Editor’s Note: As of press time, the businesses and activities contained in this story were open and allowing visitors with COVID-19 protocols in place. Please be sure to research before visiting to ensure shutdowns have not occurred. 

With the frigid cold temps and abundance of snow we’ve seen, it helps to daydream of warmer days just around the bend. On that note, it’s never too early to start thinking about Spring Break. Exotic jet-setting adventures may not be on your agenda, but that doesn’t mean you need to stare at your own four walls. Unique Midwest towns 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.

INDIANAPOLIS

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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, an 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 Take Me There®: Greece will introduce you to Greek culture through art, food, music, dance and architecture. 

The Riley Children's Health Sports Fitness Experience allows kids to pedal a car on a drag strip, show off their athletic skills, stroll down the Avenue of Champions to see statues depicting sports legends and work those muscles on the Fitness Path and Track. Outdoor exhibits reopen for the season on March 13.

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The Indianapolis Zoo features an aquarium, botanical garden and a dolphin pavilion that enables visitors to interact with and double high-five the dolphins. Their unique Animal Arts Adventures program allows up to three guests a behind-the-scenes meet-up with a dolphin, elephant, or orangutan. You'll watch as one of these amazing creatures creates a piece of art and then take it home as an unforgettable souvenir. The Zoo's new Sloth Adventure gets you up close and cozy with the lazy-bones animal for a feeding.

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, tour a one-room schoolhouse, master games early-American children would play, and watch pottery and blacksmith demonstrations.

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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. As a reward for the exercise, visit the dairy bar to throw down a milkshake or smoothie.

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 sandwich at Atomic Cafe 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.

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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

ST. LOUIS

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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.

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. The temporary exhibit Dinosaur Train: The Traveling Exhibit features a curious T-Rex who travels through time to discover everything there is to know about dinosaurs. 

Finish off the day by stargazing at St. Louis Science Center's Planetarium or catch a 3-D show at the Omnimax Theater.

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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.

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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. 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.

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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 snacks, wine, beer and soda and a selection of hot foods served nightly from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.

KALAMAZOO

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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.

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.

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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.

Eat
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 serves up fair-trade brews on the first floor.

Stay
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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