It’s never too early to start thinking about Spring Break. Exotic jetsetting adventures may not be on your agenda, but that doesn’t mean you need to stare at your own four walls. Unique Midwest destinations are just a quick road trip from Chicago. Buckle up and escape to these family-friendly destinations in Michigan, Indiana, and Missouri. . . You won’t miss those palm trees one bit.

photo: via Victoria Borodinova via Pexels


Distance from Chicago: 180 miles

With seven stories of exploration at the world’s largest Children’s Museum Indianapolis there’s no chance you’ll hear those dreaded words: “I’m bored.” Highlights of the museum include American POP, a new permanent exhibit that explores pop culture, how we shape it and how it shapes us, Beyond Spaceship Earth where you can immerse yourselves into the exciting life of an astronaut, and Dinosphere that time travels you back 65 million years to come nose-to-flaring-nose with full-size dinosaur skeletons.

The Riley Children’s Health Sports Fitness Experience allows kids to 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. Outdoor exhibits reopen for the season on March 14.

photo: Indianapolis Children’s Museum courtesy of Darlene L. via Yelp

The Indianapolis Zoo features an aquarium, botanical garden and a dolphin pavilion that enables visitors to get close 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, pinniped 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, located in Fishers. 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 schoolhouse, master games early-American children would play, and watch pottery and blacksmith demonstrations.

There’s a train lover in just about every family and Nickel Plate Express doesn’t disappoint with excursions aboard their 1956 Santa Fe El Capitan cars.

photo: The Loft at Traders Point Creamery courtesy of John M. via Yelp

Farm-to-table restaurant Traders Point Creamery is a wee hike from the city, but well worth the effort. 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 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 Plaza Indianapolis Union Station. Book a Family Package through the Children’s Museum and receive four tickets to both the Children’s Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo with your accommodations.

photo: City Museum via Maria Chambers


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 through slinky tunnels, and zoom down countless slides.

st-louis-sciencephoto: St. Louis Science Center

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, and get inside a bubble in the Bubble Room.

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 a continuous loop.

Pop on the shades, flip open the sunroof and cruise 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 p.m. Kickback, where a rotating menu of complimentary hearty, hot foods are served nightly from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.

air-zoo photo: Air Zoo


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.

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 (on Friday and Saturday only) 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.

— Maria Chambers

Feature photo: 27707 via Pixabay


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