What to Visit in Middle America

I travelled around America in a van with 3 friends for 2 and a half months. Not many people can say that they’ve done this! Here are some highlights from every state I visited:

1. California

  • Manhattan Beach at sunset.

    Manhattan Beach at sunset.

    What a beautiful state! I’ve been lucky enough to travel to California in the past and I know the beauty of the north, with the Redwood forests and the crashing waves of the ocean. I know how different SoCal is – always sunny, sandy beaches, and a strong diversity of people influencing food, culture and lifestyle. I like California and spending close to 2 months of my time there, living just outside LA, was definitely an adventure! Although I lived in a pretty sketchy area (ie. drug dealers on every street corner) living with my friends made it so worthwhile. We were in everything together and when the days got tough (because the definitely were difficult) we supported each other! Some highlights? Travelling to Redondo, Manhattan and Hermosa Beach on the weekends. Sleeping in the van at the Santa Monica Pier with friends so that we’d wake up close to a good view. Exploring the Hollywood Hills and Malibu spontaneously. Visiting the strange yet enchanting Venice Beach. Public transiting in Harbor City. Best of all: sitting outside my home next to the tiki shack talking, complaining, venting and laughing every single night with friends.

2. Utah

  • The red rocks in Moab.

    The red rocks in Moab.

    I never expected to find such a stunning place when I set out for Utah! Giant red rocks and mountains around every turn! Salt Lake City was fascinating and such an interesting place to explore (ie. learning about Mormonism) but the highlight was definitely the detour we took on our way from SLC to Colorado Springs through Moab National Park! We arrived in the night, slept in the van, and awoke to find ourselves in and among some of the most beautiful rock formations I’ve ever seen! Moab can’t be missed when travelling around Utah!

3. Colorado

  • Colorado mountains. Unfortunately I was unable to capture the red and yellow trees as well.

    Colorado mountains. Unfortunately I was unable to capture the red and yellow trees as well.

    It was unfortunate that we had very little time to explore in Colorado because of all our destinations, Colorado was one of the states I was most excited to see. The trouble is that when you live life on the road, relying on the goodness of strangers to host you for the night, you aren’t really living by your own schedule but the schedule of others! During the days we had to book events, give events, and table and in the evening we had more events to give, had to drive to new destinations, or had to make small talk with our hosts. Not that there is anything wrong with small talk but it does prevent one from seeing everything that they wish to see in the cities they are visiting! But back to Colorado. The highlight would definitely be driving through the Rocky Mountains from Moab, Utah to Colorado Springs, Colorado! I’ve seen rocky mountains before but in Colorado each mountain is covered in a sea of green coniferous trees with beautiful red, yellow, and orange deciduous trees sprinkled into the mix. I’d recommend going to Colorado in the fall like we did to see the natural beauty of the world around you shifting seasons. It even snowed a bit in the mountains!

4. Nebraska

  • Nebraska cornfields.

    Nebraska cornfields.

    Welcome to the land of cornfields. We entered the true “great plains” in Nebraska! The cities of Nebraska left much to be desired but thankfully outside of each metropolitan, the leaves were changing colours and fluttering beautifully to the ground. And then the trees disappeared and there was nothing but a flat expanse of nothing – nothing but cornfields! Nebraska is dead centre middle-America. Highlight? Getting lost in the cornfields for nearly an hour while trying to find Nebraska Christian College ( a school of only 150 students).

5. Iowa

  • Coe College in Cedar Rapids is one of my favourite campuses in America. Our hosts were kind, Cedar Rapids is beautiful, and the buildings of Coe College really reflect the time period (1850s) that it was built. I met a fellow Canadian working at Coe College, the weather was so sunny, the fall leaves (of course), and the lovely coffee shops made Coe College the definite highlight of Iowa!

6. Wisconsin

  • Lake Michigan as seen from Wisconsin at fall.

    Lake Michigan as seen from Wisconsin at fall.

    Again, I think I really lucked out since I was fortunate to travel around central America in the autumn. In Wisconsin I have this one vivid image of us travelling away from Tomah (a town literally in the centre of nowhere but will forever have a special place in my heart since we met up with our Pacific Northwest friends there), driving down winding roads with rolling fields and colourful trees chasing us up and down the hills. We bought “British Folk” from Starbucks and just listened to that baby as we travelled over 300 miles on that beautiful winding road in Wisconsin. I got to see Lake Michigan during one visit to Carthage College in which we were later going to present at. Lake Michigan is one of the biggest bodies of water that I’ve ever seen (besides an ocean of course) and I’d definitely recommend that you visit it if ever travelling to Wisconsin. Finally, Milwaukee is beautiful and I wish I had more time to explore it! Wisconsin is vastly beautiful – it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing but it is somewhere I hope to travel again to in the future!

