My husband and I are two very different types when it comes to vacations. Jacob wants to go to bed whenever, sleep in until he can’t sleep anymore, eat when he feels like it and then if there’s time to do something, go do it. And repeat. I on the other hand want to get to our destination, maybe check some cool things out on the way, eat at a local restaurant, get an okay amount of sleep, wake up bright and early so we don’t miss anything and not waste anytime so we can see EVERYTHING and do EVERYTHING. And repeat the next day.
Last year we took our family of four up to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for a long weekend of play, we played hard! We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast and ran around doing everything we could cram into the weekend! It was glorious! We had a newborn baby and a 2 year old. It was great because it was exactly how I like to “do” vacation.
This year vacation was a bit more out of Jacob’s book of how to do vacation–It was exactly two weeks before baby Shaundi was born, I was waaay pregnant and so tired. I wanted to get away because the days were just draaagggging by as I sat around at home and plugged away at work. We packed up our little SUV and took off for the final family vacation in that car…with a new baby, we knew we could no longer fit everyone in!
When we arrived at the DunesWalk Inn (1491 North Furnleigh Lane, Chesterton, Indiana), I was thrilled to see the beautiful old mansion that had so many modern updates. When we stay somewhere, my favorite thing to check out is always the bathroom. It is completely necessary to me that there be a clean, beautiful bathroom. I was NOT disappointed! Jacob always checks out the technology; wifi – check, flatscreen tv with cable – check. The kids want space to play, places to hide and the ability for mom and dad to keep the snacks coming (a kitchen with a refrigerator helps with this). DunesWalk had everything we needed wanted.
A weekend away at the Dunes has something to offer for every style of vacationer.
We rested, relaxed, ate yummy food cooked in our very own kitchen, stretched out on the beach (Indiana Dunes State Beach – 1600 N. 25 E., Chesterton, Indiana), went swimming in the cool water, played, made a blanket forts on our bunk beds, ate yummy italian food, chilled out with brightly colored ice cream and tried some new food.
The nightly rate at DunesWalk Inn ranges from $125-185 depending on which accommodations you choose. We stayed in the Beverly Shores Suite which was just perfect for our family: fireplace, whirlpool bath, queen bed, queen-size sofa bed, twin bunk beds, kitchenette, and private dining area. The kitchenette had cookware and dinnerware that we used to prepare meals in the oven and on the stove. The microwave was perfect for the popcorn we popped before all four of us curled up together on the bed to watch a movie. Lulu slept on the bunk beds and we put Scoutie’s pack and play in the dining room so she could sleep well.
While sleeping in away from home with toddlers isn’t the same as the sleeping in that Jacob has in mind for his ideal vacation, we really spent the whole weekend just taking it easy and relaxing. DunesWalk is a short drive to the State Park (if you are going to visit an Indiana State Park a few times throughout the year, I recommend purchasing a pass for $36 like we do) and there’s a beautiful beach with a huge dune for kids to climb. We enjoyed some leisurely time there and since parking is close, we didn’t spend a ton of time and energy lugging all of our gear like we did last year.
Our accommodations and one meal were provided for the purpose of writing this review. All other transportation, food, entertainment expenses were paid for by our family. The above stories, opinions and thoughts truthfully reflect our experience. If you have any questions, please email me katy(at)indywithkids.com
Valpo Velvet Ice Cream
We finished off the night with an ice cream sundae at Valpo Velvet Ice Cream (55-57 W. Monroe Street Valparaiso | 219.464.4141). And a root beer float. For some reason I’ve been craving those all summer. The first thing I had in the hospital after Scout was born? A root beer float. I hadn’t had one in years and then the baby was born and BAM! All I can think about are nice, cold root beer floats!
