Head Out on the Highway! Spring Break Road Trips to Plan Now

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With the frigid temps and abundance of snow we’ve seen, it helps to daydream of warmer days just around the bend. On that note, it’s time 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 smalls towns are just a quick road trip from Chicago. Buckle up and escape to these family friendly destinations all around us. You won’t miss those palm trees one bit.

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.

Tour
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, whirlpool 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.

INDIANAPOLIS

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With seven stories of exploration at 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 March 2022.

Tour
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 four guests to watch as an animal artist creates a piece of art and then take it home as an unforgettable souvenir. Animal artists change per season, however elephants and orangutans are year-round options. Other attractions include the opportunity to feed flamingos, exotic birds or giraffe. The Zoo's 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 the 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 Action and Atomic Duckpin Bowling is a genius way to combine your need for sustenance with your kid’s desire for non-stop fun. Typically only found on the east coast, duckpin bowling uses a smaller ball and pins than traditional bowling, making it ideal for kids.

Stay
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. Backpack items include an activity book with stickers, crayons, 2-in-1 card games, binoculars and a small tabletop game. All of which can be enjoyed while relaxing 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.

LOUISVILLE 

Extend your trip from Indianapolis for another couple of hours, or make it its own destination. 

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Take your pick of ziplining, an aerial ropes course, a tram ride or a hike. What makes the difference is that it’s all underground! Louisville Mega Cavern is home to 17 miles of man-made, underground, passageways rich in history and geology. The size of the cavern made it possible to house the only fully underground aerial ropes course in the world!

Didn’t get your fill of life underground? Drive an hour to Mammoth Cave National Park. Thirteen tours are available ranging from easy descents to lantern tours and river tours that may require some mud crawling. There's no wrong answer, every tour is an adventure.

Where better to go horseback riding than in the home of The Kentucky Derby.  Explore the heart of horse country, in Shelby Trails Park, with the help of Red Fern Riding Center. Their season begins in April.

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The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory provides a unique perspective on baseball history. You don’t have to be a huge baseball fan to appreciate the factory tour and everyone gets a free souvenir mini-bat at the end. Baseball enthusiasts might lose their minds when they get to swing the actual bats once owned by legends such as Babe Ruth, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter and more.

Cruise the Ohio River on the Belle of Louisville. This 107-year-old, steam-powered, paddlewheel-propelled vessel is a Louisville landmark unto itself, not to mention all the sights you see along the way. For extra entertainment, pick up a free Adventure Passport that may include a scavenger hunt around the boat or a map of landmarks along your cruise.

Eat 

Mark's Feed Store is highly acclaimed for its BBQ. They have a couple of locations around Louisville, a great kids menu and kids eat free on Tuesdays, so plan ahead. You can also pick up a picnic package to-go.

There’s a reason why Kentucky fried chicken was famous enough to warrant a worldwide restaurant chain. Head to The Eagle for true southern comfort food including mouth-watering fried chicken. Enjoy live music and a patio with fire pits and a full bar.

Visit Please and Thank You's Mark Cafe not only for their famous chocolate chip cookies but also for an excuse to visit the hip and trendy NuLu neighborhood.

Stay 

Sleep in a museum. The 21c Museum Hotel is unique because it's not just a hotel, it's a museum. Kids will love the vibrancy and interactive nature of the art. There is a free docent tour on Thursdays.

The Embassy Suites Louisville Downtown offers an excellent location as well as an indoor swimming pool, complimentary cook-to-order breakfast and a complimentary reception every night with snacks and beverages.

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 Splash and Bubbles: Dive In, Lend a Fin!, based on the PBS Kids TV series Splash and Bubbles, teaches kids about marine biology, ocean science and conservation in really fun ways. Depending on when you're traveling, take advantage of Free Family Nights, held the third Friday of every month.

Finish off the day stargazing at St. Louis Science Center's Planetarium or catch a 3-D show at the Omnimax Theater. There are more than 700 exhibits to explore.

Tour

You can’t visit St. Louis without visiting The Gateway ArchTake the unique tram ride to the top of America’s tallest monument (630ft) for a sweeping view of the city and the mighty Mississippi.

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.

With older kids, consider getting around to all these sites via electric scooter.  You can rent scooters with Bird or Lime.

Eat
Show up hungry for made-from-scratch foods, old-fashioned sodas and out-of-this-world ice cream martinis at 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.

Stay
Fuel up for a day of sightseeing 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.

MEMPHIS

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It’s not often you’ll find a store on the top of a tourist destination list, but by all accounts, the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is a must-see in Memphis. It's home to three very unique restaurants, an interactive wetlands educational museum, a bowling alley, an aquarium with daily fish feeding shows, a hotel and a 28-story freestanding elevator & glass 0bservation deck.

Take a stroll down Beale Street in the daytime or early evening and enjoy street performers like the Beale Street Flippers, shop at A. Schwab for anything but the kitchen sink (although, you might find one of those, too) or step into Silly O'Sullivans where it's St. Patrick's every day for live music and a kid's menu.

A short walk across the skybridge from downtown will take you to Mud Island. Run around, have a picnic, visit the Mississippi River Museum or catch a show at the amphitheater. All while admiring the perfect view of the city skyline.

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While Elvis may have left the building, Graceland is still quite the sight to see. Take a self-guided tour with the assistance of a provided iPad and headphones.  See the famous Jungle room, a tuxedo of gold (among numerous costumes worn by The King), his cars and jets. Check out the new interactive experiences where you can virtually put yourself inside one of Elvis’ outfits or on an album cover. You can even receive a virtual serenade.

Though heavy and a bit somber, the history and lessons to be learned at the National Civil Rights Museum are too important to skip.  However, the museum recognizes the sensitive nature of some of the exhibits and offers a Family Guide to help guide parents with younger children away from some exhibits that might be too upsetting. The also offer ways in which to engage older children in an open dialogue about the challenges we continue to face as a nation.

Eat

From boils to sushi, Saltwater Crab will satisfy your seafood cravings. From sea to fork, as they say.

Though Moms may be wary of their slogan, “So good y’ull slap yo’ mama”, Commissary BBQ is the place to go for Memphis-style BBQ.  It's world-famous, having served dozens of celebrities. 

Nothing washes down BBQ better than Snow Cones. Head to Jerry's Snow Cones for a refreshing fix.

Locals and visitors alike will swear by Brothers Juniper's for the best breakfast in town. With a large menu filled with delicious breakfast omelets, burritos, gyros and seven different potato dishes, everyone is sure to find something that hits the spot.

Stay

One of the most iconic Memphis institutions, The Peabody is both historical and elegant.  Probably known best for its five resident ducks that miraculously march into the lobby fountain twice a day like clockwork, the hotel also boasts the most luxurious accommodations.

Make like an Egyptian and stay in The Pyramid at the Big Cypress Lodge. In addition to all the onsite entertainment like the aquarium and museum, your stay includes a complimentary hotel shuttle to anywhere within a 5-mile radius, internet access, a 24-hour business center, a 24-hour fitness center, complimentary express Sky High ride tickets and a complimentary snack basket.

If you're looking for something a little simpler in a great location with an indoor pool, consider the Hilton Garden Inn. Onsite dining and dog-friendly rooms are available.

— Debra Flanagan & Maria Chambers

Feature photo: 27707 via Pixabay

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