Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide, Spring/Summer Edition

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A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.

Ronald Reagan’s Boyhood Home, in Dixon, Ill., is one of many historical and cultural attractions visitors can find around the city.

Ronald Reagan’s Boyhood Home, in Dixon, Ill., is one of many historical and cultural attractions visitors can find around the city.

Discover the Delights of Dixon

By Rhonda Mix

Located about an hour away from Rockford and a little under two hours from Chicago, Dixon, Ill., makes for a relaxing weekend getaway that’s still close to home. Visitors can stay and enjoy museums; outdoor activities such as camping, fishing and hiking; and a variety of shopping and dining opportunities.

“Dixon is full of rich history, from John Deere and Ronald Reagan, to lesser-known figures such as Jerry Hey, Sherwood Dixon and Charles Walgreen,” says Matthew Lenox, marketing coordinator for Dixon Chamber of Commerce & Main Street. “Where most places focus on extreme entertainment, Dixon is a getaway from that. It’s a place where people can relax and find themselves. Dixon is a gem along the Rock River. Filled with history and natural beauty, it is a city that invites visitors from around the country to come and experience what it’s like to get away and truly be free. You’ll walk away always wanting to come back, and always taking home something new.”

Revisit the Past

Did you know the City of Dixon is steeped in important history? Not only is it the boyhood home of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, but its Lincoln Monument State Memorial marks the spot where Abraham Lincoln served the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War. Just upriver, in Grand Detour, is the John Deere Historic Site, the beautifully preserved farmstead where the first steel plow was invented by John Deere in 1837.

Dixon’s Northwest Territory Historic Center is a history research and learning center housed in South Central School – where Reagan once attended classes. Associated with the Smithsonian Institution, this local history museum offers a research library, historical exhibits, an art gallery, gift store and surround-sound theater.

Get Back to Nature

There are more than 1,100 acres of open space to explore within the Dixon Park District. These acres include Veterans Memorial, Meadows Park, Reagan Peace Park and Lowell Park, the latter of which features the Ruth Edwards Nature Center where visitors can meet Yowl the Owl.

There are also plenty of camping and boating opportunities nearby. The Rock River runs through the center of Dixon and has been designated a national waterway. Grab a kayak and tour the river, take a stroll along the riverfront or hop on a bike and conquer one of the many trails in the area.

Shop, Eat & Drink

Don’t forget to check out the several boutique shops downtown or grab a bite to eat at one of the city’s restaurants. A few popular eateries include Basil Tree, the Galena Steak House, That Place on Palmyra and Flynnie’s Diner. One of the best places to unwind with a drink at the end of the day is Tipsy – a popular bar with a unique vibe.

Festivals & Events

Every summer, Dixon holds the annual Petunia Festival. This year’s festival takes place from July 3 through July 8. The event features nightly concerts, food and drink vendors, carnival amusements, an ice cream social, a pancake breakfast and the 5K Reagan Run and walk – in addition to the traditional Independence Day fireworks.

Before the festival begins, volunteers plant thousands of pink petunias along the main streets. It’s a continuation of what the Dixon Men’s Garden Club began in the 1960s when it planted along Galena Avenue with hopes of improving the streetscape after Dutch Elm Disease decimated the city’s landscape.

“Dixon is a fun place to be, especially in the summer,” says Jonna Russell, who works with membership and financial operations at the Chamber. “City Market takes place on Wednesdays. It showcases musicians and vendors serving items from foods to soaps and crafts. On Fridays, a different musical guest is featured at noon, and visitors can also participate in yoga twice a day.”

Other events this summer include scheduled riverfront showings of popular movies, the Brush & Bloom painting event in July and Venetian Night in August.

For a full list of upcoming Dixon events, visit facebook.com/dixonchambermainstreetriverfront.

Located on a scenic vantage point at Geneva Lake, The Geneva Inn provides an inviting getaway.

Located on a scenic vantage point at Geneva Lake, The Geneva Inn provides an inviting getaway.

A Special Offer for Springtime Visitors

By Pat Szpekowski

Picture a sun-filled spring or summer morning. Maybe there’s a delicious leisurely breakfast, or perhaps there’s a breathtaking lake view. Ideally, you’d have both.

If an early Saturday or Sunday morning drive is a favorite quest, head to The Geneva Inn, located on the scenic shores of Geneva Lake, at N2009 S. Lake Shore Dr., Lake Geneva.

With an invitation and exclusive offer to “come for breakfast and enjoy a walk on the historic Lake Geneva path,” Len Buonincontro, director of The Geneva Inn, entices guests to visit this spring. The lakeside restaurant is an ideal spot to rejuvenate during the day or wind down at night.

