Hometown travel: Chicago area adventures

I’m a big fan of what I like to call “hometown travel”. I guess it’s along the same lines of what others call “staycation” but I like my term better. My family and I are very lucky to have abundant cultural opportunities living in a place like Chicago; we really don’t have to go far for new experiences. I’m also lucky to have a job that allows me more than the American-standard two weeks of vacation per year. So as my almost-three week vacation approached, with no travel plans for the family, I decided I’d use my time off to do a little hometown travel with my daughter. My objectives: experiences that are fun, new, and culturally enriching.

The first adventure was the Red, White, and Bluegrass Festival at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, Illinois. Live bluegrass at a small, local farm, to benefit the Farmer Veteran Coalition? Sign us up! My little family had quite an enjoyable time: peaceful setting, friendly folks, live music, fresh food, and craft beer. We couldn’t have asked for more. An added bonus? Watching my daughter dance barefoot in the grass with kind, complete strangers. Everyone in attendance knew her by the time the festival ended.

For days, my little darling begged me to go to the beach. We’re blessed here in Chicago with miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, but we’re also cursed with heavy traffic and scarcity of parking spaces. So, for the sake of my sanity and for our second adventure, we headed to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, just fifty-five miles from Chicago, to enjoy the fifteen miles of beachfront and the expansive public parking lots. The Lake Michigan water was a bit chilly but mighty refreshing on one of the hottest days of our young summer. Lucia made more friends and some sandcastles, and we left happy, sun-kissed, and smelling of sunscreen.

What is it about kids and trains? Why do they like choo-choos so much? I can’t figure it out, but my daughter definitely is one of those train-obsessed tykes. For our third adventure, I toyed with the idea of taking a train trip somewhere in the region, maybe Milwaukee or Grand Rapids, but in an effort to save a few bucks, decided instead to take Lucia to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois. We had perfect weather for our visit which was appreciated as the museum is almost completely outdoors. Surprisingly, we also had almost the entire place to ourselves. There are a number of display barns that house long rows of train cars from all railroad eras. One need not be a train aficionado to enjoy the displays. I wouldn’t even say that I’m a train enthusiast, but I had so much fun at the museum, imagining days gone by, and appreciating the significant part of our U.S. history that is held by trains and railroads. It is important to remember that the museum is an active railroad yard so, safety first. It also means that visitors can actually ride the rails! We took a ride on a vintage Chicago streetcar and it proved to be the highlight of the day for Lucia. A few bits of helpful information about the museum:

  • Admission is $10 for adults. Lucia is three and I was told that I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee for her.
  • There is a diner on the grounds, as well as an ample supply of picnic tables. We packed a cooler with sandwiches and beverages and had a rather enjoyable picnic in the shade.
  • There is a new, small playground area for when the little ones get tired of looking at rows and rows of train cars.

After these few excursions, Lucia now expects to go someplace new every day. She asks me in the morning, “Where we going today, Mommy?” I still have some time left on this vacation so we’ll see what other hometown travel adventures await.

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33 Responses to Hometown travel: Chicago area adventures

  1. D.J. - The World of Deej June 20, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    It’s great to explore ones hometown…I just wish I lived somewhere like Chicago where there was actually something to explore!

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      What d’ya mean, Deej?? There’s a ton to explore in Florida!

  2. elatlboy June 20, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    It’s great to do “hometown” travel. Usually there is lots of great stuff right in ones own neighborhood that doesn’t even get notice doing the day-to-day. I can’t believe I haven’t stopped at the Indiana Dunes on all my trips to your neck of the woods. Gotta change that soon. Lot’s more Detroit, Michigan, Great Lakes and Atlanta/Georgia explorations soon. Look forward to reading more on you and your daughters “hometown” travels! 🙂

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks, Aaron! Like I said before, definitely try to make a stop at Indiana Dunes. You will not be disappointed.

  3. the lazy travelers June 20, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    love this!! we’re also huge fans of hometown travel. growing up in the northeast means we’ve always been able to drive a few hours and be in a completely different place than wherever we’re coming from.

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      So awesome! I imagine your neck of the woods has some way cooler stuff that’s closer together than here in the Midwest. But then again, we can turn any outing into an adventure 🙂

  4. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) June 20, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    I love this idea. You get to do something new and different without having to pack a bag or stand in line for security. Love the photos…beautiful.

