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July/August 2015 Issue

Readers select the best places to see and things to do in the Midwest.

Pristine lakes and rivers, vibrant cities, and baseball and barbecue are just a few of the things that announce “it’s summer” to all of us. This year, our readers recognize how to enjoy summer with their Best of the Midwest picks as listed on the opposite page.

As editors of the AAA Midwest Traveler, we are privileged to travel throughout the region and experience wonderful cities and towns, festivals, and attractions. For this year’s poll presentation, we offer some of our favorites, from German sausage to tranquil gardens. The choices are varied, just as the Midwest is as a region of our country.

So this summer, take along this copy of your AAA magazine and explore the Best of the Midwest.


best of the midwest



Readers’ Choice

Midwest Mountain Getaway
Southwest Missouri Ozarks

Weekend lake getaway
Table Rock Lake, Branson, Mo.

Vacation choice outside home state

Illinois weekend getaway

indiana weekend getaway
French Lick

Kansas weekend getaway
Kansas City

Missouri weekend getaway
St. Louis

River float trip
Ozark National Scenic

Favorite baseball venue
Busch Stadium, St. Louis

City’s signature food
Kansas City’s barbecue


The Current River, part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, near Akers Ferry in Missouri.
Missouri Division of Tourism photo


Chicago’s John Hancock Tower.
Choose Chicago photo


Table Rock Lake in Branson was created in 1958, and is popular with skiers, boaters, anglers, and swimmers.
Branson Convention & Visitors Bureau photo


Kansas City barbecue from Arthur Bryant’s.
Visit KC photo


Autumn in Ozark Mountain Country in Branson. Branson Convention & Visitors Bureau photo



Favorite Roller Coasters
Holiday World

The debate over the best roller coaster can be spirited and contentious. There are roller coaster fans and enthusiast organizations that debate the ranking of each thrill ride considering its speed, height, length, ride time, smoothness, use of terrain, and more.

But if you’re looking for the best collection of roller coasters, look no farther than Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. The park is known for its three wooden coasters: The Raven, The Legend, and The Voyage, which are all hair-raising experiences.

And this spring, the park unveiled its first steel coaster with Thunderbird, the nation’s first launched wing coaster. Rather than climbing a lift hill as many coasters do, Thunderbird launches riders from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and riders hang on either side of the track on “wings” with nothing but air underneath them.

On this $22-million ride, there’s a 14-story loop, zero-gravity roll, barrel roll, and multiple “near misses” as the coaster passes near trees and other rides. Make sure you empty your pockets before you go, because the riveting ride will do it for you.

AAA members save on admission to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari Water Park. Visit your AAA branch for more details or click on and type “Holiday World” in the search box at the top of the page.


Holiday World’s new Thunderbird roller coaster has heart-pounding loops and drops. Holiday World photo



Favorite Fort
Fort de Chartres

The echoes of history in southern Illinois aren’t figurative at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site. They’re literal–and loud. The reconstructed colonial-era French fort hosts several events throughout the year that feature re-enactors dressed in authentic 1700s attire who demonstrate live cannon firing. The fort’s biggest event is its Rendezvous each June that features dancing, traders, food, and music. The boom of cannons, parades of colorful uniforms, and the smell of campfires is enough to transport visitors to the 18th century.

The first two forts at the site near Prairie du Rocher in southern Illinois were erected in the 1720s and were wood structures with corner bastions. The third fort, built in the 1750s, was a massive square stone structure with several buildings, including a still-standing powder magazine. A National Historic Landmark, the site today features an imaginative reconstruction of that stone bastion with several buildings, imposing walls, a chapel, small museum, and an impressive gate. Walking through it is like stepping back in time.


Detail of a bastion at Fort de Chartres Wikimedia Commons photo



Favorite Music Venue
The Phoenix

In Kansas City, it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t have jazz as its musical backdrop. Jazz is the city’s soundtrack, and some of the best musicians can be heard here. There’s a multitude of great live jazz venues in the city, but my favorite is The Phoenix (302 W. Eighth St.). It’s the combo of atmosphere, good food and drink, and the music–oh, the music.

Do not miss Lonnie McFadden, who entertains during Friday happy hour here with two of his best pals–Donovan Bailey on drums and Mark Lowrey on piano/keyboards. The club is packed by 5 p.m. McFadden–a trumpet-blowing, tap-dancing dynamo–moves from “The Duke” to “The Bird” and adds his own artful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

A Saturday jazz brunch featuring Alex Abramovitz and his Swing’n Kansas City Jazz Band will pop those eyes open after a long Friday night of jazz.

And if Alex doesn’t do the trick for you, the $7 Bloody Mary and The Texan (seasoned steak with melted pepperjack cheese, mushrooms, onions, and peppers, topped with an over easy egg on Texas Toast, $10) will.


Start the weekend in Kansas City off right with happy hour at The Phoenix. Deborah Reinhardt photo



Favorite Chocolate
Askinoise, Springfield

Missouri may not be on everybody’s lips as a destination for chocolate lovers, but it should be. Some very creative culinary artists are making fantastic confections in chocolate, and they’re doing it without a great deal of fanfare or national attention.

I enjoy reading and writing about chocolate, and certainly love eating it, but my favorite chocolate destination is in Springfield, Mo., where Shawn Askinosie has been making wonderful bean-to-bar chocolate for almost 10 years.

Every angle of his chocolate-making business is admirable, from the direct-trade relationships he’s forged with farmers in the Philipines (where Askinosie set up a lunch program for children three years ago), Ecuador, Honduras, and Tanzia to the Chocolate University program he started for students to “inspire students through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems.”

And there’s the chocolate he makes. Rich dark or white chocolate bars, and the “CollaBARationTM” selection that combines his chocolate with other ingredients such as coffee, coconut, or malted milk balls. One of my favorite indulgences is a pinch of the dark chocolate Davao bar with a glass of red wine.

Askinosie has quite a story, and you can read more about it at


Sustainable, remarkable chocolate is in Springfield. Missouri Division of Tourism photo



Favorite food festival

With a distinctly German heritage, Hermann, Mo., is known for its many wineries and vineyards, but each March, the town reasserts itself as the Sausage Capital of Missouri during Wurstfest. This two-day festival celebrates the city’s 170-year history of sausage making and German culture, and visitors can sample bratwurst, leberwurst, schwartenmagen, summer sausage, and more. There are sausages at the festival that you never knew existed. And what other festival would have events called the Braunschweiger Ball and the Whole Hog Sausage Breakfast?

When not sampling the sausage–or while you’re sampling the sausage–you can enjoy the German music and dancing, and you can root on the dachshunds as they race on their tiny legs in the Wurstfest Wiener Dog Derby. There are also tastings and tours at the local wineries and breweries, and demonstrations of antique sausage-making equipment.

If you go to this delicious event, however, you might not want to tell your cardiologist.





Favorite Place To Recharge
Our Lady of the Snows Shrine

When life takes on a break-neck speed, one of my favorite regional attractions allows me to slow down and recharge. The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill., on Illinois Highway 15 East is a wonderful place to pass an afternoon, and even though I’m there for only a few hours, I leave feeling as though I’ve been on retreat.

Several garden and grotto areas provide places to rest and reflect. Roses and other flowers make beautiful photo opportunities. I’ll also sometimes see people there with sketch pads. The gift shop has small treasures to take home, and the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. For those who want to spend the night, a hotel is on site.

Operated by priests and brothers of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the shrine hosts many events throughout the year. The holiday Way of Lights display is an annual tradition for the greater St. Louis area.



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