The U.S. Midwest has no shortage of charming small towns, many of which feature historic downtowns, offbeat roadside attractions, and friendly locals. Whether you’re setting off on a cross-country road trip or are just curious about hidden gems, these are six of the quirkiest small towns you should visit in the Midwest.
DC Comics deemed Metropolis, Illinois, as Superman’s official hometown in 1972, and fans of the superhero have been flocking here ever since. The town of about 6,000 people is home to Superman Square, the site of a 15-foot-tall Superman Statue that looks over the city. (A statue of Lois Lane is also found a few blocks away.) The Super Museum — identifiable by the Man of Steel’s signature colors of blue, yellow, and red — is located across the street from the Superman Statue. Inside, visitors can pour over more than 70,000 artifacts, the largest collection of Superman memorabilia in the world. Every June, Metropolis hosts a Superman Celebration, complete with celebrity guests and throngs of costumed comic fans.
This small Minnesota town with a population of less than 1,000 people has one big claim to fame: It was the hometown of music legend Prince. The late “Purple Rain” singer certainly came a long way from his days in Henderson, but he left his mark all over town. Fans often come here to pose with the Prince statue in Prince Garden, complete with purple benches and surrounded by purple flowers. Above the statue is a giant mural of the singer leaning against a red Corvette, a recreation of a scene from his 1984 movie Purple Rain, which was also filmed in town. After Prince passed away in 2016, Henderson released a map outlining the many sites near the town where the movie’s scenes were filmed.
Santa Claus, Indiana
This Indiana town’s festive name certainly provokes curiosity. Legend has it that when the town applied for a post office under its former name, Santa Fe, in 1856, the request was rejected because a nearby town had already claimed the name, and the townspeople were instructed to pick something else. As it was the holiday season, Santa Claus was suggested, and the name stuck.
To say the town has leaned into its name is perhaps an understatement: In Santa Claus, there are dozens of Santa Claus statues, a Christmas Lodge, a Christmas Store, Santa’s Candy Castle, and the Holiday World and Splash Safari theme park — attractions that altogether attract bring around 1 million visitors to the town year-round. A visit to Santa Claus during the holiday season will predictably coincide with the many events happening in this festive town.
Not up for the long flight to Europe? Americans craving a slice of the European lifestyle can head to Frankenmuth as a worthy alternative. You could easily mistake your location for Germany once you step foot in this Michigan town, which was settled by German immigrants in 1845. The sight of the Holz Brücke (wooden bridge) is the first sign you’ve arrived, while the charming Bavarian architecture, year-round German festivals (like the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest and the World Expo of Beer), and German cuisine served at many restaurants all add to the atmosphere. You can even attend a Sunday service at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church entirely in German.
Jud, North Dakota
North Dakota has its fair share of small towns, but perhaps none are more vibrant than the tiny town of Jud. Made up of roughly 70 people, Jud makes a name for itself thanks to the artistic abilities of many of its residents. In an effort to spruce up the town, Jud’s talented painters took it upon themselves to decorate the outside of most of its houses, stores, garages, and bars with colorful murals. Aptly dubbed “the Village of Murals,” Jud features works that depict everything from cartoon characters and larger-than-life postage stamps to nature scenes and local images. A wander around this small town is like walking into an outdoor art museum.
Perhaps the official motto for Casey, Illinois, should be “bigger is better.” The town of 2,400 people claims 12 Guinness World Records for the “world’s largest” items, plus a dozen other so-called “Big Things,” all of which are displayed in or around the historic downtown. Among the record winners are the World’s Largest Wind Chime, Rocking Chair, Pitchfork, Mailbox, and Barber’s Pole, all made right in Casey. Stroll around town, and you’ll also run into the Big Cactus, A Big Ear of Corn, and the Big Taco — to name a few of the many unusually large attractions here.
Jim Bolin, a local businessman, was trying to think of a way to draw visitors to his small town with a unique attraction when he decided to go for a Guinness World Record. Bolin used piping sourced from his own business for the construction of the wind chime in 2009, and the momentum of his initial success has kept him going ever since. A visit to Casey is sure to result in many photo ops with these quirky record holders.