Summer break is wrapping up and you still haven’t booked a vacation. Let’s get cracking! Before the kids head back to school, pack your bags and travel to one of these five weekend destinations drivable from Chicago. Enjoy everything from Michigan blueberry picking to Wisconsin beach combing to Amish country adventures — or maybe .
The coastal city on the shores of Lake Michigan transports visitors back in time while still experiencing modern life.
What To Do
Nelis’ Dutch Village: Windmills, wooden shoes and wonderful rides highlight this mini-theme park that harkens early 1900s Netherlands. Kids revel in feeding goats at the petting zoo, riding the slide down a large shoe and a large shoe and, of course, eating fudge after watching how it’s made.
S. Kamphuis Blueberries Farm: Pick a variety of blueberries at this family-owned farm. One for your basket, two for your mouth!
Tunnel Park: Make a splash at this 22-acre park with swimming beach. The aptly named park lets beach-goers walk in a tunnel through a dune. Speaking of, kids can climb a small dune or enjoy the playground.
Nestled between Milwaukee and Chicago, Racine offers a kid-friendly setting on Lake Michigan. Easy on the budget, too!
What To Do
Racine Zoo: You can’t beat the admission price ($8 for adults; $6 for kids) and free parking at this quaint and wonderful zoo. For an extra fee ($4), kids can feed the camels or giraffes. The adorable zoo has something for all kids from playgrounds to the Zoo Choo Express to viewing kangaroos up close. Our favorite part? Seeing the lion cubs!
Kids Cove Playground at North Beach: Located right on the beach, this vast wooden playground offers swings, slides and maze-like bridges. Once kids build up a sweat at the nautical-themed playground, they can take a dip in Lake Michigan where lifeguards are on duty all summer. Bring bikes for a family ride along the paved beach path.
Wind Point Lighthouse: Look at this beauty in the distance, or climb right up. Yep, you can tour ($10 for adults; $5 for kids) the oldest lighthouse on Lake Michigan.
An Indiana escape to Amish country is filled with endless possibilities as families experience a different way of life.
What To Do
Menno-Hof: Tour the past and present worlds of the Amish and Mennonites with older kids (younger ones may get scared of Tornado Room and Dungeon).
Buggy Line Tours: Perfect for all ages, one option includes a 15-minute buggy ride ($6 per person) through uptown Shipshewana.
Carousel at the Davis Mercantile: Take a spin on the 1906 carousel on the back of a faux horse, cow, chicken or dog. On the same floor, check out the chocolate-covered strawberries and maple sugar candy at Aunt Millie’s Candy and Nut Shop.
Dutch Creek Farm Animal Park: Embark on a safari-style wagon ride to view everything from farm animals to exotic animals. The interactive farm puts a twinkle in kids’ eyes when they hold a baby bunny, feed a camel or pet a zedonk (half-zebra, half-donkey).
QUAD CITIES, Northwest Illinois and Southeastern Iowa
The Quad Cities (http://www.visitquadcities.com/), located on the Mississippi River, encompasses Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois—all of which are family-friendly and budget-friendly areas to frolic around for one last summer adventure. The best part: the Quad Cities are only 2 1/2 hours from Chicago.
What To Do
Figge Art Museum: Located in downtown Davenport, Iowa, the art museum is free from June 12-September 25. Kids will love the exhibits including: The Wonderful World of Oz, Picturing the Prairie and An American Master and Corn Zone.
West Lake Park’s Boathouse: Mosey over to Davenport, Iowa, for kayak rentals from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (weather permitting); prices are $8 for ½ hour or $10 for 1 hour.
Putnam Museum and Science Center: See The Discovery of King Tut. Kids will love crawling in caves, discovering mummies and seeing a show on the six-foot tall screen.
Family Museum: This Bettendorf, Iowa museum offers a plethora of interactive activities geared toward kids ages 8 and under. From fun indoor and outdoor play areas to fantastic educational farm-life exhibits, the Family Museum has it all.
Maybe you want to drive a little further and give your kids a vacation that they can really talk about with their friends when they go back to school. Toronto is only eight hours away from Chicago, an easy road trip that will, in the end, offer so much fun and excitement to your family as you travel to a different country.
What to do
In addition to the Toronto Zoo, Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum’s Dinosaur Gallery, kids will love the variety of activities Toronto offers.
Black Creek Pioneer Village: Toronto’s largest open-air living history museum where you’ll see loads of Victorian costumes, learn how to tap trees and make maple syrup and ride in a horse-pulled wagon.
Hockey Hall of Fame: Is there a better place than Canada to host as home to the Hockey Hall of Fame? We think not. Make a game of finding reference to our beloved Hawks!
Ripley’s Aquarium: Calling all fish fanatics! Hop on the moving glide path and come face to face with thousands of fascinating fishes and menacing sea creatures you have to see to believe. Everything from barracudas to rays to jellyfish, octopi, moray eels and giant sharks.
Toronto Botanical Garden: Spend a colorful day visiting 17 award-winning themed gardens spanning nearly four acres, designed to educate and inspire. Yogis will love Yoga Summer, where the instructor combines various styles of yoga which encourages a balance between endurance, strength and flexibility.
Toronto Electric Bike Tour: Green families will love exploring Toronto’s history, culture, people and food on the Don Valley Trail led by expert local guides.
CN Tower: Get a bird’s-eye panoramic view of Toronto. Thrill-seekers can do the EdgeWalk and circle the tower alfresco, hands free, out on the ledge, 116 stories above the ground.
Treetop Trekking: If you prefer to get your thrills immersed in nature, check out this zip line aerial adventure.
Casas Loma: Pretend your royalty for the day and visit the only landmark castle in North America! Kids can explore tunnels, tour the exhibit full of vintage cars and peek out of one of the towers.
Chelsea Hotel Toronto: Book this family-friendly hotel in the heart of downtown—there’s even a “Family Fun Zone” with a heated pool and a 130-ft corkscrew waterslide.
Toronto is full of great coffee and pastry shops, funky and cool neighborhoods, beautiful architecture and great comfort food. You won’t regret a family trip here this summer.
What do YOU recommend for a quick family getaway before summer winds down? Let us know in the Comments!
— Wendy Altschuler & Kelly Haramis