a local taste of what makes our state special

Illinois makers in north Chicagoland are crafting some pretty wonderful things. There's artisanal kombucha fermented in oak barrels, candles from classic literature, and seed-to-spirit whiskey distilled locally. So grab a drink and get cozy as you discover all things north Chicagoland-made. And don't forget to drop by some of the can't-miss local attractions.

  • Spring Grove
  • Rochelle
  • Malta
  • DeKalb
  • Aurora
  • Batavia
  • Elgin
  • Pingree Grove
  • Huntley
  • Evanston
  • Wonder Lake
  • Woodstock
  • Crystal Lake
  • Lake Zurich
  • Mundelein
  • Libertyville
  • Lake Forest
  • Glencoe

Explore the Highlights
  • Day 1: Evanston, Glencoe, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Mundelein, Lake Zurich, and Crystal Lake

To kick off your trip, step into the independently-owned Hewn Bakery (IM), and be greeted by the aroma of fresh artisanal bread, made-from-scratch pastries and hot coffee. If you haven’t quite satisfied your sweet tooth by the time you’re finished, swing by Noir d’Ébène Chocolat et Pâtisserie (IM), a boutique studio where chocolatier Journey Shannon lovingly crafts tantalizing chocolates, brownies and cookies for locals and visitors alike to enjoy. 

Inject some outdoor beauty into your journey to the northern suburbs with a stop at the famous Chicago Botanic Garden (IM) in Glencoe. Take a seasonal tour, admire the Japanese Garden, or simply roam through the acres of colorful plantlife, gleaming lakes and natural wonders. 

Next stop, Lake Forest. At McMahon Gallery (IM), you’ll discover some of the most uniquely Illinois artwork you can imagine. From captivating prints of Chicago landmarks and well-known Illinois locations to distinctive mugs and posters, the McMahon family sure knows how to capture the essence of a place. If you have time before lunch, take a quick trip to Lambs Farm (IM) in Libertyville — little ones will love the bounce house and mini golf, and their first-rate country store and bakery benefit programs for people with developmental disabilities.   

On to Mundelein we go. Secure a lunch table at the Gale Street Inn, which, in addition to award-winning cuisine, offers the feel of downtown dining with the peaceful view of a picturesque lake. Don’t forget dessert at Tony Cannoli (IM), where you’ll have your choice of handmade cannoli cakes, flavorful milkshakes and top-notch coffee.

Before leaving town, Patterson Glass (IM) is a must-visit for art enthusiasts. Mr. Patterson is incredibly talented and knowledgeable, and if you time it right, you can even dabble in the trade under his tutelage via a glassblowing class. If you’d prefer to take a break and sip on an expertly crafted spirit, you can instead head to Copper Fiddle Distillery (IM) in Lake Zurich. A proudly local business that sources grains from the Midwest, its relaxing tasting room is a perfect spot to unwind over smooth bourbon, artisan rum or classic gin. You may even luck into some live music!

Your final destination of the day is the charming community of Crystal Lake. Stroll the inviting downtown streets and do a bit of shopping before settling in at 1776 Restaurant. Each entree on the menu features ingredients from area farmers, and it’s worth noting that the restaurant has won Wine Spectator awards for its outstanding wine program. So savor your meal, enjoy your vino, and reflect on a day well spent.

Not quite ready to pack it in? We don’t blame you. Keep the fun going at Crystal Lake Brewing (IM), an establishment that brings equal passion to both its beer-making and its Northern Illinois roots. There’s always eight to 12 fresh brews on tap, and on weekends, creative food trucks may be on hand serving up snacks. 

Okay, now it’s actually bedtime. Get some shuteye at the Holiday Inn NW Chicago — you’ll need your energy tomorrow.

  • Day 2: Crystal Lake, Woodstock, Wonder Lake, Spring Grove, Huntley, Pingree Grove, Elgin, Batavia, and Aurora

Rise and shine, coffee time! 

Crystal Lake’s Conscious Cup Coffee (IM) is all about sourcing from the world’s most economically and environmentally sustainable farms — and the coffee’s darn good, too. If it happens to be a Sunday morning, check if the Dole Mansion is hosting one of its farmer’s markets, which was recently voted #1 in the state and takes place outdoors and indoors based on the season.  

