Recreation & Destinations

10 Reasons to Love the Rockford Region

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With nationally recognized museums, award-winning restaurants and a host of hidden gems, the Rockford region has much to be proud of. Here are 10 reasons why we love this area.

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Full of koi ponds, winding paths and cascading waterfalls, Anderson Japanese Gardens is a hidden gem in the Rockford region. (Anderson Japanese Gardens photo)

If you’re of the persuasion that there’s nothing to do in the Rockford region, then allow us to prove you wrong.

With nearly 125 square miles of neighborhood parks, a happening sports scene, a myriad of exciting events, a trove of hidden gems to explore and so much more, our region provides more than ample opportunity to keep you busy year-round.

These ten amazing qualities of our region demonstrate only a few of its best characteristics.

1. Nationally Recognized Museums

Our region’s unique spaces for art and science education greet more than 300,000 visitors every year, according to the Rockford Park District. Learn about dinosaurs, Native American life, local geology and more at Burpee Museum of Natural History. Marvel at modern art at Rockford Art Museum, and enhance your scientific knowledge with more than 250 hands-on exhibits at the nationally ranked Discovery Center Museum. Finally, don’t forget to check out the fun and family-friendly Midway Village Museum, celebrating Rockford’s history with 26 historic and replica buildings representative of our city’s past.

2. So Much Nature

Rockford Park District maintains nearly 5,000 acres of park and recreation space, while Forest Preserves of Winnebago County maintains more than 100 miles of trails, campgrounds and golf courses. Depending on the season, you can walk, run, bike or even cross-country ski through these areas. Take in the beauty of our city’s “rocky” landscapes by spending a day on the Rock River or by hiking through Rock Cut State Park; head to the tropics at Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens; and expand your knowledge on botany and horticulture by exploring the wooded grounds of Klehm Arboretum. Escape the bustling city life and head to quieter pastures in our surrounding landscape. Gaze at the stars through a high-tech telescope at Weiskopf Observatory at Byron Forest Preserve District, or dip your toes in the base of more than a dozen waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill.

3. Sports Towns

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars at a major-league sports game, meet the up-and-coming pros at our region’s minor-league affiliates. The Chicago Blackhawks’ affiliate Rockford IceHogs entertain hockey fans at the BMO Harris Bank Center, while the Oakland A’s affiliate Beloit Snappers throw the heat all summer long. The region’s newest baseball team, the Rockford Rivets, welcomes some of the college world’s elite players.

In DeKalb, the Northern Illinois University Huskies bring excitement to college football with competitive play and recent bowl appearances.

For a nice change of pace, visit Rockford Speedway, the only Illinois racetrack running under NASCAR sanction. With 69 years under its “race belt,” Rockford Speedway is one of the longest continuing sports facilities in Rockford.

If you’re not watching sports, you may be participating in them at one of our region’s top-ranked golf courses or the new UW Health Sports Factory downtown, which welcomes its first basketball, volleyball and wrestling tournaments this summer.

4. Exciting Events

As seasons come and go, so do fun happenings in our region. In the summertime, grab your helmet for Tour de North End, the biggest bicycle-riding bash of the year, or watch collegiate teams compete in the Head of the Rock Regatta, one of the Midwest’s premier rowing events. Throughout the summer, celebrate at some our region’s unique festivals, such as ByronFest, Autumn on Parade and Festa Italiana. You’ll also find many 5k runs, marathons and the famous State Street Mile road race.

Celebrate the Christmas season with Stroll on State, organized by the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ice-skating, carriage rides and opportunities to meet Santa are just the beginning of this popular event. Later in the season, Beloit International Film Festival screens nearly 100 films over the course of two weeks at locations throughout downtown Beloit.

5. Performing Arts Venues

Rockford has much to brag about with its magnificent Coronado Performing Arts Center, BMO Harris Bank Center and Davis Park. But just outside our city, professional venues with cutting-edge technology offer unparalleled theatrical experiences. The Janesville Performing Arts Center serves the greater Rock County area with a diverse mix of performances from resident user groups and touring professionals.

Groups like Pec Playhouse Theatre, Winneshiek Playhouse, Byron Civic Theatre and The Next Picture Show Gallery keep the arts alive and well.

6. Local Restaurants

Chain restaurants can’t keep up with what local establishments offer in flavor and customer service. Venture out to Cannova’s Italian Cuisine, in Freeport, where you can enjoy award-winning pizza, pasta, steak and seafood, along with live piano performances on select Friday and Saturday nights. Downriver in Oregon, Ill., Maxon’s Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant offers a unique dining experience that’s all about the Rock River. Dine on a lunchtime cruise or stay on land and enjoy the panoramic view.

7. Summer Fun

As the thermometer rises, so do summertime recreational opportunities. Magic Waters Waterpark provides the perfect cool-down with its wave pool and waterslides, while West Rock Wakepark offers the athletic adventurer a fun way to beat the heat with a wakeboard track that doesn’t require a boat. Reserve your Thursday nights for Dinner on the Dock at Prairie Street Brewhouse, where you can enjoy great food, craft brews and live music along the banks of the Rock River. On Fridays from May through October, kick off your weekend by meeting more than 70 local vendors at Rockford City Market. In Beloit, the 50-year-old Downtown Farmer’s Market draws some 85 vendors on Saturday mornings.

8. Travel Opportunities

While there are many reasons to stay in the region, sometimes you need to get away.

Thanks to the Chicago Rockford International Airport, escaping to paradise is simple. With free parking, virtually no traffic and a variety of destinations to choose from, the airport is an excellent alternative to crowded Chicago flights.

If you need a little advice when planning your next trip, Lindstrom Travel is ready to get you anywhere around the globe for the best price possible. Whether you want to visit Europe, Africa or somewhere within the U.S., the independent, family-owned travel agency can take your business or personal trip anywhere on the map.

9. Nearby Getaways

Within a 65-mile radius, there are more charming small towns and relaxing resorts than you could hope to explore in a year.

A favorite is Savanna, Ill., a haven for outdoor enthusiasts on the Mississippi River. This charming town boasts the beginning of The Great River Trial, an exhilarating 65-mile bicycle path that leads to the Quad Cities.

To the north, Lake Geneva’s award-winning resorts, such as Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, offer visitors excellent skiing and snowboarding opportunities in the winter, great golfing and outdoor activities in the summer, and luxurious spa and dining options all year long.

For an intellectually stimulating getaway, visit President Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., and see the president’s childhood schoolhouse, now a local history museum known as the Northwest Territory Historic Center.

10. Hidden Gems

Our region has a few lesser-known attractions that merit more attention. The Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian house in Rockford, is the only house Wright designed for a physically disabled client. Select tours throughout the year allow guests to walk through each room and learn the story behind this amazing residence.

Rockford is also home to one of the highest-quality Japanese gardens in North America. Inspired by peace and tranquility, the 12-acre landscape at Anderson Japanese Gardens is filled with koi ponds, winding paths, soothing streams, cascading waterfalls, raked gravel gardens, beautifully manicured pine trees, an indoor full-service restaurant and more.

Finally, Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Ill., has more than 75 historic autos, including the world’s largest collection of presidential and world leaders’ limousines.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore what our region has to offer.

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