Our Favorite Family Getaways | Midwest Living

Our Favorite Family Getaways

These four destinations offer everything you need: activities for all ages and interests, a range of lodgings and prices, a variety of food, and pathways into nature.

Brainerd: what to do

Paul Bunyan Land Old-fashioned carnival rides thrill the younger set, and a lumberjack greets kids at the entrance (218/764-2524).

Brainerd Golf Trail A partnership between 11 area courses, the trail amounts to 180 holes, featuring a blend of forests and lakes for spectacular scenery.

Brainerd International Raceway The National Hot Rod Association holds contests on this drag strip (218/824-7220).

Nisswa Two dozen gift shops, galleries and flea markets serve browsers; families will love the weird and wonderful Wednesday afternoon turtle races (800/950-9610).

Paul Bunyan Trail Bike this 100-mile trail between towns or explore sections on foot (218/833-8710).

Trailblazer Bikes Rent wheels in Nisswa (218/963-0699).

Paul Bunyan Land

Brainerd Golf Trail

Brainerd International Raceway

Nisswa

Paul Bunyan Trail

Playing in and out of the water in Brainerd, Minnesota

Central Minnesota's resort country is a magnet for families looking to create summertime legends, with 465-plus lakes, 120 lodging choices and 25 golf courses sprawled around Brainerd, 130 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

Everywhere you turn here, a sparkling lake twinkles back at you. Whether you stay on the shore of 7-mile-wide Gull Lake or teeny-tiny Lost Lake, you'll find plenty of ways to get out and get wet. For those craving more than sun and sand, the area offers lots of dry-land alternatives, including award-winning golf courses and the 100-mile Paul Bunyan Trail for cycling.

The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Brainerd area.

Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce

Brainerd: what to do

Paul Bunyan Land Old-fashioned carnival rides thrill the younger set, and a lumberjack greets kids at the entrance (218/764-2524).

Brainerd Golf Trail A partnership between 11 area courses, the trail amounts to 180 holes, featuring a blend of forests and lakes for spectacular scenery.

Brainerd International Raceway The National Hot Rod Association holds contests on this drag strip (218/824-7220).

Nisswa Two dozen gift shops, galleries and flea markets serve browsers; families will love the weird and wonderful Wednesday afternoon turtle races (800/950-9610).

Paul Bunyan Trail Bike this 100-mile trail between towns or explore sections on foot (218/833-8710).

Trailblazer Bikes Rent wheels in Nisswa (218/963-0699).

Paul Bunyan Land

Brainerd Golf Trail

Brainerd International Raceway

Nisswa

Paul Bunyan Trail

Brainerd: where to eat

Ernie's on Gull Lake This local favorite has family-friendly food and prices (218/829-3918).

Iven's on the Bay Six miles north of Brainerd, the 25-year-old restaurant reopened -- to diners' delight -- after a 2006 fire to serve steaks, seafood and fresh seasonal ingredients (218/829-9872).

Prairie Bay Upscale fresh seasonal fare combines with a solid wine list (218/824-6444).

Zorbaz on the Lake Watch the boats drift by on Gull Lake at this fun and funky pizza and Mexican joint (218/963-4790).

Ernie's on Gull Lake

Iven's on the Bay

Prairie Bay

Zorbaz on the Lake

Brainerd: where to stay

Grand View Lodge Swanky meets Minnesota woodsy at a classic family lake resort with modern updates (866/801-2951).

Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake At this family-friendly year-round retreat, you can rent equipment and guides for area lakes and trails, or just watch the view from a room or cabin (800/272-4867).

Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort Flanked by hiking and biking trails, this recently revamped four-season cottage resort has it all: swimming pool, nearby golf, tennis courts, boat rental and sand beach (800/562-7061).

The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes Playfully decorated hotel rooms and a massive Paul Bunyan-themed water park and arcade make this a popular pick with families (877/843-5634).

Lost Lake Lodge This secluded gem overlooks Gull Lake Narrows and Lost Lake; breakfast and dinner included (800/450-2682).

Madden's on Gull Lake The resort has all kinds of kid-pleasing activities, including water-skiing lessons, plus a spa and golf course (800/233-2934).

Grand View Lodge

Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake

Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort

The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes

Lost Lake Lodge

Madden's on Gull Lake

Neon and nature in Branson, Missouri

Neon marquees light the night sky above Branson, Missouri, where more than 50 theaters stage 100 different splashy, family-friendly shows. If that's not enough entertainment, the Ozarks-style Silver Dollar City theme park mixes history and crafts with cool rides. Plus, visitors are drawn to the area's plentiful shops, including outlet malls and the new upscale, lakeside Branson Landing.

But there's another side to this Ozark Mountain destination (35 miles south of Springfield): the area's natural attractions. Surrounding Branson, man-made Table Rock is so vast that you can boat all day without seeing all of it. Coves offer fishers opportunities for undisturbed casting. Parks are so quiet that you might not guess that all Branson's attractions and commotion are minutes away.

The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Branson area.

Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Branson: what to do

Silver Dollar City Take your pick of a colorful mix of attractions: amusement-park rides, traditional hill-country crafts or a big plate of Ozark succotash (800/831-4386).

Branson Landing Shops, food and a show that features a spectacle of spurting fountains, fire, lights and music share the waterfront in Branson (417/239-3002).

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park Book a private jeep tour of the picture-perfect park. A two-hour excursion crosses into Arkansas and includes stops to see elk and bison (417/779-5983).

The Shoji Tabuchi Show An extravaganza just about guaranteed to grab you. Shoji is a Japanese fiddler, but the music extends to polka, Broadway, Cajun, Big Band, gospel and beyond (417/334-7469).

White Water Beat the Missouri heat with more than a dozen water slides at this outdoor water park (800/831-4386).

Silver Dollar City

Branson Landing

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

The Shoji Tabuchi Show

White Water

Branson: where to eat

Showboat Branson Belle Dine aboard an authentic paddle wheeler as it cruises Table Rock Lake (800/831-4386).

Baldknobbers Country Restaurant After a show at Branson's Baldknobbers Theatre, go next door for home-style cooking (417/334-7202).

Branson Cafe Branson's oldest eatery, open since 1910, serves local faves such as catfish and fried chicken (417/334-3021).

Casper's Chili Parlor Line up for the secret-recipe chili served at a Springfield Quonset hut; open summers only (417/866-9750).

Lambert's Cafe Thirty miles north of Branson in Ozark, servers toss "throwed rolls" to hungry diners (417/581-7655).

Showboat Branson Belle

Baldknobbers Country Restaurant

Lambert's Cafe

Branson: where to stay

Big Cedar Lodge (pictured) This upscale full-service resort along a quiet part of the lake offers a variety of lodgings, including luxury cabins, a well-run kids' program and activities such as evening poolside "dive-in movies." (800) 225-6343; Big Cedar Lodge

Cascades Inn Located next to the Shoji Tabuchi Show Theater, this hotel is perfect for bargain-minded travelers who come to Branson for the entertainment. (800) 588-8424; Cascades Inn

Chateau on the Lake A top-notch spa and indoor and outdoor pools make the large resort one of Branson's most upscale lodgings. (888) 333-5253; Chateau on the Lake

Still Waters Lakefront Resort There's much to love: a range of rooms and prices, pools, a water park, a marina with nice boats for rent and free water toys for kids to play on. (800) 777-2320; Still Waters Lakefront Resort

Thousand Hills Resort A choice of condos or cabins, as well as a top-rated 18-hole golf course, make this a good option in town. (877) 262-0430; Thousand Hills Resort

 

Quintessential resort feel in Minocqua area, Wisconsin

Popcorn-and fudge-scented air hums with the buzz of speedboats and the putter of pontoons in Minocqua and the surrounding towns of Woodruff, Arbor Vitae, Boulder Junction and Hazelhurst, the woodsy heart of northern Wisconsin vacationland (165 miles northwest of Green Bay).

There are lots of reasons for the area's reputation as an ideal lake getaway -- at least 4,200 of them. That's the number of lakes (3,200) in Vilas and Oneida counties, plus the number of rooms, condos and cabins (1,000) that line their pine-shaded shores. We didn't even count the supper clubs, cafes, shops, shows and other attractions.

But you can still find natural lakes so quiet that the plunk of a lure echoes from shore to shore. Towns like Minocqua are the quintessential resort-area destination -- the one most people dream of when they're stuck in a cubicle on a sunny day.

The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Minocqua area.

Minocqua-Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Area Chamber of Commerce

Minocqua: what to do

Min-Aqua Bats Water Ski Show Watch one of the oldest amateur water-ski shows in the United States. (715/356-4549).

Hawk's Nest Canoe Outfitters Enjoy lazy tube floats and other Wisconsin River trips (800/688-7471).

Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show The mad skills of champion lumberjacks set crowds abuzz; kids get to test their own sawing skills during intermission at some shows (715/634-6923).

Northwoods Children's Museum Little ones can explore an ambulance, dress-up attic, mock campground and fire tower, plus paint T-shirts with a squirt gun (715/479-4623).

Tommy's Fishing Adventures Budding or experienced anglers can get bait, equipment, advice or guide service (715/356-4648).

Min-Aqua Bats Water Ski Show

Hawk's Nest Canoe Outfitters

Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show

Northwoods Children's Museum

Tommy's Fishing Adventures

Minocqua area: where to eat

Hoggie Doggies Snack Shack One-stop dining in Woodruff: hot dogs, sandwiches, hand-cut fries, ice cream treats with sprinkles and more (715/ 356-5938).

The Outdoorsman Restaurant Date night in Boulder Junction! Think grilled elk medallions and filet of ostrich (715/385-2826).

Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty Flapjacks and warm buttermilk doughnuts await in Minocqua (715/356-6270).

Soda Pops For an afternoon cool-down, try one of 100-plus soft drinks at the old-fashioned soda counter in Eagle River (715/479-9424).

Thirsty Whale A historic boathouse turned restaurant; deck tables double as prime seating for the water-ski show in Minocqua (715/356-7108).

