Check out a selection of activities, dining and lodgings across Illinois. All perfect for a relaxing getaway as the weather warms up.
Only 10 miles from downtown Chicago, the western suburb of Oak Park feels like a fresh breath of green, abundant in both park space and charm. It also boasts the world’s largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and buildings. Prairie-style gems fill the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District and are best explored by foot or bicycle.
►Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was born in a second-floor bedroom of 339 N. Oak Park Ave. Tour the Queen Anne Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home Museum, where he spent his first six years.
►Mingle with 2,000-plus plants at the Oak Park Conservatory.
►Pedal past 21 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structures, popping off to snap pics of the Nathan G. Moore House during a two-hour guided bicycle tour with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
►Pack a picnic and head to the idyllic Austin Gardens to catch an open-air performance at summer favorite Oak Park Festival Theatre. Expect the likes of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams.
►Touch spiders at Amazing Arachnids, one of newest exhibits at Brookfield Zoo, home to more than 3,500 animals (7 miles southwest of Oak Park).
►Hunt for clothing, art and more around North Marion Street between Lake Street and North Boulevard downtown.
►Enjoy wild mushroom tostadas and handcrafted margaritas and habanero-spiked cocktails on the lively patio at festive Maya Del Sol.
►Breakfast classics, including Benedicts and brioche French toast, delight all day at Delia’s Kitchen.
►Classic French dishes like Mussels á la Marinière and Grilled Steak Frites recall a Parisian feast at the elegant Hemmingway’s Bistro. Sunday’s brunch buffet features live jazz.
►Opened in 1928, the historic The Carleton of Oak Park boasts vintage architectural details. Request the Jimmy Stewart Suite at the Harvey House B&B and delight in the in-room fireplace and king whirlpool.
With its rolling terrain, state parks and preserves traversed by the mighty Rock and Mississippi rivers, and biking and hiking trails crisscrossing the area, the Blackhawk Waterways region of northwest Illinois promises outdoor recreation bliss. Anchored by the serene, 385-acre White Pines Forest State Park, the region helped shape the childhood of our 40th president. Walk in the footsteps of a young Ronald Reagan, whose boyhood home opens its doors to visitors.
►Thousands of petunias line the town’s main streets during The Dixon Petunia Festival July 3–7. Enjoy arts and crafts demos, wacky competitions, a parade, a carnival, live music, and more along the downtown riverfront.
►Once a piano factory, Conover Square Merchant Mall in Oregon now houses an indoor mall with a variety of merchants, including Slip and Slurry Pottery.
►Tour the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon. You’ll be transported to the 1920s, when the country’s 40th president and his family called this stately Queen Anne home.
►Mingle with the vintage cars and tractors that reside at Barnacopia, a three-story museum with an in-house ice cream parlor, in Polo.
►The Mount Carroll resident stock theater company at the historic Timber Lake Playhouse stages shows, including Shakespeare and Broadway musicals.
►Tour the 1830s family home and observe blacksmith demos at the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour.
►Take your pick from more than 130 wines and 100 different martinis at Dixon’s spirited and stone-walled Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe.
►Come for the craft beer, stay for the wings—served baked, fried or grilled, and then sauced—at Aero Ale House in Byron.
►For a cozy weekend in the woods, stay at White Pines Resort, a rustic lodge dating from 1927. Twenty-five log cabins sit in White Pines Forest State Park.
►Just around the corner from the historic Lincoln Highway, the eco-friendly Lincoln Way Inn in Franklin Grove offers boldly designed guest rooms and gourmet breakfast fare.
Travel back to simpler times in the area around Arcola, Arthur, Sullivan and Tuscola, where it’s not uncommon to witness a barn raising or spot a horse-drawn buggy on a rural road. The state’s largest group of Old Order Amish lives in this serene area of Illinois. Mix and mingle with Amish people when items as varied as cows and cars hit the auction block at Arcola’s Tri-County Auctions. Or say hello at Beachy’s Bulk Foods near Arthur, where a full line of spices, flours, nuts, dried fruits and candies are sourced for many of the fresh, Amish-made pies found in area bakeries.
►Amish Adventures and Stellar Tours offers personalized guided tours of Amish homes (including a meal), a woodworking shop and the countryside.
►Bordered by two state parks—Wolf Creek and Eagle Creek—and five federal campgrounds, Lake Shelbyville offers fishing, boating, swimming and sandcastle building on the shoreline.
►Browse hundreds of locally sewn, hand-stitched quilts in a rainbow of colors at The Woodloft in Arthur.
►Quilt-makers compete at the 30th Annual Amish Country Spring Quilt Show (April 25–27) in Arthur. Stay for the quilt auction (April 27).
►The Vault Art Gallery, housed in a historic former bank building in Tuscola, showcases the masterpieces of independent artists.
►In 2012, 130 artists from around the world, known as the Walldogs, descended upon downtown Arcola, leaving behind 15 noteworthy Walldog Murals.
►Delight in the broasted chicken and egg noodles at the hearty Amish buffet at Yoder’s Kitchen in Arthur.
►The Homestead Bakery, adjacent to a U-pick pumpkin patch in Arthur, bakes up classic Amish goodies, including caramel-iced cinnamon rolls and signature angel food cakes.
►Venture back to the days when the soda jerk was king at Dicks Pharmacy in downtown Arthur.
►Chat over chai, craft beers, cocktails or wine at 5 West Coffee and Wine Lounge in Sullivan.
►For an outdoor-oriented stay, book the Firefly Lodge, a three-level log cabin on Lake Shelbyville.
►Arthur’s Country Inn resides near an Amish woodshop, coffee shop and cheese shop, and features fine Amish-made furniture in every room.
Creativity rules in the southern Illinois town of Mt. Vernon. While you’ll want to stroll the historic downtown along Ninth Street with lights twinkling overhead, plan plenty of time for the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, an 85-acre estate that includes the Mitchell Museum and the Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park. Immerse yourself in art through the center’s changing gallery exhibitions and performances that include chamber music, concerts, programs and educational opportunities.
►Call ahead for a tour of the Greek Revival 1857 Appellate Courthouse, a working courthouse where Honest Abe once tried a case.
►King City Books promises good books, good coffee and good people in a warm and inviting space that highlights local authors.
►Outdoor adventures—fishing, water sports, horseback riding, hiking—abound at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area, a 3,300-acre state park bordering picture-perfect Rend Lake near Benton.
►Search the stacks of vinyl at Main Street Records for your next best find. George Harrison is said to have bought his 1962 Rickenbacker guitar from Fenton’s Music store, which used to occupy this space.
►Double-seasoned and charred ribs satisfy alongside Texas brisket at A Fine Swine BBQ and Pizza.
►The wet-aged 14-ounce New York strip complemented with creamed spinach stands out at Rare Chop House.
►Zesty barbecue served by the basket or on nachos, plus ice-cold beers, star at The Frosty Mug Bar and Grill.
►Fluffy, three-egg omelets and malted waffles topped with syrup make The Waffle Company a breakfast must.
►Bugsy’s Chicago Dog dresses up its Vienna Beef hot dogs with relish, sport peppers, onion, tomato, mustard and cucumber. It also serves Chicago faves, including Italian beef sandwiches.
►Set in an elegant 1920s Colonial home, the five-star Sidwell Friends Bed and Breakfast holds court among Mt. Vernon’s stately homes and towering trees, just a couple of blocks from the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.
The Great River Road, which travels along the Mississippi River, has countless o...
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