Things to Do in the Midwest in the Dead of Winter

I just got back from a week-long trip through the midwest. Yes, I froze. My Arizona blood was definitely confused by the negative degree temperatures. It was my first time experiencing real cold. I mean, I've been to Flagstaff, but it's like 30 degrees there. It's cold, but not COLD. One day in Illinois, the HIGH was -17. I'm serious. 

Despite the cold, I had a great time exploring some small towns and some larger ones in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. I went on the trip as a groupie for my boyfriend's band, which meant I had a lot of time to explore on my own while he was in rehearsals. We went from Rock Island, IL to Bloomington, IN to Louisville, KY and hit some smaller stops along the way.


Here's a list of things to do in the Midwest:


First Stop: Rock Island, IL

1. Quad City Botanical Center

quad cities botanical center

This place was a gem. Truly. I went there on New Year's Eve when nothing besides the restaurant in the hotel lobby was open. It was two miles away from my hotel and it was a high of -17 degrees, but I was desperate for something to do, so I walked the two miles in the cold to the center. When I got there, the receptionist thought I was lost! She said they never get visitors in winter and she was so excited when I said I was there to see the botanical garden! I explored the indoor garden for about an hour. It features different exotic plants that I'd never heard of and you are encouraged to sniff the leaves and even try a bite of a papaya! I'd definitely recommend this place. 


2. RozzTox Coffee

rozztox coffee rock island
rozztox coffee illinois

This place has great coffee and tea. They also have sandwiches, but I didn't try one of those. They hold small, local concerts and other events. Check it out! 


3. Davenport Sky Bridge

sky bridge.jpg
davenport sky bridge

Just across the river from Rock Island is the Davenport Sky Bridge. It's in Iowa! This bridge is a covered pedestrian bridge that extends over the streets and all the way to the water's edge. We went in the morning and it was nice to watch the sun come up over the river. We actually spent a lot of time here just walking and talking and looking at the city from a new point-of-view. It's free, so that's a nice bonus, too. Also, if you go at night, it's has cool lights. We could only go in the morning because we had to head to Indiana, but I'm still so glad we made the stop. 


Second Stop: Casey, IL

biggest rocking chair illinois
casey ilinois mailbox
casey illinois big things

Casey, Illinois is a strange little town right off the highway that really doesn't have a ton to do except run down Main Street and find big things. The town is known for being the home of the world's largest rocking chair, but it has a lot more than that. Casey is the home to many record-breaking large items, as well as some not record-breaking, but still huge, items. You can run around town taking pictures with the items, and many of them even work! For example, you can actually ring the world's largest wind chimes. It's a super fun town and a great place to stop for an hour or so to take a break from driving. 


Third Stop: Bloomington, IN


1. Downtown & Indiana University Bloomington

bloomington indiana downtown
tea shop bloomington indiana
big brain statue
downtown bloomington indiana

I had a great time wandering the streets of downtown Bloomington. I started at the main entrance to the university, often called the Sample Gates. I wandered the university which has great architecture, public art museums, walking trails through the trees, and even the largest anatomically correct statue of a brain! (Apparently I like large things.) The shops around town are mostly local, handmade shops and boutiques. I found a great jacket at Cactus Flower, a vintage clothing boutique, but then realized I had no extra space to get it home, so I didn't buy it. I also found some great candles with unique scents at Gather. After shopping all day, I grabbed some tea and a scone at Cup & Kettle, a cute little tea shop! 


2. WonderLab

wonderlab indiana
dinosaurs in indiana

This science museum looked like it would be totally aimed at toddlers, but we were desperate for something to do, so we checked it out. We were so wrong. This museum was possibly my favorite place of the whole trip! We learned a ton at all of their exhibits and played like kids. Everything is super hands-on and the people that work there are so friendly and helpful. We played at the robot building station for almost an hour! 


Fourth Stop: Louisville, KY


1. Museums on Main Street

things to do in lousville

We only had one day to explore downtown Louisville, so we opted for hitting the museums on Main Street! This pass was so helpful because it gave us entry into six of the biggest attractions.

-Frazier History Museum: Amazingly fascinating exhibits, and that's saying something because I'm not a history fan. Everything was better than I expected here. 
-Louisville Slugger Factory: It was cool to see how the bats are made, and we even got to see a famous ball player's bat in the process of creation.
-Ali Center: It was closed. Boo.
-Kentucky Science Center: AWFUL. Honestly the worst place I've ever been. 90% of the exhibits were broken and rather than having information about actual science, they only had signs that said "Do Science." Serious. It was bad. 
-Evan Williams Bourbon Experience: Okay, this was super fun. We walked from the early days of Kentucky through the prohibition era and into a 70's bar. The tour ended with a tasting of four of their best bourbons.  
-Peerless Distilling Co: We didn't make it to this one. We were running short on time and decided to only do one distillery tour. If you go, let me know how it is!


2. Schimpff's Confectionery & Candy Museum

schimpffs confectionery

This place is a must. I got a rat made of white chocolate. 


I had so much fun, even though it was cold AF. Can't wait to visit again, but maybe in the summer next time!