In summer, everyone wants to be in Chicago, and the price of hotel rooms skyrockets. But the entertainment is free once you get there, and it's easy to eat well for very little.
Events to catch: June 12-13, Old Town Art Fair.
Where to stay: See Where to stay in Chicago.
In the southeast corner of Wisconsin, Lake Geneva has been welcoming wealthy Chicagoans for 150 years. They came, they built fabulous mansions, and now the rest of us get to gawk at them from a footpath that hugs all 20 miles of shoreline.
When to go: Now, when it's still fairly quiet. July and August are crowded, especially on weekends.
What to do: Walk around Geneva Lake; if you want to walk only the eight miles from Lake Geneva, an excursion boat will pick you up in Williams Bay. Shop downtown. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
Details: For more, see Gawking in Lake Geneva.
In May, this Wisconsin peninsula on Lake Michigan is as gorgeous as ever, but you don't have to share it with crowds. Venture beyond the shops to the headlands, estuaries, beaches and parks.
Where to stay: Many inns offer spring specials through early June. For more, see Where to stay in Door County.
Everybody loves Galena, the cute little "town that time forgot.'' And because everybody can be a lot of people, spring is the best time to enjoy it.
Tulips and daffodils bloom on the terraces, weather is mild and streets are not too crowded. And there's always lots to do in this northwest Illinois town.
Celebrate John Muir's April birthday with a trip to the sand plains of central Wisconsin, where Muir and Aldo Leopold began to shape the conservationist ethic that made them famous.
North of Portage, visit John Muir's boyhood home, now John Muir Memorial Park.
Details: For more, see Road trip: Wisconsin's Muir Tour.