The tough economy and record high gas prices have broken the vacation piggy bank of lots of people. And, in fact, those factors have caused lots of folks to rethink their summer vacation, many cancelling it this year. There’s even a nifty term that’s been created called “staycation” that has been used to describe people vacationing at home. But you don’t have to skip vacation completely. There are several places worth visiting that are within a couple hour car drive from Indianapolis that you might consider checking out instead of scrubbing vacation altogether.
Cincinnati: Lonely Planet recently chose Cincinnati as one of its Top 10 U.S Travel Destinations for 2012. They call it the pretty city on the Ohio River that has transformed itself in the last decade into a worthy weekend getaway. They cite the river walkways, architecture and several museums including the free Cincinnati Art Museum and the relatively new National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the banks of the river where many slaves escaped to freedom in the 19th century. If you’re taking the family, there’s King’s Island, of course. I have visited Cincy for weekends both with and without the kids and have really enjoyed it. You can be there in less than 2 hours.
Chicago: The Windy City also made Lonely Planet’s Top 10 list and rightfully so! We love visiting Chicago and try to go at least once a year. It is home to one of my favorite Art museums in the world; The Art Institute which has in its collection works by many Impressionist masters such as Van Gogh, Renoir and 30 paintings by Claude Monet. Edward Hopper’s iconic “Nighthawks” belongs to the Art Institute as does “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. The Art Institute is just one of several world-class museums including the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. And don’t forget the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. And I’m just getting started: there’s a gorgeous waterfront, not to mention the high rent property that goes with it, along LakeShore drive, shopping so fabulous that they named the main shopping street the “Magnificent Mile” and some of the country’s best restaurants. Millennium Park is just one of many places where you’ll see public art. Daley Plaza is home to a giant Picasso sculpture that has become an unofficial symbol of Chicago. Festivals such as Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago dot the calendar and there is live theater that is the next best thing to New York’s Broadway. Looking for something to pump adrenaline? Check out the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) Ledge where you can stand on a glass enclosed ledge four feet out on the 103rd floor. Did I mention architecture? The buildings are incredible and there’s even a Frank Lloyd Wright “prairie style” Robie House that is up this year for World Heritage site status. Chicago is literally up the road about 3 hours and you can also take Amtrak. It takes 5 hours from downtown Indy but only costs $46 roundtrip.
Louisville: In the other direction about 2 hours is my hometown of Louisville which is actually a very pretty, thriving city. The Kentucky Derby and all its festivities are in May, and that also means Churchill Downs is open for the Spring racing season. I remember as a child absolutely loving a visit to Churchill Down to watch the horses race. You can easily spend the day there catching the races, eating at one of the restaurants and checking out the museum. Actually, Louisville has become somewhat of a museum city. In addition to the Kentucky Derby Museum, there’s the Louisville Slugger Museum, The Muhammad Ali Center, The Louisville Science Center (which is great for kids,)and the Speed Museum of Art which is adjacent to the University of Louisville campus. The Speed Museum has a special exhibit called “Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color” on display until May 3rd. Louisville also has a very nice zoo and a vibrant downtown area called “Fourth Street Live” that incorporates historic Louisville architecture with restaurants, entertainment and shopping.
French Lick: One more idea for a summer getaway that is a little closer to home and involves driving the beautiful back roads of Indiana is a trip to French Lick. There are several golf courses, including a world-class Pete Dye designed course, beautiful gardens, historic buildings, a spa, nice restaurants, a casino and even the once world-famous “Pluto” waters. The spring waters that are still gurgling below French Lick were once so renowned that people came by train from all over the country to partake of their “restorative” powers. West Baden Springs Resort has been beautifully remodeled and is like a trip back in time.
As much as I love exotic world travel, there is something to be said for staying closer to home and there are certainly a lot of great cities and fun things to do around us. Happy summer vacationing!
Ann Craig-Cinnamon is the owner of CruiseOne of Greenwood.
Photo credit: Flickr user Luke Gordon via Creative Commons.