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Nearby seasonal trips worth taking


The holidays have a natural hustle and bustle to them that charms children and puts everyone in a good mood. But if the thought of the upcoming holidays feels more like a hassle, maybe it’s time to rethink your celebration.

Consider packing up the car and heading out to one of these great locations for a new twist on the family get-together. Not only will the change of pace bring new excitement and anticipation to the event — not to mention a new venue — it also leaves the execution to the experts.

And that’s a relaxing thought anyone can appreciate.

Door County

While most of us think of the peninsula as a summertime destination, it is equally enjoyable during the holiday season. In winter, Door County shifts gears and becomes quieter and slower, offering a sense of solitude.

Yet, no member of the family is likely to be bored. Many of the stores, restaurants — and of course, the spas — remain open year-round, and there’s ample shopping opportunities for last-minute gifts … or simply to indulge yourself.

The Door County trolley runs through the holiday season and its five-hour Winter Wonderland tour includes stops at two award-winning wineries and concludes with a fireside lunch at the White Gull Inn. Lautenbach’s Orchard in Fish Creek offers sleigh rides with narrated tours for groups up to 18 on an old-fashioned cutter sled.

This month, Door County’s many galleries and fine arts venues are featuring a number of excellent exhibits. Right now, the Door County Maritime Museum has an excellent exhibit on pirates, and not just the kind once found on the Great Lakes. If your family is more on the creative side, one of the peninsula’s top tourist destinations — Fish Creek’s Hands On Art Studio — is open during the holidays.

Finally, before leaving, make sure to spend some time outdoors. If there’s snow cover, bundle up the family and head to Hill 17 in Peninsula State Park. Feeling more adventurous? Winter ski and snowshoe rentals are available from businesses in Sister Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Fish Creek.

Get going to Door County: Plan your trip, get details and Web links to many local businesses at

Get together: Many Door County lodging facilities offer quiet season discounts from November through April.

Don’t miss: A traditional Door County fish boil. The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek offers Friday night fish boils during the winter; the Square Rigger Gallery in Jacksonport offers fish boils on Saturday nights.



While Kohler has long been synonymous with the company that bears its name, the village itself holds its own as a top destination in the Midwest. It’s the home of the American Club — the Midwest’s only AAA Five Diamond resort hotel — as well as the Inn on Woodlake, conveniently located at the Shops of Woodlake.

Kohler also offers a variety of dining options to appeal to any family and most are within walking distance of each other. Family brunch might just become a holiday tradition when you book a reservation in The Wisconsin Room this year. Likewise, the kids (as well as the grown-up kids) in the family will want to stop at the Greenhouse for homemade ice cream or another sweet treat.

On the resort side, a number of activities are available for guests. The Sports Core is open year-round and both skiing and snowshoeing are offered on trails around the sports complex as well as in River Wildlife, a 500-acre wilderness preserve and private recreational club. Guests are also offered shooting sport privileges at River Wildlife.

For those family members seeking a little more pampering, the Kohler Waters Spa offers a full menu of services to guests. Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s Readers’ Survey ranked Kohler Waters Spa #1 for Treatments & Services among Resort Spas.

Get going to Kohler: Plan your entire reunion, book activities and create an itinerary at

Get together: The American Club offers special holiday rates and amenities through the holidays.

Don’t miss: The three-level showcase of Kohler products at the Kohler Design Center. Admission is free.


This city knows how to do it up right for the holidays.

This year, Chicago begins the celebration with its 93rd consecutive tree lighting in November, which also coincides with the opening of its annual German Christkindlmarket, a traditional-yet-temporary German market in Daley Plaza. Most of the stores on the Miracle Mile — particularly Macy’s — dress up their windows for the season as well.

As in any season, there are a tremendous number of things to do in Chicago. Most of the city’s museum and cultural attractions are open every day in December, with the exception of Christmas Day.

On the way down, or the way back, make sure to stop in at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe for the annual Wonderland Express. Inside, this popular holiday exhibit features garden-sized trains winding their way past more than 80 miniature versions of notable Chicago landmarks. Outdoors, the gardens have been dressed up as well. The Chicago Botanic Garden also hosts weekend family drop-in activities, Breakfasts and Suppers with Santa and a Hanukkah dinner.

Chicago is the convention capitol of the world, which also makes it a great place to host a family reunion for the holidays. Stay in one hotel or spread yourself among the many boutique hotels downtown; either way, you’re sure to enjoy your time in the city.

Get going to Chicago: Visit for information on lodging, activities and cultural events.

Get together: Lodging packages and getaway ideas can be found at

Don’t miss: It’s an easy split: Send the boys to LEGO Land and the girls to American Girl Place.


The final contender for a family reunion during the holidays is Madison, a four-season city if there ever was one. Indoors this season you’ll find a variety of live performances at Madison’s Ovation Center and the Dane County Farmer’s Market, which moves into Monona Terrace November-April. If anything, visiting the Saturday morning farmer’s market is a good excuse to wander around and marvel at this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architectural gem.

The Olbrich Botanical Gardens is also hosting the annual Olbrich’s Holiday Express throughout the month of December. This treasured event combines miniature landscapes, 500 poinsettias and the large-scale trains of the Wisconsin Garden Railway Society. The Gardens also host a series of holiday concerts throughout the season.

Of course, you’ll have to put the family up somewhere. Eschew the beltline and stay down by State Street, with its funky mix of shops and restaurants. For hotel fans, consider the elegance of the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club or the perennial hip Edgewater, Madison’s only hotel on Lake Mendota.

Get going to Madison: Information about events, dining, lodging and activities throughout Dane County can be found at

Get together: Many Madison area lodging facilities offer packages; the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau also offers VisitorPass Discount Cards for a nominal fee.

Don’t miss: The wide variety of free outdoor activities, from hikes to a stroll through the free Henry Vilas Zoo.