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      You’re right, I did not even think about avoiding security lines! Thanks for the kind words about my photos. I took so many at the Railway Museum that I wanted to share. Instead of bogging down the post with all of them, I tried my hand at a little collage-making.

  5. stayadventurous June 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    as much as I love the word “stay” it works so much better with adventurous than vacation. Hometown Travel is a great way to appreciate all your hometown offers, and the more I travel I realize every place has its charm.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      “the more I travel I realize every place has its charm” So true, Craig. That’s a quote worth sharing!

  6. tawnymclark June 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    We are big fans of hometown travel. It’s nice to discover something new in a place that’s so familiar. The photos are awesome!

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:29 am #

      Thank you, Tawny! I’ll be honest, we’ve done a lot more hometown exploring since my daughter was born. Already she is appreciating adventure and discovery.

  7. Jetting Around (@jettingaround) June 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Chicago truly is a great city to explore for both visitors and locals. Hometown travel is great, because it makes you feel like you’re faraway, so you’re getting the good-mood boost, but it can also budget-friendly and require little planning. I have yet to check out the Railway Museum – it sounds like a great place!

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Totally, Pola. Since at the last minute I wasn’t able to attend TBEX (due to my uncle’s passing), I really needed a good-mood boost. My little adventures here really helped 🙂

  8. Raul June 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Francesca, PLEASE take me with you all on your next hometown vacation! I had no idea y’all had beaches by the lake! And going to Indiana made good sense – that’s what I’d done too!

    • Francesca June 21, 2012 at 10:33 am #

      It’s a deal, Raul! Come visit again soon! And yes, we have lots of beaches!

  9. Dominique June 22, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    We do a lot of “hometown travel” here in the Detroit area, so I love the idea 🙂

    • Francesca June 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      I know you do, Dominique! You’ve got lots to explore around Detroit, too. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. lola June 22, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    OMG gorgeous pictures!! i’ll be doing a bunch of “hometown” travel myself in the next couple of months! it’s the best time to be in New England – summertime!!! i want YOU to come visit me. 🙂

    • Francesca June 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      Oh, Lola, twist my arm!! I’ve been only to Cape Cod & a short visit to Boston; I would LOVE to see more of New England! Tell me when and I’ll be there 🙂

  11. Lisa Goodmurphy June 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    I love hometown traveling to keep me going in between other trips – my younger daughter and I have been doing a bit of it around Toronto since school let out last week. You have an incredible city for exploring – Chicago is one of my favourite cities in the world! Emma and I are going to be in Chicago for a few days in August – I’d love to know if you have any tips for dining.

    • Francesca June 23, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      Hometown travel is a perfect filler for when we’re in-between trips. Toronto is a great place to explore, too, and is one of my favorite cities! It’s been almost 20 years (gasp) since my last visit, though, so I’m due to return. I’d be more than happy to give you dining tips for your trip to Chicago. I’ll send you an email if that’s ok?

  12. travelrinserepeat June 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I’ve been to Chicago several times and have never heard of ANY of these! There is so much to see and do in Chicago, you could spend a lifetime living there and never see it all.

    • Francesca June 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      So true. I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life and I’m still discovering new things and new places.

  13. Ted Nelson (@travelingted) June 23, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    What an adorable picture of your daughter dancing to bluegrass. I love bluegrass, and I love the Indiana Dunes as well. Sounds like a fabulous home travel vacation.

    • Francesca June 23, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

      Aww, thanks Ted! I do love bluegrass and now Lucia does, too. I had Mumford & Sons on in the car the other day and Lucia said to me, “Mommy, I remember this song! I heard it at the farm!” So she totally remembers the bluegrass festival and can recognize bluegrass-y type of music! Mission: Accomplished. (PS – Mumford & Sons were NOT at that bluegrass festival, nor did any of the bands play any Mumford songs.)

  14. alaypath June 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I love being a tourist in our own hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. No matter where you live, there are a lot of things to do when you look at your home the way a visitor would. And, you already know all the insider tips, like driving to the beach in Indiana instead of dealing with the crowds closer to home.

    • Francesca June 27, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      I agree 100%! I also think hometown travel rocks 🙂

  15. Arianwen July 1, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    Chicago sounds like a great place to do ‘hometown travel’. I’m lucky enough to live in London. There’s so much to do here, but I do wish we had better weather and a beach!

    • Francesca July 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

      Oooh, LONDON! I have yet to visit and hope to one day soon. I bet you have a ton of opportunities for hometown travel! But beaches do help, as does favorable weather 🙂

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