Now that you’re feeling reinvigorated, embark on the pretty country roads just outside of town. Silver Prairie Natural Soap in Woodstock is worth a quick stop for anyone who appreciates luxurious soaps (think coconut and goat milk), small-batch shampoos and other natural skincare products. 

As for your next activity, you’ll need to choose your own adventure based on the season or your preference. When it comes to Wonder Lake’s Magic Meadows Alpacas (IM), it’s not immediately clear what’s cuter: the adorable, big-eyed Suri Alpacas, or the whimsical midwestern farmette they’re located on. The property is typically open from spring into the fall. 

Richardson Adventure Farm (IM) in Spring Grove is always a wise choice as well, with a tulip festival in spring, a sunflower festival during summer, an adventure park and corn maze during the fall, and a Christmas Tree Farm during the holiday season. If neither attraction is open, get some fresh air at Glacial Park, a diverse mix of prairie, savanna, wetlands and rolling hills over 3,400 acres in McHenry County. 

You can’t go wrong with the hearty comfort food at More Brewing Company (IM) in Huntley for lunch — especially since you get to pair it with some of the best house-brewed beer around. It may not be easy, but we implore you to make room for dessert, as the nostalgic space and incredible homemade dairy of Milk House Ice Cream (IM) in nearby Pingree Grove is something you won’t want to skip. 

The expedition continues as you drive through Elgin, an old-fashioned river city that’s rich in history, shopping and the great outdoors. You probably won’t have time for body art, but Funky Rooster Tattoo and Art Gallery (IM) is worth checking out for its welcoming vibe, folksy artwork, original prints and handmade jewelry on display. 

Continue your journey before pausing in Batavia to call on Hearth & Hammer (IM), a modern general store and workshop space known for its aromatic candles inspired by literature. See whatever locally designed goods and one-of-a-kind items are currently on rotation, or even participate in a candle-making or literary workshop, if time permits. 

When you arrive in Aurora, any shopaholics in the group will want to stop at the Chicago Premium Outlets. Score exclusive deals on designer brands at big name-stores, which are nestled among amenities like fireplaces, art installations and play areas. Settle in for dinner at Hardware Gastropub (IM), a celebrated addition to Aurora’s culinary scene. A "living wall" of fresh herbs and greens creates a relaxing vibe, and its patio features a roaring fire pit set among strings of fresh hops from the adjacent BBGB Hop Farm, where ingredients for Hardware's craft brews are grown on-site. 

Hopefully that meal left you feeling reenergized, because the night’s fun has just begun. Make your way to the opulent Paramount Theater for a night of world-class entertainment — which could feature dance, music, plays or children’s programming on any given evening. 

If there’s pep left in your step following the show, close out the night at Hollywood Casino Aurora, which features myriad games, a poker room and a sportsbook. When you’re ready to retire for the day, check into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Aurora.

  • Day 3: Aurora, DeKalb, Malta, and Rochelle

Don’t worry if you stayed up late — Endiro Coffee (IM) is your ticket back to caffeinated glory. Not only do the food and beverages taste delicious, a portion of your purchase will contribute to fighting child vulnerability in Uganda. Follow that up with a self-guided Aurora Architectural Tour, during which you’ll discover historic homes and landmarks throughout the area (Farnsworth House, a minimalist masterpiece in Plano, is also worth a visit if you can swing it). Before you leave the city, drop into Wurst Kitchen (IM) to grab an all-natural handmade sausage to go.

After a modest voyage out to Malta, you’ll be able to stretch your legs at Jonamac Orchard (IM). Depending on the season, this could mean hayrides, a vast corn maze, pony rides, a petting zoo, apple picking or a visit to their sweet-smelling bakery. Next, venture into downtown DeKalb for some international cuisine at Tapa La Luna, a cozy tapas bar that offers a delightful atmosphere day and night. 

This afternoon, it’s distillery day. DeKalb’s fifth-generation Whiskey Acres is one of two certified “on-farm” craft whiskey distilleries in the nation, and they offer tours once per hour. Once you finish up there, Rochelle is calling — specifically, the gleaming tasting room at Kennay Farms Distilling (IM). Built in a historic theater building, it’s a sight to behold, and all their delicious craft beer and spirits are made from local ingredients.