Louisville, Ky.

Louisville Copper Kings Distillery
Dave Lauridsen

You don't have to like the taste of whiskey to fall for Louisville (pop. 253,000), a gem of a destination that offers a wealth of serene parkland with an urban sensibility. Besides distillery visits, tourists head for the lush Cave Hill Cemetery, where Louisville natives Muhammad Ali and Col. Harland Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) are buried, and the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to see where the famous bats are born. Hot areas for food and drink include the stylish Butchertown neighborhood and NuLu, short for New Louisville, along downtown’s Market Street. It's home to some of the city’s best farm-to-table restaurants. 

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio Short North Arts District
Getty Images

This city of almost 900,000 is the biggest in Ohio and the state capital but is often overlooked as a getaway destination. That’s changing. In recent years it's had an influx of new residents eager for cool restaurants, bars and cultural offerings. Some of the most popular are in the Short North Arts District, full of galleries, boutiques and great spots to eat (the Pearl) and drink (Brothers Drake Meadery). June brings the Columbus Arts Festival, with hundreds of artists exhibiting along the Scioto Mile, a 175-acre greenway connecting downtown to the river. 

Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol Museum In Pittsburgh
Remi BENALI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Made rich by the success and philanthropy of men like Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, Pittsburgh has enjoyed a cultural bounty that’s the envy of many other American cities its size (about 300,000). Music reigns at Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and across town at the Carnegie Museum of Art you’ll find masterpieces by Monet, Whistler, Degas and Pollock. On the North Shore, the Andy Warhol Museum offers iconic works from the city’s native son, and the Mattress Factory exhibits a bold array of brilliant experimental and contemporary art. 

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Madison, Wis.  

Madison, Wis.  cheese shop
Dave Lauridsen

The capital of Wisconsin has the advantage of being a big college town with about 250,000 residents — meaning it’s got lots going on, from Badgers football games to great places to eat, drink and shop. It’s been called a foodie paradise, thanks to places like Fromagination for artisanal cheese and tasty-and-trendy restaurants that include A Pig in a Fur Coat, for pork of all sorts, and the Old Fashioned, a favorite for cheese curds. And there are endless opportunities to play outdoors, with hiking and biking — the Capital City State Trail cuts through the city and on to scenic spots — and no fewer than five lakes in the area. 

See also: Cities for beer lovers