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Easy Outing: Covered Wagon Rides at St. James Farm in Warrenville

St. James Farm Forest Preserve offers covered wagon tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. off and on throughout the year. You'll find the tours listed on the Go West Calendar, but here, guest contributor Naomi Krodel tells you what to expect. 

I’m always looking for nearby fun outdoor activities to do in the fall with my kids, especially this year with such pleasant weather. So when I saw that the St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville was offering covered wagon rides, I thought it was a good chance to check out a place I'd always wanted to visit anyway.

St. James Farm encompasses 607 acres, including more than 100 acres of woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, it was the retreat of the wealthy McCormick family.

Its borders are Butterfield Road to the south and Mack Road to the north. South Winfield Road runs through it on the west side.  We first attempted to enter from the north and west (lots of construction), and eventually we found the correct entrance from Butterfield Road.  At first we only saw a few cars but no people so we walked toward a caboose on the property. 

We then saw a wagon unloading and quickly inquired about the next ride. I paid $5 (children ages 5-12 are $2; kids under 5 are free) and we were then treated to a private tour -- we were the only ones on our wagon on a recent weekday afternoon. Although we didn’t see any coyotes or deer (the earlier tour did) we loved the colorful trees and imagining how it must have looked when the McCormick mansion was standing. 

The author, accompanied by her children, on a covered wagon tour of St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Photo provided.

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Easy Outing: A Trip to the Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago

Guest contributor Maggie Romanovich shares with us one of her family's favorite summertime activities: A trip to the drive-in. But many drive-in theaters stay open well into fall, and it actually gets a bit easier to take the kids once the sun starts setting earlier -- allowing the movies to start earlier, too. 

A drive-in theater in Belleville, Ill. Photo by Hjelle on Flickr.For our family, summertime opens up an option for a super fun evening: Going to the drive-in! Visiting a drive-in theater became part of our family's tradition before my husband and I even married. Every year for my birthday, he’d surprise me with a road trip to a spot that had a minor league baseball team in proximity to a drive-in theater. Who knew there were so many within driving distance?

Once we had our daughter, we wanted to spend as much time together as a family, but we were out of the loop for any water cooler discussion that centered around movies. Enter Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago, located on North Avenue just east of Route 59.

Cascade Drive-In is the perfect place for a family evening. Let’s start with the cost. Cascade offers a double feature of newly released movies for $9 a person. If your kids are under 5, they are free. Children ages 5 through 11 are just $5, and pets are welcome. You can also bring your own food; there's a picnic area with grills. (You bring your own charcoal.) Or, you can visit the full-service concession stand, which offers corn dogs, pretzels, popcorn, nachos, sodas, etc. (Note that Cascade only accepts cash; no credit cards.)

Another fantastic benefit for families is the environment. You’re in your own car. You can control the volume of the movie. You can pop open the hatch of your SUV or van and snuggle up together. Your kids can talk to you without sassy looks from the grump in front of you. If you’re a new mom, pining to see the highly disappointing "Twilight" movie, you can nurse your baby in peace and roll up the windows should any wailing occur. Too hot or humid? Turn on the car for a quick burst of A/C. And on pleasant nights, plenty of families bring chairs from home to set up in front of their vehicles.

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Easy Outing: Water Wonders in North Aurora

Here's a cooling water feature that won't close down come Labor Day. It's eco-friendly and educational, too!

Name: Water Wonders, a 125-foot educational interactive stream that just opened this summer in North Aurora along the Fox River. 

Address: Water Wonders is located just west of North Aurora's Village Hall, which has an address of 25 E. State Street. I parallel parked on State Street, but I bet Village Hall has a lot you could use, too. Water Wonders is located just to the north (walking distance) of North Aurora Island Park, previously featured in the Go West "Great Parks!" series. 

Water Wonders in North Aurora is located right next to the Fox River. Photo by Tara Burghart.

About the Project: The ultimate goal for Water Wonders is that it will be a place where children can splash, wade and climb while learning about water conservation and the native landscape of Illinois. Landscaping and some signage still needs to be installed, but in the meantime, it's still a fun, unique place to cool down and enjoy beautiful views of the Fox River. 

Water Wonders was spearheaded by the North Aurora River District Alliance, a non-profit organization committed to developing the North Aurora riverfront area into a destination that residents and visitors will enjoy.

Chris Faber is a North Aurora village trustee as well as a member of NOARDA. He says the stream does not use any treated city water, but instead uses rainwater that is collected from the roof of Village Hall. If you have a kid interested in engineering or conservation issues, Faber's explanation of how it all works might be particularly good to read aloud when you visit Water Wonders:

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Easy Outing: Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn

If you have a wannabe veterinarian in your house, you'll definitely want to check out the latest in the Go West "Easy Outings" series.

Tonka, the Great Horned Owl, at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Photo courtesy of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center.Name: Willowbrook Wildlife Center, an education center and a wildlife rehabilitation center operated by the DuPage County Forest Preserve. The animals cared for there are native to DuPage County, or migrate to or through DuPage County. Once the animals recover, the center releases them back into the wild, if possible.

Location: It occupies a 50-acre preserve at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn, across the street from the College of DuPage.

Hours: Open to the public daily, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed holidays.

Admission: Free, but donations are accepted.

