It’s easy to find the hot spots in St. Louis this summer: Just look for the two-tiered, four-foot-tall birthday cakes that are made out of fiberglass and sit in front of the city’s most significant attractions, landmarks and favorite hangouts. There are 250 of the artist-decorated cakes because that’s how old St. Louis is this year.
“Cakeway to the West” is one slogan that marks this yearlong party. Download a free app online, to make exploring easier. stl250.org, explorestlouis.com, 800-325-7962
How has the city changed and deepened its character during this time? Inside the Missouri History Museum is the “250 in 250” exhibit, which tells the story through 50 people, 50 places, 50 pictures, 50 objects and 50 moments in time.
These 250 visual, video and written stories go way beyond the city’s Budweiser and Gateway Arch heritage. mohistory.org, 314-746-4599
The lawn game of kubb – nicknamed “Viking chess” – has Nordic roots, and Eau Claire once again hosts the U.S. national and junior championships, July 11-13 at Eau Claire Soccer Park, Craig and Hamilton streets. Contestants work in teams to knock over wooden blocks by throwing wooden batons. wisconsinkubb.com
Lots of people play cornhole casually, but the American Cornhole Association sanctions a Sept. 20 tournament at Pastimes Pub, 120 Scott St., Ripon. “Cornhole” is a form of beanbag toss, and this test of tossing precision is an increasingly common game at campsites and tailgate parties. playcornhole.org
Stoughton presents its first Corn-O-Kubbia tournament at Mandt Park, 400 Mandt Parkway, on July 19. stoughtonwi.com, 888-873-7743
Zip lines used to be just for a quick introduction to rainforests, howler monkeys and other exotic elements inside Costa Rica. Now even Mall of America, near the Twin Cities of Minnesota, will have one.
The enormous shopping center in Bloomington, Minn., will open an indoor zip line in July. Riders will get a 55-foot-high view of the mall’s amusement park, gliding above the Ferris wheel and other rides. mallofamerica.com, 952-883-8800
What else? Opening June 5 at the mall’s Midwest Music Museum is a traveling exhibit of Beatles artifacts, to celebrate the golden anniversary of the group’s arrival in the United States. It stays until Sept. 7. midwestmusicmuseum.com, 952-883-8800
Bloomington also is coming up with other reasons to visit. The city’s visitors bureau is working with the National Park Service and outfitter Wilderness Inquiry to offer half-day, guided canoe trips along the nearby Mississippi River. Within a walk of the mall are Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge hiking trails. wildernessinquiry.org, 612-676-9400; bloomingtonmn.org, 952-858-8500
Chicagoland’s hottest new shopping destination is miles from Michigan Avenue and the Loop. Fashion Outlets of Chicago, 5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont, Ill., is three miles from O’Hare International Airport. Shuttles connect the mall with the airport and downtown hotels.
Fashion Outlets is a two-floor home to 130 shops, many devoted to high-end labels such as Burberry, Diane Von Furstenberg, Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Hugo Boss. It opened in late 2013. fashionoutletsofchicago.com, 847-928-7500
Monroe will make an especially big deal out of Green County Cheese Days this year because the city’s first cheese festival happened 100 years ago. Plans call for limburger cheese sliders, cheese-chocolate pairings, the debut of “Cheese Days: the Musical,” a parade of cheesemakers, 100 accordion players and plenty of yodelers.
The big party is Sept. 19-21, and this event happens every other year in downtown Monroe. cheesedays.com, 608-328-1838
Fans of the annual South by Southwest independent music festival in Austin, Texas, can get a sampling closer to home on Aug. 9-11. Mile of Music, on and near College Avenue in downtown Appleton, aims to present at least 200 performers at 50 venues.
Best of all: no cover charges at most events. All music for this second annual gathering is original material. Headliners include Cory Chisel, an Appleton native who records folk-rock with The Wandering Sons. mileofmusic.com, 920-734-3358
Look for “Moments in TIME,” an exhibit of magazine covers autographed by their subjects, until June 29 at the Trout Museum of Art, 111 W. College Ave., Appleton.
Cover subjects include the Beatles, John Wayne, Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Andy Warhol. The show is representative of the 250-plus signed TIME covers that make up a Kentucky professor’s private collection. troutmuseum.org, 920-733-4089
The Walldogs – an international group of artists who converge once a year to design and paint murals in towns willing to pay their supplies, lodging and food for a few days – take on Shipshewana, Ind., this year and Delavan in 2015.
The group’s work leaves colorful and lasting impressions on cities chosen for a visit. The artists painted 21 murals in Plymouth in 2011, and the work-in-progress attracted crowds of onlookers. thewalldogs.com
American Girl Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, is a doll lover’s dream. In the building is a doll hospital, doll hair-styling studio, restaurant for child-doll tea times, bakery with matching child- and doll-sized treats and lots of shopping space. americangirl.com/stores, 877-247-5223
Now come four dates (July 20, July 30, Aug. 6 and Aug. 10) for American Girl Cruises, which include lunch or dinner and take parents, girls and dolls along the Chicago River or Lake Michigan shore. Actors portray historical characters, based on American Girl books. Prices not yet announced. cruisechicago.com, 847-358-1330
Coming Nov. 1 to Madison is the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, affiliated with the Iowa Bacon Board. Expect a sizzling immersion in food, beverages, lectures, movies and themed meals with bacon from Wisconsin (Nueske’s to Patrick Cudahy).
Watch blueribbonbaconfestival.com for details about this Alliant Energy Center event, which began as a lark in 2001 and now gains international attention. Other fest sites this year are in Iowa, Colorado and Iceland.