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Midwest Tales of Two Cities

Similar to a good wine paired with the right cuisine, certain cities successfully complement and contrast with one another. Select Traveler has endeavored to highlight some of those superb pairings in the Midwest — cities close enough to each other and complementary enough in appeal that they can be packaged together into dynamic itineraries.

For groups who thrive on cool cars, Indianapolis is the place to visit, and Columbus, Ohio, offers an array of experiential tours that appeal to lifelong learners. Kansas City’s first-time visitors are pleasantly surprised by its burgeoning art scene and excellent shopping, and 250 miles away, St. Louis’ vibrant creativity and spirit of westward expansion draws accolades.

In Minneapolis, glitzy skyscrapers add to its cosmopolitan feel, while St. Paul, Minnesota’s historic buildings exude a more laid-back ambiance. Only 60 miles apart, Omaha’s cornucopia of culture contrasts with Lincoln, Nebraska’s sports-loving, college-town ambiance.


Indianapolis and Columbus

A hub for many universities, including Ohio State, Columbus specializes in lifelong learning through its variety of experiential tours. Explore Beyond the Door allows groups to tour two homes in the historic German Village neighborhood. Meeting the residents is part of the fun, as is getting a glimpse into the personalized interiors of these historic places.

The popular Sophia’s Secret tour at the Kelton House Museum and garden evokes an emotional connection. Groups interact with a costumed interpreter acting as Sophia as she takes them through the house and draws them into accounts of the story of the Underground Railroad and the wealthy abolitionist family who lived there.

At the Candle Lab in the historic Worthington area, Wax, Wicks and Wine invites visitors to make their own custom-scented candles. While the candles harden, groups go next door for a wine tasting or enjoy a meal at the upscale Worthington Inn, an old stagecoach stop.

Just 175 miles west of Columbus, Indianapolis is known as the Racing Capital of the World and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 this year. The other 364 days each year groups can experience racing in myriad ways.

At the Indy Racing Experience, the new Victory Laps offers visitors a chance to circle the track at 60 mph with a professional driver in an Indy car, NASCAR or pace car stretched to seat two. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum displays winning Indy 500 race cars and offers a track tour where visitors can “kiss the bricks” and stand on victory podium for photo ops. Mid-May opens the racing season with the second annual Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which uses one turn of the 500 oval and a road course on the speedway’s infield.

This summer, the exhibition “Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” rolls into the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It will feature rare American and European concept-car designs dating to the 1930s. Appealing to all ages, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis will feature “Hot Wheels: Race to Win.”

Kansas City and St. Louis

Anchoring the state on its western and eastern borders, Kansas City and St. Louis make a dynamic Missouri duo.

Art for every taste can be found in Kansas City, which touts the nation’s seventh-largest concentration of visual artists. First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District attracts crowds to its more than 60 galleries and shops. Crown Center, headquarters of Hallmark Cards, has attractions such as Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center. Groups can tour the Hallmark Visitor Center and walk The Link to elegant Union Station, grand dame of the railroad era and home to Science City and the KC Rail Experience.

With more than 65 performing arts organizations, theater is also well represented. Kansas City is the second home to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Jazz heritage comes alive in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District. Summer brings Broadway shows to outdoor Starlight Theatre and the annual Heart of America Shakespeare Festival to Southmoreland Park.

Rising dramatically in Kansas City’s skyline, the $326 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts contains two performance halls, one featuring a Casavant Frères pipe organ with 5,548 pipes. The building’s glass roof cascades into a 65-foot-high, 330-foot-wide glass wall that affords expansive views of the Crossroads Art District.

In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch remains a symbol of Midwestern resourcefulness and reigns as the nation’s tallest man-made monument. By 2017, the $380 million CityArchRiver project will connect the arch grounds to the Old Courthouse, associated with the Dred Scott Case; the St. Louis Cathedral; and downtown. The former Westward Expansion Museum, located underneath the arch, is also undergoing a total facelift.

Groups can spend a day or a week exploring the many highlights in Forest Park. Noteworthy spots include the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Zoo, the Jewel Box greenhouse and the Missouri History Museum. For a night under the stars, The Muny is the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater venue.

Anchored by the beautiful Fox Theatre, the arts district of Grand Center offers 13,000 theater seats, 17 museums and galleries, jazz clubs, numerous restaurants and even a circus.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.