Spring break is just around the corner, and you're dreaming of an exotic getaway to some sunny, tropical spot.
But for many travelers this year, that's all it might be: a dream. Money's tight, and it seems everyone's being cautious. With leisure spending down, unemployment up and general anxiety rising, it's no surprise that many travelers might stay closer to home this spring break.
Hard economic times present a perfect opportunity for a day or weekend trip, and that's what more people appear to be doing, says Karen Vaughan, communications manager for the Chicago Office of Tourism. The Chicago area "is a place you can rediscover even if you already live here," she says.
So Cancun 2009 might be out of the question. But if you're still in need of an escape, a mini-getaway - sightseeing and exploring included - is a good alternative. Here's a list of our favorite don't-miss area attractions.
For the culture or history lover
• The Edvard Munch exhibit
Location: 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Info: (312) 443-3600; artic.edu
About: "Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth" runs through April 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit explores the Norwegian artist behind the famous 1893 painting "The Scream" and his other iconic images of anxiety and despair. Munch was believed to be obsessed with darkness and death, and many thought he was mentally unstable. But what was the real story?
• Lynfred Winery
Locations: 15 S. Roselle Road, Roselle; 971 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Info: (630) 529-9463; (847) 229-9463; lynfredwinery.com
About: The Roselle winery is the state's oldest and largest continuously operating, bonded winery, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. There's daily wine tastings ($7 to sample seven wines), "nosh" plates, a bed-and-breakfast and more. The winery's newest locale just opened in Wheeling. "We're a little bit of wine country in the Chicago suburbs," says marketing director Christina Anderson-Heller. "As soon as you drive down the cobblestone driveway, you feel like you're being whisked away to somewhere else." We'll drink to that!
• Frank Lloyd Wright home tours
Location: 951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park
Info: (708) 848-1606; wrightplus.org
About: Oak Park is home to the world's largest collection of Wright-designed buildings and houses; it's where the influential architect developed his signature Prairie style, emphasizing the use of interior light and open spaces. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust offers a variety of daily tours of Wright's first home and studio, where he lived and worked for the first 20 years of his career.
• Volo Auto Museum
Location: 27582 Volo Village Road, Volo
Info: (815) 385-3644; volocars.com
About: This 30-acre theme park is known worldwide for its vast collection of more than 300 antique and famous cars. The museum's five indoor showrooms feature a military combat zone, kids area and vintage exhibits, as well as one of the largest collections of legendary vehicles from films and TV shows, including "Gone in 60 Seconds," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Knight Rider."
For the sports fan or adventure-seeker
• Chicago Hauntings
Location: Tours pick up at 600 N. Clark St., Chicago
Info: (888) 446-7891; chicagohauntings.com
About: Get your spook on! These critically acclaimed ghost tours take participants on haunted excursions through the city, searching for Resurrection Mary, Al Capone and other ghosts. The two-and-a-half-hour nighttime tour takes place both on and off the bus and costs $28 per person. Special events include the popular Irish-themed Chief O'Neill Memorial Pub Crawl on Saturday, March 14.
• Arlington Park
Location: 2200 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights
Info: (847) 385-7500; arlingtonpark.com
About: One of the country's most historic horse-racing facilities is awash in excitement and nostalgia. Races start in May, but there's plenty to do until then, such as the Trackside OTB spring handicapping contest series and the Chicagoland Family Pet Expo. The expo, held Friday, March 20, through Sunday, March 22, features artwork, dog dancing, grooming competitions and cat and bird shows.
• CPX Sports
Location: 2903 Schweitzer Road, Joliet
Info: (815) 726-2800; cpxsports.com
About: With 24 world-class playing fields, CPX is among the top paintball facilities in the world. Players will get lost in Bedlam, a $1 million, eight-block "town," or Armageddon, which is full of ruins and dozens of burned buildings. Open play games offer beginner and advanced levels. Open weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; special March deals are available. "It's the Disneyland of paintball fields," says spokesman Paul Dagnino.
• ESPN Zone
Location: 43 E. Ohio St., Chicago
Info: (312) 644-3776; espnzone.com
About: Sure, you can watch TV at home. But it'd be even sweeter to watch games on a 16-foot-wide HD projection screen. The region's largest all-HD sports bar also has top video games such as Power Pitcher, where your pitch speed is clocked by radar, and Madden NFL football, which you play on a 15-foot screen. As for eats, try the Smokehouse Chicken Sandwich or the BBQ Pork Sliders.
