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10 Road Trip Destinations for Summer

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

From staff reports May 19, 2017

Are you ready to plan your summer vacation? We have 10 ideas for getaways that are close to home.

Branson, Mo.

The strip feels even larger than life with the newly installed Ferris wheel from Chicago’s Navy Pier and a 200-foot-tall Bigfoot tower, which features three high-flying rides. And don’t forget about the giant Titanic replica and museum and King Kong climbing up the outside of the Hollywood Wax Museum. A new Alpine roller coaster is sure to add to the excitement of all the zip lines around town (including one with a synthetic snow tubing hill, available year-round). Shows are plentiful in the live music capital of the world, of course. Check out the new “Janice Martin Cirque Show” and the new “Raiding the Rock Vault” shows. And don’t forget staples such as Silver Dollar City with its 40-plus rides and shows, the Ride the Ducks amphibious ride and the Showboat Branson Belle, which features a cruise on beautiful Table Rock Lake, a show and a yummy dinner.


For the major tourist attractions, try Navy Pier and its new giant Ferris wheel (the old one now spins in Branson). The area is a little kitschy, but the views of Lake Michigan are gorgeous. For the quintessential big-city feel, stay and shop on Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent Mile, where you’ll find Nike, Apple, Lego and Chanel stores. Don’t miss the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History and some stunning parks, from the crowded rails-to-trails endeavor, the 606, to Millennium Park, where you’ll find music and movie festivals. Get a Go Chicago Card pass for your smartphone and save up to 40 percent at attractions such as 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Tower (with amazing views of the skyline), an architectural river cruise and the Legoland Discovery Center, among others.

Columbus, Ohio

Ohio’s capital is young and hip, thanks to Ohio State students who stick around and populate the various trendy neighborhoods, from the boho Short North Arts District to the more clubby Brewery District. The Scioto Greenway, completed in November, is made up of more than 145 acres of parkland. It stretches from the Scioto riverfront through an integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths. Along the way, find interesting sculptures (a deer that looks like it’s poised to jump from a bridge), fountains, a free outdoor climbing wall and buildings lighted at night for a stunning effect. Don’t miss the quaint German Village shopping and dining district, the zoo that Jack Hanna built and one of the best science centers in the country, Center of Science and Industry (CoSi) on the Scioto River.


Indianapolis is mostly known as a sports town. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lucas Oil Stadium and minor league baseball park Victory Field are all major attractions. But be sure to stop at White River State Park, which covers 250 acres and includes the scenic Canal Walk, a three-mile loop that is the perfect place for runners, bikers, kayakers and even Segway riders. Within the park, you’ll also find the Indianapolis Zoo and the neighboring White River Gardens; the Indiana State Museum, home to science and cultural exhibits; the Eiteljorg Museum, known for its outstanding Native American and Western art collections (and current “Dogs: Faithful & True” exhibit); and the NCAA Hall of Champions, featuring sports simulators, artifacts from colleges across the country and other exhibits. In the warmer months, the Lawn at White River State Park hosts outdoor concerts. Also, don’t miss the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the world-class Children’s Museum and the interactive history park, Conner Prairie.

Kansas City

Yes, KC has a world champion baseball team and the only NFL team in the state, and yes, those are reasons to visit. But Kansas City has so much more to offer. Start with Country Club Plaza for dining and shopping. Near the Plaza is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, with notable collections of Asian and American Indian art, as well as European treasures. Downtown you’ll find Crown Center, with its SeaLife Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center. Inside, kids will love Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, where train cars deliver food. And with this year marking the centennial of the U.S. entrance into World War I, it’s a great time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Lake of the Ozarks

Of course you’ll find boating, tubing, paddleboarding and fishing, with more than 1,150 miles of shoreline and 54,000 surface acres of water. But you can also find several fun attractions for the family, including the new Get Air trampoline park and Lake Escape, a new escape-room attraction. Tan-Tar-A, Lodge of the Four Seasons, Camden on the Lake and the Lodge at Old Kinderhook (great for golfing) are the big resorts in the area. And be sure to visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park, with its “castle” ruins and myriad trails with stunning views of the lake, and the tour at Bridal Cave, with its tales of Native Americans and its famous Mystery Lake.

Memphis, Tenn.

Head down Interstate 55 to experience the cool sounds coming from Beale Street, home to BB King’s Blues Club, the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe & Honky Tonk and many others. The National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, is a history lesson for all of us. Elvis Presley’s 14-acre estate, Graceland, is on every Memphis must-do list, and this year it features a new hotel, the Guest House at Graceland. The newish Big Cypress Lodge, inside the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, draws outdoors enthusiasts, kids and those seeking adventure. New this year is Big River Crossing, an old bridge that’s now a pedestrian walkway complete with lights at night. Renovations at Memphis’ version of Forest Park, Shelby Farms, include horseback riding, a ropes course, canoeing and a buffalo refuge.

Nashville, Tenn.

It’s hard to escape music in Nashville. Not that you’d want to, but Music City is more than just a catchy name for this town associated with country music. Start with a tour of Ryman Auditorium, made famous by the Grand Ole Opry, and don’t miss the Country Music Hall of Fame. Be sure to check out Lower Broadway, a street full of honky tonks and restaurants that may be a little touristy but where you can always catch great music. Nashville’s food scene is growing, with local restaurants such as City House and Catbird Seat, but don’t miss the famous hot chicken at Hattie B’s.

Omaha, Neb.

Omaha was built on a river (the Missouri) and a railroad (Union Pacific), and both continue to shape the beating heart of this Midwestern town. Residents and tourists alike flock to the vibrant Old Market District downtown, some 20 square blocks of charming restaurants, bars, brew pubs and shops housed in repurposed warehouses. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is world class — some call it the best zoo anywhere — and the collection at the (free!) Joslyn Art Museum is small but spectacular. Kids will love the brightly colored children’s museum while adults gravitate toward the funky neighborhoods. When you’re in Omaha you have to eat a steak, but don’t ignore the town’s other signature dish, the Reuben sandwich. Residents swear it was invented there.

Santa Claus, Indiana

Ready for a little Christmas in the summer? Santa Claus, Ind., just about three hours away, has all the things you might expect in a town with its name: Santa statues, a Santa’s Candy Castle and a charming post office where kids can mail letters to the big guy. But the real draw is the Holiday World theme park. With Thunderbird, billed as America’s first launched wing coaster that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, it’s full of thrills for the whole family. Even better is the adjoining Splashin’ Safari, often named one of the best water parks in the United States, with 37 rides and slides. Stay at the nearby Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort, where you can rent a cabin, pitch a tent or park an RV. There’s a camp store, a pizza-and-ice-cream joint, playgrounds, a pool, basketball, gem mining and activities for kids. There are even water slides.