I often fall into the trap of thinking that because I live in the Midwest, there’s not much to do within driving distance of my home. If I want a real adventure, I have to fly somewhere. While it’s true that there would be more appealing things to do (in my opinion) within driving distance if I lived in Colorado or California, there are still many great getaways that are just a few hours away from the Chicago area.You don't have to jet off somewhere exotic to get a great vacation. #travel Click To Tweet
Dan and I have been considering the idea of doing a low-key “babymoon”—one last getaway before baby girl joins us. Technically, she’ll still be with us but not able to cry and keep us up all night, or I won’t be up all night crying because I left her with Grandma for a whole weekend and I’m just not ready.
We ruled out destinations that we’d have to fly to, in order to save some money and vacation time, but as it turns out, there are some amazing places we can do over a weekend. And, I think many of these will make great options for a first family vacation as we test the waters of traveling with a little one.
If you’re anywhere near the Midwest, I hope these suggestions give you some fresh ideas for mini-vacations you can do with just a few days and a few dollars.
Whether you live in the city limits and would call this a “staycation” or you’d be traveling 30 miles from your suburban abode (or even driving in from out of state), don’t miss out on the fact that you have a world-class city just down the road. The options for what do are endless here: exploring museums (my favorite is the Art Institute), beach bumming, shopping on Michigan Avenue, catching a Cubs game, navigating neighborhoods, and ducking into eclectic little restaurants are some of my favorites. The best Chicago days start with Stan’s Donuts and end with Pequod’s Pizza.
So this isn’t actually Pequod’s; it’s Lou Malnati’s, which is almost as good.
2. Indiana Dunes
You get all the perks of a beach without the salt water (which I do love the smell of, but gosh, it burns). You can get beach access through many parks, including Indiana Dunes State Park, Central Beach, Dunbar Beach (limited parking—get there early), and Cowles Bog (which is lovely and secluded, but be prepared for a quite a hike from your car). There are tons of trails nearby, so bring a change of clothes, your walking shoes, and your bike. On your way back to Chicago, a stop at 3 Floyd’s Brewpub is essential. They produce what Dan thinks (and I would agree, but his opinion is more informed than mine is) is the best beer in America. Be prepared to wait, and know that every minute is worth it.
3. Lake Geneva
I grew up going here for long weekends in the summer time. It’s basically just a lake town with lots of cutesy, kitschy shops, but something about this place gives it an extra measure of charm. Maybe all the sweets shops? There’s a path that circles the huge lakefront—you won’t make it all the way around, because that would be almost a marathon, but it’s worth walking some of it. It’s rather narrow in some spots and runs right through the backyards of gorgeous lakefront homes. Also, whatever you do, do not miss an opportunity for afternoon ice cream at Kilwin’s.
4. Coastal Michigan: Saugatuck, Grand Haven, Holland
This is one of my favorite trips to do when the fall colors are at their peak (but is also, unfortunately, when you’ll encounter some of the highest prices). These charming towns are filled with unique antique shops, wineries, ice cream and candy shops, diners, and bed-and-breakfast inns. Actually, this area is kind of like the Stars Hollow of the Midwest. Saugatuck and Grand Haven offer miles of coastline, picturesque lighthouses, and plenty of maritime activities. Holland also has some beaches, but the real draw here is the Dutch culture—go at Tulip Time in May! Also, New Holland Brewing Company is here, along with tons of other microbreweries and pubs.
I visited Indianapolis a few times in college, and there is a surprising amount of good stuff to do in this little city. This is an especially great trip to do with the sports fan in your life, since Indy is home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (with the Indy 500 is hosted each year), the NCAA Hall of Fame, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the all-around good guy and incredible leader Tony Dungy. If you’re more of a nature lover than a sports fan, visit the Indianapolis Zoo and the adjacent White River Gardens. Indianapolis also has quite the food scene, and given its location, it’s unsurprisingly on the front end of the farm-to-table trend. Try Cafe Patachou or Mesh on Mash. (Sorry, Indy—I couldn’t find a great picture of you. You’re really quite a lovely city, though.)
Coming up in two weeks, I’ll share five more mini-vacations that are great for Midwestern families.5 #family friendly mini #vacation ideas. Click To Tweet