Winter break is under our belts, now it’s time to set your sights on spring break. Florida might not be in the cards, but unique Midwest destinations are just a road trip away. Buckle up and escape to these four family-friendly destinations in Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin . . . You won’t miss those palm trees one bit.
Distance from Chicago: 180 miles
With seven stories of exploration at the world’s largest Children’s Museum there’s no chance you’ll hear the words “I’m bored” from your junior road trippers. Highlights of the museum are immersing yourselves into the life of an astronaut in Beyond Spaceship Earth; time traveling backwards 65 million years in Dinosphere to come face-to-face with full-size dinosaur skeletons and dig for bones; and feeding your scientific curiosities in ScienceWorks where you’ll explore the works of real life scientists.
Opening in March, is the Riley Children’s Health Sports Fitness Experience where kids can pedal a car on a drag strip, show off their soccer, tennis, hockey, basketball and football skills, stroll down the Avenue of Champions to see statues depicting 12 sports legends and work those muscles on the Fitness Path and Track.
The Indianapolis Zoo features an aquarium, botanical garden and a dolphin pavilion that enables visitors to come eyeball-to-eyeball with dolphins and a chance for the kiddos to become junior trainers. Their unique Animal Arts Adventures program allows up to three guests a behind-the-scenes meet-up with a dolphin, elephant, penguin, penniped or rhino. You’ll get to watch one of these amazing creatures create a piece of art and then take it home as an unforgettable souvenir.
Turn back the clock 200 years and discover what it was like to live and play in Indiana’s past at Conner Prairie. Interact with realistic Indiana settlers and Native Americans in five themed historic areas within Conner Prairie’s 200 wooded acres. Kids learn how to feed and tend to livestock at a real working farm, tour a one-room school house, master games early-American children would play, and watch pottery and blacksmith demonstrations.
There’s a train lover in just about every family and Indiana Transportation Museum doesn’t disappoint with over 100 pieces of classic railroad equipment and over 34 miles of track in operation. Train enthusiasts get a chance to hitch an idyllic ride across White River through historic sites.
Farm-to-table restaurant The Loft at Traders Point Creamery is a wee hike from the city, but well worth the effort for their signature kid favorites: mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese, cottage cheese and fresh chocolate milk. Work up an appetite by strolling the grounds and take a 1.3-mile hike through pastures along Eagle Creek. Be on the lookout for deer, hawks, blue herons, bald eagles and a 300-year-old towering oak on the trail. Visit the dairy bar to throw down a milkshake or smoothie as you await the daily 6:30 p.m. cow milking in the milking parlor.
Mix a little science into your spring break by watching nitrogen turn liquid ingredients and candy toppings of your choice into a heaping bowl of ice cream right before your eyes at Subzero Ice Cream.
Grabbing a pulled pork or beef brisket sandwich at Smokehouse on Shelby is a genius way to combine your need for sustenance with your kid’s desire for non-stop fun, as Action and Atomic Duckpin Bowling is located in the same building. Typically only found on the east coast, duckpin bowling uses a smaller ball and pins than traditional bowling, making it ideal for kids.
Upon check-in, the Omni Severin Hotel provides kids a backpack brimming with kid-appropriate health and nutrition themed games and goodies, and a special delivery of milk and cookies. A rolling backpack of games, books and toys can be requested and enjoyed in the room or with tiny feet kicked up at the indoor heated pool.
Take a dip in the indoor pool and choose between a traditional hotel room or sleep in a vintage Pullman car at Crowne Plaze Indianapolis Union Station. Book a Family Package through the Children’s Museum and receive four free tickets to both the Children’s Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo with your accommodations.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Distance from Chicago: 295 Miles
For a one-of-a-kind museum adventure, take in the marvel that is the City Museum. Equal parts children’s playground, funhouse and surrealistic pavilion, City Museum turned a 600,000-square-foot former International Shoe Company factory into an architectural phenomenon made from unique, found objects from around the city. Wriggle through partially underwater tunnels where sharks keep an eye on you from above and turtles creep below, explore crystalline caves, monkey around on rope swings, take a crawl though slinky tunnels, and zoom down countless slides.
Keep the imaginations in motion at Magic House Children’s Museum and pretend you’re Jack climbing a giant beanstalk, tickle the ivories on a piano, create a 3-D impression of yourself, operate model trains and hang your very own leaf-shaped poem on the Poet Tree.
Finish off the night by stargazing at St. Louis Science Center’s Planetarium or catch a 3-D show at the Omnimax Theater.
Engage in a little family bonding amongst monarchs and tropical plants at Butterfly House, a beautiful glass dome where more than a thousand species flutter.
If wingless and fuzzy is more your style, help care for furry residents at the Endangered Wolf Center, where tame Mexican gray wolves, red wolves, swift foxes and African painted dogs defy the stereotype these creatures have of being vicious hunters.
For more varied animal encounters, spend the day at the free St. Louis Zoo, recognized as one of the top zoos in the country for its realistic animal habitats.
Come hungry for made-from-scratch foods, old-fashioned sodas and out-of-this world ice cream martinis to Fountain on Locust, one of the most photographed restaurants in St. Louis because of its cool Art Deco decor and the award winning design of the loo. Get a little cheeky and enjoy well-known menu items like their itsy-bitsy hot fudge sundaes or teeny-tiny ice cream cones in the west side bar booths to hear “Soap Hospital”, the Restaurant Radio Comedy Serial that features 400 two-minute vignettes on continuous loop.
