If you’re looking to connect as a family and make some memories together, a quick getaway is a wonderful way to do both. You don’t have to spend lots of time traveling—there are some fantastic destinations that are just a few hours from Chicago and offer a break from the routine with lots of family-friendly fun.
Want to stay close to home but feel far away?
Visit New Buffalo, Mich.
You don’t have to go far to experience the feel of a relaxed, beach-front resort town when you visit Harbor Country in the southwest corner of Michigan. Chicagoans can drive there in less than 90 minutes (without traffic). If you want to ditch your worries and your car, take Amtrak, the stop is within walking distance of the beach. There are some fun restaurants, and don’t miss a trip to Oinks for ice cream.
Need a change of scene?
Head to Hamilton County, Ind.
Just north of Indianapolis and about three hours from Chicago is Hamilton County, Ind., home to lots of fun options for families. Train lovers should hop aboard the Nickel Plate Express, which operates weekend trips on a 12-mile track between Noblesville and Atlanta. In the fall, little ones will love the Pumpkin Express and older kids will get a kick out of the evening Ghost Express.
Bring your bikes or rent them for $3/hour from bike share stations in Carmel or Westfield and ride along the Monon Trail, a scenic 25-mile rails-to-trails paved route that runs through some local charming towns. Conner Prairie is a Smithsonian-affiliated living history museum with interactive, hands-on experiences ranging from a four-story treehouse to livestock to a hot air balloon.
If time allows, you’re close to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which has a new exhibit on the science behind Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opening Oct. 6.
Up for an urban adventure?
Make your way to Milwaukee, Wis.
Milwaukee isn’t far, but has a unique flavor all its own. Get a literal taste of it with a trip to the Public Market, which features a wide array of local vendors, including ones offering dairy delicacies and Wisconsin-shaped cookies. Kids can pick their favorite flavor of soda on a tour of the Sprecher Brewing Company, which offers soda samples for all and beer samples for adults.
The Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum are very kid-friendly. Discovery World is full of interactive exhibits exploring technology and science, including that behind the Great Lakes.
Milwaukee is home to the only Harley-Davidson museum. Kids can visit the Imagination Station, try on kid-size leather jackets and create their own motorcycle at the Build-A-Bike station.
Craving together time?
Hit the road for Dubuque, Iowa
You’ve likely heard of Galena, but have you met its friendly neighbor just over the Mississippi River? Iowa’s oldest town, Dubuque, offers plenty of family-friendly fun.
Don’t miss exploring Crystal Lake Cave, a 2-million-year-old mineral cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Another must is visiting the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, about 30 minutes west. Baseball fan or not—it’s a memorable experience for sure!
Craving a slower pace?
Take off to Door County, Wis.
If you ask families in the Chicago area for their favorite weekend destination, many say Door County. The small towns on the peninsula recall a time when life was simpler, making it the perfect location to escape the everyday craziness.
In the autumn it’s a bit quieter than in warmer months but every bit as colorful, claiming to have the best fall foliage in Wisconsin.
Cheryl Eugenio contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Chicago Parent’s Going Places. Read the rest of the issue.