MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

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Favorites for summer

Great summer festivals
Here are the best of the fests in the Upper Midwest.
A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.
Cheap Chicago
Here are 10 tips to make a trip to the Windy City easy to afford.
Circling Lake Superior
A trip along its gorgeous shores provides everything a tourist's heart could desire.
True brew in the Twin Cities
Craft breweries are popping up all over, offering taprooms and tours.
Camping around Lake Michigan
For a beach vacation on a budget, stay at cabins and campgrounds in state parks.
Art al fresco
When warm weather arrives, art fairs start to pop up everywhere.

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FastPlans/Winona festivals

Inline skater on trail in Winona

In the corner of southeast Minnesota, Winona has an enviable spot on the loveliest stretch of the Mississippi River Valley.

Not only is it scenic, it's a college town, with lots of theater, concerts and coffeehouses.

Events to catch: June 21-July 30, Great River Shakespeare Festival. June 24, Dixieland Jazz Festival. July 6-23, Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

What to do: Use canoes, kayaks and paddleboards at Lake Lodge Recreation Center on Lake Winona (pictured). Tour the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Visit Garvin Heights Vineyards and see the view. Visit the nearby Pickwick Mill.

Details: See Afloat in Winona.

Past fast plans: Riverfront fun in Minneapolis, Summer in Chicago, Lanesboro outdoors, Lake Geneva, Door County spring

This weekend

Eat strawberries and watch skiers.

Bubblegum-blowing in Cedarburg.

Strawberry Festival in Cedarburg, Wis. During this popular event in an old mill town north of Milwaukee, there's music, kids' games, an art fair, shortcake-eating and bubblegum-blowing contests and strawberries in everything. June 24–25.

Afton Strawberry Festival in Afton, Minn. This village on the St. Croix River revives an old tradition with a European-style flea market, art fair, music, games, raptor demos and a strawberry shortcake-eating contest. June 24–25.

Shake the Lake in Madison. This pre-Fourth festival on the shores of Lake Monona includes live bands, a human cannonball, a roller-derby exhibition, kids' activities and fireworks. June 24.

Water Ski Days in Lake City, Minn. There's music, an arts and crafts fair and, on Sunday, a parade followed by a water-ski show on Lake Pepin, where water-skiing was invented. June 23–25.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

10 great places to take teens

Sure, they'd rather be with their friends. But you're the one with the wallet.

Youth learns whitewater kayaking on Wolf River.

By the time children turn 10, the day already is looming when they no longer want to spend time with you, their loving parent.

Jeremy Southworth of La Crosse, Wis., saw that day coming. So when his son Gavin got older, he took him jet-boating in the Dells and zip-lining in Door County.

"He'd been wanting to try zip-lining, so as soon as we came up here, we decided, 'We're doing that,' '' he said.

Luckily, parents still are in demand when they're willing to pay for thrills.

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Pizza on the farm

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, dinner guests flock to the countryside for ultra-fresh ingredients and idyllic settings.

Making pizza in Hayward.

You can't get more local and sustainable than a wood-fired pizza served just yards from where its ingredients were raised and grown.

Farms that moonlight as pizzerias one or two nights a week are multiplying, but not just because the pizzas are so good.

The visitors who eat them also get to spend an evening soaking up the bucolic country atmosphere, savoring a lifestyle that's now far removed from most lives.

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America's freshwater Riviera

On Lake Michigan's gorgeous beaches, everyone can find a spot in the sun.

Playing on the Platte River.

It’s funny that some people in the Upper Midwest spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Cancun or Cape Cod, because the best beaches in the world are in their own back yard.

Lake Michigan is America’s freshwater Riviera, a nearly unending strand of sand that looks like Florida without the high-rise condos. It’s clean, blue and pleasantly cool, with water temperatures in the 60s, and in most places it looks just like the ocean.

Add in candy-striped lighthouses and even more ice-cream stands, and you’ve got the makings of a great beach holiday — a cheap one, too, if you're on a budget.

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Watching a water-ski show

Spend a perfect summer evening watching flips, dance lines and pyramids.

Water skiers in New London, Minn.

Watch a water-ski show, and you'll want to climb into your Thunderbird and go get a chocolate malted.

There's something deliciously retro about spending a balmy summer evening listening to '50s party music and the roar of marine engines as spangled, sun-bleached teen-agers fly by. 

A corny comedy routine is part of the show, but it's the tricks that keep the crowd enthralled: double flips, dance lines and pyramids that can go up to five tiers.

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Celebrating roots

No matter where you're from, there's a heritage festival for you.

Polka Dancers in traditional outfits

In general, I like my heritage. It involves Vikings and trolls and populist politics. At festivals, tow-headed children dance around in cute outfits.

But the food . . . not so much. When it comes to herring and lutefisk, I'd rather be Polish. Plump pierogi with sour cream and sauteed onions — now, there's an ethnic food I can love.

Luckily, it's easy to piggyback on other cultures in the Upper Midwest. Yes, many of us came  from Germany, Ireland and Norway.

But we also came from Greece, Ghana, Switzerland, Iceland, Scotland, Ukraine — and there are festivals honoring those cultures and those of the Dakota, Ojibwe, Cree and Ho-Chunk, who already were here.

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Door County 101

Want to check out this popular peninsula? Here's everything you need to plan a visit.

A Door County fish boil.

Around the Upper Midwest, Door County is the tourist destination that other tourist destinations envy.

Everything a tourist loves, it’s got: Lighthouses and sand dunes. Wineries and boutiques. Bicycle paths and beaches.

There’s a little bit of New England in the white-frame buildings of Ephraim, where tourists click photos of Wilson’s, a century-old ice-cream parlor.

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