Kenosha, Wis., might not be the first vacation spot
you think of, but at less than 60 miles from downtown Chicago, it's
a great spot for a day trip. The former factory town is reinventing
itself as a lakeside destination for families, with lots of
inexpensive ways to pass the time.
We explored the city thanks to the Kenosha Area Convention
and Visitors Bureau and even stayed overnight, courtesy of the
Pleasant Prairie Radisson, to take in the best that the city has to
offer. Visit kenoshacvb.com for additional details on each of our
This warehouse offers a free half-hour tour aboard the
Jelly Belly Express, a train that stops at screens describing how a
bean is born and giving fun facts like which president used jelly
beans to kick his tobacco habit. Keep an eye out for jelly bean art
resembling some of history's finest paintings. Everyone loves the
tour's parting souvenir: a bag of Jelly Bellys. Plus, stop by the
sample bar, where you can try some of the stranger flavors or
discover your own perfect pairings.
Kenosha is a walkable town, made easier by the presence of
this old-fashioned trolley that covers a 2-mile loop. The charming
streetcar provides a great overview of the city. Kids will love
handing over exact change (50 cents kids, $1 adults, $2.50 for all
day) before they ride. Tip: Don't forget to pull the cord when you
want to get off.
This unassuming restaurant serves up some classic good
eats, and since the owner started with a hot dog cart in Chicago,
you know his dogs live up to our discerning Windy City palates. The
namesake menu item, the "Trolley Dog," is a hot dog and tamale on
the same bun, but for safe bets, try the hot dog or Italian beef.
Kids will get a kick out of owner Joe Catuara's hot dog hat, and if
it's quiet, he might be talked into making a balloon
Southport Light Station &
Before it was known for its manufacturing, Kenosha was a
shipping town. Step back in history at the 1866 Southport
Lighthouse. Weekends from May to October, ages 8 and up can climb
the 76 steps to the top of the lighthouse (wear good shoes) to get
a great view of the lake. Then head inside what used to be the
lighthouse keeper's house to learn about the town, lighthouses and
more. Be sure to check out the restored rooms that show what a
kitchen and bedroom looked like in the early 20th
Civil War Museum
If your kids are learning about the Civil War, reinforce
it with a visit to this museum, which lets them in for free (with
$7 adult admission). The museum focuses on the Midwest's role in
our deadliest war, with artifacts, re-creations and newspaper
pages. Look for the large railroad car, where you can sit down next
to a mannequin that actually talks. Another highlight is "12
Tales," an audio exhibit where you can follow different real-life
people through three stages of the war.
Kenosha's main drag is 6th Avenue, where you can find
shops of all types. Sandy's Popper serves gourmet popcorn varieties
(think key lime pie) as well as the classic flavors like cheddar
cheese. Scoops! Ice Cream and Candy is an old-fashioned ice cream
parlor with flavors galore. Try the pretzel cone for an unexpected
flavor combo. While you're there, head next door to Heim's Downtown
Toy Store, a place kids won't want to leave. The store is full of
classic and educational toys for all ages.
Dinosaur Discovery Museum
If your kids are dino-crazy, there's no better place than
this museum, completely free and packed with dinosaur skeletons
from 18 different species. Older kids will enjoy the informational
videos that take you to a real dino dig. Little ones should be sure
to head downstairs for dinosaur-themed coloring, books and puzzles.
If you're lucky, you can even watch students from the Carthage
Institute of Paleontology working on actual dinosaur
Playgrounds & beaches
If you need a break from the museums, Kenosha is perfect
for a stroll in the sand or along the Lake Michigan Promenade. The
city also has 56 parks, many of which are free and include
playground equipment (we liked the tugboat!). In warmer weather,
head just outside the city to the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex, a
massive recreation center complete with its own beach, boat
rentals, jogging trail, sand volleyball and various other
Kenosha Public Museum
If there's one word to describe this museum, it's mammoth. No,
the museum isn't huge, but it features a mammoth skeleton found in
Kenosha County. The museum traces the natural history of the area
using a kid-friendly cartoon guide. Before you leave, stop by
the Field Station," a hands-on area exploring ornithology and
zoology, anthropology and art. We guarantee your kids will be
talking about that ginormous skeleton all the way back home to
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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