A great weekend’s journey isn’t so far away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
A Range of Adventures to Undertake in Aurora
By Sara Graves
If Chicago is considered the Second City to NYC, than Aurora, Ill., is next on the list. Just 40 miles from Chicago’s shores, Aurora, the second most densely populated city in the state of Illinois and home to roughly 200,000 people, sits flanking the banks of the Fox River.
“Aurora is the anchor of the region,” says James Cardis, director of marketing at the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
From Batavia to Plano, there are 10 communities joined by the Fox River in northeastern Illinois and Aurora is one of the fastest growing in the region.
Since the 1830s, when the McCarty brothers arrived from the East Coast to settle on what is now known as Stolp Island – where the city’s teeming downtown is located – Aurora has grown as rapidly as the rushing waters of the Fox River.
Stolp Island is home to the award-winning Paramount Theater, where Broadway shows are produced. “The Producers” begins in January, followed by an all-new original musical production of the film “August Rush,” which debuts in April. The theater brings in about 300,000 people to the area annually, and since a whole new creative and executive team arrived about seven years ago, many new developments have been in the works.
“They’ve already been building their productions here in Aurora, and now to take the next step with an original production is exciting,” Cardis says.
Also, in 2019, the Paramount School of the Arts is opening right next door to the theater. The brand-new facility will offer a large dance studio, performance space, a recording studio, 24 private studios and six group classrooms.
If you’re not a fan of musical theater, maybe the 10-acre outdoor concert venue at RiverEdge Park will rock your world. George Thorogood, Gladys Knight, and Kesha have played the at pavilion in recent years.
Blues on the Fox is an annual festival that takes place over Father’s Day weekend.
Foodies fret not, for the Aurora area has flavorful fare to wow your taste buds. The delectable creations at the Crusade Burger Bar in Yorkville, Ill., are works of art. Their Instagram account has more than 7,000 followers and, based on their deliciously artistic posts, it’s clear why.
Well-known Two Brothers Artisan Brewing calls Aurora home, and the Roundhouse isn’t just a place to chow down and throw back a few brewskis; it’s an experience in and of itself.
Attend creative events like weekly live music and stand-up comedy nights. The Ebel brothers pour every ounce of their love into their artisan beers, coffees and spirits, taking the term “brewmasters” to a whole other level.
With a handful of local breweries in the area, there’s only one entirely repurposed and completely sustainable gastropub. Hardware Sustainable Gastropub and Brewery boasts an on-site greenhouse for home-grown produce, a micro orchard to grow fruits and nuts, a one-and-a-half acre hop farm, and a 250-foot well into an underground aquifer that supplies water for irrigation and brewing.
The Aurora area offers a plethora of destinations that reach outside a run-of-the-mill getaway.
Fermilab, a publicly accessible Department of Energy laboratory, sits on 6,800 acres in Batavia. In Aurora, SciTech is an interactive, hands-on museum with more than 200 exhibits, engaging visitors of all ages. Farnsworth House, a mid-century work of iconic architecture designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1945, is a landmark “glass-box residence” that can be toured through winter and into spring. These destinations are rare finds in the Midwest – much like Aurora itself.
Embrace DeKalb’s Best Holiday Traditions
By Pat Szpekowski
Treasured traditions that reclaim the nostalgia of days-gone-by are the essence of the holiday season in DeKalb County. To capture the vibrancy of the area, visit this largely pastoral destination to experience a scenic road trip, a family-friendly activity or a shopping adventure.
DeKalb County’s holiday endeavors promise enjoyment for a variety of tastes. The season prompts a checklist of new, playful things to do even after Christmas.
There’s also plenty of time to shop for unique gifts as friendly local business owners provide tasty treats and revel in the spirit of one-on-one, personalized customer service throughout the season. Grab your friends and make it a fun Saturday holiday treat.
Once the shopping is done and it’s time for a break, the vibrant dining culture of DeKalb County awaits with a varied mix of American and international cuisine. The pub scene is alive with the sound of music, but DeKalb County also is home to wineries, local breweries, bottlers and distilling artisans who serve up craft beers and sodas, ales, porters, barley wines, IPAs and more.
Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., the only estate distillery in Illinois, is located in DeKalb. A new visitors center opens in December with expanded retail space and educational exhibits. Visit and learn the fascinating story of three farm owners. Then, surprise someone on your holiday list with the gift of a handcrafted, distilled spirit from this true farm-to-bottle distillery.
