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Waterfronts of the Midwest

In recent years, Midwestern cities have reclaimed the history and beauty of their waterways as vibrant centerpieces of the community. Situated on the Illinois River, the Peoria, Illinois, riverfront bustles with entertainment and activity day and night. In Minnesota, history takes center stage at the Minneapolis/St. Paul riverfront. In Ohio, Dayton’s RiverScape MetroPark has it all: fantastic city views, beautifully landscaped grounds and a host of recreational options.

At Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, water activities, golf and terrific shopping appeal to a variety of interests. In Door County, Wisconsin, the peninsula’s burgeoning art and culinary scene continues to evolve amidst the region’s backdrop of limestone cliffs, clear waters and pine forests.

For an urban escape, your group will find that lake communities combine plentiful diversions and relaxed settings.

Peoria, Illinois

Situated on the Illinois River, Peoria’s cobblestone Water Street is lined with restored brick buildings and outfitted with an outdoor music system. In warmer months, there’s plenty of al fresco dining. Friday and Saturday nights, a block party brings live entertainment and food vendors. On the water, the Spirit of Peoria paddle wheeler offers daylong and overnight trips to Starved Rock State Park and the St. Louis riverfront.

“We’ve had a lot of growth on the riverfront with new attractions and group-friendly dining options,” said Kaci Osborne, community development manager for the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Groups can easily spend a day on the riverfront.”

At the Caterpillar Visitors Center, visitors can learn about the well-known Caterpillar heavy equipment company, watch a movie in the back of a mining truck and play with simulators.

The Peoria Riverfront Museum contains a state-of-the-art domed planetarium and a giant-screen theater that shows documentaries and blockbuster hits. This year’s rotating exhibits include “Be the Astronaut” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.”

In warmer months, the district hums with festivals focusing on steamboats, Irish culture, and blues and soul music. The Erin Feis festival in August features highland games and a Cultural Village, where groups can learn about Peoria’s Irish heritage. Oktoberfest, Peoria’s annual German event, encourages revelers to don authentic German attire and celebrate with bands and musicians on multiple stages; there are also dance, food and cultural exhibits.

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

The Mississippi riverfront in Minneapolis holds the key to the city’s history. For most of the 20th century, Minneapolis was known as the milling capital of the world. St. Anthony Falls powered the mill.

One of the best ways to explore the riverfront district is on the Segway Magical History Tour. The guided, three-hour loop along the river path crosses the Stone Arch Bridge, which connects the district’s two sides. Landmarks on the tour include the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, St. Anthony Falls and the upper lock and dam. A tour ticket includes a pass for the Mill City Museum, built into the ruins of the Washburn A Mill.

“Groups will enjoy the Mill City Farmers Market on Saturdays that sells local produce, food and crafts,” said communications and public relations manager Kristen Montag for Meet Minneapolis. “It’s right on the river adjacent to the Guthrie Theater, so the location is ideal.”

The Upper St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center, located atop the central control station, affords beautiful views. Visitor center exhibits highlight the area’s history, Mississippi River navigation and the lock. For another way to experience the river, Paradise Charter Cruises operates the Minneapolis Queen paddleboat, which cruises between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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.