Forget the mad dash to the airport, the travel delays, and the TSA pat-downs. Instead, take these easy, breezy gas tank getaways to semi-local destinations.
Blue Harbor Resort & Spa. This is the perfect weekend away with kids (or even better-as a family reunion with tons of cousins) because once you settle into your room, you never need to leave the resort for anything. The water park has enough to occupy the big kids (they've got four big-kid slides and interesting water-apparatus equipment which is great for kids 5-10), a large splash area for babies and even a small pool with two slides for toddlers and younger children. The resort also has an arcade, a kids club with activities scheduled throughout the day (usually for a minimal fee), storytime at night and s'mores during the summer. There is a spa, plus plenty of restaurants within a 5-mile radius of the resort, but if you don't want to leave, you don't have to. There's a snack area by the pool, and restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hotel rooms themselves are nicer than your average waterpark hotel-and they've got everything from lofted to aquarium-themed suites.
Giant City Lodge. For the outdoorsy family, this is the perfect vacation. You'll be staying in a cabin in the woods, and it's incredibly peaceful. Out here, they've got great trails for hiking, rock formations for rappelling, gorgeous lakes, stunning natural bridges and tons of other outdoor activities for families. It's similar in style to Starved Rock, but it's less of a tourist destination-so it's quieter and calmer, rustic and peaceful. They've got a restaurant where fried chicken is the specialty, and everything is made from scratch.
Pentwater. Visit this cute little town on the water, which has an adorable downtown, complete with a town center sporting classic ice-cream parlors, independent stores and mom-and-pop restaurants. Pentwater may be small, but it's got lots going on in terms of parades, gallery strolls, pancake breakfasts and other community events that are open to the public. We're especially partial to the annual Memorial Weekend Amateur Salmon & Trout Fishing Derby (May 24-26), where fishermen young and old gather to try to win more than $3,500 in prizes. For more information about their community events, check the website. Pentwater has some bed-and-breakfasts (Hexagon House Bed & Breakfast is one of the best) and a few hotels, but families would have better luck renting a little house or a cottage on the water for a more relaxed, spacious vacation.
New Glarus. Otherwise known as America's Little Switzerland, this exotic village in Wisconsin will make you feel as if you've actually left the country sans jetlag. Founded by the Swiss, it has plenty of Swiss festivals, restaurants, shops, music and events that keep its heritage alive. The Swiss Historical Village & Museum is a 14-building compound that allows visitors to learn more about the founding of the area in 1845. Glarner Stube, a Swiss restaurant, is the perfect spot to grab lunch or dinner with the family. They've got tons on the menu kids will gobble up, such as fried cheese curds, real cinnamon sticks and cheese fondue. Parents will appreciate the selection of drafts from the local New Glarus brewing company. The New Glarus Bakery is always a hit for dessert, and it serves-no surprise here-Swiss fresh baked goodness including butter cookies, fancy Swiss pastries and apple fritters. While you're there, you really should stay in one of their traditional Swiss hotels, such as the Chalet Landhaus.
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.
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