Here Are Five Summer Vacations for Chicago’s Culture Lovers

New Orleans. Nashville. East Lansing, Michigan? Driving or flying, great cultural destinations are only a few hours away.

Photo: Paul Warchol

The cutting-edge Broad Museum of Art in East Lansing

East Lansing, Michigan

Make an architecture pilgrimage

Unless you’re a serious college hoops fan or a Michigan State University alum, East Lansing, neighbor to the state capital, probably isn’t on your radar. But the opening of the Broad Museum of Art (broadmuseum.msu.edu) on the MSU campus last November has given the college town new cultural cachet. Only the second building in the country by the Pritzker-winning architect Zaha Hadid, the slanted landmark of steel and glass seems ready to dash across town. Inside, curators make the most of angled walls and a two-story window-wrapped gallery with temporary installations of appropriately scaled contemporary works that play to the dynamism of the space. Try to catch the artist Alyson Shotz’s site-specific Geometry of Light, an assembly of translucent materials, on exhibit through June 23. Outside, it’s a two-block walk to the six-room Wild Goose Inn (517-333-3334, wildgooseinn.com; from $119), where guests gather around the deck’s fire pit in the evening. Break away for dinner at nearby Red Haven (517-679-6309, eatredhaven.com), devoted to showcasing locally raised produce.

  • 4 hours by car
  • Good for families

Detroit

Sample the city’s fantastic fine art

The art scene in Detroit has boomed and busted with the fortunes of the auto industry. The city’s early wealth funded the world-class collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts (313-833-7900, dia.org), including the centerpiece factory-scene murals commissioned from Diego Rivera. The city’s subsequent economic decline has become fodder for contemporary artists, including Tyree Guyton, whose downtown Heidelberg Project (313-974-6894, heidelberg.org) features a two-block-long series of once-deserted buildings and vacant lots decorated in exuberant detritus such as piles of castoff stuffed animals. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (313-832-6622, mocadetroit.org), the new permanent installation of a suburban ranch house in a neighboring lot represents white flight in reverse. Venture out from one of 40 rooms lodged in six turn-of-the-19th-century houses adapted as the Inn on Ferry Street (313-871-6000, innonferrystreet.com; from $139), around the corner from the DIA.

  • 1 hour by plane
  • Good for families

Mineral Point, Wisconsin

Work with your hands

Cornish immigrants settled Mineral Point in the 1830s to mine lead, leaving behind a romantic legacy of their earthmoving skills in a village of stone-block houses. As early as the 1930s, preservationists and artists began to buy up and restore the cottages in the town of steep hills, part of the rolling unglaciated Driftless Area of plunging river valleys. Down the street from one former mine, the nonprofit art school Shake Rag Alley (608-987-3292, shakeragalley.com) occupies eight wooden cabins and stone abodes, bolstering the town’s reputation as an art mecca with workshops for making rustic chairs from bent willow branches, baskets from pine needles, mosaics from broken glass, and jewelry from sheets of silver. Students enrolling in a class can stay at the school in an array of rooms and apartments spread over three buildings on and off campus (from $79.20). Play hooky six blocks away at Brewery Creek brewpub (608-987-3298, brewerycreek.com). Order a burger topped with local Colby and try one of the house-brewed porters or pale ales.

  • 4 hours by car
  • Good for families

Nashville

Go to the heart of country music

The Country Music Hall of Fame (615-416-2001, countrymusichalloffame.org), currently prepping for a massive expansion, is still a must-visit for any first-timer to Nashville. But some would argue that the real cultural treasure is a 15-minute walk southwest: Historic RCA Studio B (countrymusichalloffame.org/studiob), where more than 35,000 songs have been recorded (including 200 by Elvis), in the process, defining the quintessential Nashville sound. From Studio B, stroll the outskirts of stately Victory Park toward the Hermitage Hotel (888-310-8176, thehermitagehotel.com; from $279), where classic martinis are served with no fuss in the iconic Oak Bar. Better yet, make the pilgrimage to West End’s Elliston Place Soda Shop (615-327-1090), a kind of living memorial to the city’s grand ole days of burger flipping and soda slinging. Die-hard foodies should keep an eye out for the scheduled early-summer opening of Husk (husknashville.com), the sibling location of chef Sean Brock’s acclaimed restaurant in Charleston. The best time to visit? The Fourth of July, when everyone’s down on the Lawn at Riverfront Park: This year’s annual Let Freedom Sing concert pairs fireworks with music from all fronts—country (Band Perry), blues (Keb’ Mo’), and classical (Nashville Symphony).

  • 1.5 hours by plane
  • Splurge
  • Good for families

New Orleans

Explore the neighborhoods

Book a room in the French Quarter—the Royal Street Inn & Bar (504-948-7499, royalstreetinn.com; from $159) is a good bet—and grab a New Orleans–style dunker from Royal Street’s quaint Café Beignet (504-524-5530, cafebeignet.com). Then escape to the neighborhoods for great cultural exploring. To the south, the warehouse district is where to go for great food—start with authentic Cajun at Cochon (504-588-2123, cochonrestaurant.com)—and the most interesting art scene in the South today. Carve out at least a couple of hours for the incredible Ogden Musuem of Southern Art (504-539-9650, ogdenmuseum.org). War buffs should not miss the National WWII Museum (nationalww2museum.org). Try to catch the art walk on June 1, hosted by galleries on Julia Street on the first Saturday of every month from 6 to 9 p.m. North of the Quarter, the Marigny is the heart of the city’s local music scene. Unless carousing with a native, stay on Frenchmen Street, where you’ll find amazing musicians practically anywhere you go; start with live jazz at the Spotted Cat Music Club (spottedcatmusicclub.com). Duck into D.B.A. (504-942-3731, dbabars.com/dbano), order from its long list of daily craft beers on tap, and ponder your next summer escape.

  • 2.5 hours by plane
  • Splurge

 

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