Beach Alternatives for Family Spring Break

Posted on Feb 29 2012 - 3:04pm by Tim Eyre

I love beaches as much as anyone else, but sometimes it’s fun to go against the tide and explore a city for spring break vacation. Why? There are so many interesting cities, and not enough vacation time! Plus, spring break is peak season for many beach towns, but deals may still be found in some cities. 

Chicago, Illinois
Yes, it’s worth it to abandon your diet for Chicago’s pizza! We love Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza with its buttery and flaky crust, and Giordano’s super huge stuffed pizzas. I think you should try both and compare. It’s not just about pizza though. Chicago offers just about any type of food you’d want, as well as lots of activities for families. 

Chicago is overflowing with world-class shopping opportunities, but when in the city, please also step outside to admire the architecture, or at least look up at the buildings along the Magnificent Mile! Architecturally curious people will fall in love during the Chicago River Architecture Tour that starts in March, and everyone is likely to find Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate (the Bean), extremely entertaining. I doubt many people can walk under the seamless and shiny sculpture known as the Bean and not smile when they see themselves inside! 

For families, I believe Shedd Aquarium, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a must in Chicago. Open since 1930, Shedd is one of the world’s largest aquariums, and has much to offer: otters, an octopus, rays, dolphins, sharks, jellies, whales and more.  Another fun activity I don’t think your family should miss is a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo, located just north of the city. Admission is free, and taking the bus there will help you save on parking charges. The zoo houses lots of animals, but primate lovers will be blown away by the Regenstein Center for African Apes, featuring habitats for many chimpanzees and Western lowland gorillas.

Tampa, Florida
I think Tampa is a great choice for those who still want to be near beaches, but also have the excitement of a city to explore. We love aquariums, and downtown Tampa is home to The Florida Aquarium, ranked as a top aquarium for kids by Parents magazine. And there’s much more than fish at The Florida Aquarium. I think it’s almost like a zoo as well with river otters, alligators, penguins and plenty of free-flight birds.

As wild as The Florida Aquarium sounds, I know there’s a much wilder place in Tampa – Big Cat Rescue. Visitors can see 14 species of cats at very close range. Don’t worry though. The tour guides are dedicated to safety! Big Cat Rescue houses abandoned and abused big cats. Some of the cats were pets, while others are retired performers. You may see lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, ocelots, caracals, servals, leopards, lynx, the tiny Geoffroy’s cat and possibly even a fishing cat or liger. Big Cat Rescue offers several tours during the week, but tours for children under 10 are limited to weekend mornings.

Exciting side trips from Tampa include the very beautiful and natural Caladesi Island State Park, and the nearby city of St. Petersburg, home to several beaches and the Salvador Dali Museum.

Springfield, Illinois
If big cities and aquariums aren’t your thing, take the family on a historical tour of a little place with a lot to offer – Springfield, Illinois. Kids who’ve studied Abraham Lincoln will have much to talk about at school after a spring break trip to Springfield. The city is home to Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Library and Museum, his home before he left to become our sixteenth president, and his final resting place at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

While the Presidential Library and Museum uses technology and realistic-looking wax figures to bring history to life for kids and adults, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site is a free, low-key, ranger-led adventure into Lincoln’s family life. Restored to its 1860 appearance, the two-story clapboard dwelling was the Lincoln family’s home for 17 years, and it’s the only home they owned together. I predict that your kids may be surprised to see that the home Lincoln left in 1861 didn’t have an indoor bathroom!

Springfield isn’t all about Lincoln. Frank Lloyd Wright fans, or anyone who admires beautiful old houses, will appreciate the Dana-Thomas House, a large Prairie-style home built in 1902 through 1904. I feel that what makes the house so magical is that it’s been very carefully preserved. With many original furnishings designed by the architect, the Dana-Thomas House is one of the most intact Frank Lloyd Wright houses in existence, and it’s open for tours!

Are you planning a spring break trip?

Tim Eyre