Valpo Velvet makes all of their own ice cream. 50 flavors each week! They scoop them up in their cute ice cream shop AND they sell fresh packages that you can take home for your family to enjoy…if you’re a local. Which is why we just had to eat the whole sundae right there in the shop. The flavors to choose from were wonderful; flavors like Black Raspberry Chip, Blue Moon, Cotton Candy, Banana Chocolate Chip and many more! Valpo Velvet also makes a variety of sandwiches and other frozen and not-so-frozen treats! We might find ourselves there again…
Inn at Aberdeen
When our family of four was invited to visit the Indiana Dunes and stay at the Inn at Aberdeen (3158 South State Road 2) in Valparaiso, I was surprised. I had to call back and be sure that the bed and breakfast knew our family included an infant and a toddler. Not only were they aware, a crib was available to borrow for our room and a high chair would be set up at our family table in the breakfast room each morning!
After checking in, I was taken to our room and the innkeeper told me that our room should be plenty quiet in order to allow the kids to sleep well. I just smiled because lets face it, my biggest worry was that OTHER people might hear them, not that other people might BOTHER my kids.
The Inn was gorgeous and offered picturesque views from our room and around the property. We stayed in the Glamis Suite and our room was very large and had plenty of space for all of us to stretch out and get comfortable. The walkout patio was a beautiful feature and the gazebo right outside of our room was very attractive and romantic.
Each morning, a breakfast was specially prepared for each of us by the onsite chef and kitchen staff. The delicious meal fueled us with energy for the busy days we had planned on our trip. We met several other guests in the dinning room each morning and that was a fun treat — everyone was there for a different reason, some were wedding guests, others were on a honeymoon, some on a romantic retreat and then there was our family, on a fun vacation! Everyone was very friendly.
Throughout the day, snacks and beverages were available in the sitting area on the main floor. The yummy cheesecake dessert was a welcome perk to my husband and Lulu who each enjoyed their piece. Rooms at the Inn have Jacuzzis for two, fireplaces, DirecTv, free wireless internet and high quality food. Lulu loved looking in the garden for the butterfly and fairy statues and decorations. It was a very fun experience for her.
My favorite part of about the Inn at Aberdeen was that despite traveling with a family, we were not treated as second class citizens, we were not asked to sacrifice quality accommodations just because we were traveling with children. We felt welcome and our children felt welcome at the Inn at Aberdeen. I believe that the fact that we were staying at a large house, made our travels a bit easier on the kids than if we were staying in a large hotel. After this wonderful experience, we would like to stay at a Bed and Breakfast more often!
Traveling with pets? Stay at the Inn at Aberdeen and ask about their pet policy. We were guests of the Inn at Aberdeen in order to facilitate this article but as always, my opinions are honest and my own. I want to help you and YOUR family enjoy your stay at the Inn at Aberdeen. Sometimes you can find some fantastic money saving coupons on their website! I recommend staying here — even if you have kids! Check out the Inn at Aberdeen on Facebook too!
Lucrezia Cafe in Chesterton
During our visit to the Indiana Dunes, we fit a lot of activities into one short weekend but we also missed out on a lot events because there is just SO MUCH TO DO in the area. One place I knew we had to visit was Lucrezia Cafe and Restaurant (428 South Calumet Road, Chesterton). Lucrezia has an award winning menu and is open for lunch and dinner throughout the week.
We started our meal with the Roasted Red Pepper Pesto to go with our table bread. It had delicious flavor and was only $4! This was a steal for a meal starter! My entree of choice was the Fettuccine Alfredo which was delicious and filling! Jay loved the 3 Meat Lasagne and Lulu enjoyed a small plate of tastes of everything.
Obviously a popular location, Lucrezia was crowded indoors and outdoors but we were able to be seated indoors immediately — since it was such a nice summer night, the patio seating had a wait. Jay and I ate a very filling meal with beverages (and shared some food with Lulu) for about $50. Lucrezia has wonderful ambiance, fantastic food and great prices!
