Five spring break getaways in five hours or less


If you need a last-minute adventure this spring break, you’re in luck. St. Louis is the perfect Midwestern city for a road trip. As a self-proclaimed itinerary connoisseur, I’ve spent many weekends in nearby cities and know the perfect spots. This article will give you a day-long itinerary for five cities within five hours of STL!

MEMPHIS, Tennessee

Memphis has a rich history, close-knit community and standout experiences – take it from someone who found themselves on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle during their first visit. While I can’t promise your trip will feature a main character-moment quite as formative as mine, I guarantee you’ll leave Memphis with lifelong memories.

Marlee Doniff looking through mirrors at Flashback, Inc. in Memphis, Tenessee. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

First, stop into Memphis’ local businesses. Flashback Inc. is an incredible vintage store with all the clothing, furniture and  knickknacks your heart desires. When I visited, I bought pants that ripped when I put them on, so I turned them into a pant-shirt! I also love Otherlands Coffee Bar, a kitschy shop featuring delicious bagel sandwiches, a gift shop with altar candles of your favorite celebrities and an awesome fish tank.

An exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum featuring various protest signs used during the civil rights movement. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Memphis was home to many crucial moments of the Civil Rights Movement. The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. This is a moving, educational place all Americans should visit at least once.

Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Another historical Memphis landmark is Sun Studio, which made Memphis known as the birthplace of rock n’ roll by starting the careers of Ike Turner, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis Presley. Graceland also offers a tour of Elvis’ home, gift shops and a museum of his cars and planes. The price is steep, so if a tour voiced by John Stamos isn’t convincing, you might want to skip Graceland.

Elvis Presley’s living room in Graceland, featuring beautiful peacock stained-glass windows. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

The Beauty Shop Restaurant is a campy 1950s wonderland where the Priscilla Presley used to get her hair done, and it’s the most Pinterest-worthy restaurant I’ve ever visited. I recommend the Watermelon and Wings – I know it sounds like an odd combination, but trust me. It works.

A bear holding Marlee Doniff’s purse inside the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

The Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid aren’t just a couple of Bass Pro Shops – this structure is the world’s tenth largest pyramid. At the top, there’s a restaurant and bar, plus an observation deck with amazing views of downtown Memphis. This is an obvious choice for outdoor lovers, but it’s truly a blast for anyone.

End your night with a visit to Beale Street, “America’s Most Iconic Street” according to their website. Beale Street has over 20 bars and restaurants such as Tin Roof, each with great atmospheres and amazing live music by local musicians.

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin

While Milwaukee is slightly over the five-hour mark, its beautiful lakefront and great food are worth the extra 20 minutes. If you’re okay adding a couple more hours to your trip, Milwaukee can also be reached by the Amtrak, which is a fun and environmentally-friendly way to travel. Every time I visit, I discover something I love.

Start your Milwaukee day trip at Toast, a brunch spot with delicious appetizers, amazing coffee and incredible ambiance. I recommend the bowl of minis, breakfast burrito and bottomless coffee sourced from Hawaii.

Milwaukee’s famous Public Market featuring dozens of food vendors. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

For lunch options, walk around the shops, restaurants and bars in the Historic Third Ward, or the Public Market next to it. The local food vendors have options for everyone, including plant-based food and smoothie bowls from On The Bus, mid-day coffee from Anodyne and Wisconsin Cheese Curds from West Allis Cheese and Sausage. It can get loud and crowded, though, so why not take your food to Bradford Beach for a picnic?

The “Historic Milwaukee” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Imagine Epcot meets History Museum, and you’ve got one of the best museums I’ve ever been to: the Milwaukee Public Museum. It’s incredibly informative with life-size replicas of historic cities, animals and ecosystems, and there’s a student discount.

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a beautiful building right on Lake Michigan. It is one of my favorite art museums because it’s easy to navigate, features lots of recognizable artwork and offers a student discount. If you prefer art outdoors, Black Cat Alley is home to a bunch of murals by worldwide artists that are great for photos, and it’s surrounded by shops.

Evie Dietrich pictured next to a mural in Black Cat Alley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Milwaukee’s bar scene is more laid back than other cities, but you’ll find great company and tons of local beer on Brady Street. Try La Masa, an empanada bar where each dish I tried was better than the last. When you’re finished bar-hopping, end your day by getting drive-thru from Chubby’s Donuts, which has adorable mini donuts and other food.




NASHVILLE, Tennessee

Photo of a bathroom wall in WannaB’s Karaoke Bar in Nashville, Tennessee. The phrase “What Would Dolly Do” is in large writing. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Nashville has a robust culture with live music on every corner, the best donuts I’ve ever had and a vibrant night-life scene – they don’t call it Nash-Vegas for nothing!. My biggest tip to surviving Nashville: WWDD? (What would Dolly do?)

Five Daughters Bakery serves croissant-style “100 Layer Donuts” and mini donuts that are to die for. Try ordering the Purist on your first visit; you can’t go wrong with a classic.

Love Circle is a great spot for views of the Nashville skyline. Grab a coffee from the coffee shop beloved by Nashville local celebrities, Barista Parlour, and enjoy it with a beautiful view!

Murals are a great way to see local artists’ work and get cute photos, and they’re on just about every corner in Nashville. This link has a map of all the wonderful murals Nashville has to offer.