Kids will squeal with delight when they see more than 300,000 lights and holiday figurines during a magical evening ride on Pete’s Train in the town of Waterman. Step right up and board the train for family fun through Dec. 23. The Holiday Lights Train rides past Santa and his reindeer, giant toy soldiers and candy canes, streetlights, angels, jumping reindeer, a snowfall and much more. Sip hot chocolate and savor popcorn in the shelter house afterwards while warming by the fire.
For more information, visit dekalbcvb.com.
Setting a Scrumptious Holiday Table at The Geneva Inn
By Pat Szpekowski
Shake up the holidays and get in the mood for feasting, fun, and family-style gatherings at The Geneva Inn.
This picture-postcard lakeside escape is located on the shores of Geneva Lake, in southeast Wisconsin. It carefully blends its renowned heritage of first-class hospitality and award-winning cuisine, and offers new festive get-togethers to lure visitors in.
“We have planned several exciting new events to bring cheer to all during this holiday season,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager.
How about a relaxing and quick getaway to imbibe a “Holiday Tea”? The menu, served every day in November and December from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., is replete with three courses of freshly prepared pure delights. A sandwich course showcases a mini focaccia with ham, tarragon aioli, arugula and goat cheese, and a mini cucumber dill served on pan de mie. Kids can enjoy a Nutella and banana, or PB&J, on pan de mie. The second course revels with a blueberry scone and a lemon Madeline, served with lemon curd Devonshire cream and raspberry jam. The grand finale third course tops off the tea-time tradition with a seasonal macaron and small brownie. Pick a favored brewed tea to enhance the flavors.
For those who wish to start off 2019 in style, The New Year’s Eve gala promises to be an event to remember.
“Guests are invited to ring in the holiday cheer and the New Year in grand style at The Grandview Restaurant and Supper Club with our mouthwatering signature selections,” O’Dempsey says.
“We’re celebrating 2019 like it’s 1920 at The Geneva Inn. It will be a classic evening and a unique throwback in time as we head into the new year with a five-course dinner, live music and a champagne toast at midnight. Our special hotel package will include all of the New Year’s Eve festivities, including a champagne and appetizer reception in the main lobby.”
If these temptations aren’t enough, a New Year’s Day brunch will be served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will offer favorite buffet spreads, a haven of fresh-baked goods, and complete bloody mary bar fixings to help guests gently sip their way into the New Year.
For more information on The Geneva Inn, call (262) 248-5680 or visit genevainn.com.
Taking a Fresh Look at Goldmoor Inn and Dining
By Tom Witom
Galena, Ill., enjoyed a long heyday as a lead-mining town, widely known as the site of the first major mineral rush in the United States.
As demand for lead declined, so did the local population, which dropped from 14,000 in the mid-19th century to 3,396 in the early 21st century. The tiny city about 80 miles west of Rockford decided it was time to reinvent itself.
Galena is now regarded as a destination known for its history, architecture and resorts. An estimated one million tourists visit every year.
Crowds thin out during winter, but there’s still plenty to see and do from cross-country skiing and window shopping to exploring museums and dining at assorted eateries that fit a variety of appetites and budgets.
Goldmoor Inn and Dining, owned and operated by hospitality career veterans Slobo and Birgit Radin, pampers guests with exceptional, congenial service. The striking venue at 9001 N. Sand Hill Road, Galena, is 6 miles south of town.
“Our primary goal is to bond with the inn’s customers,” says Slobo Radin. “That was a missing element before we took ownership of Goldmoor.”
The Radins connect with guests and recommend points of interest ranging from historic homes to local wineries. The inn offers discount packages to nearby Chestnut Mountain Resort, which boasts 19 ski slopes and snowboard trails.
Goldmoor Inn offers guests a choice of luxury suites: 13 in the grand, castle-like quarters, three country cottages overlooking the Mississippi River and two roomy log cabins overlooking the meadows.
Suites include a king-size bed, two-person whirlpool tub, walk-in showers, gas fireplace and mini kitchen with sink, microwave, coffee maker and refrigerator. Fresh flowers dress up a table for two. Breakfast, brought to one’s room or consumed in a private dining area, is included. Goldmoor Restaurant serves sumptuous dinners to inn guests and the general public from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
Executive Chef Joshua Roberts makes frequent changes to the menu, though classic Beef Wellington, a signature dish, is always available. Entrees go for $22 to $48. Its full-service bar has specialty cocktails, beer and a diverse selection of domestic and imported wines.
Appointments are taken for the Goldmoor Spa. Especially popular are couples’ side-by-side massages.
