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FastPlans/Sampling in Iowa's Amanas

Pouring fruit wines in Amana.

Once upon a time, people in Iowa's Amana Colonies lived simply. Now, people go there to indulge.

These tidy, once-communal villages in east-central Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, are famous for their family-style restaurants, wineries, brewery and shops. During the holiday season, tourists descend on the villages to buy gifts — quilts, pottery, chocolates.

What to do: Shop and sample wines. Tour the Amana Heritage Museum

Events to catch: Dec. 3-5, Prelude to Christmas.

Information: For more, see Truly Amana and Eating in the Amana Colonies.

A merry holiday in Milwaukee

Cathedral Square at Christmas.

During the holidays, Milwaukee's downtown lights up like a child's face on Christmas morning.

What to do: Tour the decorated Pabst Mansion. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum (and its shop). Ice skate at Red Arrow Park. Shop in the Historic Third Ward or on Old World Third Street.

See the holiday lights in Cathedral Square and Pere Marquette Park. Catch "A Christmas Carol'' at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater or the Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

Events to catch: Nov. 18-Jan. 1, Holiday Lights Festival. Dec. 3, Christmas in the Ward.

Details: For more, see Milwaukee at Christmas.

Escape to the Dells

Children play in a water park.

Got the early-winter blahs? Try a quick getaway to the Wisconsin Dells. You'll get the best deals in November and December, when most people are focused on the holidays.

What to do indoors: Play at indoor water parks. Relax at a spa. Shop at Tanger Outlet Center.

What to do outdoors: Hike at nearby Mirror Lake or Devil's Lake state parks.

Details: For more, see Making waves and Wisconsin Dells in fall.

Shopping in Madison

A window of the Chocolaterian Cafe.

There's always excitement in the air on and around Madison's State Street, but especially in November, when the holidays are on the horizon.

Where to shop: State Street has great museum gift shops, and Monroe Street, which heads south from Camp Randall stadium, also has fun shops and places to eat.

Shopping events: Weekends Nov. 12-Dec. 12, Art & Gift Fair at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Nov. 13-14, Winter Art Fair Off the Square

Nightlife: See a concert, play, ballet or touring show at the Overture Center on State Street.

Details: For more, see Shopping in Madison.

Halloween in Chicago

Skull at a farmers market.

In Chicago, Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year after Christmas.

Navy Pier puts up pumpkin lights. There's a big parade. You can tour sites haunted by ghosts, gangsters and serial killers. And everybody dresses up.

Events to catch: Oct. 30, Arts in the Dark Halloween Parade and Day of the Dead Xicago.

What to do: Go on a ghost tour. Tour Graceland Cemetery

Details: For more, see Halloween in Chicago.