Day trips from Chicago
July 8, 2021 7:03 PM   Subscribe

I live in Chicago, have an impromptu week off, and want to do some day trips with friends. What are my best options for leaving in the morning and getting back home by midnight with an amazing day behind me. OK if they’re in the city or outside of it, provided the above occurs :)
posted by sirion to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Close to/in the city:
- Walk around a new neighborhood (maybe Pilsen, Andersonville, the Blue Line corridor)
- Botanical gardens (Moorten Arboreteum or the Chicago Botanical Gardens)
- Zoo (Brookfield or Lincoln Park)
- Metra roulette: pick a random Metra line and take it to a stop that looks good! Geneva and Lake Forest are very fancy and cute to walk around
- the Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright stuff if it's open
- walk around campus at Northwestern or U Chicago
- see if there are any weird fests happening in the burbs! might be harder bc covid, but in the past I have enjoyed "Open House Elgin", a creepy scarecrow festival in St. Charles, and others
- I think the Ren Faire in Bristol, WI just opened for the season

Further away:
- Southwest Michigan. TONS of options. gorgeous beaches (I love St. Joseph's beach), just billions of breweries/cideries (greenbush is a fave), shopping in downtown Holland or Saugatuck, Grand Rapids is a really pleasant spot to hang out too
- Indiana Dunes
- House on the Rock (have a nice dinner in Madison on your way home, or stop at the mustard museum)
- or just go to Madison, a truly great town, esp on a farmer's market day
- Milwaukee (great art museum)
- Kohler (we call it the "toilet museum" but it's weirdly fun?? have lunch at the American Club, the pub is very reasonably priced)
- Starved Rock (will probably be super busy)
- Wisconsin Dells or Baraboo (water parks, creepy circus stuff, Wizard Quest -- take your pick)
- Lake Geneva (shopping, pretty scenery, probably busy)
- the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford are really nice, stop at IKEA on your way home (that's what I do)
- Indianapolis is nicer than you probably expect and you can go duckpin bowling!

(If you want any more specific itineraries for any of these hit me up, I have done all of them!)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:30 PM on July 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

There are quite a few mound sites within a day trip. Aztalan, Beattie Park, and Sinnissippi are easy to get to. They won't take your breath away, but it's a fun excuse for a trip. Cahokia is definitely the most impressive. It's a very long day trip. But, not entirely impossible. (Staying over night and also visiting the City Museum would be my personal choice.)

Seconding the Dunes and Starved Rock. The dunes have really nice sheltered barbeque areas and have been refreshingly empty recently. Starved Rock is packed with people. But, it's genuinely beautiful.
posted by eotvos at 9:42 PM on July 8, 2021

Wolf Road Prairie is totally worth seeing. It's weird to approach from the south end, but that was a wonderful way to do it.

It's a long walk with lots of cool stuff to see, but maybe combine it with a trip to Oak Park or whatever's further out in that direction.
posted by amtho at 1:35 AM on July 9, 2021

Go tubing on the Sugar River! It's super fun and an easy day trip from Chicago. Bring some drinks and snacks, rent a tube for your cooler, and enjoy a river float. Weekends can be busy on the river, but it's very chill during the week.
posted by merriment at 4:11 AM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’d vote for western Michigan, which is pretty and fun. I’ve been everywhere from New Buffalo (quite close to Chicago) to Traverse City (not close), and it’s all been delightful. GR is well-regarded as a craft beer town, if you’re into that.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:45 AM on July 9, 2021

It kind of depends on what you're into. As goodbyewaffles notes, Indy can be a good place to go. We have a fantastic art museum. Not nearly as fabulous as the Art Institute, of course, but good in its own way.

If you're at all into auto racing, we have, of course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has a pretty nice, if small, museum, as well as tours around the track. If you check ahead of time, you can book a few high-speed laps in a two-seat Indycar. It's a bit pricey, but it's definitely a bucket list thing for a racing fan. Anyway, if you're a racing fan and have never been there, just the size of the place is quite an eye-opener in its own right.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:02 AM on July 9, 2021

Our most fun 1-day getaway last summer was driving up to Milwaukee and biking the Oak Leaf Trail. If you can't transport bikes there, you can probably arrange to rent them downtown. Hugely fun and long bike trails through the city and parks, and you wind up in a German beer garden!

Also fun is walking around the lake in Lake Geneva, WI. Beautiful lake, beautiful mansions that you can check out, and some fun restaurants/bars to eat at when you are done.

+1 to art museum in Milwaukee. And +1 to walking around Madison especially on Saturday for the Dane County farmers' market.
posted by Mid at 5:58 AM on July 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Warren Dunes State Park in western Michigan is pretty impressive. The dunes are amazing and fun to hike, and since they're along the lake you could also go swimming after your hike.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:22 AM on July 9, 2021

When I was a kid, we used to drive down to Arthur and Arcola Illinois about once a summer -- it's the Amish part of Illinois and there used to be a park called Rockome Gardens which is now apparently a wildlife park.
posted by jabes at 7:07 AM on July 9, 2021

Come to Milwaukee for a day, we've got:

- A Calatrava/Kahler designed art museum with some really nice pieces on display
- Geodesic domes! Get your buckminster fuller going while visiting the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, especially since they keep talking about demolishing them.
- Parks you can drink in! Come up on the Hiawatha line out of Union Station, and then grab lunch at the South Shore Terrace. It's in a park, on the lake, and you can drink beer there!
- We also have a truly unique place, the American Black Holocaust Museum. Get yourself some of that Critical Race Theory all the kids are talking about these days!
- Check out the Pabst Mansion for gilded age opulence. Pabst Blue Ribbon!.
posted by dis_integration at 9:36 AM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

(Also, Miller Brewery Tour. Leave your Old Style at home and see one of America's biggest breweries)
posted by dis_integration at 9:47 AM on July 9, 2021

I enjoyed a tour of the Farnsworth House a few weeks ago. It's in Plano, IL. Took me a couple of hours to get there from my friend's place in Edgewater, but I perhaps didn't choose the ideal time to get on the road.
posted by HiddenInput at 12:59 PM on July 9, 2021

The Illinois Railway Museum in Union, check hours/dates for events-- note, the cafe isn't open during the week but picnic lunches are always allowed.
Kayaking in and around the city, and outside at Camp Bullfrog Lake , among many others (first link has lots of others).
posted by winesong at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2021

Go to Springfield, tour FLW’s Dana House, eat Thai at Magic Kitchen.
posted by cyndigo at 5:14 AM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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