Looking for a weekend getaway or some short vacation to enjoy with your family? Well, here are ten travel ideas we have to help you plan a summer escape!
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Looking for a weekend getaway or some short vacation to enjoy with your family? Well, here are ten travel ideas we have to help you plan a summer escape!
A close and lakeside adventure awaits you less than 60 miles from downtown Chicago. Kenosha, Wis. is home to inexpensive yet fun activities for the whole family to enjoy.
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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 favorite spots.
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, $3.00 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 animal.
Southport Light Station & Museum
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 century.
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 $9 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.
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 wa
Ann Arbor may be a college town, but there is more for families to do and see away from the Univ. of Michigan campus.
The Fairy Door at Peaceable Kingdom
Ann Arbor, college town par excellence, is home to a pedestrian-friendly downtown, a wealth of tree-filled parks, and a funky, Midwestern vibe. Many alums drag their kids back to their alma mater to catch a game in the Big House, but there is so much more to see, do and eat in this green and family-friendly city.
My children, ages 2 and 11, had a blast trying to find the many intricate and colorful fairy doors located in shops, cafes and restaurants throughout town. Follow the fairy map, available at Urban Fairy Operations (urban-fairies.com) and see if you can spot the tiny entrances that lead to hidden fairy dwellings. I was happy to have a chance to browse the boutiques while they gazed through the miniature windows and doors.
Be sure to discover the fairy door at Peaceable Kingdom (210 S. Main St.), a charming gift shop with an enormous table filled with inexpensive kiddie toys.
The vast University of Michigan campus is another good place to explore by scooter, bike or buggy. Home to a famed collection of outdoor public art, children will love running across Maya Lin’s Wave Field, a grassy sea of waves, and swinging on Shang, a giant-sized Chinese character with a built-in swing forged by artist Mark di Suvero. Visit public-art.umich.edu for a map.
The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (lsa.umich.edu/kelsey), also on campus, is worth a visit-check the online calendar for upcoming children’s programming.
Dining in Ann Arbor is eclectic, with an emphasis on locally grown ingredients. Frita Batitos (117 W. Washington; fritabatidos.com) offers picnic-table style seating and a menu filled with delights. The batidos-fruity milkshakes-are the perfect pick-me-up; the loaded plantains-twice-fried plantains smothered with black beans-are addicting. Order some churros to go!
Mark’s Carts (markscartsannarbor.com) is a collection of food trucks featuring ethnic or regionally inspired eats that congregate between First and Ashley streets.
No visit to Ann Arbor is complete without a stop at Zingermans: this community of eight businesses, all located in the Ann Arbor area, strives to present down-to-earth cuisine and baked goods. Head over to Zingerman’s Bakehouse (3711 Plaza Drive; zingermansbakehouse.com) for the lunch soup and bread specials, and save room for a slice of pie.
Stock up on fresh air at the Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights; lsa.umich.edu/mbg). The 123-acre garden and arboretum, situated along the Huron River, boasts a peony garden, wetland, and variety of American heritage plant collections, and is the perfect picnic spot.
Our family stayed at Weber’s Boutique Hotel (3050 Jackson Road; webersinn.com). To kids’ delight, poolside suites have spiral staircases that descend to an indoor pool and recreation area.
For more information on Ann Arbor, head to the visitor’s bureau at visitannarbor.org, or visit while you’re in town, for free maps and more, at 120 W. Huron St.
Zingerman’s Deli is an Ann Arbor staple.
Five hours away from Chicago is Hannibal, Mo., the childhood home of author Samuel Clemens (also known as Mark Twain). You and your family can enjoy everything from caves to riverboats.
Tom and Becky in the Mark Twain Cave.
Inspired by reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to our children, we packed the van and headed to Hannibal, Mo., the childhood home of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). After spending two days and one night in Hannibal, we came home knowing we had discovered something special.
Dubbed America’s Hometown, Hannibal is warm, charming and full of unexpected pleasures. It won’t stress the piggy bank and, located only five hours from Chicago, it’s possible to do an overnight and still see a lot.
These attractions were some of our favorites and fit comfortably into our time there:
The Interpretive Center at The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum served as a helpful starting point, giving an introduction to Twain’s life and the real people who appear in his stories. The Museum Gallery houses paintings by Norman Rockwell and treasured artifacts that once belonged to Samuel Clemens. It also offers many unique, interactive exhibits, including an authentic pilot house with a steam boat whistle.