7. Illinois

  • The Bean in Chicago.

    The Bean in Chicago.

    Do I need to even say it? Chicago! My time spent in Chicago was overly busy and I didn’t have time to explore but what I did see from driving through the city was amazing. A river/canal kinda separates the city from one side to the other and bridges criss cross all throughout the city, connecting the two sides. The lake is stunning, the Bean is cool (but also strange) and I like seeing the metro, high up in the sky. I’m going to go back to Chicago one day to do all the exploring I want and I cannot wait!

8. Michigan

  • Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Trees, mountains, lakes, nature, sun, rain, and nippy weather – just like home! If you enjoy nature then travel Michigan. The cities host great coffee shops, diners, antiques shops, and music stores but the trips into nature were what I loved most.

9. Ohio

  • An amazing house in Yellow Springs.

    An amazing house in Yellow Springs.

    Yellow Springs, Ohio. Are you familiar with Gilmore Girls? Do you know Stars Hollow? Well this city is a direct replica or maybe Stars Hollow is a replica of it. Each house was quirky and different and same with the people that lived in the city as well! The city centre had unique shops and each person seemed to know the next. Need a great, quiet, vacation getaway in the midwest? Yellow Springs is just for you! Also, for a bit of education – did you know that Ohio has the biggest Amish population in the USA? Visit the Amish at Lehman’s Hardware and beyond!

10. Indiana

  • Indianapolis is actually pretty cool! There are a lot of good coffee shops such as ‘The Thirsty Scholar‘ and ‘Bee Coffee Roasters‘ and we stayed at a pretty amazing hostel in Indianapolis too called ‘Indy Hostel‘ which I’d highly recommend. We had some time in Indianapolis to explore on our own and eat some really delicious food such as the breakfasts we ate at Joe’s Shelby Street Diner. Explore the good independent restaurants and cafes in Indianapolis – that’s what we did!

11. Missouri

  • Infamous frozen custard in St. Louis on Route 66!

    Infamous frozen custard in St. Louis on Route 66!

    I love Missouri! St. Louis and Kansas City are amazing places with numerous independent coffee shops and diners and great areas to explore. The houses are built with character and there is deep history around every turn. I didn’t expect to get to Missouri and enjoy it but thank goodness I was pleasantly surprised! In Kansas City they have this thing called ‘First Friday‘ in which the arts scene is on in full motion the whole weekend of the first Friday of the month. Antique shops, local farmers, artisans, musicians, food trucks – what’s not to love?

12. Kansas

  • Westboro Baptist

    Westboro Baptist

    Beautiful fields and gorgeous sunsets! Can you get over the fact that Kansas is the place that Dorothy lived? There is even an Oz Winery! One of the most interesting things in Kansas was when we made a detour on our way to Manhattan Christian College to visit Topeka, Kansas, home of the Westboro Baptist Church. If you’ve never heard of Westboro Baptist then check out their website which is undeniably insane. There beliefs are extreme and it is crazy to me that a “church” would preach such hatred! I couldn’t believe that a place like this existed so seeing it in person was truly eyeopening.

13. Oklahoma

  • Unfortunately our time in Oklahoma was not well loved. Flat like Kansas, below freezing temperatures, tornado ruined towns – fun! Ha. I’d love to get a chance to travel back to Oklahoma because I’m sure there is some fun there! Unfortunately we just didn’t get a chance to see it. I’m racking my brain for positives and I really can’t think of a thing. Sorry!

14. Texas

  • Klyde Warren Park - a cool place to relax in Dallas. If you can get over the highways and roads to find the gems in Dallas, you will be rewarded. Unfortunately it does take some effort.

    Klyde Warren Park – a cool place to relax in Dallas. If you can get over the highways and roads to find the gems in Dallas, you will be rewarded. Unfortunately it does take some effort.

    Austin is famous for its nightlife and live music around every street corner. Although we only had a few hours to explore, we weren’t disappointed! My teammate George and I took a minute to sit at Snack Bar, eat brussel sprouts, and listen to one of the best musicians I’ve heard in a while. I have no idea what his name is but it was one of the last days in November, maybe the beginning of December. And he was amazing. So if someone knows who it was then they should tell me – k? Anyways, South Congress is a really cool street and if you follow it into the city you can find people walking around while shopping and eating at the local restaurants and stores. This is much unlike many of the cities we saw while travelling through the USA. Most cities are empty, completely void of people, but in Austin it was lively and happening! Finally – visit the border of Juarez, Mexico and El Paso. We did when passing through El Paso on our way home to the LiNK HQ in California and witnessing the Mexican influence in the USA like that – well, it was so strong and so very interesting! Check it out!

And that is that! I travelled through over 14 states while roadtripping around America. Hopefully my anecdotes will help make it a great experience for you as you travel the great plains of the great USA!

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