“Our breakfast is the closest to a farm-to-table experience,” Buonincontro says. “We have eight fresh poached egg selections, such as tropical, seafood and rustic, plus a full selection of omelets, waffles, crepes and fresh fruits. All of our pastries and breads are baked fresh, right here, in-house.”

To round out the tasty options, The Geneva Inn’s menu offers a large assortment of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Buonincontro adds that, in addition to the popular morning cocktail mimosas, “we have really extravagant Bloody Marys, too.”

By making a reservation for breakfast dining at The Geneva Inn, visitors also receive a special “Shore Path Essentials Kit” to be used for an outdoor adventure after breakfast. The kit includes a Geneva Lake Shore Path Guide map, a bottle of water, a fresh-baked treat made in-house, and a cup of to-go coffee.

Visitors can follow breakfast with a shoreline stroll along the 26-mile walking path that goes around Geneva Lake in Walworth County. Walkers will see spectacular million-dollar homes, wildflowers, sculptures and historical markers as they encircle points from Lake Geneva to Williams Bay, Fontana, Linn Pier and Big Foot State Park, all leading back to where the walk began.

The Geneva Inn provides spectacular views with first-class service and hospitality.

This hidden gem has a rich history dating back to the early 1850s. A.H. Button and his family settled in Lake Geneva to build Gypsy Lodge, the city’s first summer residence and large estate. It continually evolved over the decades to become The Shore Club and Buttons Bay. In 1989, the 105-year old home was razed.

In 1990, The Geneva Inn was built at this location and today it’s regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest, Buonincontro says. It offers luxury rooms with scenic lake views, a venue suitable for weddings and a gathering place for meetings. Whether guests desire a casual breakfast or lunch, or an intimate dinner and evening out, The Geneva Inn offers a myriad of award-winning, mouthwatering dining selections. Guests can enjoy happy hour daily from 4-6 p.m. in the bar and lounge area.

For more information on The Geneva Inn, call (262) 248-5680 or visit genevainn.com.

Heidel House’s location on the shores of Green Lake, in Wisconsin, puts it in an optimal location for recreation, dining and relaxing – and, of course, exploring the city of Green Lake.

Heidel House’s location on the shores of Green Lake, in Wisconsin, puts it in an optimal location for recreation, dining and relaxing – and, of course, exploring the city of Green Lake.

An All-in-One Getaway on Green Lake

By Randy Ruef

In 1945, Herb and Lucille Heidel purchased a 12-acre spot along Green Lake known as the Kelly Estate for $20,000.

That beautiful lakeside land served as their home, where they enjoyed entertaining guests. Their reputation spread, and by the 1970s, their family-run retreat had grown into a popular destination.

Today, this hidden gem is still entertaining guests as the Heidel House Resort & Spa.

Heidel House’s manor, which dates back to 1890, is nestled along the shores of Green Lake in the appropriately named Green Lake, Wis., just four hours northwest of Chicago.

Heidel House now serves as a full-service resort that offers everything from boating and fine dining to golf and tranquil retreats at Evensong Spa.

“Heidel House Resort is like no other getaway,” says marketing manager Ariel Lee. “The natural beauty of Green Lake is steps away, offering relaxation for the soul, just as much as Evensong Spa, across the street, refreshes the body. With our on-site restaurants, our spa and even our recreation activities, you can find it all in one place.”

For those looking for an extended weekend (or longer) to get away, Heidel House offers endless ways to relax or be active.

Find jet ski and boat rentals from the dock, tennis courts on the property, and entertaining cruises on the Escapade yacht.

And for those who want to venture out a little farther, there are many options within a 15-minute drive, including the renowned Golf Courses of Lawsonia and the Tuscumbia Country Club, a local winery, and miles of area bike trails.

As for eating, there are several on-site options to satisfy your hunger, from a light breakfast to a pub atmosphere and fine dining. They include:

Grey Rock: Featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over Green Lake, Grey Rock is a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Located in the lower level of the on-site Grey Rock Mansion, which was built in 1949, the dining room is adorned with the building’s original bookshelves and mirrors.

The menu boasts classic dishes prepared with local ingredients, from steaks to seafood to vegetarian cuisine. On Saturdays, from 7-10 p.m., piano music serenades diners.

The Sunroom: Like Grey Rock, Sunroom provides a picturesque lake view for those who want to enjoy a casual breakfast or lunch. The menu ranges from lighter fare to more hearty meals. Diners can start their day with a hot cup of Columbian coffee and enjoy anything from eggs and pancakes to breakfast nachos. As for lunch, the menu carries a wide variety of appetizers, soups and salads.

Boathouse Pub: Decorated in a nautical theme, Boathouse Pub fits those who just want a simple burger and a beer.