During the summer (June-September), Broken Wagon Bison Farm (563 West 450 North, Hobart | 219.759.3523) offers tours on Saturdays at 11am and at 2pm. Tours are $10 per person and at the end of the tour, each person gets to select a stick of bison jerky. The tours begin with a half hour education session where the ranchers show a short film about the history of bison (also known as buffalo) in the US. Then they teach visitors about the uses of bison product through several demonstrations and the various bison products showcased in the shop.
After the discussion, visitors go outside and board a wagon/trailer with
seats and are pulled into the corral where all of the bison are hanging out. When the wagon is stopped, treats are thrown to the bison and they crowd around the wagon to get more.
The teaching time prior to the bison encounter was very interesting to Jay and me and the little boy behind us sat still and listened well the entire time (he was probably about 4 or 5) but two year old Lulu just couldn’t handle it and I had to take her out of the building so she would stop being so disruptive. All of us loved the ride and the encounter. It’s just amazing how large these animals are. The encounter gave me flashbacks to the “Safari” we went on in Ohio, which is tops on my list of favorites.
Even Scout gets excited about Bison!
There were two baby bison whose mothers didn’t want anything to do with them. Sad for them but since they were being so well cared for by humans, they were a little more tame and we were able to go pet them. Lulu giggl
ed so hard when a bison “kissed” her on the arm.
Places to Eat and Treat
When we headed north for our annual trip to Indiana Dunes (we actually went TWICE this summer), we tried out some new to us restaurants. Everything was delish!
For breakfast we took a quick drive up the road to Michigan City to check out Schoop’s Diner (4105 Franklin St, Michigan City, IN). Your typical diner food, there was something that we each enjoyed. Schoop’s is famous for their hamburgers but has a wonderful breakfast selection.
The Lemon Tree Mediterranean Grill (356 Indian Boundary Rd, Chesterton, IN) opened this year. Offering local craft beers, sandwiches, wraps and bowls of delicious mediterranean food, our family quickly became great fans of Lemon Tree. If you like Greek food, you’ll most likely enjoy mediterranean cuisine.
Our family was invited to Popolano’s Italian Restaurant (225 S Calumet Rd, Chesterton, In) for a nice evening out. If it’s not too hot or humid or too cold, the patio is a beautiful setting for a romantic dinner, a girlfriends dinner out or a quiet family dinner. The kids menu has many great choices and everything was scrumptious.
We found the most colorful ice cream scoops at Cabos Ice Cream Shop and Cafe (731 Washington St, Michigan City, In). Stop in for
their amazing fruit bars (popsicles) and ice cream or relax on the deck with some of their freshly made mexican food.
There are so many places to eat around Dunesland and it’s hard to go wrong! Try something new and send me your recommendations for our next visit!
In order to facilitate this article, our family was given a gift card to Popolano’s that covered the majority of our dinner. All other expenses were paid out of pocket. All thoughts and opinions and information are true to the best of my knowledge.
Indiana Dunes State Park – The Beach!
Being the money saving family that we are, we chose to go to the Indiana Dunes State Park beach (1600 N. 25 E., Chesterton, IN) because we purchased our State Parks Pass at the beginning of the year. On this trip, our purchase saved us the $5 gate entrance fee ($10 for out of state plates). The park was beautiful and would be a wonderful place to visit even if there wasn’t a beach there, but thankful there WAS a beach and we were there to see it!
We found a parking spot and then loaded all of our stuff up on our backs and in our arms. I was of course devastated that couldn’t bring a stroller in the sand, you know how I LOVE to load up that stroller. Some people brought strollers but they were struggling to push them through the sand AND I don’t even want to think about how they might have been ruined later from all of the sand. A wagon might work but I’m not sure about the long term effects of sand in wheels, etc. So, we carried everything; umbrella, towels, changes of clothes, snacks, sand toys, a blanket, the baby and the toddler (part way).
The beach was beautiful and had lifeguards. Lulu had such a fun time splashing around with us in the water. I wore Scout in a carrier and dipped her little feet into the water but as far as swimming, we’ll have to go back next summer for that. There was plenty of space on the beach for our blanket and everyone had such a great time.