A bronze statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stands at the base of Cardiff Hill. We enjoyed the challenge of climbing the 244 steps that lead up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse there, and stood in awe of the panoramic view of Hannibal and the Mississippi River.
The Mark Twain Cave is a Registered National Natural Landmark. It was in five of Twain’s books and is a treat not to be missed. The local guides are knowledgeable and friendly, recounting passages from Tom Sawyer and pointing out particular areas of interest. The well-lit passages are level and smooth, so walking is easy. Be sure to wear a jacket because the temperature averages 52 degrees year round.
Afterward we took a 80-minute tour of nearby Cameron Cave. Since it’s lit much like it was when discovered in 1925, several members of our tour group carried lanterns. Those who don’t wish to venture into such a rustic cave might enjoy panning for semi-precious stones at the nearby Sticks and Stones.
An hour-long afternoon cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat was a nice way to relax after a full morning at the caves. The triple deck riverboat afforded good views of the town and surrounding countryside as the guide shared comments about river history, legends and sights.
The Mark Twain Family Restaurant has been making homemade root beer on the premises since 1942. We decided to enjoy a frosty mug along with its signature Maid Rite sandwiches. The restaurant is family-friendly with basic diner food served in a homey atmosphere.
Just a three-hour drive away lies Indianapolis, a wonderful urban oasis of zoos, museums and hotels connected to shopping malls.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is free Saturday.
Just a three-hour drive away lies a wonderful urban oasis of zoos, museums and-the best part for my tween girls-hotels connected to shopping malls. On a recent three-day trip to Indianapolis, we created our own music at the new percussion museum, learned about Indiana history in the State Museum and dunked some basketballs at the NCAA Hall of Champions. The biggest problem with our trip? We didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted.
If you’re ready for a vacation sans cancelled flights and miles on the road, put these Indy hot spots on your itinerary.
We stayed courtesy of the Omni Severin in downtown Indy, attached by a walkway to the downtown mall and quick access to food courts, restaurants and shopping. The city’s restaurant choices run the gamut from fancy steak houses to cozy Italian mom-and-pop joints. The downtown is easy to navigate by car and on foot, and many of the museums and the zoo are located in one area of the city.
Rhythm! Discovery Center
This new museum is tucked into the lower level of a Panera Bread store in downtown Indy. While it’s not a big museum, it was perfect for an hour-long visit. We especially loved the area filled with dozens of percussion instruments to try out. Even better, there are two recording studios with drum sets and bongos where my kids spent quite a bit of time recording their drumming and then playing it back.
NCAA Hall of Champions
The weekend we visited Indy was quite chilly, so when my kids walked into this museum and saw the basketball court and basketballs, they needed no encouragement to run and play. The area to throw footballs and kick soccer balls at targets was also a great way to play while learning about sports. Kiosks held information and sometimes interactive features on 23 college sports.
Indianapolis Children’s Museum
This hands-on museum is the largest of its kind in the world and is an absolute can’t-miss on a trip to Indy with young children. Kids can climb a limestone wall, sail a boat, explore life underground and check out what’s under wraps in the mummy’s tomb. In June, National Geographic’s Treasures of the Earth will come to the museum for an open-ended run. Kids can go on interactive treasure hunts, dig in excavation sites or explore shipwrecks. Free parking is across the street, connected by a covered walkway, and the food court has family-friendly choices.
Iaria’s Italian Restaurant
This four-generation Italian restaurant on the edge of Indy’s downtown was our favorite during our trip. The food tasted like Grandma was slaving away in the kitchen. If you’re going to visit, make reservations because it’s wildly popular and busy.
Five hours away from the city is St. Louis, which offers manyattractions with little or no cost.
St. Louis is one of those cities I always took for granted. It’sonly five hours from Chicago and I’ve driven through many times butnever stopped before this spring.
St. Louis offers plenty of views like this one – and many are free!
Had I paid more attention, I would have stopped much sooner.That’s because so many of the city attractions are free. That’sright: free. My favorite admission price.
