Here's the thing about living in a huge, diverse city like Chicago: You never really have to leave to find what you're looking for. Whether your thing is fine dining, live music, arena sports or comic books, this place has you covered better than almost anywhere else.
But just because you don't have to leave, doesn't mean you shouldn't...
One thing Chicago doesn't have is the sweet, charming vibe of a small town. And one thing that many small towns in the Midwest do well is art and antiques. So if beautiful objects both old and new is your thing, you should think about hitting the road.
Take Friday off from work, leave after breakfast and you'll be in one of these charming towns before lunch.
1. Mount Vernon, Iowa (Population: 4,583) Miles from The Loop: 210 You know that you've arrived in the cool, artsy Mount Vernon as soon as you pass the striking rendition of the iconic painting, American Gothic , painted on the side of a barn on the outskirts of town. Like many hipper-than-average small towns, Mount Vernon is home to a university. But Cornell College isn't the only thing t this place has going – it also boasts an annual chalk art festival, a James Beard Award Semifinalist (Lincoln Café and Wine Bar), a hybrid coffee and art/antique shop and a fair trade boutique.
2. Mineral Point, Wisconsin (Population: 2,487) Miles from The Loop: 166 Not only is Mineral Springs known for its artisan crafts and antiques, but it's also the oldest town in the entire state. Founded in 1836, the whole town is on the National Register of Historic Places and is chock full of lovingly restored buildings for aesthetically-minded visitors to admire. Mineral Point is also brimming with antique shops, art galleries, and a bustling art center complex that includes dining and lodging options. If you look ahead at the art center's calendar , you could even plan your weekend around an all-day portrait or jewelry-making workshop that would leave you with some of your own original work as memento of your trip.
3. Stillwater, Minnesota (Population: 18,674) Miles from The Loop: 390 Though you'll have to leave before breakfast to reach Stillwater, Minnesota by lunchtime, the early wake-up call will be worth it. You'll be utterly charmed by the area's Victorian mansions, beautiful St. Croix River, and historic downtown. Spend your long weekend strolling in and out of the more than 100 independent boutiques and galleries, wetting your whistle in the wine shops and even kicking back on an authentic Venetian gondola that offers river cruises. And antiques collectors, be sure not to miss American Gothic Antiques, a 2-story treasure trove of antiquities.
4. Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan (Population: 2,177) Miles from The Loop: 139 Given the natural beauty and close proximity to Chicago, it's no surprise that Southwest Michigan has been a favorite escape for Chicagoans for over a century. The sister towns of Saugatuck and Douglas have always topped the list for art-minded travelers who appreciate the progressive, gay-friendly spirit the area is well known for. A couple of professors and artists from the School of the Art Institute established Oxbow School of Art in 1910 and there has been a thriving art scene there ever since. It doesn't hurt that the towns also boast some of the most pristine beaches in the country, so it's perfect if you like your art and antiques with a little sand and sun on the side.
5. Louisiana, Missouri (Population: 3,355) Miles from The Loop: 290 This little town on the Mississippi River is best known for its gorgeously preserved Victorian homes, which might make you feel a little like you stepped back in time. But there's a lot more for art lovers to see – the neighboring towns of Louisiana, Hannibal and Clarksville have a 50-mile art corridor along Route 79, where many artists and craftsmen have opened studios and galleries over the years. Other highlights include Louisiana's 20 public murals, a sculpture park and ASL Pewter Foundry.
6. Yellow Springs, Ohio (Population: 3,675) Miles from The Loop: 311
Home to the liberal arts school, Antioch College, Yellow Springs has long been a haven for creative types and is still known for its hippy vibe today. Art-minded, progressive visitors will love the funky downtown, which is full of indie boutiques, knitted "graffiti" on trees and telephone poles, brightly colored storefronts and locally-grown dining options. As one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad, Yellow Springs is also famous for its progressive social attitudes, which are reflected in the open and artistic atmosphere of the place.
While it's true that the Windy City's art cup runneth over, you'd be remiss not to visit some of our region's charming small towns that have their own unique art scenes. The best part is that these little gems are close enough to be convenient for a weekend trip and they allow you to breathe some fresh air away from the urban jungle we call home.
Jay Deratany is a travel blogger and renaissance man whose titles include attorney, LGBT rights activist, screenwriter and film producer (Saugatuck Cures). He recently added "hotelier" to that list when he opened the The Kirby, a Saugatuck bed and breakfast that's a lot more modern and luxurious than your average B&B. The hotel also include's J. Paul's, an upscale wine bar and restaurant. For more info, visit www.TheKirbyHotel.com.