Pop on the shades, flip open the sunroof and cruise down the famous Route 66 with the GPS set for the delicious dessert icon, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.
Fuel up for a day of site seeing with a complimentary hot breakfast stocked with biscuits and gravy, sausage and scrambled eggs, just to name a few menu items, at Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. Not only will you enjoy beautiful views of the iconic arch, Drury lures with their indoor swimming pool, free nightly popcorn and soda, and 5:30 Kickback, where a rotating menu of complimentary hearty, hot foods are served nightly from 5:30-7 p.m.
photo: Spaceport Sheboygan
Distance from Chicago: 146 miles
You can Jedi mind-trick yourself into thinking you’re at the beach by miniature golfing 18 nautical-themed holes on Lake Michigan’s beautiful lakefront at Harbor Pointe Miniature Golf (open weather permitting).
Engage in old-fashioned, unplugged fun at The GameBoard, a neighborhood game store with table space to play before you pay with games ranging from classic, collectible, fantasy and educational.
Above and Beyond Children’s Museum succeeds in their mission to provide families with a place where fun and education collide through exploration and discovery in their 10,000 square feet of hands-on, interactive exhibits. Kids can make impressions on a life-size pin screen, voyage to exotic destinations in the USS Efroymson ship or play pupil in a 1900’s school house.
The John Michael Kohler Arts Center infuses a heap of culture into your itinerary with The ARTery, a funky collaborative exhibit where visitors leave their mark on an ever-evolving community masterpiece. No space in this museum goes to waste, as even their washrooms are commissioned works of art you’ll want to see.
From 1942 to his death in 1957, furniture maker James Tellen sculpted 30 concrete statues and displayed them surrounding his rustic cabin. This dramatic sculpture garden depicting prairie settlers, Native American figures, woodland creatures, small castles and religious figures remains to this day as the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden.
photo: Blue Harbor Resort
Fill your tummies with delicious artisanal breads and sweets, homemade soups, sandwiches and salads made from fresh and locally sourced ingredients at Field to Fork. Fair trade coffee is roasted in-house to cure your coffee crave and kids can refuel at the juice bar. The small on-site grocery area is perfect for stocking your hotel for late night munchies.
The sun is always shining at beach-themed Highland House, who’s blend of California, Caribbean and Mexican food and decor will mentally transport you to tropical destinations. Munch on fresh chips and salsa while your babes relish the casual and colorful atmosphere, specialized kid menu and video game room.
Your kids will forget all about the beach when you check into Blue Harbor Resort. You’ll enjoy the comfort and beauty of the grounds and they’ll enjoy the thrill-seeking at the Breaker Bay Waterpark. The waterpark will keep them happily entertained with a lazy river, four indoor pools, a riptide simulator, seven water slides, and a four-story water activity center with 12 levels of water-based adventure interconnected with suspension bridges, cargo nets, web crawls and 60 guest-activated water affects.
Distance from Chicago: 147 miles
Like nothing you’ve seen before, Air Zoo shows kids a highly charged, multi-sensory aviation experience with more than 50 rare and historic aircraft, amusement park-style rides, a RealD 3D/4D theater, full-motion flight simulators, historical exhibits and educational activities.
Feel muscles you forgot existed by hopping into Sky Zone indoor trampoline park for open jump and enjoy the feeling of weightlessness as you swan dive into a pit of foam blocks.
Sometimes spending time with kids can metaphorically drive you up a wall, but at Climb Kalamazoo climbing the walls is an adrenaline-packed family activity.
It doesn’t get much better than free general admission at Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Experiment with science, come face-to-linen-wrapped face with a 2,300-year-old Egyptian mummy, study the history of Kalamazoo to discover products, ranging from checkered cabs to medical devices, that made the city famous and explore the mysteries of weather.
Recognized as one of the top nature centers in the U.S., Kalamazoo Nature Center should be on the top of the spring break to-do list. Whether you plan on spending an hour or the day, one of the 14 trails covering 10 miles of varied habitats that feature picturesque overlooks, secluded ponds, streams and old-growth forests are waiting to be explored. Nature Seen Through the Eyes of Charley Harper is a special exhibit running now through the end of May and will feature 38 of Harper’s signature minimalist pieces.
The Upjohn Mason Grandchildren Interactive Gallery is located in the lower level of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and visitors can find a variety of games, puzzles, activities and a reading corner to curl up with a good book.
Food Dance is a farm-to-fork restaurant that makes healthy eating and knowing the origination and quality of their ingredients a priority. Break bread at the restaurant or visit the grocery to stock your hotel with breads, pastries and locally sourced products. While waiting on food to be served, kids can keep idle fingers busy with toys available for play.
Locally owned Crow’s Nest serves a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu using ingredients from area farmers in a comfy 2nd floor location while Fourth Coast Cafe, a 24-hour coffee joint serving fair trade brews, takes up residence on the first floor.
The Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center is a great option for its convenient downtown location, indoor pool and whirlpool that’ll keep the kids smiling, and four on-site restaurants.
Staybridge Suites makes eating in an option with fully-equipped kitchens and a daily complimentary breakfast buffet. Pack the swim diapers and bathing suits to take a dip in the indoor heated pool.
Ready to head out there? Let us know where you plan to travel for Spring Break in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers