Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by JaimeSays
Growing up, I went to a school that was started by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s patrons. As such, a love of architecture developed early, and continues to this day. One of my favorite ways to explore a place is through architecture tours. Living in Chicago, there is no comparison to getting on the river and enjoying an architecture boat tour. With crime these days, it’s probably the safest way to enjoy the city as well. While big cities offer great architecture and tours, I am a quiet travel kind of girl so I prefer Midwest architecture tours in more hidden places. Across my travels, I’ve discovered that there are many fantastic destinations for architecture buffs. My qualifications for a great architecture tour is one that:
- Has at least some walking involved rather than driving
- Includes a mix of private and public buildings
- Is not too crowded
- Teaches you about an unknown place
I will admit that some of these places are bigger than small towns. Columbus, Indiana and Oak Park, IL are veritable small cities. In comparison to big city architecture tours however, these are much more manageable and to my liking.
1. Taste of Iowa Road Trip Architecture Tour
- Duration: You Decide! One hour or one week
- Cost: Most stops are free to visit; Whether or not you buy something is your choice
Have you ever noticed how road trips in the Midwest always make Iowa the butt of all jokes? “Nothing but rest stops and cornfields.” Au contraire, my dear reader! What better way to enjoy a road trip than to turn it into an architecture tour? The Iowa Architecture Foundation has done just that with their “Taste of Iowa” Architecture tour. Now you can enjoy various historical sights with a significance in feeding the people of Iowa throughout the years as you make your way through the state. Stops include farmers’ markets in operation since the 1860’s and a former Model T showroom.
2. Columbus, Indiana (Includes Seasonal Midwest Architecture Tours)
- Duration: Between 1 -3 Hours (varies)
- Cost:$10-$25 per person, per tour (varies)
Visiting Columbus, Indiana was on my bucket list for about five years. An ad campaign the city ran in Chicago introduced me to this Midwest architecture goldmine. With the support of a steel company and architecture obsessed owner/patron, this city of 50,000 residents has the architectural significance of a city 25 times its size. With several different indoor and outdoor architectural tours, the Columbus, Indiana Welcome Center is the the best place to see your options and book a tour. To make it a few days, check out my post on additional things to do in Columbus Indiana.
3. Oak Park, Illinois (Includes Seasonal Midwest Architecture Tours)
- Duration: 1.5-3 Hours (varies)
- $15-$65 per person, per tour (varies)
Well of course I had to include the Frank Lloyd mecca immediately west of Chicago! Although it is a small city itself, and not quite a small town, it needed to be included. Frank Lloyd Wright made his home and studio in this town from 1889 to 1908. As such, he built and designed many homes in the neighborhood. The FLW Foundation operates tours in his original home and studio year long, and seasonal walking tours in the neighborhood. Once a year, and always in May, you can even have the chance to tour the interiors of up to ten private residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
4. Northern Michigan
- Duration: 1.5-2.5 Hours, varies
- Cost: $25-$30, varies
Michigan boasts more coastline than Florida. Plus, it’s freshwater, so your eyes won’t burn when you take a dip. What’s more, the history of the people that settled in Northern Michigan—who built sturdy homes and homesteaded in harsh winters— is so profound, each visit could fill a motion pictures worth of story. Petoskey visitors can enjoy the architecture of the region by retracing the steps of Ernest Hemingway, and it’s slightly smaller neighbor Charlevoix has one of the best Midwest architecture tours in the entire region. You won’t find this style anywhere else in the world because the architect never left Northern Michigan. Truly a one of a kind exploration of Midwest architecture!
When visiting Northern Michigan, I recommend making a home base in Petoskey if you want to visit all the hotspots of Northern Michigan, and Charlevoix if you want to spend more time on the water. I’ve enjoyed Stafford’s, The Inn at Bay Harbor, and look forward to staying at the Earl of Charlevoix next time I am in town.
5. Wisconsin’s Frank Lloyd Wright Trail
- Duration: Varies–could be one hour, or two days
- Cost: Each Site varies; SC Johnson Wax is free, Taliesin is up to $93/tour
FLW Again? Considering he is perhaps the most recognized and preeminent American architect of the 20th Century, it is no surprise that there is another Midwest Architecture tour devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright. Spanning from the border town of Kenosha all the way to Richland Center, over an hour west of Madison, this trail is best seen as a multi-day experience.
I had the pleasure of discovering this gem through a wholly unrelated book on a Shakespeare repertory theatre in Spring Green that I loved so much, I bought tickets to see them live in action. If you happen to take this Midwest architecture tour in the summer or fall months, I highly recommend scheduling time for a play at American Players Company. A mix of commercial offices, a civic center, his flagship architecture school, and private homes, it is a truly a spectacular trail.
If there is a small town Midwest architecture tour you’ve taken that you’d like to share, drop a comment below!
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