A path along Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore awaits to be explored on a bright afternoon
Classic Road Trips

I-80: Best Road Trip from Chicago to Cleveland

Beaches, Great Lakes lighthouses, and classic American diners.

Chicago to Cleveland. Cleveland to Chicago. Either direction, it’s normally one of the most uninspired routes in the Midwest, where you expect to find just miles and miles along I-80/I-90. There are no hills and no frills. But, good news, folks: It doesn’t have to be so dull. If you have some extra time, you can discover beaches, lighthouses, classic American diners, and loads more along this route. Continue reading for our recommendations on sprucing up the drive from Chicago to Cleveland.

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago is an appropriately exciting spot to start your road trip. From the views atop Sears Tower (or Willis Tower), to the hustle and bustle of Navy Pier, to the fun to be had at Oak Street Beach (a real sand beach in a Midwestern metropolis), Chicago is an awesome place to explore before or after a road trip. Kinzie Hotel, Sutton Place, and the Freehand are some of the coolest hotels in Chicago if you need a place to stay, and you can fill up your tanks at Gino’s East, Al’s, and Glazed and Infused before you head out for Cleveland.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Tourists enjoy Indiana Sand Dunes Beach on a sunny afternoon.

Source: Shutterstock

Only a few miles off the standard highway route, you’ll find the sandy Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and you might even be able to sneak a delicious meal in at the Southside Soda Shop. Expect this route to add an hour or two to your drive, but those couple hours come with a stunning lake view.

Studebaker National Museum

Another don’t-miss stop is the Studebaker Museum. A stop at the massive and beautiful 55,000 sq. foot, 3 level museum shows you the massive impact the company (and Packard) had throughout the years, from producing multiple presidential carriages, to Studebaker military vehicles (Did you know the Hummer H2 & H3 descended from WWII Studebakers?), to the very last Studebaker to roll off the assembly line. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and you’ll come away with a new appreciation for Studebaker for a very reasonable $8 admission price.

Notre Dame Stadium

While swinging by the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, you also have to make a quick stop at Notre Dame Stadium to throw one up to ‘Touchdown Jesus’ and do your best Rudy impression. Just a bit further up the road you’ll come across The Hall of Heroes Super Hero Museum, a shrine made for all comic book superhero lovers. The place is fun for all ages, and the owners are friendly. They may even be in costume when you stop by.

RV & Motorhome Hall of Fame

If RVs are more your thing, stop by the RV & Motorhome Hall of Fame in Elkhart, IN. The RV Hall of Fame features some great vintage campers, and costs $10 a head. It might seem a little pricey, but if you own an RV, love that vintage camper aesthetic, or are considering buying one, it’s worth a stop.

South Side Soda Shop

The South Side Soda Shop in Goshen IN, is one of the best soda shops in the whole country, and features good, classic diner food complete with some of the best pies in Hoosier nation. You may also recognize it from an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives.”

Historic Sauder Village

If you want to celebrate how easy we have it today, stop by Historic Sauder Village, Ohio’s largest living-history village where you can make all the Billy Madison “peeing your pants is cool” jokes you can possibly muster while watching some someone churn butter like it’s the 1800s.

The Oliver House

Just across the Ohio line you’ll come to the hard-working, blue-collar town of Toledo. Swing by the historic Oliver House and choose between the higher end steakhouse, the cafe, or the lounge for your food selection.

Liberty Aviation Museum

The next diner is not only a classic 1950s aluminum diner, but it’s also attached to the Liberty Aviation Museum, a great hangar-style museum filled with vintage aircraft and military memorabilia, most notably a B-25 bomber.

Tin Goose Diner

If you have time for a burger at the Tin Goose Diner after trip to the museum, you’re going to leave satisfied. Your dining experience here is sure to come with top-flight food, and pleasant and quick service, all while being surrounded by the memorable and historic aircraft memorabilia.

Marblehead Lighthouse

This photo shows a panoramic view of the Marblehead Lighthouse In early morning light on Lake Erie.

Source: Shutterstock

Marblehead Lighthouse is a lot like the Dunes Option, only, as you guessed, it hugs Lake Erie instead of Lake Michigan. Stop for your pretty picture to prove to your friends how much you like the road less traveled. Like the Dunes option, you’ll add just a few an hour or two to your drive, but the views will be worth it.

Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Cleveland downtown skyline sparkles at twilight.

Source: Shutterstock

After the lighthouse, it’s not far to your final destination: Cleveland. From the Aloft Cleveland, to the Metropolitan at The 9, there are loads of great hotels to stay here after you enjoy the city’s cool attractions, from the Westside Market, to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

On your next I-80 road trip, take the scenic route instead of the corn fields route, and drive along two different Great Lake shores, stopping at the Dunes on Lake Michigan and the Marblehead Lighthouse along the Lake Erie Coastal Trail. Along with the scenery, you’ll get a chance to eat some old fashioned American diner food, and check out some great automotive and military aviation museums.

What’s your favorite road trip stop along I-80 from Chicago to Cleveland? Let us know by commenting on our Facebook page.

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