Budget-Friendly Day Trips Around Chicago

Think you need a ton of money to have a ton of fun? Think again and take a look at some of our area day trips.

Credit: Catigny Park
Credit: Catigny Park

Written by Bridgette Outten

Uncovering hidden local treasures doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. These wallet-friendly locales will give you a feeling of discovery on the cheap. The best part? These destinations are only a tank of gas (or less) away.


Catigny Park

1S151 Winfield Rd.

Wheaton, IL 60189

(630) 668-5161

Why Go? Located about 30 miles west of Chicago in Wheaton, Ill., the 500-acre park is a great place to discover nature, get lost in history at the McCormick Museum and the First Division Museum, take in a round or two of golf and enjoy a variety of special events.  

Insider Tip: Fees and hours for programming and events vary, but pay attention to parking fees. Through April 30, parking from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. is $5 per car and after twilight it is $2 per car.

Must Do: Kids will love climbing in the tank park, where they can explore the collection of tanks and artillery pieces dating back from World War I to Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. Kids can touch, climb on and learn about the 11 tanks on display. The tank park also includes an armored personnel carrier and four artillery pieces.

The Fine Print: Park hours vary by season. Until April 30, the park is open from 9 a.m. to sunset; the park’s inbound gate closes an hour before sunset.


Quad City Botanical Garden

2525 Fourth Ave.

Rock Island, IL 61201

(309) 794-0991

Why Go? This public garden maintains hundreds of plants, ranging from tropical varieties to regional perennials. The garden boasts an indoor tropical atrium, a G-scale garden train exhibit, an educational greenhouse, a three-season event canopy, and a gift shop.

Insider Tip: The Physically Challenged Garden elevates a number of garden beds, making them accessible to guests who find bending to ground level difficult.

Must Do: “A Place in Time” Mississippi Quilters Guild Quilt Show runs through December and features Civil War reproduction fabric. Staged in honor of the Mississippi Valley Quilters Guild 30th anniversary, the show also marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The cost to view the show is included in general admission.

The Fine Print: The Botanical Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults; seniors, $5; youths (ages 6 to15 years), $4; and children (ages 2 to 5 years), $2.  Children under 2 and members of the Quad City Botanical Center are free.

Fox Valley Winery

5600 Route 34

Oswego, IL 60543

(630) 554-0404

Why Go? If you’ve ever wanted to know about or sample wines made right here in Illinois, a trip to Fox Valley Winery is in order.

Insider Tip: When in doubt, take home any of the Reserve wines—many have racked up awards throughout the years. 

Must Do: Wine tastings are offered daily and tours of the wine-making facility are offered on weekends, except during harvest season.

The Fine Print: The winery is open Monday through Thursday, noon to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

Smith Museum of Stained Glass—Navy Pier

600 E. Grand Ave.

Chicago, IL 60611

(800) 595-7437

Why Go? Chicago’s Navy Pier is a popular attraction, even in the winter. But as temperatures start to dip, visiting the Smith Museum of Stained Glass offers an opportunity to warm up with a permanent display of 150 stained-glass windows housed in an 800-foot-long series of galleries.

Insider Tip: While admission to the museum is free, if you’re watching your spending, you may want to take public transportation. Parking fees at the Pier can range from $10 to $19.

Must Do: The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass is also featured within the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows; billed as an “extraordinary collection,” it features 13 windows that highlight the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his workshop from 1890 to 1930.

The Fine Print: Admission is free. The museum is open Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 


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