Indiana Dunes State Park Beach was wonderful because it wasn’t so crowded that people were sitting on top of one another. I would definitely recommend the beach at the State Park for anyone who has children who are of walking age. However, with two tiny kids, next time we will probably visit a beach that has a parking lot really close to the water.
If you don’t like fun places that have inflatables, miniature golf, batting cages, go carts, laser tag, open air arcades and a bar for adults, that’s fine. Zao Island has real live alligators! And they let you feed them with a pole! No joke! See their website for specials and money saving coupons.
Zao Island (1050 Horse Prairie Av., Valparaiso | 219.462.1194) is a family fun center that has activities for everyone in your family. Baby Scout might have a hard time finding something to do but even Lulu can find entertainment at Zao Island. I must say that the alligators were our favorite part! Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean!
The miniature golf course is pretty amazing too. It’s a beautiful course and so many families were enjoying themselves. Zao Island really does feel like you are in a beachy area. It reminds me of the boardwalk arcades near my old house in California. The attractions range in price from 75 cents (15 pitches at the batting cages) to $6 (laser tag & miniature golf). This was an ideal evening outing for our family — we could stay for as much time as we wanted, or as little time as our sleepy girls allowed.
We made it to the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center! We picked up some coupons, maps, area guides and spoke with some really nice people who recommended some really cool places!
There were clean restrooms, a family restroom and a discovery area for kids to play and learn!
After really long day in the car we decided to take the kids to a park so we could stretch out and run around and play. We had read about a fun Park called Valplayso. We took the kids there and found a park just like my husband and I remember from OUR childhood: a VERY large wooden structure play area with bridges, winding staircases, tons of places to hide, play tag and get lost.
We picnicked at the benches (there were plenty of picnic tables available) and then Lulu and her daddy ran wild while baby Scout and I stretched out on a blanket we had packed. The weather was cool and the evening was perfect! Families were riding their bikes to the park, hiking around and exploring, a soccer game or two was finishing up while we played and there were a lot of kids playing and having a great time! Even the parents were having a good time! The way that the playground was built easily allows for parents to be a part of playing and climbing. Grandparents too!
Valplayso Park was THE perfect thing for us tonight! I recommend stopping at parks anytime you can after a road trip or along the way.
Splash Pad at Central Park Plaza
If you’ve been an Indianapolis with Kids reader for any amount of time, you probably know that I’m a sucker for free activities (although, we often visit places that cost money) and I love local parks. This doesn’t change when I’m on vacation. Local parks have so much to offer and are all unique in one way or another.
That said, it shouldn’t surprise you that we visited ANOTHER city park today. Central Park in Valparaiso is just that, a central place for people to gather. In this space there are events, festivals, concerts, movies, markets and more on a regular basis. We loved it because after lunch we could run around in the spray area and burn off a bunch of energy before we returned to the Inn for naptime! Kids were in bathing suits AND in regular clothes so a spontaneous visit would be okay too!
During our visit there was a farmers market taking place. Central Park is also surrounded by a large variety of many unique local businesses. Our reason for picking Central Park today was the free splash pad! The photos on the tourism website just made it look like so much fun and THE place to be during the summer. The photos told a truthful story! There were so many people taking advantage of the hot summer weather and the free splash pad. It looked like a huge party!
The Central Park splashpad is open from 10am – 7pm during the summer, weather permitting. Check the website for more information about other programs and performances in Central Park.
Radio Controlled Car Races at Kings Raceway
So far during during our weekend getaway we’ve seen miniature trains and miniature planes so the only thing that remained were miniature cars! On our way to dinner tonight, we stopped by King Hobbies and Raceway (413 E Archer Way, Valparaiso | 219.299.2088) to get our fix. Nearly every day/night of the week there is open practice on an outdoor track for fans and customers to race their radio controlled cars but tonight there was a race — for prize money!
