Summer travel & weekend family getaways from Chicago

Summer is finally here in Chicago. Well, at least the calendar says so. (Really, what is up with all this rain?!) The kids might be asking where you’re heading for summer vacation. Or, you may be looking to do a weekend away from the city. Either way, I’ve got recommendations for some summer travel and weekend family getaways that are within just a few hours of Chicago.

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Depending on where you live in the Chicago area, Kenosha is about an hour away by car, just up I-94. Despite its advantageous location on Lake Michigan, Kenosha sometimes gets lost in the shuffle between Chicago and Milwaukee. I know I was pleasantly surprised to learn first-hand just how much there is to see and experience in Kenosha. Here is just a sampling:

Kenosha Streetcar

Kenosha Streetcar | Courtesy Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau


  • Take a scenic tour of Kenosha’s lakefront in one of the city’s beautifully restored electric streetcars.
  • Learn about the contributions of the Upper Middle West during the American Civil War at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.
  • Rent stand-up paddleboards or other small watercraft (kayaks, canoes, etc.) at inland Lake Andrea.


  • Look out across Lake Michigan from the top of Southport Lighthouse.
  • Come face-to-face with the woolly mammoth that was excavated in Kenosha County back in 1994 and is now on display at the Kenosha Public Museum.


  • Offering “an outlet for sugary, greasy, tasty debauchery”, Mike’s Chicken & Donut Bar serves up coffee, donuts, lunch, dinner, beer, and Jameson all under one roof!
  • Sample local goodies and global delicacies at Kenosha HarborMarket. At its peak, this lively market right on Lake Michigan features more than 150 vendors (and is a personal favorite of mine).
  • Pick up traditional Italian foods and treats at Tenuta’s Deli for a picnic, or order take-away from their streetside grill.


  • It’s all about the beer and the people at PUBLIC Craft Brewing Co. Beer enthusiasts can BYO food or order in, partake in conversation with other pub-goers, play shuffleboard, and take advantage of the free WiFi.
  • Enjoy small, unique, artisanal batches of fresh seasonal craft beer at Rustic Road Brewing Company, Kenosha’s oldest operating brewery.


  • Best Western Harborside Inn & Kenosha Conference Center: Kenosha’s only lakefront hotel offers complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, an indoor pool, and bicycle rentals for the whole family.
  • Southport Bed & Breakfast: Just three blocks from Lake Michigan, this intimate B&B is an excellent option for an adults-only getaway.
  • Richard Bong State Recreation Area: Campsites and almost 30 miles of various trails for the active, outdoorsy family.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

I’m kind of in love with Grand Rapids and make no secret of it. I even dream of living there. What I love most about Grand Rapids is that it has all the cultural and entertainment options you’d expect from a big city, but it’s small enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed or rushed in any way. It’s easy on the eyes, too.


Frank Lloyd Wright's Meyer May House | Grand Rapids, Michigan

Meyer May House


  • A lesson in culture and history that doesn’t cost a dime, admire the historic homes in the Heritage Hill corridor. One of the most popular sights on the trail is Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (tours are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; check website for times).
  • Not your traditional botanic garden, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park merges horticulture and art in a beautiful and innovative way.


  • The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is not only a fun place to just hang out, there’s something to please everyone’s palate. From fresh sushi to scrumptious cupcakes, it’s impossible to go hungry.
  • The Winchester would be my hangout if I lived in Grand Rapids. The laid-back vibe, the creative menu, and the handcrafted cocktail list would have me returning day after day.
  • Despite being a craft brewery, The Mitten Brewing Company is an awesome family-friendly dining option. Housed in a Victorian-era firehouse with all-baseball decor, the menu is strictly pizza and calzones. Fun for kids and adults alike.


  • Yes, The Mitten Brewing Company gets mentioned twice. The beer is outstanding and you can bring the kids. BOOM.
  • Brewery Vivant is housed in a re-purposed funeral chapel and it looks like a church. The beer is so amazing, you’ll be praying it never runs out.
  • Grand Rapids wasn’t named Beer City USA for nothing. Check out this list for more craft breweries in GR and the surrounding area.


  • Amway Grand Plaza: Superb location in downtown Grand Rapids with historical elegance and a sophisticated modern tower. There is an array of on-site dining, an indoor pool, and complimentary WiFi.
  • Residence Inn Grand Rapids Airport: For a bit of extra space with all the comforts of home. Families will love the complimentary breakfast, indoor pool, and free WiFi.

St. Louis, Missouri

I think it’s the hint of Southern charm mixed with the Midwestern hospitality that makes my heart happy whenever I visit St. Louis. It’s just one of those all-American cities with much to offer in the way of history, culture, and entertainment. I’m definitely a fan.


  • It’s probably the most touristy thing to do in St. Louis but you have to go to the top of the Gateway Arch! It’s also a National Park Service unit so bonus points there.
  • It’s possible to spend an entire day (if not longer) at Forest Park. It’s 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park and is home to the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri History Museum, among others.
  • The kids can make 3-D images of themselves and have tons more fun at The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum.
St. Louis, Missouri

Outside Busch Stadium


  • For stunning architecture and gorgeous centuries-old homes, stroll through the Central West End neighborhood. Stop in some of the many cafes and galleries along the way.
  • Take in a Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium. Maybe even schedule your trip to St. Louis to coincide with a Cardinals game against your preferred Chicago baseball team.
  • An adults-only option is to check out a live music performance at the legendary Blueberry Hill (and it can easily be included under “EAT” and “DRINK”, as well).


