by Laura Weisskopf Bleill
I’m very lucky in that when I go home to see my family, it’s also a pretty fun place to be. And not because it’s just 30 minutes north of Chicago (on a good traffic day). Actually, there’s plenty of family fun to be had in the burbs. If you’re looking for a family-friendly getaway to the Chicago area, but don’t want to pay $300/night for the privilege of staying within the city limits, this is the article for you.
So what exactly is there to do north of Chicago? Well, for starters, there’s Ravinia Festival.
Ravinia Festival is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It is also a juggernaut on the popular concert scene – acts such as Lady Gaga, Santana, Sheryl Crow, among others. Ravinia does a series of Saturday morning concerts for kids (Laurie Berkner coming in August 2015!). More significantly, Ravinia is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy a summer evening. Bring a picnic (almost anything goes) and don’t forget the blankets and lawn chairs – and even a citronella candle or two (at night).Children ages 15 and under are admitted free to the lawn for almost all Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Martin Theatre concerts. Children ages 2 and under are admitted free (ticket required) to the lawn for all concerts (except the Kids Concerts series). Ravinia Festival is located in Highland Park; parking on-site is limited, but there are ample park-and-ride options.
Another world-class venue: the Chicago Botanic Garden. There’s nothing Chicago about the Botanic Garden, which is located a hop, skip and a jump from Ravinia in Glencoe. Admission is free to the Garden, but parking is where they get you – $20 per car or $25 per van (you could bike or walk there, but hard to do when you’re a tourist). Still, it’s worth every penny to view almost 400 acres of sheer beauty.
You can pack a cooler and spend all day at the gardens. There are plenty of free activities for families. But the attraction we love most (and your train-crazed kids will go nuts) is the Model Railroad Garden, which does have an added fee – but again, you won’t regret it. The Model Railroad Garden features a miniature version of some of America’s greatest treasures, landmarks and historical places – with trains running through it. See the Old Faithful geyser erupt! Catch a Thomas the Train cameo! Whatever you do — don’t forget the camera.
Some other ideas to fill your days:
- Want an amusement park experience? Six Flags Great America is just up the road in Gurnee.
- Want to swim in Lake Michigan? There are several options, but beware — the suburbanites are awfully protective of their beaches. That means they charge – as much as $10 per person for non-residents.
- Want something a little bit off the beaten path? Love reptiles? Visit the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, which features more than 100 species of reptiles, amphibians and raptors including the nation’s largest public collection of rattlesnakes.
- Enjoy culture, religion and architecture? Visit the gorgeous and peaceful Ba’hai House of Worship in nearby Wilmette, one of only seven Ba’hai temples in the world.
- Of course, if you still want to go to the city, ditch the car at one of the park-and-ride Metra stations (take either the Union Pacific North Line or the Milwaukee District North Line).
Where to eat (A very abbreviated version; I’m happy to provide more on request)
For breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend Walker Brothers (several locations, but Highland Park is a 10-minute drive from Ravinia or CBG). Very family-friendly. Home of the Apple Pancake and Dutch baby. You can’t miss here.
For lunch or dinner, another favorite is Michael’s Chicago Style Red Hots, also in downtown Highland Park. Not just a hot dog stand, this place also has a mean salad bar, serves up a great turkey burger, and those cheese fries – I’m hungry just thinking about it. (1879 Second Street, Highland Park)
For some great deli food that just can’t be found in C-U, head over to Max and Benny’s (461 Waukegan Road, Northbrook).
Where to stay
– If you like a suites hotel with a kitchen, try the Residence Inn Chicago Deerfield. Or try the Staybridge Suites in Glenview, a newer property with great online reviews.
– I find it’s often easy to get good deals at airport hotels; O’Hare is about 20 minutes away.
Are you going on a getaway within driving distance of C-U? We’re looking for your family-friendly summer vacation recaps. Contact us here or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).