Pump House Parlor: After a meal in any one of the three main restaurants, the Pump House Parlor caps things off with a couple scoops of Sassy Cow ice cream.

In-room dining: For those who want to keep their dining experience even more intimate, Heidel House offers room service daily until 9 p.m., featuring anything from breakfast and full meals to late-night snacks and desserts.

For more information on the Heidel House, visit heidelhouse.com.

Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers a variety of tours around Geneva Lake, where views of mansions are prominent. Here, the Grand Belle of Geneva sails in front of the Alta Vista estate.

Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers a variety of tours around Geneva Lake, where views of mansions are prominent. Here, the Grand Belle of Geneva sails in front of the Alta Vista estate.

A Fun-Filled Summer in Lake Geneva

By Pat Szpekowski

Sun, fun and the shimmering waters of Geneva Lake reflect the perfect trio to jump-start summer in Lake Geneva and the surrounding area.

“Summer in Lake Geneva is heavy in activities in and around the water,” says Julie Baron, public relations representative for VISIT Lake Geneva, the area’s go-to source for information.

Those who crave the outdoors can sun on the beaches, relax on Lake Geneva Cruise Lines boat tours, or enjoy clear-water adventures with convenient rentals of boats, Jet Skis, kayaks and canoes.

Music lovers can take in one-of-a-kind entertainment with live concerts in the area. Music by the Lake, a summer concert series at George Williams College of Aurora University, offers exciting performances with breathtaking views overlooking the Riviera Docks in Williams Bay, Wis., from June through August. This year’s lineup, with reserved seats or lawn tickets, includes the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, Bruce Hornsby, Winona Ryder, Three Dog Night and more – rain or shine. Visitors can also listen to free local music at Flat Iron Park in Lake Geneva every Thursday night in July and August.

Lake Lawn Resort, on nearby Lake Delavan, in Delavan, Wis., hosts two events with a growing fan base each year.

“The Cars Time Forgot Show on July 7 and 8 is a really cool and big lakeside event for car enthusiasts,” Baron says. “There are more than 1,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles on display, plus lots of other activities and live music.”

The Shake the Lake Music Festival also takes place on the shores of Lake Delavan from July 27-29. This annual favorite is packed with music, an ’80s-themed costume contest, lip-sync battles and much more. The fun-filled weekend is complete with food trucks and refreshments.

Visitors to the area on Independence Day can enjoy spectacular fireworks.

“The grand picnic, fireworks show and other activities at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa on July 3 is a spectacular event in Lake Geneva,” Baron says. In addition, Geneva National Resort & Club’s red, white and barbecue heats up on July 3 at 5 p.m. with food, drinks, carnival games, inflatables, live music and fireworks over Lake Como.

Waterfront dining is also a part of the delectable Lake Geneva experience. Casual, fun and mouthwatering menus are the norm at old standbys like Popeye’s on Lake Geneva – famous for its slow-roasted rotisserie chicken, pork and lamb – and Oakfire, a bistro that recently added a new upper deck to provide a great view of Geneva Lake. The Geneva Inn offers a relaxed, elegant atmosphere during breakfast, lunch or dinner with a pleasant view of the lake, too, on its outdoor patio.

Take a short drive, and you can explore restaurants that beckon the locals. Geneva National’s rustic Hunt Club is a fine-dining steakhouse with a winning wine list and clubby atmosphere within the 100-year-old Crane Manor. It has earned Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence for 12 consecutive years.

In Williams Bay, Pier 290 is a neighborhood restaurant with a story, tasty menu and nautical theme. Owned by Bill Gage, third-generation steward of Gage Marine, the restaurant is on the marina campus and offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals. Café Calamari is also a favorite with quality, fresh food. This intimate restaurant is open for dinner and surprises with a tableside tossed salad.

No matter what you choose to do in the greater Lake Geneva area, it’ll be a memorable summer experience. For more information, go to VisitLakeGeneva.com.

Anderson Japanese Gardens puts on a “Tuesday Evening in the Gardens” music series every Tuesday at 5 p.m. The series has become a Rockford staple.

Anderson Japanese Gardens puts on a “Tuesday Evening in the Gardens” music series every Tuesday at 5 p.m. The series has become a Rockford staple.

Rockford’s Ready for the Summer Season

By Cira Bennett

There has been a strong push in the Rockford region to offer events and activities that are new, exciting, nostalgic, and, most importantly, infused with Rockford Pride.

“The Rockford community has a big event lineup in store this year,” says Andrea Cook, associate director of marketing and communications for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Each one gives people an opportunity to gather together to enjoy things like live entertainment, our local makers, and, most of all, the scenic beauty that can only be found by coming to visit us in the Rockford region.”

