You want a family vacation with white sand beaches, wildlife, culture, and great food? No need to travel the world. All of these things are available in what’s known to East and West coast residents as “fly over country” — the Midwest. And they’re all within driving distance of Chicago.

Midwest Family Vacation Ideas

Climbing up the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Climbing up the Sleeping Bear Dunes near Frankfort, Michigan.

The Midwest is often overlooked as a family vacation spot, but it shouldn’t be. The region is loaded with excellent family vacation options. Whatever you want in a vacation, be it world-class museums in a bustling city or a quiet spot along peaceful lake, you’ll find it here.

The Midwest is packed with fun and within-driving-distance family vacation spots. The TravelingMoms have been to dozens of places they love, from Omaha to Ohio, and we’ve been there during all seasons.Here are a few of our recent favorites:

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Rapid City, South Dakota

I remember thinking, “What are we going to do for 5 days in Rapid City, South Dakota?” But it wasn’t enough time to see everything this fun city had to offer. An excellent choice for a multi-generational family trip, we learned some history at Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, and then enjoyed the wildlife — watching the buffalo roam at Custer State Park, and visiting Bear Country USA, a cool drive-through zoo that includes an area to watch black bear cubs play. Of course, you have to make the obligatory stop at the country’s most famous roadside attraction, Wall Drug.

The beach at Kelleys Island State Park is a great place to sunbathe, swim or kayak.

Photo Credit: Tonya Prater / Ohio TravelingMom

Put-in-Bay & Kelleys Island, Ohio

The Lake Erie Islands offer all the outdoor fun of a beach resort, plus things like the Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center, with short hiking trails, a frog pond, fun photo ops and an extensive collection of mounted animals. Or hop on the Put-in-Bay train tour, which takes you around the island to places like the butterfly house, the fort maze, or the antique car museum. Retro TravelingMom Mary Moore described it as “sandy bottom bars with swinging chairs, a colorful boardwalk filled to the brim with shops and restaurants, a kids’ playground overlooking a picturesque harbor, and tons of people riding around the tree lined streets on their own personal golf carts.”

Bring your own or rent a boat or jet ski on your family friendly Lake McConaugh, Nebraksa, vacation.

Bring your own or rent a boat or jet ski on your family friendly Lake McConaugh, Nebraksa, vacation.

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

White sand beaches in … Nebraska? You betcha. They’re along Lake McConaughy (or “Lake Mac” as they call it). Rent boats, jet skis or try parasailing. There’s a lot to do nearby, including the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the immense rolling hills and mixed grass prairie of SandHills Journey Scenic Byway, or follow the wagon tracks of pioneers at Windlass Hill at Ash Hollow State Park.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom You can climb on just about everything in the City Museum in St. Louis.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
You can climb on just about everything in the City Museum in St. Louis.

St. Louis, Missouri

An underrated family destination, St. Louis is home to the coolest, funkiest, most creative museum I’ve ever seen, City Museum. There’s a school bus hanging over the edge of the roof, next to a ferris wheel, among other wild stuff – and you can climb into and onto everything. Little kids will love Magic House, a sprawling children’s museum, and the city’s terrific zoo. Baseball fans will want to tour Busch Stadium, where you can learn about the history of the St. Louis Cardinals before walking onto the field and sitting in the dugout. Just make sure you save time to try the frozen custard at Ted Drewes. Weather not cooperating? A 45-minute drive away is an excellent cave, in Onondaga Cave State Park.
Favorite Places to Explore with Kids in Kansas City Negro Leagues-TMOM

Photo credit: Kirsten Maxwell – Teaching Traveling Mom

Kansas City, Kansas

This city is known for its awesome barbecue, jazz music, and so many great museums. One popular Kansas City attraction is the College Basketball Experience, where you can shoot hoops, do play-by-play, and learn about the game’s history. In the nearby suburb of Overland Park, kids can see a 1900s turn-of-the-century farm, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, with 200 animals and birds, a one-room schoolhouse, a dairy barn and more.

The Embassy Suites Chicago is only steps from Cloud Gate (otherwise known as the "Bean").

Photo credit: Maria Smith, TravelingMom of Many

Chicago, Illinois

This is where I’m spending my spring break – doing a little urban exploring with the kids. That includes the new For The Win arcade downtown, biking the new 606 path, wall climbing at downtown’s new Maggie Daley Park, and seeing the pop culture art exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll probably eat at Block 37, a new downtown mall that’s home to buzzed-about places like Gayle’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese, Magnolia Bakery, and the the upscale Latin food court, Latinicity. We might also try the new indoor skydiving place, iFly, or see a family-friendly production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” at the Apollo Theater. Conjunction junction, what’s your function?

Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan offers family fun year-round, including spectacular sunsets.

Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan offers family fun year-round, including spectacular sunsets.

Resorts in Northwest Michigan

Crystal Mountain and Boyne MountainMidwest Family Vacation Ideas: Best Places to Take the Kids are ski resorts, but even if there’s no snow on the ground, there is so much to do here – and they’re two places I highly recommend. We loved the ziplining, sand dune climbing, alpine slide riding, stunning sunsets, and cherry pie that’s so good, it’s been described as a religious experience.

Where will you go for spring break this year? Share with us in the comment section below.