Staying close to home is the hottest family travel trend in
America. For those of us lucky enough to live in Chicago, that
leaves plenty of great destinations with a few hours'
This lakefront town just north of the Illinois border often is
overlooked, but it has lots to offer at a price families can
afford. If you don't want to drive, take Metra and then hop on
board one of Kenosha's five restored electric streetcars.
They travel a two-mile loop along the Lake Michigan shoreline,
HarborPark, two historic districts, downtown business district and
the Metra train station, all for $1 for adults and 50 cents for
Along the way, stop at the free Dinosaur Discovery Museum. This
mecca for tiny dino lovers claims to have the largest collection of
meat-eating theropods, along with life-scale replicas of
Tyrannosaurus rex, Gallimimus and Ceratosaurus. At the Kenosha
Public Museum, also free, you'll find more than 80,000 items in its
natural sciences collection and nearly 1,000 works of fine art.
Don't miss the woolly mammoth excavated in Kenosha County or the
hands-on Field Station where kids can explore the arts and
If you work up an appetite, head to The Spot
Drive-In and order a burger and homemade root beer served in a
frosty mug. The food and drink are good and made even better by the
carhop service right to your car window. Before you head home, stop
at the nearby Jelly Belly warehouse and hop onboard the
train for a tour of the facility. The tour is free, as are the
samples in the factory store.
This city four hours east of Chicago is working hard to overcome
its history as a less-than-inviting place to visit. The Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame, which opened in 1995, put the
city back on the tourism map. But it's not the only reason to
Next door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the best
hands-on children's science centers in the country, the Great Lakes
Science Center. When I visited with four busloads of middle
schoolers on a band trip, we had to drag them out of the science
For younger children, Cleveland has a Children's Museum, zoo
and, its newest attraction, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which
opened in late 2011 and is home to eight-foot sharks, rays,
piranha, crocodiles and octopus.
If yours is a coaster-loving family, plan to spend a day before
or after your visit to Cleveland at Cedar Point
in Sandusky. This coasterific amusement park has an area dedicated
to little ones, but the rest of it is dedicated to daredevils. This
is the amusement park where my then 11-year-old son transformed
from a kid who didn't like heights into a kid who wants to build
bigger, faster, scarier coasters for a living.
This trip is all about history-our state's history as a part of
President Abraham Lincoln's life. We're not called the Land of
Lincoln for nothing, and Illinois' capital is the center of our
Lincoln history. Take the self-guided walking tour of Springfield's downtown to get a feel for how
Lincoln lived and worked, then head to the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum to let your kids play the way
Lincoln and his siblings would have played in their early
It's a 3.5-hour drive to Springfield from Chicago, so give the
kids, and yourself, a break from the car with a stop at Lincoln's
New Salem, about 30 minutes north of Springfield. This outdoor
museum is a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln
spent his early adulthood. It's a great spot to let the kids run
off a little of the energy they built up during the car ride and
maybe learn something about how early Illinois settlers lived. If
you're lucky, you'll visit on a day when the interpreters are
on-site, dressed in period garb and explaining how the pioneers
worked and lived.
Sometimes the best things are so close to home that we overlook
them. Such can be the case with the Indiana
Dunes Lakeshore. Located just 60 minutes from Chicago on the
southern shores of Lake Michigan, this national park offers an
expanse of sandy beach and acres of dunes to climb.
It's close enough for a day trip from Chicago, or pack the tent
and sleeping bags and stay in the Dunewood Campground for $15 a
If you want to make the trip educational as well as physical,
stop first at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center to
watch the short orientation video and pick up a trail guide. The
visitor center is located at 1215 N. State Road 49, Porter,
Cindy Richards is the mom of two who gets her muse from traveling the world, usually with kids in tow. She also writes for TravelingMom.com, where she also serves as editor.
See more of Cindy's stories here.
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