Amenities: The Visitor Center, which is near the parking lot, contains a number of unreleasable animals designated as "educational ambassadors" for their species. It features an area where kids can play with nature-themed games, puppets and puzzles, as well as climb inside a faux "tree trunk" to read books. The Visitor Center also has restrooms. Nearly 40 acres are occupied by a nature trail with forest, prairie, savannah and wetland eco-systems. (The outer loop is a half-mile; the inner loop is shorter.) A number of animals are contained outdoors in large cages. There is a butterfly garden and a pond with fish. The center also features rehabilitation facilities where sick and injured animals are cared for; those are not open to the public, but the center's website does offer severalvirtual tours.

Food: The center sells no food, but you can bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the tables near the Visitor Center, or in the picnic shelter.

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Easy Outing: Cantigny in Wheaton

Cantigny is hard to pin down. It definitely qualifies as an "Easy Outing," but it could be featured as one of our "Great Parks!" too. It has a military museum, formal gardens and a golf course. It also regularly hosts all sorts of special events and classes, many that appeal to families, such as concerts, an Easter egg hunt, outdoor movies, an Independence Day celebration and more. But however you categorize it, Cantigny is a gem in Chicago's western suburbs. Read on to learn why you should definitely visit Cantigny this summer.

Name: Cantigny, a 500-acre park that was once an "experimental farm" belonging to Col. Robert R. McCormick, who was the editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune from the 1920s into the 1950s. During World War I, McCormick took part in the liberation of the village of Cantigny in France, America's first victory during the war. The battle inspired the name of his farm west of Chicago.

The rose garden at Cantigny. Photo by Lori Tondini.

Location: 1S151 Winfield Road in Wheaton, just south of Route 38.

Hours: Vary depending on the season, but in the summer, the park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset. The museums are closed Mondays and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. 

Admission: There is adaily parking fee at Cantigny of $5 per car from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through October and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. The "twilight" parking fee is $2 and is in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. from May through October, and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. the rest of the year. Cantigny just created a membership option, as well.

Amenities: Cantigny offers 22 individual gardens; the Cantigny First Division Museum; the Robert R. McCormick Museum; a 27-hole golf course; several restaurants and a coffee shop/snack bar; a visitor's center with a gift shop and restrooms; picnic grounds; playground and a nature trail. Cantigny also offers "Family Discovery Backpacks" at no charge, for up to three hours of use during your visit. Backpacks are geared toward families with children in preschool through 5th grade.

Food: You can bring your own picnic. There are no public grills, but personal grills may be used in the picnic area. Alcohol is prohibited on the grounds. The restaurant Le Jardin is open for casual lunches and special brunches. (It has a children's menu with standards like a grilled cheese sandwich with chips or a fruit cup for $3.50.) Bertie's Coffee Shop offers coffee, smoothies, baked goods, ice cream and some limited lunch options.

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Bring Your Baby Matinees in Lombard and South Barrington

If you're a regular reader of this site, you know how much I love going to see movies in a theater. Love it, love it, love it. 

Photo by jessica@flickr on Flickr.But when my daughter was small, I never took her to a film with me, even though she likely would have slept through the whole thing. I was scarred by the experience of a good friend who tripped in the dark while trying to rush out of a theater with her crying baby -- cutting her foot in the process. Not the relaxing trip to the movies I was envisioning!

But now AMC Theatres and The Bump have partnered to offer Bring Your Baby Matinees on the first Tuesday of each month at noon. They promise a "baby-friendly environment" with brighter lights, lower volume and stroller parking. Breastfeeding and crying babies are A-OK, too.

Participating theaters in Illinois are: AMC Barrington 30 in South Barrington, AMC Yorktown 17 in Lombard, AMC River East 21 in Chicago and AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18 in Skokie. Regular matinee prices apply.

The series gets underway at noon tomorrow (Tuesday) with a showing of the mega-hit "The Hunger Games." (Just don't tell your child that his or her first movie experience was a film in which kids fight each other to the death.) The scheduled movie for Tuesday, May 1, at noon is "The Lucky One" a romance starring Zac Efron.

Finally, I need to thank my blogger friend Whitney of Rookie Moms for tipping me off about the Bring Your Baby Matinees. Rookie Moms is an awesome site, full of great suggestions and support for moms of newborns through preschoolers. I particularly like the "Rookie Mom Challenges" -- featuring 50 weekly adventures. And hey! No. 9 is "Go to a mom and baby movie, where crying is allowed." 


Indoor Play: Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview

Before you read this post, I have an important question to ask you: How far will you drive to reach a fun, indoor play place?

A. No more than 15 miles.

B. An hour, give or take a few minutes.

C. On a bitterly cold, gray day in January, I'll drive to the ends of the earth -- if the spot is engaging, educational and guarantees that my child will be so worn out he'll sleep through the night.

If you answered "b" or "c," then by all means read on. Otherwise, make sure to check out the Go West Indoor Play Guide for options closer to home!

The Kohl Children's Museum is located in a commercial and residential development on the site of a former naval air station in Glenview. Photos by Tara Burghart.

Name: Kohl Children's Museum

Location: 2100 Patriot Boulevard in Glenview. Phone: 847-832-6600.

Hours: On Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, on Tuesdays through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (Check website for longer summer hours.) If you're worried about the museum being crowded, here are the recommended best times for a quieter visit. It closes for all major holidays and for a "clean-up week" in September.

Amenities: The museum offers lockers that can be used for a quarter. There are two semi-private areas for nursing mothers. There are a number of restrooms, including two family restrooms with changing tables. Diapers can be purchased for $1. Strollers are allowed in the museum, but there is stroller parking, too. There are three soft play areas specifically for infants, located so that parents can keep an eye on babies as well as older children in nearby adjacent play areas.

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