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Our best family road trips!

As parents of three high-energy young children we learned quickly that a great way to stay in control and keep our sanity was to strap our children to seats so they couldn’t move (you know what I’m talking about right!?!?!  😉 ). This is generally frowned upon but not if you do it in a car.  Thus, we became experts at the road trip.

Before leaving we find playgrounds along our route for our break times.  Our laptop with a car adapter is used to watch movies.  Tablets are used sparingly and best given out when the kids start getting real cranky.  The rest of the time is used for travel games and conversation making sure we take in all the sights of the trip.

Glow sticks are a must for nighttime traveling.

We also always stay at hotels that offer free breakfasts and we usually stay in suite-style rooms.  The extra space is worth every penny and again helps keep Mom and Dad sane.

Above our dining room table is the map that I have pictured at the top of this post.  On it we’ve ‘pegged’ all the places we’ve been and dream about the places we still want to go. It creates some great dinner table conversations.

Making memories is what we feel life is all about.  So, here are our top 7 weekend trips that made the most memories and created the most smiles.

# 7  Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium at Mall of America

Bloomington, MN

You can easily spend a fun family weekend at Mall of America but you’re missing the best thing in the mall if you skip the aquarium.  The exhibits are extremely engaging.  Ever been in pitch black room where the only lights are glowing jellyfish?   Get your hands wet exploring a reef and petting a stingray.  The 300 foot glass underwater tunnel makes you feel you are intruding on the marine life.  Animal Planet actually named it the best shark exhibit in the world.  A great hotel to stay at is the Residence Inn in Edina, MN.  Besides the kitchenette, free breakfast and separate bedroom available, it is also attached to Edinborough Park, a facility run by the city of Edina.  It has one of the largest indoor play structures in the country.

# 6  Indiana Dunes State Park & ValPLAYso Park

Chesterton and Valparaiso, IN

Sand and waves.  That’s all it takes for kids to have hours of fun.  Add the fact they can climb, and then fall down, sand dunes that will look like Mt. Everest to them and you have one memorable experience.  Bring a picnic and sunscreen.  See who can spot Chicago first across Lake Michigan.  Outdoor showers will help clean everyone up afterwards.   Don’t go straight home though. On the way back stop at 1400 Glendale Blvd in Valparaiso and let the kids run around in ValPLAYso Park.  It’s a playground and has things you’ve probably seen in other playgrounds but it might have EVERYTHING you have ever seen in other playgrounds.  It is huge and modern and has restrooms.  My kids couldn’t decide which playground they liked more, this one or the amazing playground at Maggie Daley Park in Chicago.  For a treat stop by the Valpo Velvet Shoppe not too far away at 57 Monroe St.  It is one of neatest ice cream shops you’ll see.  It serves food too but not on Sundays.

# 5  Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave, KY

The world’s longest known cave system is a 6.5 hour drive from Chicago.  You’re not going to be able to explore all 400 miles of it in a weekend but what you do explore will be eye-popping.  I’m guessing your kids have been surrounded by a concrete jungle most of their lives.  Take them underground and give them a new perspective of Earth.  Sign up for one or two of the many cave tours long before you arrive as the best times fill up fast.

#4 Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids, MI

I love taking the kids to Morton Arboretum but it looks like my backyard compared to Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park.  A children’s garden, Japanese garden, a carnivorous plant house, and a Michigan farm garden are only a few of the exhibits that make this a one-of-a-kind destination.    The Tropical Conservatory transports you across the globe and in March and April is taken over by thousands of free-flying butterflies from South and Central America, Asia and Africa.  The sculpture park ranks as one of the top 100 most visited art museums in the world.  Sculptures seem to appear out of no-where as you walk down the beautiful paths.  The kids will enjoy the variety of sculptures, especially Mad Mom and the one with bare rabbit butts.  Don’t stop exploring though until you’ve found the 24 foot tall American Horse.

#3 Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Indianapolis, IN

Hey!  The largest and best children’s museum in the WORLD is about a 3 hour drive from Chicago!  Why have you not gone?!   Look at their website name, it’s not Indiana’s children museum, it is the children’s museum.  Do you need more evidence than that?  It has 472,900 square-feet of fun on 5 floors. Dinosaurs, trains, outer-space, a carousel, mirror-maze, hands-on science experiences, a theater, planetarium, you name it, they got it.  Do not buy tickets though.  Buy a family membership for $189 instead and go as much as you want for year.  You can’t just go once.  Your kids like sports?  Find out in the spring of 2018 how the best children’s museum does sports when the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience opens outside the museum.  It’s included in your membership!

#2 – EnterTRAINment Junction

West Chester, OH

Although learning that this has the world’s largest indoor train display will get many very interested, the other attractions turns this destination into a must for every kid.   It has outdoor trains the kids can ride, a big play structure the kids can run around and climb on and a huge funhouse.   I would go back just for the funhouse.  Get your whole family to go in to the tilt room and your laughter will bring you to tears.  It is pure, simple, old-fashioned fun.  Now back to the train display. It’s ridiculously cool.  You have to go to a 2nd floor just to see it all.  The amount of detail included is amazing. Don’t pass up the scavenger hunt.

 # 1 – City Museum

St. Louis, MO

This is one of the most amazing places on the planet.  It is a 10 story building turned into a playground made of repurposed materials.  That doesn’t sound all exciting but this is just something you have to see.  It has a school bus hanging off the roof.  It has a suspended airplane you can reach through a wire tube cage(or take the stairs if you are less adventurous).  It has slides throughout the building.  It has a Ferris wheel on the roof.  It has a skateboard park inside with no skateboards.  Let your kids crawl and explore the greatest playground they will ever see.  You can join them if you want or just have a beer, look around and let your mouth drop in awe.  Look closely though.   Half the fun is noticing all the different kinds of materials used to create each structure.   There is so much to discover I look at pictures from their website and realize there was so much we missed.  Don’t ask for a map though because they don’t make one.  They want you to get lost in wonder.  Do make sure you have a meeting spot picked out in case you get separated.  It is easy to get separated.  Their website actually suggests you put your phone number on your kid’s wristband.  So when your kids end up 3 floors below you after they escape down a hidden slide they will return them to you.

Summer is not over yet!  Go out and have an adventure!  If you head to one of the places mentioned above you won’t be disappointed I promise. Kids will have a blast and tons of memories will be made!

Katie Fischer

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