During a whirlwind three-day visit, my daughter and I toured theOld Courthouse, where we learned about the Dred Scott trial and thehistory of slavery, and had lunch at the calming Citygardensculpture park. Then we headed to Forest Park, home to the St.Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the St. LouisZoo, all of which are free and fantastic.
Our favorite, hands down, is the zoo, one of just three zoos inthe country that still are free (the others are the National Zoo inWashington, D.C., and our very own Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago).Could be it was the picture perfect spring day that brought out acrowd and seemed to energize the animals. Or it could be that zoosare just so cool. I never get enough of watching the faces of thechildren the first time they see a real bear or watch a monkeyswing from one vine to the next.
Riding to the top of the Arch is not free ($14 for adults, $7.50for kids 3-15), but the accompanying Museum of Westward Expansionis. We had only about 45 minutes there, but could have spent moretime learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore theLouisiana Purchase. If you want to go up to the top of the 630-footArch, book your tickets online to reserve your spot. Seats arelimited and were sold out by mid-day when we visited.
My daughter and I stayed as guests of the newly renovated HyattRegency St. Louis at the Arch. It’s a beautiful hotel that isbetter for business people than families, mostly because it lacksthe critical kid amenity: a swimming pool. But it is convenientlylocated across the street from the Arch.
Southwest Michigan provides Chicago families with a beaches andblueberries escape.
Warren Dunes State Park
Mid-July ushers in this year’s blueberry season. For fourweeks blueberries are ripe, juicy and ready to be picked. Nothingtastes more like summer than fresh blueberries, so get out of townand head to Southwest Michigan for a day of blueberries, beachesand burgers.
Located about 2 1/2 hours from Chicago,the Blueberry Patch in Sawyer, Mich., is worth a day trip. Headingout from Chicago in the morning, you’ll arrive in Michigan just intime for an early lunch. Redamak’s in New Buffalo is the perfectpit stop: This roadside diner has been serving freshly ground andhand-formed burgers topped with gooey cheese and fries since the1940s. Enjoy the fresh air and dine on the back porch, and don’tforget to check out the charming antique store just next door.
The Blueberry Patch is about a 10-minute drive from Redamak’s.Grab a bucket, head to the patch and watch out for itinerant bears(a good pre-trip read is the classic Blueberries forSal by Robert McClowsky). Warning: blueberries aremore likely to end up in your belly than your bucket, but restassured that the entire family will meet summertime antioxidantrecommendations.
You’ll also find Warren Dunes StatePark in Sawyer, a 1,950-acre park featuring three miles ofunspoiled Lake Michigan shoreline. Enjoy a swim, take a hike on oneof the marked trails, or, for more adventuresome families, exploreyour way 240 feet up the highest Dune formation, Tower Hill (on aclear day, you can see the Chicago skyline).
If you’d prefer to stay the night, campsites are available orbook your very own summer cottage — some feature pools and privatebeach access — at swmichigan.org/cottages.htm .
Visit Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in the beautiful cityof Lake Geneva
The words “Lake Geneva” evoke memories of lazy summer afternoonsat the beach, wandering the shore path or browsing in shops.
But thanks to the nearby Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, thevacation spot isn’t just a warm-weather destination-families cancreate memories all year round.
Upon arrival at the Grand Geneva, guests receive a Passport to aGrand Experience, which outlines the many activities-everythingfrom a heavenly massage in the spa to a gut-straining meal at oneof the resort’s restaurants. Each time you complete an activity,you receive a stamp, which add up to resort activity credit to usein the future.
Kids are kept busy while mom and dad are sweating through aZumba class or trying their hands at kayaking with activities theGrand Geneva calls “Escapades.” The activities-digital scavengerhunts, American Junior Idol competitions, cooking contests-are forkids 4-17 and range from $10-$50.
In-room babysitting is available for a fee.
Each day, the resort also offers Grand Experiences the wholefamily can take part in for free, including fingernail painting,cookie decorating, musical chairs and children’s movies.
The Timber Ridge Lodge, with Moose Mountain Falls all-weatherWater Park, is just down the hill and available for use by GrandGeneva guests. The kid heaven features an activity pool, lazy riverand two tube slides. A full-sized Bruce the Moose mascot, builtentirely of LEGO, guards the door and reminds guests of theresort’s LEGO packages.
