3 Weekend Getaways From Chicago That Require Less Than a Tank of Gas

Featuring Pizza Theater, a Tribute to the Stars, marshland hiking and more

July 15, 2022 7:57 am
Beach against the sky in Michigan City
Beach against the sky in Michigan City
Dallas Currie / EyeEm via Getty

Gas prices have you feeling like your travel plans this summer can’t go any further than an Emily in Paris Netflix marathon? 

Put down that remote, because we have a round-up of three destinations that are just a tank of gas away but will have you feeling like you’re in a whole new world. 

3: One of many mansions built on Main Street in Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin by wealthy Chicagoans
One of many mansions built on Main Street in Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin by wealthy Chicagoans
Buyenlarge via Getty

Lake Geneva, WI (83 miles) 

Lake Geneva has been described as the “Hamptons of Chicago,” but in our opinion it’s even better — after all, eastern Long Island doesn’t have anything on Wisconsin’s cheese stores and breweries. 

Pit Stop: Volo Car Museum (Volo, IL)

There’s a few things every weekend getaway needs — cute coffee shops, a fully charged phone and…maybe a quick picture by the actual car from Blues Brothers. The Volo Car Museum (conveniently on your way to Lake Geneva) has it all: the Dukes of Hazzard Charger, Elvis Presley’s Cadillac, and (for some inexplicable reason) a “Pizza Theater” featuring retired Chuck E. Cheese animatronics. 

Once You’re There: If the name wasn’t already an indication, the lake is the star of the show in Lake Geneva. Spend some time relaxing on the water or, if you’re up for a little adventure (and some Instagram Stories that will make all your coworkers jealous), rent a boat from Marina Bay Boat Rentals and take to the open water. 

Once you’ve had your fill of the lake, spend a few hours exploring Lake Geneva’s cute downtown before bopping over to a tour at the Black Point Estate and Gardens to see how wealthy Chicagoans spent their Lake Geneva summers (or at least how they spent them in the Victorian era — there’s still plenty of million-dollar homes in Geneva to pick from). The mansion was built in 1888 for a Chicago beer baron, and the tour includes a lake cruise to the estate’s private island. 

Where to Eat: Get your first (and second, third, fourth) ice creams of the day at Scoops, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that’s received the Seal of Excellence at the Wisconsin State Fair for over 20 years straight.

And be sure to check out Inspired, an excellent downtown coffee shop with a great cause — the cafe employs folks with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, providing job training and, over time, placing them into a fully integrated work setting. 

For dinner, you can’t go wrong Sopra — a modern Italian-American restaurant with a romantic patio and an epic wine list, plus a dessert selection that will leave you ordering seconds. 

Where to Stay: The Baker House has been open since 1885, and each room is completely unique, with antique decorations and modern amenities (no sleeping on 130-year-old mattresses here). Plus take advantage of the hotel’s incredible social calendar, featuring live jazz nights and Champagne brunches. The hotel also has an exclusive boating membership for anyone looking to squeeze in a little more time on the water. 

The lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana as seen from across the water.
The lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana as seen from across the water.
Mike Kline (notkalvin) via Getty

Michigan City, Indiana (59 miles) 

Quick, name something about Indiana! Chances are your answer was something along the lines of “steel mills” or “Michael Jackson.” But Indiana is full of surprises, including the awe-inspiring 15-mile long Indiana Dunes National Park, right near Michigan City. 

Pit Stop: Albanese Candy Factory Outlet

What’s a trip to the beach without a five-pound bag of gummy bear factory rejects? Albanese Candy — home of “The World’s Best Gummy Bear”  — has a factory outlet just off the highway on your way to the Indiana Dunes National Park. Grab a massive bag to get you through the trip and, while you’re at it, grab another bag on your way home. 

Once You’re There: The Indiana Dunes National Park has something for everyone, even if your idea of the Great Outdoors is taking a Zoom call from your balcony. Check out the dunes, and then take a hike through the park’s 16.5 miles of trails, with options ranging from leisurely stroll to hikes Bear Grylls would be proud of. (We especially recommend the Great Marsh Trail, a flat 1.3-mile stroll that goes through wildlife-filled wetlands.) 

After your hike, switch gears entirely with a trip to the Lubeznik Art Center, a unique art center that features both world-renown and local artists. If you’re able to, align your trip with the center’s free First Friday programs, which happen from 5 – 8 PM on the first Friday of the month. The events feature free admission and free food, plus exciting events including live music, dance and more.

If you’re in town during blueberry season, Stateline Blueberries is a family-owned pick-your-own blueberry farm that’s open from late June through August. (Follow along on their website for updates on opening dates.) And if you’re not in town during blueberry season…it just may be worth another trip to Michigan City. 

Where to Eat: Shoreline Brewery is  a family-owned brewery with 12 beers on tap, including Stellar Glue, a blueberry German-style ale that’s worth the drive alone. The brewery also has an extensive and unexpected menu: Forget your standard bar food options, we’re talking Korean bulgogi nachos, Buffalo frog legs, stone hearth pizza and much more. 

We also recommend grabbing lunch at Polish Peasant, an authentic Polish joint beloved in the area for its homemade pierogies. (Pro tip: the restaurant is small, so go early to find a space.) 

Wrap up the day with dinner at Galveston Steakhouse, an old-school steakhouse with mesquite-wood fire-grilled steaks and regular performances by live blues musicians. 

Where to Stay: Treat yourself to a night at Blue Chip Casino’s Hotel, where you can take advantage of the hotel’s first-rate amenities, like a pool, spa and fitness center. (Plus you’ll have easy access to the slot machines, in case you’re feeling lucky.)

Sunlight shining into Aurora Canyon as water softly flows through the canyon. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, USA.
Sunlight shining into Aurora Canyon as water softly flows through the canyon. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, USA.
EJ_Rodriquez via Getty

North Utica, IL (92 miles)

Waterfall-adjacent hikes and a whole range of wineries? North Utica is truly a summer paradise.

Pit Stop: The Rootbeer Stand, Oglesby, IL 

Take a pit stop on your mini road trip to check out The Rootbeer Stand in Ogilesby — an old-fashioned carhop with famous root beer floats and a vintage Woody statue out front. 

Once You’re There: Starved Rock State Park has been voted the #1 attraction in Illinois (better luck next time, The Bean), and is worth the trip whether you’re a frequent visitor or have never been before. 

If you’re not sure where to start, the park offers free, guided hikes during June through November. (Pre-registration is required here.) While you’re there, take a quick detour to Matthiessen State Park just down the road. 

Hiking not your thing? Utica Electric Bike Rentals can hook you up with an electric bike, the next best thing to cruising your car right up to the rock formation’s edge. 

After you’ve gotten your fill of the outdoors, check out some of Utica’s many wineries. August Hill Winery, Clarks Run Creek Winery and ISC Bubbly all offer in-person tasting rooms, snacks and take-home bottles, so you can toast to Utica from your couch. 

Where to Eat: Fill up before a long day of hiking at Nonie’s Bakery and Cafe, which specializes in breakfast options and desserts. (Hey, we won’t judge if your pre-hike fuel just happens to be an entire cake.)

Later in the day, swing by Jamie’s Outpost — a unique treasure that can only be found in a small town. Part bar, part restaurant, part store, you’ll want to budget in some extra time to explore. 

Where to Stay: Starved Rock Lodge

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Starved Rock Lodge is an actual log-built lodge with easy access into the state park, a highly-rated restaurant and — most importantly — a “Tribute to the Stars” show featuring some of the top cover artists and celebrity impersonators in the country. (We’ll see you in the front row.) 

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