Red Headed Stranger is a great spot for tacos in the East-Nashville neighborhood. They have delicious homemade tortillas and a rotating taco menu. When I went, I just asked the person taking my order to give me their favorites and they did not disappoint.

View of Nashville from the Pedestrian Bridge. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

The Pedestrian Bridge crosses over the Cumberland River and gives closer views of downtown than lover’s circle. It also leads you onto Broadway, where you’ll find all the cowboy boot shops and honky-tonk bars you want. Country music haters, don’t fret; while the first level of most bars will play country music, you’ll find other genres of music and awesome rooftops upstairs.

Andy Jorris performing at WannaB’s Karaoke Bar. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Don’t leave Nashville without trying a hot chicken sandwich at restaurants like Hattie B’s on Broadway. They’re made with different heat levels, so even if your spice tolerance is relatively low (like mine), you can still eat one. Also, you’re weird if you don’t like the pickles.

Is there a better place for karaoke than Nashville? I had so much fun watching and performing at WannaB’s Karaoke Bar. The crowd was super friendly and the environment was very pressure-free.

CHICAGO, Illinois

Chicago is the largest Midwestern city, and its increased population comes with more to do. It’s accessible by train, but if you drive, stop at Portillo’s in Springfield for Chicago Italian Beef and cheese fries! These are some of my favorite destinations after living nearby for a year.

An oat-milk honey latte and almond croissant at Cupitol, a coffee shop in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

There are tons of local shops on every corner of Chicago. One of my favorites is Cupitol; the West Loop location is super cozy, and it has delicious food like avocado wraps and almond croissants.

The Bean in Millennium Park. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Millennium Park is one of very few free destinations in Chicago, but it has a lot to offer. You can see beautiful views of the city and sculptures like the famous Bean, all within walking distance of many other iconic Chicago landmarks.

Left to right: Marlee Doniff and Emily McPherron at the WNDR Museum. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Looking for more unforgettable art? Visit WNDR Museum for high-tech, interactive exhibits and hands-on environments. The exhibits rotate, but the most famous one is “Let’s Survive Forever,” a breathtaking infinity mirrored room.

Marlee Doniff at The Brown Elephant in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

If you can’t tell by now, I love vintage clothing, and Chicago is one of the best cities to shop vintage. Personally, I’ve had great luck in Andersonville, where you’ll find The Brown Elephant, Crossroads Trading Co. and Buffalo Exchange.

Chicago is also home to my favorite antique store – Broadway Antique Market. All of the vendors’ booths are so well curated with furniture, statement pieces and historical items that it almost feels like a museum.

Lost Never Found is an eccentric restaurant and bar in the iconic Wrigleyville neighborhood. On weeknights from 4-7 p.m., appetizers, pizzas and drinks are half off. I recommend the garlic shrimp, truffle fries and Mez“Cal” Me Maybe cocktail.

Left to right: Marlee Doniff and Emily McPherron at Splash after a drag show. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Chicago offers the widest variety of international foods you can get without traveling to the coasts. If you’ve been dying to try a specific dish, this is the place to do it. The last time I was in Chicago, I tried the Vietnamese sandwich, bánh mì – it was so good I got it again the next day!

Finally, drop by Chicago’s gay-borhood, Boystown. Check out a drag show at Splash or relax with a pool table, darts and touch-toons at Cell Block.




Kansas City is a hidden gem, though I might be a bit biased since I was born there. It’s a great city with a vibrant art scene, kind people and great food. Because it’s so close to St. Louis, you can get there by driving on I-70 West or taking the train.

One of the many murals in the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Prepare to have your mind blown by Mildred’s “Standard Sandwich” on rye  – I didn’t know it was possible for eggs to get so fluffy. Mildred’s also has a large coffee menu, all of which is delicious. Its location in my favorite Kansas City neighborhood, Crossroads, has a ton of seating and a patio.

When you’re done eating, explore the Crossroads Arts District to see beautiful murals and art galleries. It even has unique shops that sell everything from skateboards to flowers. You’ll find more artwork from different centuries at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, a free museum that has the “World’s Largest Shuttlecock” and a mini golf course with models of its most famous pieces.

The Kansas City skyline from the top of Scout Hill. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

There are tons of great options for lunch, like the amazing menu at Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen, but you need to try Kansas City’s famous barbeque. Joe’s has been my favorite since I was a kid, especially the original gas station location. I recommend taking your Joe’s BBQ to-go for a picnic at Scout Hill, which is hands-down the best view in Kansas City.

The basement at River Market Antiques, which is full of vintage clothing and accessories. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Of course, there’s vintage shops, too. Boomerang has a variety of vintage clothing, costumes, posters and accessories, and River Market Antiques is a huge antique mall where I always find the coolest things.

Town-Topic Hamburgers on Broadway. Photo by Marlee Doniff.

Funky Town is a themed bar that strictly plays music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The best part is the car wash scrubbers, which do foam dance parties to the iconic song “Car Wash.” Funky Town is cash-only and enforces a dress code on its website. For another nostalgic restaurant, Town Topic’s Broadway location is the quintessential late night dining experience; it serves burgers, fries, onion rings, pie and more 24/7.


One of my favorite parts of living in St. Louis is that I’m a short drive from so many other fun cities and new experiences. I made so many amazing memories in all of these cities, and I hope you do the same when you visit!

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Marlee Doniff
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