A Local’s Guide to Champaign County

Josh the Prize Guy previews his favorite stops in the greater Champaign County area, from food to music to history and sports!

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by Terri Reifsteck
September 07, 2018

Celebrating our Greatest Midwest Food Town Title

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Written by Josh Laskowksi, aka Josh the Prize Guy on Champaign-Urbana’s WQQB Q96

A friendly, small-town atmosphere combined with the thrill of city life makes Champaign County a great choice for a fun getaway. Home to the University of Illinois and two wonderful downtown districts, Champaign-Urbana offers tons of unique restaurants, options for entertainment and indoor and outdoor activities.

Dining

There’s lots of cuisine, from fast-casual to upscale dining. If you find yourself in Campustown, make a point to visit upscale Japanese sushi and ramen stop Sakanya, or enjoy a blend of Korean and Mexican favorites at Spoon House Korean Kitchen.

Looking for a casual lunch with great views? Try one of the great Reubens or wraps at Attie's Bar and Grill, overlooking the home of the Fighting Illini golf team, Stone Creek Golf Club. Looking for a romantic or upscale dinner? You must try the seven-course tasting menu at Bacaro, where if you’re a wine lover like me, you’ll savor the wine pairing options. 

Ramen at SakanayaRamen at Sakanaya on Green St.

Music and Theatre

Champaign-Urbana is home to fantastic music venues and theatres. The historic Virginia Theatre has been a landmark in Champaign’s entertainment district since 1921 and was recently renovated to showcase its original beauty. It hosts both film and live performance and is home to the annual Ebertfest, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival. I look back fondly on great shows there, like Manhattan Transfer, REO Speedwagon and Lily Tomlin.

The Virginia TheatreTake in a show at The Virginia Theatre

History

History buffs will love the Champaign County History Museum at the historic Cattle Bank. One of my favorite exhibits, “A Second Home at The U of I,” gives visitors a peek into student dorm and apartment living from the mid-1800s to the present day. 

The University of Illinois is also home to the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, showcasing historical artifacts and archival records of the evolution of music. Legendary composer John Philips Sousa was a big supporter of the Marching Illini, and his donations form the backbone of the collection.

Retracing the steps of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln? Honest Abe spent nearly 20 years practicing law in Urbana. The “Lincoln the Lawyer” statue in Carle Park is my favorite Illinois Lincoln statue. It’s a must-see if you’re looking for Lincoln.

Sport

Make sure you bring your orange and blue when you roll through town—we love our sports and our Fighting Illini!

Marching IlliniThe Marching Illini Take the Field at Memorial Stadium

In Big Ten country, we spend our fall Saturdays grilling brats and burgers, drinking cold brews from our great local breweries and hanging with friends before cheering on our Illini Football Team at Memorial Stadium. In the early spring, we bundle up and head out to Illinois Field for baseball. At this point, I think I may have the largest collection of foam fingers in Central Illinois.

Another great way to see this community is by running a race. Join thousands in the annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon and celebrate afterwards at the 27th Mile victory bash with local beer and entertainment.    

Outdoors

If you hear the outdoors calling, Champaign has you covered with more than 100 parks. Check out the five forest preserves of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District where you’ll find opportunities for boating, hiking and golfing.

Escaping to the country? Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch is another great option. It’s a family-run farm in Southwest Champaign where you can pick apples and pumpkins and enjoy great food and apple treats.

I love to take new visitors to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch—yes, there’s a herd of authentic Alaskan reindeer in Central Illinois. Get up-close with Santa’s favorite mode of transport and explore their 10-acre corn maze, this year with a Bicentennial theme. 

Festivals

We have amazing celebrations and festivals. I’m a big foodie so I love the Taste of Champaign-Urbana at West Side Park. If you’re a people-lover, CU’s Pride Fest & Parade is for you. It’s downstate Illinois’ largest Pride parade with colorful floats, happy people and families and tons of candy!

CU Pride FestCU Pride Fest

As you can see, there is always something happening in the sister cities of Champaign-Urbana. We have amazing food, history, sporting events, festivals and plenty of ways to get close to nature. I can’t wait to see you (C-U!), your family and friends in the greater Champaign County area! 


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