall, the article can be called a short guide for tourists visiting Midwest.
I, too, dreamed of traveling the US as a teen, with a car full of friends having many fun adventures. My favorite song was “Me and You and a Dog named Blue” which, if you look it up, will tell you how old I am. After graduation, I traded my wanderlust for marriage, children, and a mortgage. I made the right choice, but I never did get that road trip with my friends. I’m now a widow with two grandchildren and I’ll be 71 years old next week. But even now, while reading of your adventures traveling the Midwest, I can still feel the adrenaline rise up in my veins. My SUV isn’t a convertible but it does have a moon roof. Maybe it’s not too late to have an adventure of my own.