Little Bohemia Restaurant You'll get history along with the Friday fish fry in Manitowish Waters: Look for bullet holes that are still in the wall from a shoot-out with gangster John Dillinger (715/543-8800).

Hoggie Doggies Snack Shack

The Outdoorsman Restaurant

Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty

Soda Pops

Little Bohemia Restaurant

Minocqua: where to stay

The Beacons of Minocqua Condos and log cabins surround a large lakefront lawn. A summer activities program offers events and classes for both kids and adults (800/236-3225).

Big Bear Hideaway Kids love the log cabins that feel like tree houses in Boulder Junction (715/385-3333).

Driftwood Lodge Boat rentals, suites and vacation homes where no one minds a little tracked-in sand make this a favorite (715/356-6080).

Timber Bay Resort on White Sand Lake Families choose from 10 comfortable cabins along a secluded, crystal-clear bay near Lac du Flambeau (888/395-0757).

Waters of Minocqua This newer hotel south of town has a small indoor-outdoor water park (877/992-8377).

The Beacons of Minocqua

Big Bear Hideaway

Driftwood Lodge

Timber Bay Resort

Waters of Minocqua

The pleasures of beach life in Michigan

A century ago, the first steamships full of vacationers docked along the northwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The lands along Grand and Little Traverse bays have been entertaining summer visitors ever since.

The region has accumulated a stellar selection of resorts, golf courses, chef-owned restaurants, shopping districts, artists' enclaves and other diversions. But the biggest draw remains the pure pleasures of beach life and the water. Miles of sand rim the blue water of Lake Michigan. The southern anchor is Traverse City, at the foot of Grand Traverse Bay. The beaches run all the way to Petoskey, 60 miles north on Little Traverse Bay.

The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Traverse bays area.

Petoskey-Harbor Springs-Boyne Country Visitors Bureau

Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Traverse bays: what to do

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore A half hour west of Traverse City along Lake Michigan, enjoy 35 miles of beach and 400-foot-tall sand dunes. Kids will love the Dune Climb, where they can run down and trudge back up (231/326-5134).

Cherry Republic This bustling three-building complex sells all kinds of cherry products and treats in the artists' colony of Glen Arbor at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula (800/206-6949).

Leland and Suttons Bay These cute Leelanau Peninsula towns, each with shops and restaurants, are worth a drive out of Traverse City. Ferries depart from Leland for the secluded sands of the Manitou Islands (800/980-9895).

Little Traverse Wheelway Bicyclists whisk along the new paved 29-mile trail along Little Traverse Bay (231/348-8280).

Manitou Visitors sail aboard a two-masted schooner on West Grand Traverse Bay (800/678-0383).

National Cherry Festival A half-million people come to Traverse City to celebrate the area's iconic crop at the annual July festival. Enjoy music, air shows and parades. And, of course, sample plenty of cherry treats (800/968-3380).

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Cherry Republic

Leelanau Peninsula

Little Traverse Wheelway

Manitou

National Cherry Festival

Traverse bays: where to eat

Jesperson's At this 106-year-old family-owned cafe in Petoskey, you always want to save room for pie (231/347-3601).

Bluebird Restaurant and Bar The Telgard family has specialized in comfortable, quality dining in Leland on the Leelanau Peninsula for more than 80 years (231/256-9081).

Don's Drive-In Traverse City's slice of Americana has served its burger-and-malt combos since 1958 (231/938-1860).

Legs Inn Polish dishes are among the specialties at this funky restaurant (look for upside-down stove legs on the roof) north of Harbor Springs in Cross Village. Open seasonally (231/526-2281).

Stafford's Pier Restaurant In Harbor Springs, 6 miles north of Petoskey, this gathering place offers fine to casual dining in four areas, plus free boat tours of Little Traverse Bay (231/526-6201).

Tapawingo In Ellsworth, about 35 miles south of Petoskey, this lovely restaurant gets credit for leading the area's rich food scene (231/588-7971).

Bluebird Restaurant and Bar

Legs Inn

Stafford's Pier Restaurant

Tapawingo

Traverse bays: where to stay

Boyne Mountain Resort Fifteen miles south of Petoskey, this Swiss-inspired ski-country retreat runs the gamut from hotel rooms to mountain cabins -- even an indoor water park (800/462-6963).

Crystal Mountain Families love the accommodation choices and variety of activities at this friendly inland resort southwest of Traverse City near Thompsonville (800/968-7686).

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa Near Traverse City, the destination resort has it all -- golf, a spa, plenty of recreational activities and some bayside lodgings (800/236-1577).

Stafford's Bay View Inn A stay at this inn and restaurant in Bay View, a historic resort community just north of Petoskey, includes a full hot breakfast (800/258-1886).

Stafford's Perry Hotel This renovated 1899 hotel landmark in Petoskey offers views of Little Traverse Bay (800/737-1899).

What's your favorite Midwest spot for a family vacation? Tell us about it in the Comments section below!

Boyne Mountain Resort

Crystal Mountain

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Stafford's Bay View Inn

Stafford's Perry Hotel

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