Started in 1992 to combat the allure of the new Mall of America, the lighted Holidazzle parade in downtown Minneapolis has become a cherished tradition, bringing in crowds who then stay to enjoy the restaurants, shops and holiday shows.
What to do: Watch the Holidazzle parade (pictured), 6:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Dec. 23 (bus and light-rail fares are free Dec. 7 and 14). Visit Macy's "A Day in the Life of an Elf'' display. See "A Christmas Carol'' at the Guthrie. See a Christmas play or ballet in the Hennepin Theatre District.
Nightlife: The Dakota music club on Nicollet and 10th schedules many holiday shows.
Details: For more, see A jolly holiday in Minneapolis.
Past fast plans: Christmas in Chicago, Sample the Amanas, Escape to the Dells, Gales of November, Shopping in Madison
Spirit of Christmas Past in Eagle, Wis. At this open-air heritage museum, meet Father Christmas (pictured), stroll from historic houses to shops, sample ethnic foods and make old-fashioned crafts. Dec. 1415.
A Heritage Hill Christmas in Green Bay, Wis. At this large complex of frontier buildings, listen to choirs, make orange pomanders, learn 19th-century dances, visit with St. Nick and go on a horse-drawn wagon ride. Dec. 14.
Night of the Luminaria in Galena, Ill. More than 5,000 candle-lit luminaria line the streets of this historic town. Dec. 14.
Ice Festival in Sandstone, Minn. There are ice-climbing and winter camping clinics, a chili cook-off, door prizes and use of demo gear. Dec. 1315.
For more festivals, see our Events Calendar.
Visiting Chicago during the holidays, I'm always bowled over by how merry everyone is.
Can it be . . . Chicago Nice? It's either that or pixie dust.
Chicago is an exciting place to be any time, but at Christmas, it pulls out the stops. The Magnificent Mile sparkles. Ice skaters do pirouettes in Millennium Park. There are free concerts everywhere.
The first year I went, I headed for the Museum of Science and Industry and its "Christmas Around the World exhibit of 50 trees, each decorated by a different Chicago cultural group.
No one ever accused Milwaukee of being flashy.
Best known for tractors, motorcycles and beer, its a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, stolid and practical like the Germans who built it.
Its not what youd call a trendy destination. And yet every time I go there, I have a great time.
The ugly duckling has turned into a swan. Consider its newest landmarks a bright-white wing, whose graceful unfurling draws sightseers to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the sliding roof of Miller Park, which tucks itself in to a musical fanfare after Brewers games.
Twin Citians can boast all they want about their quality of life, their lakes and their urban civility.
But the only thing most people in other states and countries really want to know about is the Mall of America, and the very interesting fact that there's no tax on clothing and shoes in Minnesota.
Opened in 1992, the megamall was an instant hit, attracting eager shoppers from all over the world, most arriving with empty suitcases they can stuff with deals.
It's the No. 1 attraction in Minnesota those 10,000 lakes aren't even in the running drawing 40 million people every year to its 4.2 million square feet of stores, restaurants and amusements.
In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.
Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.
Round up a group of friends, and you'll save a bundle. Last February, we rented one of the modern guesthouses in Minnesota's St. Croix State Park. We skied by candlelight, went snowshoeing on the river and spotted a rare boreal owl sitting in a tree near our house. Total cost per person, including food: $30.
That's among 20 weekend trips you can take for $100 or less per person in 2014.
Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking.
Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.
It all turned into money when ambitious men arrived, gathering up the goodies like kids on Halloween. They logged, they mined, they traded and they shipped. The men who made the biggest fortunes did it all, plowing their first round of profits into railroads, land and banking.
Then, they built houses.
Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.
Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.
As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.
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