Forget the stress of flying with kids or the exhaustion of driving through the night. A brief stint on the road is all that stands between you and an unexpected spring break destination your family won’t soon forget. Sure, these close-to-home cities don’t feature white sandy beaches or tropical temperatures (outside at least), but the engaging museums, imaginative play spaces and world-class cultural experiences will provide something for everyone.
For families with kids of multiple ages
Yes, there’s something strange about driving north for a Spring Break destination, but don’t let the slightly chillier temperatures in Fort Wayne and South Bend keep you from exploring first-class, affordable family attractions perfect for those traveling with kids of different ages.
What to do in Fort Wayne- 2 hour drive from Indy
Foster your child’s inner Einstein at Science Central. Kids of all ages will enjoy hands-on science fun in the 35,000-square feet of exhibit space. Take a ride on the High Rail Bike, interact with sea creatures at the Tidal Pool and play a tune on the giant keyboard in Kid Central, designed specifically for children ages 2 through 7 and their grown-ups. You can also become one with nature at Fort Wayne’s Botanical Conservancy. The whole family will enjoy unique garden designs, art displays and hands-on explorations both indoors and out. Young adventurers can don explorer vests and pith helmets to explore mysteries hidden underground at the current Dig This! exhibit, which runs through April 10. Beginning April 9, spend a day at the ball park cheering on the TinCaps, Fort Wayne’s Minor League Baseball team.
Where to stay
Visit Fort Wayne offers a number of family-friendly hotel packages, including the Science Central Package available at Holiday Inn Express & Suites that offers discounted admission to the science center. For fun of a different speed, check out the Go-Kart-Getaway Package at Best Western PLUS Fort Wayne Inn and Suites North.
What to do in South Bend- 2 ½ hour drive from Indy
The History Museum features tours of a historic mansion, an interactive guide to the St. Joseph River Valley and an exhibit on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for the older kids, while preschoolers can explore the hands-on Kidsfirst Children’s Museum on the lower level. Next door is the Studebaker National Museum, where you can explore an eclectic collection of wagons, presidential carriages and cars along with the interactive Studebaker Super Service Center, where kids can hone their mechanic skills fixing a pint-sized car. Downtown, the HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum consists of play spaces focused on the body, eating right and getting active, including the Little Noggins’ Nook just for babies and young toddlers. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to South Bend without some chocolate. The South Bend Chocolate Company offers factory and museum tours, while the downtown Chocolate Cafe features an indoor climbing structure for kids.
Where to stay
If you want the true University of Notre Dame experience, the Morris Inn puts you right at the center of campus. Not as fancy but very kid-friendly, the Waterford Estates Lodge is a sprawling hotel with lots of rooms, a family restaurant on site and a nice pool featuring a 1-foot area perfect for (supervised) preschool play.
For the thrill seekers
Where can you zip through a massive underground cavern, traverse an obstacle course high above huge foam pits and stay overnight in a tent in the middle of the city? Surprisingly, the answer is Louisville, Kentucky for your spring break destination.
What to do in Louisville – 2 hour drive from Indy
Perhaps best known as home to the Kentucky Derby, Louisville also boasts a walkable downtown packed with museums for all ages and a number of attractions perfect for young adventurers. Spanning 100 acres deep underneath the city, the Louisville Mega Cavern is home to the world’s only fully underground zip line course, aerial ropes challenge course and bike park. The former man-made mine has an average temperature of 60 degrees year-round and plenty of physical challenges to keep even the most adventurous kids moving. For some bouncing fun, visit House of Boom Extreme Air Sports, which takes the indoor trampoline park to the next level with an obstacle course, trapezes and a slackline. Check the calendar for daily KidsJump (6 and under) and weekly Family Night. Finally, this is horse country, so don’t miss out on riding lessons. The Louisville Equestrian Center offers instruction for all ages, from ponies perfect for children as young as 3, to show-quality horses for experienced riders. Tired yet? Slow down with a tour of the downtown museums, including the family-friendly Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the interactive Kentucky Science Center.
Where to stay
Look for the giant red penguins to find the unique 21c Museum Hotel, which is part boutique hotel, part contemporary art museum. The Kid’s Exploration Package includes Kentucky Science Center tickets, a tent for an in-room camping adventure and milk and cookies for your worn-out kiddos. Looking for an indoor pool? Stay at the nearby Marriott Louisville Downtown instead.
For the artsy family
From country music to gospel, contemporary Christian and jazz, Nashville, truly lives up to its nickname of Music City USA, and it’s a great spot for a spring break trip with aspiring musicians in tow.
What to do in Nashville – 4 ½ hour drive from Indy
Listen your way through the history of country music and its influences on nearly every other popular music genre at the County Music Hall of Fame, where kids can explore instruments in the musical petting zoo and take part in programs for all ages at the Taylor Swift Education Center. Take in a show at the Grand Ole Opry and tour Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the opry, where aspiring singers can record their version of one of the classics for $20. Beyond music, get creative with 30 hands-on art stations in the Martin ArtQuest Gallery at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and explore a replica of the Parthenon straight out of ancient Greece, complete with a re-creation of the 42-foot statue of Athena. Have time for another show? Consider the Nashville Children’s Theatre with plenty of daytime performances for all ages.
Where to stay
When in Music Valley, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is an entertaining, beautiful option with an indoor pool. The sprawling complex features shopping, dining, indoor gardens, waterfalls and even its own Delta flatboat sure to keep the whole family entertained.
For the curious explorer
Explore beyond the arch and you might be surprised to find that St. Louis is packed with innovative museums and play spaces created just for kids (and adults) who learn best by doing.
What to do in St. Louis – 4 hour drive from Indy
Is it a museum? Is it a playground? Is it art? There’s simply no one way to describe the City Museum, which spans 600,000 square feet of a former factory building and features a 10-story slide, giant ball pit, roof-top play area, subterranean caves and, just to make things more fun, no map. Kids and adults should wear comfortable clothes and bring their adventurous spirit to explore this modern funhouse made mostly of found objects. A 15-minute drive away, the principles of science come alive at the Saint Louis Science Center through more than 700 hands-on exhibits. New this year, the Above and Beyond exhibit is focused on flight and space travel, allowing kids to design and test-fly a supersonic jet and experience flight as a bird. Head a bit outside the city to explore two smaller museums with lots of open-ended play – the Myseum, complete with a dino dig, magnetic sandbox and a slide that tracks your speed and the Magic House with a giant climbable “beanstalk,” kids construction zone and bubble room. Still have time to spare? The view from the top of 630 foot tall Gateway Arch is still pretty cool.
Where to stay
The DoubleTree at St. Louis Union Station is a worthy attraction in its own right, featuring beautiful restored architecture, a 3D show projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot-tall ceilings multiple times a night and a full model train display to captivate the kids. If an indoor pool is a must-have for your family, try the Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch, with breakfast, early dinner and nighttime popcorn included and within just a five-minute walk from the arch.
So forgo the airport drama or overnight drive, and resolve to explore some unique, close-to-home spring break destination options this year. One important thing to remember: Before you decide on a destination, it’s a good idea to search online to find out when local schools in the city will be on break, so you don’t arrive to overcrowded attractions. Have fun!
Maggie Loiselle spent 10 years as a writer, producer and web editor in television news before making the switch to freelance writing in order to stay home with her young son. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Butler University. Maggie lives in downtown Indianapolis with her husband and son.