Don't Vacate, Staycate this Spring Break.

I felt a bit like I stepped into an episode of Fantasy Island when I returned home from work the other night. I got out of my car and walked up to the driveway only to be greeted by a small person putting a lei around my neck and handing me an umbrella "drink" (water with a paper umbrella inserted). However instead of it being a dwarf manservant, it was my sweet almost 5-year old daughter excitedly telling me about her trip to Hawaii during preschool. I knew preschool tuition increased this past year, but I didn't realize it included a quick trip to Hawaii and Tahiti.

In celebration of upcoming Spring Break, her preschool class took a "virtual" trip to the Polynesian islands. Each child made a construction paper suitcase, colored and decorated their own passport to be stamped by their teacher, flew in a pretend airplane, and even sent postcards to friends and family. It was a truly creative way to getaway without ever having to leave the preschool classroom.

With Spring Break almost upon us, many people are packing up their suitcases and making their plans to get out of town. If you are one of those lucky ones and are living gluten free, check out my recent post "Wheat Free Wanderlust." If you are like me however and are spending Spring Break at home, you may be looking for creative ways to getaway without leaving the Chicagoland area.

There are so many options for spending a day in the city (too many to mention here), but some of my kids' favorites have included visiting The American Girl Store or simply grabbing some Pinkberry yogurt (Jennifer Hudson's fave and all flavors are gluten free) and walking over to the lakefront to enjoy the gorgeous view.

Here are a few ideas of things to do in Chicagoland, within a short drive (1-2 hours), or without ever leaving your home.

Volo Auto Museum  (Volo, IL)

Located out in Volo, IL, this place has the most extensive collection of TV and Hollywood movie cars and military vehicles that I've seen. I'm talking Bluesmobile, Ghostbusters mobile, The General Lee (resist the urge to climb in through the windows), Lightning McQueen, and Herbie the Lovebug. With 5 antique malls, there is no shortage of bizarre things to take a look at. Warning for parents with little ones: Look but do not touch is the overriding policy here with the vehicles.

Cantigny Park  (Wheaton, IL)

Located in Wheaton, Cantigny has a 500-acre park for hiking and enjoying nature, as well as two museums: the Robert McCormick museum and the First Division museum. Don't miss the Tank park where kids can climb on the military tanks. Pretty cool for a 7-year old boy into building Lego military battle scenes.

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio and Walking Tour (Oak Park ,IL)

This is a great educational experience with the added benefit of enjoying the outdoors. Wright's home/studio is located in Oak Park amongst a collection of many of his buildings. Start with a tour of the home, then follow with a self-paced tour around the historic district. My husband and I took the Oak Park studio and walking tour years ago before children, so I recommend either taking your very little ones that might enjoy a snooze in the stroller or older children who have an interest in architecture. I am still in awe of how modern and open his structures feel.

Field Museum (Dinosaurs, Mummy Exhibit) (downtown Chicago)

Celebrate your inner nerd by checking out The Field Museum of Natural History. My kids always love the dinosaurs, and visiting Sue and her Jurassic friends usually fills up our afternoons. However on our most recent visit, we toured the new mummy exhibit. Many of the mummies in the exhibit hadn't been displayed since they were first purchase by the Field back in 1893. The museum used CT scans (a machine that actually came from Huntley, IL) to examine the mummies without damaging their wrappings and discovered mummies with dental decay, head malformations (due to head binding), and mummies that had died during childbirth. It's a pretty amazing glimpse into Egyptian life. I suggest printing out the field trip guide for students (available on the Field Museum's website) as a great way to get the kids engaged and thinking like a scientist. I was amazed at the questions my kids asked and artifacts they sketched on their field trip guides.

Starved Rock State Park (Utica, IL)

Explore the Outdoors with waterfalls and cliffs right here in Illinois. Just 2 hours from Chicago, Starved Rock is a great getaway for a day or weekend. There is a main lodge with a hotel and swimming pool, along with individual cabins for rent. Trails are vast and well groomed for young and old hikers of all sorts of abilities. An added bonus is that the main lodge dining room can accommodate various dietary restrictions. I've had several gluten free and dairy free meals here.

Grand Geneva / Timber Ridge Water Park (Lake Geneva, WI)

Always a quaint town with beautiful waterfront homes, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is a great getaway destination for many Chicagoans. Grand Geneva Resort and Timber Ridge water park are just a few minutes drive from the downtown, with trollies transporting guests to/from the resort to downtown Lake Geneva several times a day. As many know, Grand Geneva resort is the former Playboy resort of yesteryear. There are several nice restaurants right on the property, along with spa services, and excellent golf. Both indoor and outdoor swimming pools are very family-friendly. Gluten free pasta and several gluten free dining options are offered at the restaurants. If you are looking for a more casual atmosphere, you can get wet n' wild at Timber Ridge's indoor water park right across the street. Suites are available for overnight guests which allow you to cook your own food during your stay (a bonus for us celiacs!)

At Home

With the spring season upon us, take the time at home to plan out your spring/summer garden with the kids or create some spring-themed artwork to decorate your home. Plan a family movie night complete with pillows and popcorn, or have everyone take part in making a fancy meal together. Vacations are fabulous, don't get me wrong. But, I've found some of the most fun is had through the simplest things, closest to home.

Staycation all I ever wanted......



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