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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