  • Head over to The Hill, St. Louis’s Italian-American neighborhood, and eat everything. No, really.
  • Sample a couple of signature St. Louis dishes, like toasted ravioli and pork steaks, at Hwy 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen.
  • People travel from all over to St. Louis for Southern comfort food at Sweetie Pie’s. Stop in for fried chicken and peach cobbler while you’re in town.


  • Not my cup of tea (or beer), but we can’t talk about drinking in St. Louis without mentioning Anheuser-Busch. Visit The Biergarten for a taste of the myriad beers on offer as well as a chance to get up close and personal with a Clydesdale.
  • Schlafly, The St. Louis Beer, is proud to hold the distinction of opening the first new brewpub, The Schlafly Tap Room, in Missouri since Prohibition. Schlafly has a second location, Schlafly Bottleworks, and is a favorite among the locals.


  • Hampton Inn & Suites at Forest Park: This family-friendly property is located only three blocks from Forest Park, has an indoor pool, and offers complimentary breakfast and WiFi.
  • Park Avenue Mansion Bed & Breakfast: Adults-only option that exudes elegance, luxury, and historical charm.
  • Less than 30 minutes from the main St. Louis attractions, The St. Louis West KOA features air-conditioned deluxe cabins and RV sites, offers family activities year-round, and is pet-friendly.

These are just a few of my favorite places and things. Now, hit the road!

Happy summer and happy travels!

NOTE: Credit for St. Louis banner photo goes to Karen Miller

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16 Responses to Summer travel & weekend family getaways from Chicago

  1. Alouise July 1, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    I’ve never been to Chicago before so I had no idea all these places were so close by. All of these places look pretty cool to visit.
    Alouise recently posted…Photo Friday | June 2015 Photo EssayMy Profile

    • Francesca July 9, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      I think it’s time for you to come visit the Midwest!

  2. Erin Marie July 2, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    I’ll be honest, I’ve never thought of Michigan. Wisconsin, or Missouri as places to travel to (East Coast girl problems), but I really do believe I would love it. I’m already dreaming about Mike’s Chicken & Donut Bar, Kenosha HarborMarket, and PUBLIC Craft Brewing Co. – clearly, these three places are right up my alley! Also, Grand Rapids Downtown Market and The Mitten Brewing Company – I guess I have a thing for food, drinks, and shopping, huh? Can we travel to these places together, please!?
    Erin Marie recently posted…A Wedding Weekend in Narragansett, Rhode IslandMy Profile

    • Francesca July 9, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      I would love nothing more than to show you these places! I think you’d really love Grand Rapids; Kenosha and St. Louis are awesome, too. Please come visit me!!!!

  3. Raul (@ilivetotravel) July 2, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    You have told me before and convinced me that Grand Rapids has to be on my top 10 U.S. destinations to check out. Thanks for reminding me! And, Mike’s Chicken & Donut Bar in Kenosha sounds like my kinda place!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted…Trekking the W Circuit at the Torres del Paine: Day 3My Profile

    • Francesca July 9, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      I hope you get to GR soon! And I can’t wait to try Mike’s in Kenosha!

  4. Jody Robbins July 5, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    Great suggestions. I had no idea these were also possible mini-breaks from ChiTown. I’m amazed you can get to three states so easily. That’s one advantage of living in this region!
    Jody Robbins recently posted…Freebies at Nordstrom Part 1My Profile

  5. Robin July 6, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    I’d love to do a Frank Lloyd Wright tour of the area sometime, but that doesn’t seem like the best road trip idea for our kids just yet. A mom can dream.
    Robin recently posted…Trump International Hotel & Tower, New YorkMy Profile

    • Francesca July 8, 2015 at 8:26 am #

      Ah, yes… the beauty of travel is it does allow us to dream. Or, plan a moms/adults-only getaway 🙂

  6. Traveling Ted July 7, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    Been awhile since I have hit the Bong. Need to rectify that.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…La Colina Lodge in MonteverdeMy Profile

    • Francesca July 8, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      I was wondering how long it would take for someone to make a Bong comment.

  7. Allison July 7, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    We loved our visit to St. Louis several years ago. The trip in the pods to the top of the Gateway Arch is more memorable than the view!
    Allison recently posted…Tips for Families visiting Philadelphia’s Historic SitesMy Profile

    • Francesca July 8, 2015 at 8:13 am #

      Ha, that’s so true! Especially when you’re crammed in there with four of your family members and one decides to, um, deflate 😉

  8. Lance | Trips By Lance July 11, 2015 at 1:12 am #

    Well, well, well, I was just working on plans for a visit to St. Louis next weekend so good to read another perspective. I would love to be able to make some of those close trips to unique spots in Wisconsin and Michigan. I’m just happy I was able to make it to Traverse City last year. Just wish I could have spent more time in Grand Rapids.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted…Dreams in the Note of LifeMy Profile

    • Francesca July 23, 2015 at 7:16 am #

      Looks like you guys had a good time in St. Louis! I definitely recommend spending more time in Grand Rapids and getting into Wisconsin next time you’re up this way.

  9. Marc August 2, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Great post. I didn’t know that those are some mini vacation spots from Chicago. I guess next time, I would love to go visit Grand rapids, MI. Glad you would be able to do work and travel and write about it. I have been traveling for the last 10 years and after 30 countries and 25 US states, we keep going and traveling is very fun specially when you travel with your babies.
    Marc recently posted…The Submerged Towns of AmericaMy Profile

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