For the family
• LEGOLAND Discovery Center
Location: 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg
Info: (866) 929-8111; legolanddiscoverycentre.com
About: This giant indoor LEGO world offers activities such as hands-on LEGO play and the premiere of "Bob the Builder 4-D," a LEGO special-effects movie that opens in late March. The center is open daily. "Coming to LEGOLAND Discovery Center is like walking into another world," says attraction manager Mike Pastor. "There are larger-than-life LEGO models of everything from tigers to superheroes everywhere you look. There's nothing else like it within 2,000 miles of Chicago." Think of the gas you'll save.
• CoCo Key Water Resort
Location: 3400 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights
Info: (847) 394-2000; cocokeyresort.com
About: It's about as close as you'll get to tropical islands in Illinois. CoCo Key is the state's largest indoor water resort, with 65,000 square feet of attractions, including a kids area with slides and water cannons, a fast-paced tube ride, four body and raft waterslides, a dip-in theater, a lagoon wave beach, an indoor spa and an activity pool with water basketball. Open Thursday through Sunday.
• Morton Arboretum
Location: 4100 Route 53, Lisle
Info: (630) 963-0074; mortonarb.org
About: The internationally known Morton Arboretum has 1,700 acres of trees and plants from around the world. Aside from the visitor's center, plant clinic and lake, kids will enjoy the five-acre Children's Garden, where they can climb giant acorns and slide down tree roots. Open daily. "You can hike the 16 miles of trails, play and play some more in the award-winning Children's Garden, bicycle our nine miles of roads and get lost for fun in the maze garden," says spokesman Gina Tedesco.
• Hemmens Cultural Center
Location: 45 Symphony Way, Elgin
Info: (847) 931-5900; hemmens.org
About: The 1,200-seat theater features a children's performing arts series that has tackled classics such as "Charlotte's Web" and "Seussical the Musical." In March, the spotlight is on Elgin Area School District U-46's Young Author's Exhibit, as well as showings of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," a humorous one-hour musical depicting the American hero's midnight ride to warn of the Brits' arrival. Seats are $7; group rates available.
For the weekend-tripper
• Amish Country
Location: Central Illinois, around Arthur, Arcola, Sullivan and Tuscola
Info: (877) 368-4527; amishcountryofcentralil.com
About: Want to get out of your comfort zone? Here's the place to do it. Central Illinois has the fourth-largest Amish community in the U.S. and Canada; unlike the larger, often-commercialized Amish communities, this is more authentic, says Amber Kauffman, director of the Arcola Amish Interpretive Center. The center arranges guided community and home tours and meals in Amish homes. Other cool spots include the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum and the Amishland Red Barn. "There's a natural curiosity when it comes to Amish communities," Kauffman says. "(Here), you'll get the raw experience. It is a getaway, a simpler way of life."
• Southwest towns of Michigan
Location: Saugatuck, Holland and Kalamazoo
Info: (800) 644-2489; michigan.org
About: You'll find plenty of quaint towns in Southwestern Michigan, a few hours' drive from Chicago. Sample Dutch heritage in Holland, with its charming shops, a wooden shoe factory, outlet stores and the Holland Museum. Nearby Saugatuck boasts cozy bed-and-breakfasts and art galleries galore. If the weather's nice, watch the sunset at world-famous Oval Beach or take a hike at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. In Kalamazoo, about an hour away, visit the Air Zoo, Michigan Space and Science Center and Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts.
• Starved Rock State Park
Location: Utica, Ill.
Info: (815) 667-4726; dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/i&m/east/STARVE/PARK.htm
About: With 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 canyons, Starved Rock State Park is an ideal outdoor getaway. Other activities include eagle viewing and cross-country skiing through March. Starved Rock itself, a National Historic Landmark, is an eroded butte overlooking the Illinois River that once held a French fort. Stay in a luxury room or rustic cabin at the Starved Rock Lodge.
• Wisconsin's Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Location: 7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva, Wis.
Info: (800) 558-3417; grandgeneva.com
About: One of the state's premier resorts will keep you busy all weekend. Check out the best professional snowmobile racers in the world as they compete in the AMSOIL Championship Snocross Series, held at the resort from Friday, March 20, through Sunday, March 22. If that's not enough, choose among a luxurious spa, two golf courses, a fitness center, indoor tennis and swimming, a recreation center for kids, an indoor water park, a ski and snowboard park, horseback riding, hiking and biking.