In the spring, you can get a jump on the summertime crowds andhot sun and enjoy nature walks, golf or a trolley ride into town-oran adventurous outdoor activity you’ve always wanted to try. It’s agreat time to dust off those jeans and boots and pretend to be acowboy (or girl) at the Dan Patch Stables.
In the fall, Grand Geneva takes advantage of its picturesquesetting to offer a corn maze and haunted hayrides, plus campfiresto ward off the evening’s chill. When the holidays come around, theresort rolls out its extensive Christmas in the CountryCelebration.
If you tend to think of Lake Geneva as only a warm-weatherdestination, think again. There’s fun to be had in any season ofthe year-or any season of life.
Money and time may keep your family from traveling to your idealEuropean destination, so explore towns with the same feel of thosecountries without leaving the Midwest.
If a grand tour of Europe is not in your budget this year, you can still get the feel of those great capital cities without leaving the Midwest.
New Glarus, Wis., calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland” for good reason. A trip to the Swiss Historical Village Museum allows families to explore more than 14 buildings, including a school house, general store and the town’s first log church. For a real taste of Switzerland, sample the offerings at New Glarus Bakery. They’ve been making Stollen, morning buns and apple cake for more than 100 years. Complete the weekend with a stay at Chalet Landhaus Inn, where kids will appreciate the indoor pool and Swissland, an 18-hole miniature golf course.
The Swiss Historical Village Museum (May-October) Swisshistoricalvillage.org New Glarus Bakery newglarusbakery.com Chalet Landhaus Inn chaletlandhaus.com New Glarus Chamber of Commerce swisstown.com
Housed in Minneapolis’ castle-like Turnblad Mansion, the American Swedish Institute is a great place to learn about Nordic culture. If you head farther north, you can get an authentic taste of Sweden at Lindstom Bakery or the Swedish Inn Restaurant in Lindstrom, “America’s Little Sweden.” In June, take part in the annual Midsommar Celebrations, a traditional Swedish festival complete with costumes, fiddling, folk dancing and family activities.
If you can’t make it to Minnesota, try Geneva. Illinois’ six-day Swedish Days Festival, June 23-28, may not be a trip to Sweden, but families will find music, games, carnival rides and even rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting.)
American Swedish Institute asimn.org Lindstrom, Minn. cityoflindstrom.us Swedish Days Festival genevachamber.com/swedishdays
The Milwaukee area has great Germanic food, museums and even entire villages. Germantown has a name that says it all. Just outside of Milwaukee, the Dheinsville Settlement includes original half-timbered buildings. Visit Bast Bell Museum in a restored barn to see Wisconsin’s largest publicly displayed bell collection and artifacts of the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company. Eat a hearty German meal at Mader’s, on Old World Third Street in Milwaukee. The city’s German Fest, held on the lakefront in July, is the largest German celebration in North America. Old World Wisconsin is the nation’s largest outdoor museum of rural life, with three German homesteads from around Wisconsin. The site’s curators and interpreters give visitors an authentic experience. Families can try their hand at flax processing or experience old-fashioned baking at a wood-burning oven in the bakehouse on the Schottler farmstead.
Old World Wisconsin oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org Germantown germantownchamber.org Mader's Restaurant madersrestaurant.com
Located in the heart of the Midwest, Holland retains a great deal of Dutch architecture and ambiance. Watch Dutch artists hard at work on authentic blue and white delftware at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory. Visit 10 acres of Dutch architecture, canals and gardens at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Kids can slide down a giant wooden shoe, or take a ride on the popular Zweefmolen (swing ride). Spend a couple hours on Windmill Island, home to DeZwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. A painted Dutch carousel, costumed guides and an Amsterdam street organ com
This may be a longer adventure, but who could turn down thechance to take in rollercoasters, buggy rides and tons of chocolatein Hershey, Pa.?
One of your first stops in Lancaster should be a tour of an Amish-themed farm.
It’s easy to get caught up in the candy-coated sweetness of Hershey, Pa. Families can spend an entire spring break in the town known for its amusements and chocolate. At this time of year, the area is in full bloom, with more than 5,000 vibrant tulips at the Hershey Garden alone.