We pulled into the parking lot and found a group of kids and teens and adults on a detached balcony like structure looking down over a huge race track with jumps and sharp turns. Cars flew high in the air as they sailed over tightly packed dirt hills on the nearly 700 foot long track.
Our whole family was welcomed to climb to the top of the stairs for the best view of the track. A live announcer sat in a booth down below and narrated the race as car after car lapped around the track, trying to pass their competition. Cars flipped upside down and sideways as they had rough landings from ramps, came around corners too fast or smacked into other cars.
The race was exciting and the competitors were serious but having a good time. Staff members and volunteers were laughing from the field down below as they uprighted vehicles or watched as some tried to jump the fence with their cars. Entire families were present and involved in this fun event.
Kings Hobbies sells radio controlled vehicles and allows “drivers” to run the track for $8 a day. The track is changed every few weeks, including the jumps and ramps! Something new all the time! Make sure you check the calendar on their website and call ahead for practice and race times.
We decided to grab dinner to go so we could take the kids to a park to play. Between running errands all morning before we left and the drive up here, we’re all a little stir crazy!
Petey’s Gyros (255 East Morthland Drive (Route 30), Valparaiso) is right down the street from where we’re staying and being the Greek food lovers we are, we decided to get our dinner from Petey’s. They have gyros, sandwiches, burgers, salads, ice cream and kids meals. Entrees are about $8 per person. There are coupons online but their policy is that they must be printed so make sure you print them before you leave Indy, you might want to eat here — and believe me, they are sticklers about this rule!! The gyro sandwich is wonderful!
Model Airplanes: Midwest Sundowners
After breakfast we had some time before our next activity do we headed over to the Midwest Sundowners Airstrip (451-499 N 650 W Hobart, IN 46342). Through some research before our trip I had learned that the model airplane club was having an airshow!
As we drove up we could see radio controlled planes barrel rolling and looping through the sky above corn and soybean fields. The airstrip was a perfectly manicured grass area that resembled its full scale counterparts. Nearly 100 people were gathered under canopies and on spectator benches to watch as the planes took off, performed high in the sky and landed.
People were working on their planes as they waited their turn to put their planes up in the sky. An announcer introduced the planes as they made their way to the runway, controlled by talented and knowledgeable hobbyists on the sidelines. Everyone was so friendly and excited to talk about their planes and the event. We sat on a bench in the shade of trees and watched and listened to the buzz of the small aircraft in the sky. It was a fun start to our day of activities and something that we’ve never done before!
If you are ever visiting the Dunes or near Valparaiso, check out the Midwest Sundowners Radio Controlled Flying Club. One member told me that members are out on the airfield practicing almost everyday. Check out the events calendar on the website to see when special events take place. We were so fortunate that they were having a War Bird Airshow while we were in town.
Margarita’s Bar & Grill
Our final stop before naptime was the splash pad in downtown Valparaiso so we wanted to eat lunch somewhere kid friendly and close to the splashpad. We found many pubs and cafes and all of them appeared to welcome children — one even had “Children Welcome” printed on their windows, just to make sure you knew it was okay to stop in. We chose to eat at Margarita’s Bar and Grill (21 E. Lincolnway, Valparaiso) because mexican food is always a good option!
Margarita’s offered several options for kids meals and many options for fruity flavored margaritas and yummy entrees. Chips and salsa are brought to your table and the salsa is great! It should be since it’s made fresh in the restaurant! The staff was very kind and helpful, refills on drinks and chips and salsa were quick and Lulu called everyone her friend.
I had the chicken fajitas and I’m going to go ahead and say that they were the BEST fajitas I’ve ever had in my life! The chicken was deliciously seasoned and I just couldn’t get enough! Jay had a mango margarita and really enjoyed the quick break from his paleo diet routine. He said that his entree, the Margarita’s special was really good too. As with most toddlers, Lulu did not finish her meal but she did not complain.
Meals were about $10 per person (adult).