Those who are looking for a little more arts and culture can tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House, the only building the famed architect designed for a person with disabilities, and the only structure he designed in Rockford. Tours begin at Midway Village Museum – another place to explore local history and culture throughout the summer.

Closer to downtown, the Riverfront Museum Park campus encompasses the Discovery Center children’s museum, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Northern Illinois Public Radio offices and Burpee Museum of Natural History. Each organization boasts many of its own attractions and entertainment lineups that are packed with family-friendly activities.

When the weather heats up later in the summer, there are various Rockford Park District pools to choose from, along with Magic Waters Waterpark. Another way to make waves is wakeboarding at West Rock Wake Park at Levings Lake. Located off U.S. Route 20 on Rockford’s southwest side, West Rock removes the need for a boat to wakeboard because boarders instead are pulled by a cable system. While you’re playing at West Rock, enjoy some other amenities like volleyball courts, basketball court and barbecue pits.

Rockford has many other staples that people look forward to, such as the Tuesday Evening in the Gardens music series at Anderson Japanese Gardens, the Dinner on the Docks music series Thursday nights at Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford City Market around Water Street on Friday nights, and River District’s Shop the Blocks – a downtown event where visitors can shop sidewalk sale deals and experience alfresco dinning.

Visitors can also kick back and relax in “parklets,” which are selected downtown parking spaces turned into temporary, interactive spaces where you can connect with friends, play a game of life-size chess and enjoy other “chillaxing” activities.

At the end of summer, Rockford closes out the season with a citywide celebration called 815 Day, or Rockford Day. Playing off the city’s primary area code of 815, the annual event, held (of course) on Aug. 15, showcases the people, places and things that make Rockford great, with fun and interactive experiences throughout the city. Area businesses, agencies and organizations feature Rockford Day discounts, activities, products and services throughout the day.

To find out more about these and other events, visit gorockford.com.

Take a short drive to Starved Rock Lodge & State Park and enjoy a “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride Tour,” which includes a trolley ride, guided hike to Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, and a 90-minute boat ride.

Take a short drive to Starved Rock Lodge & State Park and enjoy a “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride Tour,” which includes a trolley ride, guided hike to Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, and a 90-minute boat ride.

There’s Something Every Day at Starved Rock

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge

Why wait for the weekend for an overnight getaway? Starved Rock Lodge & State Park, in Oglesby, Ill., has added more fun things to its summer calendar.

A variety of mid-week overnight packages are available, and each includes activities from horseback riding and Gator Creek Cruises to wine tasting. Of course, hiking is also a popular activity because of the beautiful canyons, seasonal waterfalls and stunning bluff views of the scenic Illinois River Valley.

One of the area’s best experiences is to have lunch on the Veranda at Starved Rock. This year, visitors can enjoy new furniture and an improvement to the eastside seating area, which now boasts the best view in LaSalle County. Try locally made craft beer from Tangled Roots, or Signature Ale, made by Leinenkugel, along with a freshly grilled brat or burger for a winning combination. It’s a great place to relax before or after a hike, while The Back Door Lounge and Main Dining Room offer a cool respite on hot summer days.

The rich history of Starved Rock is best shared aboard one of the Lodge’s Historic Trolley Tours, which depart daily and give visitors an overview of the legends, unique landscape and cultural heritage of the area.

On Monday and Friday, Land & Water Cruises on the Eagle I include a trolley tour, lunch and a boat ride on the Illinois River. For a late-day adventure, choose the Dinner and Evening Cruise, offered on Mondays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.

New this year is the “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride Tour,” which departs every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. This tour includes a trolley ride, guided hike to Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, plus a 90-minute boat ride. On Thursday, the “Trolley Tour and Boat Ride” departs at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

One way to spend a summer afternoon is by enjoying a “Tribute to the Stars” show. On June 11 and 12, Etta James’ songs are brought back to life in the “At Last” matinee. “Meet the Beetles” performs a loving tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo set for July 11 and 12. All matinees include a buffet lunch.

On July 12, the annual Country Showdown kicks off at 7 p.m. on the Veranda. Talented vocalists compete for a cash prize and the chance to move on to the national competition at the Grand ‘Ol Opry.

In addition, Starved Rock Lodge has teamed up with Revolution Brewing Company for the first-ever Revolution Craft Beer Dinner on Thursday, July 25, which includes trolley transportation and delicious food and beer pairings at the Lodge, the LaSalle County Historical Society Museum in Utica and Social Kitchen in LaSalle.

Lodge rooms and cabins are available year round. They’re just steps away from a walk in the woods, which creates memorable experiences for people of all ages.

To learn more about Starved Rock Lodge’s summer events, visit starvedrocklodge.com or call (815) 667-4211.

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