If you’re making the trek to east central Pennsylvania, don’t miss Lancaster, a 40-minute drive from Hershey. (Harrisburg International Airport is the closest major airport to Hershey and Lancaster.) In the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, experience the Amish culture by riding in a horse-drawn buggy, touring an Amish farm and tasting traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare.
As an East Coast gal who just moved to Chicagoland, I grew up riding on Hershey Park’s roller coasters and touring the Amish countryside. Before our move, my husband and I also took a quick trip to the area with our two children (6 and 3).
Here are our top picks for a Hershey/Lancaster vacation your family won’t soon forget:
It’s all about the chocolate
To truly experience Hershey, a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World (adjacent to Hershey Park) is a must. Hop aboard the chocolate train (free) and learn how Hershey’s chocolate is made. You will be treated to a miniature candy bar at the end. There are a plethora of other chocolate-centric activities, like concocting your own candy bar recipes or personalizing candy bar wrappers with your photo. We opted for the dessert creation studio where we dipped strawberries, bananas and pretzels into chocolate fondue. (At least the kids got in a fruit serving amidst the chocolate immersion.)
Rides, roller coasters and rails
Hershey Park has enough rides to keep your family busy for at least one full day (if not two or more). If you hit the park in the summer, you might want to allot another full day for the water park. Hershey has plenty to entertain kids of all ages, but Lancaster also has an amusement park worth visiting.
Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster caters to younger kids (ages 2-10). Resembling a fantasy land, Dutch Wonderland doesn’t provide the thrills of looping roller coasters, but the park offers plenty of family rides and shows.
For a completely unique experience, climb aboard the Strasburg Railroad near Lancaster. The 45-minute ride winds through the Amish countryside. For your miniature train fanatics, reserve a spot on “Day out with Thomas” when families ride on Thomas the train.
The plain life
Amish culture is truly intriguing (even to kids). It’s worth renting a car from Hershey to Lancaster to experience this fascinating way of life. Most likely you won’t be able to explore a real, working Amish farm, but there are plenty of opportunities to get a feel for Amish life. One of your first stops should be a tour of an Amish-themed farm.
The Amish Farm and House, an old farmhouse dating to the 1700s, offers tours of the farmhouse, one-room schoolhouse and farm with goats, chickens, sheep and cows. The Amish Village offers a similar experience with tours of the 12-acre property, farmhouse, one-room school house and barn with animals. Central Market is another must. Claiming to be the world’s oldest working farmers market, Central Market in downtown Lancaster sells regional foods like chow chow (pickled vegetables in spicy mustard sauce) and Scrapple, along with plenty of baked goods and souvenirs. (My daughter just had to buy an Amish-style bonnet.)
For more Pennsylvania Dutch eats, dine at least once at a traditional family-style restaurant.
Hershey Park has enough rides to keep your family busy for at least one full day.
Fort Wayne, Ind., might be on the list of citiesyou’ve heard of but never visited. You’d be smart to change thatright now.
From the moment we drove into the quaint city, the littlevoices in the backseat chirped excitedly, “We could livehere.”
The Holiday Inn at IPFW and the Memorial Coliseum becamehome base, a ideal pick for families because the new comfy hotelhas a huge pool, spacious rooms and is close to everything. Westayed as guests of Visit Fort Wayne, the convention and visitorsbureau.
First stop was the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, one of thenation’s top 10 zoos for kids. Super manageable for the littlest ofkids and engaging for everyone else, you can get amazingly close tothe animals. One of the biggest hits was the sea lions. (Hint: holda quarter to the window and you are guaranteed a visit by one ofthe curious creatures.) The zoo alone is worth the three-hour drivefrom downtown Chicago. We didn’t want to leave.
Start day two off at Science Central. It opens later inthe morning so you can sleep in. The small science center iscompletely hands-on. The girls decided it was best for kids 3-10.One thing not to miss is the enclosed tornado simulator.
Because you can do Science Central in a few hours, you’llhave time to visit the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatoryor the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Since we needed to eat, we optedfor lunch at Crazy Pinz Entertainment Center.
Before heading back to Chicago, the can’t-miss stop atDeBrand Chocolatier will leave you with an especially sweetimpression of Fort Wayne. It offers tours but timing didn’t workout for us.
We’re positive we’ll be making the trip again sometimesoon.