On Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior, this village of 1,400 is more cosmopolitan than many towns 20 times its size it has a performing-arts center, a folk school, an art colony and galleries and restaurants that could hold their own in much bigger cities.
Details: For more, see Four seasons of Grand Marais.
Past fast plans: Playing outdoors in Chicago, Pedaling and paddling in Lanesboro, Walking around Lake Geneva, Looking for wildflowers, Spotting eagles
When it comes to travel, it costs a lot less to make kids happy than parents think.
Oh, kids are happy to let adults spend money on big-ticket trips Disney World, Six Flags, the Wisconsin Dells.
But what do they prefer? It's elemental, my dear parents: rocks, water and sand.
Its funny that some people in the Upper Midwest spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Cancun or Cape Cod, because the best beaches in the world are in their own back yard.
Lake Michigan is Americas freshwater Riviera, a nearly unending strand of sand that looks like Florida without the high-rise condos. Its clean, blue and pleasantly cool, with water temperatures in the 60s, and in most places it looks just like the ocean.
Add in candy-striped lighthouses and even more ice-cream stands, and youve got the makings of a great beach holiday a cheap one, too, if you're on a budget.
When heat wraps itself around your shoulders like an electric blanket with static cling, theres only one thing to do: Look for cold water.
You'll find it tubing on a spring-fed river, such as the South Branch of the Root River, which takes a short cut through Mystery Caverns and heads toward Lanesboro chilled to 48 degrees.
You can't get more local and sustainable than a wood-fired pizza served just yards from where its ingredients were raised and grown.
Farms that moonlight as pizzerias one or two nights a week are multiplying, but not just because the pizzas are so good.
The visitors who eat them also get to spend an evening soaking up the bucolic country atmosphere, savoring a lifestyle that's now far removed from most lives.
So this year, you got a great campsite in your favorite state park. Or maybe you didn't.
A lot of people vie for places in the most popular parks Peninsula and Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, Split Rock and Itasca in Minnesota, all of the beach parks in Michigan.
The people who get them know how to work the angles. Mainly, that means knowing when to reserve.