Satisfy your child’s train obsession and give yourself a break from the car with these easy Amtrak getaways. You won’t have to worry about the TSA, overbooked flights or traffic—and your child will be mesmerized by the scenery outside rather than the iPad. Basically, it’s a win-win. Note: Prices depend on date and time of travel.
Train trip from Chicago: New Buffalo, Mich.
Travel time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Enjoy the journey: Amtrak drops you across the street from The Harbor Grand hotel. Here, no car is necessary. If it rains, you can stay inside your hotel, where you’ve got an indoor pool, a hot tub, a never-ending supply of fresh coffee and a restaurant open for dinner (breakfast is a complimentary delivery to your room). There are plenty of restaurants within a block of your hotel (we are obsessed with The Stray Dog Bar & Grill), and a handful of throwback ice cream parlors line the street. But the best part is the beach, which you can practically spot from the train. It’s got a playground that will stop kids in their tracks as soon as their feet hit the sand, and it has those picture-perfect, Facebook-worthy views that have garnered Michigan it’s summer vacay reputation.
Train trip from Chicago: Galesburg
Travel time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Enjoy the journey: You’re deposited in a tiny town, right next to the Discovery Depot Children’s Museum. This gem was recently renovated and will provide hours of fun for toddlers through teens. Best of all, it doesn’t get too crowded. True train fans will never get enough of their passion, so be sure to check out the Galesburg Railroad Museum, which is connected to the Amtrak station. It’s packed with railroad memorabilia, and kids get to go through an old Pullman car, a mail car, baggage car, steam engine and a caboose. It’s perfect for railroad buffs young and old[er]. When it’s time for lunch, walk over to Baked for pizza or to The Packinghouse Dining Company for sandwiches and some of the best cinnamon buns ever.
Train trip from Chicago: Bloomington-Normal
Travel time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Enjoy the journey: When you hop off the train, you can’t miss The Children’s Discovery Museum, and you’ll have a hard time getting your kids to leave. It’s like a children’s museum and a science museum in one, with agricultural areas, water exploration centers, interactive health and biology exhibits and of course, a kitchen where kids can pretend to make pizzas. Plus, there are craft rooms, music and theater activities, and glass painting walls. If you can escape, bring a picnic and spread out in the grassy area (technically called Uptown Circle) just outside the museum by the river. There’s also Constitution Trail, a three-mile walk, if you want to stretch your legs. Not in the mood for a picnic? There are lots of restaurants in walking distance, including Windy City Wieners and Firehouse Pizza. The Marriott Hotel and Hyatt hotel are within a few blocks.
Train trip from Chicago: St. Louis
Travel time: 5 hours and 30 minutes
Enjoy the journey: This trip is for baseball fans. Busch Stadium is walking distance from the Amtrak station, as is the St. Louis City Center Hotel with the mandatory heated indoor pool for kids who need their vacation-worthy splash, the must-take photo spot Gateway Arch and tons of restaurants. There’s really no need for a car, since there is also a subway station as soon as you hop off the train. Be sure to make time for the Saint Louis Zoo, City Museum, a 600,000-square-foot children’s playground and Grant’s Farm, a nearly 300-acre wildlife preserve that has more than 900 animals.
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.
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