One of the underappreciated benefits of living in a big city like Chicago is the ability to easily travel to other destinations outside the city’s limits by using mass-transit. That means a relaxed trip without the stress of driving, traffic, or pumping gas. With warmer weather upon us, there isn’t a better time to hop on the Metra or the Amtrak and explore what’s just beyond our bubble. Here are the six best places to visit along the Metra and Amtrak during the summer:
The Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in America. The festival started in 1904 and is open for the summer season – June through September – every year. While Ravinia is known for classical music and opera, a wide variety of other artists ranging from Blondie to the Beach Boys have performed at the venue. One of the benefits of taking the train to Ravinia is that you can drink a bottle of wine as you listen to music either in the pavilion or on the stunning lawn, and your whole group can enjoy without having to assign a DD. Ravinia has a BYOB policy, meaning you don't have to wait in winding lines for a drink. The Union Pacific North Line lets you get off right at the gates of Ravinia, so the distance between you and a good time is short.
Highland Park is a suburb about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago
As far as summer destinations go, Highland Park has a lot to offer. Get off at the Ravinia Park station and you’re within walking distance from Rosewood Beach. The beach was recently remodeled to create swimming coves and playgrounds. Other options for outdoor fun include the golf course at the Highland Park Country Club, the Skokie Bike Trail, and Moraine Park. It might be too far of a walk to get to these destinations, so taking a bus would cut down on walking time. The Highland Park Metra station is serviced by the local bus lines, making it easy to hop on and off to get to where you need to go. Highland Park is also a prime shopping destination, with a downtown that is filled with stores, restaurants, and more. After you’re done soaking up the sun at the beach, hop back on the Metra and get off at the Highland Park station to walk to the downtown area where the shopping is phenomenal.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of the largest public gardens in the United States, and has the largest membership (50,000) of any public garden in the United States.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back and tranquil day trip, then a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is for you. The intricately landscaped gardens are situated on 385 acres of land and contain over 2.5 million plants. There is more to the Chicago Botanic Garden besides the beautiful landscape. The newly opened Rose Terrace Beer Garden is a scenic place for visitors to sit, relax, and enjoy a drink and picnic lunch. Monday through Thursday starting at 9 p.m., visitors can enjoy live music from a variety of different artists. One of the benefits of taking the train to the gardens is that you don’t have to pay for parking, and admission to the gardens is completely free! If you don’t feel like taking the 20 minute walk from the Metra to the Chicago Botanic Garden, you can take a bus there. The 213 bus drops you right off at the gate!
The Brookfield Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the United States, and is home to thousands of animals
Housing around 450 different species of animals ranging from snow leopards to black rhinoceroses, the Brookfield Zoo is more expansive than Chicago’s free Lincoln Park Zoo. Seeing the animals isn’t the only reason to visit the Brookfield Zoo; during the warmer months, the zoo hosts Summer Nights, a festival that takes place on Fridays and Saturdays, June through August. Summer Nights' celebrations include beer and wine gardens, live music, and a laser light show. Taking the train lets you avoid the hassle of paying for parking and the Brookfield Zoo is about a 10 minute walk from the Hollywood Metra stop.
The Little Traveler is a local favorite for shopping in Geneva.
Geneva is a hub of both culture and entertainment. Taking the train to Geneva is worthwhile because it’s easy to hop off and walk to almost everything the town has to offer. Located in Geneva is the Fabyan Villa Museum and Japanese Garden, a stately home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Tours of the historic house and of the garden are free of charge. Geneva is also a good spot for art galleries and shopping, with the quaint shopping and dining district being within walking distance of the Metra stop. The Little Traveler, which is located right across the street from the Metra station, is an expansive shopping destination that was once a mansion. Gallery 28 Fine & Functional Art is a mix between an art gallery and specialty shop, and is centrally located in the heart of Geneva. Also located in Geneva is the Penrose Brewing Company, which specializes in Belgian beer and offers tours of the brewery, and since you took the train, you have a safe ride back home after.
New Buffalo, Michigan is a picturesque destination for city dwellers looking to relax
Michigan is a popular state for Chicagoans looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. New Buffalo, with its beaches, wineries, shops, and restaurants, is a prime destination for people looking to escape the Chicago grind, and is located only about two hours away from the city. Once you get to New Buffalo, you can step off the train and walk straight to the New Buffalo Public Beach. One of the benefits of taking the Amtrak to New Buffalo is that you won’t have to pay for parking at the beaches). New Buffalo is a walkable city, with many of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment being centrally located. Harbor Country Adventures, a local tourism company, arranges excursions to wineries, high speed boat tours, and nights out on the town. If you want to make a weekend of it, hotels are located a few hundred feet from the Amtrak station, so you can check in and then check out your vacation spot.
Who knew that great weekend trip destinations are just a train ride away? With Chicago being a major railroad hub, it's both easy and affordable to get away for a weekend to indulge in some rest, relaxation, great shopping, entertainment, and a much needed change of scenery. Besides, taking the train to a weekend getaway destination is both eco-friendly and convenient.