Goldmoor Inn has proven itself an ideal place to host such events as wedding receptions, retirement parties and family reunions. It has spaces that can accommodate up to 45 participants inside the inn and up to 150 participants in a seasonal open-air pavilion. Corporate board meeting planners find such amenities as large-screen projectors and internet access.
Alert guests on walking trails may spot deer and wild turkeys that dwell on the property. Birdwatchers keep an eye out for eagles. Meanwhile, cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers regularly stop at two feeders stationed in front of the restaurant windows.
Since taking ownership of the venue in February 2015, the Radins have remodeled the entire original bed-and-breakfast building inside and out. Landscaping, including a rejuvenated rose garden, enhances the grounds.
All televisions were replaced and appliances were updated. Another major undertaking involved installation of environmentally friendly and cost-effective LED lighting.
In 2019, some suites are destined for new paint jobs, Birgit says. Plus, there will be an addition of an outdoor fire pit with seating and breathtaking views of sunsets and the Mississippi River.
An Architectural Oddity Found in Shullsburg
By Advance Shullsburg
Avisitor to Shullsburg, Wis., might recognize the predominance of limestone throughout the city.
It’s not an accident.
“Due to its ease of access, many of our most prominent buildings utilized limestone, making it Shullsburg’s foremost ‘vernacular’ architectural element,” says Cory Ritterbusch, executive director of Advance Shullsburg.
But perhaps the most interesting vernacular element is the “miner’s cottage.”
These are small, cozy homes built by miners. They’re only found in mining communities, like Shullsburg once was.
“With Shullsburg being the center of the lead trade during the 1800s, we have many remnants from that era,” Ritterbusch says.
Traditionally, miners were laborers who worked at low wages and could not afford expansive homes. Thus, they built small, one-story homes that were simple to construct.
Typically, miners would build their cottages on small lots they owned.
“Miners were not foreign to the hard work of digging, and the mineral riches found would be 100 percent their ownership,” Ritterbusch says. “Therefore, they had basements – sometimes very deep ones.”
In addition to Shullsburg, nearby cities like Galena, Ill., and Mineral Point, Wis., offer examples of this brand of architecture.
In Shullsburg, about 25 miner’s cottages owe their distinct characteristics to the vernacular style of the 1800s. Many have had second stories added, plus additions of rooms and porches, making it difficult to see the original design.
“It’s quite common for someone to remodel a kitchen today only to find hand-hewn beams, square nails and primitive construction methods beneath the outdated decor,” Ritterbusch says. “A typical kitchen size today would have been large enough for the main living area of a miner’s cottage.”
The best example of a primitive miner’s cottage in its original condition is located at 133 W. Church St., Shullsburg, behind Turpin’s Grocery Store. The best example of a restored cottage is found at 352 W. High St.
Many others are scattered around town.
“Look for unorganized additions – something called add-on architecture,” Ritterbusch says.
Another cottage, at 221 E. Church St., is an ideal example of three Shullsburg vernacular elements: limestone construction, miner’s cottage design and add-on construction.
Three matching homes on Hope Street are examples of two-story miner’s cottages. “They were built at a time when the average home size was increasing, and even miner’s cottages followed suit,” Ritterbusch says.
Some cottages turned into storage sheds. Many more fell to the wrecking ball during the need for larger square footage in the mid-1900s.
Other areas in the United States where miner’s cottages exist include Colorado; Jerome, Ariz.; Butte, Idaho; Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and the “Old Lead Belt” of Missouri.
“Perhaps with the tiny house movement happening today, these small houses can be valued further,” Ritterbusch says. “The restoration and care for them can be a worthwhile venture for those willing to live in a unique building and enjoy the low cost of living that they provide.”
Why Wait for a Weekend to Escape?
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
A winter getaway to Starved Rock Lodge is beautiful inside and out. Located near Utica, Ill., the canyons, bluffs and seasonal ice falls around Starved Rock State Park and Lodge create amazing backdrops for photos.
The historic Lodge is decorated for the holidays inside and out. A massive, two-sided fireplace crackles with glowing logs that warm the winter air and welcome guests from near and far. Mid-week overnight packages are detailed on the Lodge’s website. Holiday buffets (on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) make family get-togethers easy and fun. Reservations are necessary.
The rustic Main Dining Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch is a guest favorite. Local musicians liven up the Back Door Lounge every Friday night from 8-11 p.m.
“A Taste of Texas” is this year’s theme for the Lodge’s annual New Year’s Eve party in the Great Hall. The Overnight Party Package ($495) includes overnight accommodations for two guests, open bar, party favors, photos by the fireplace (additional cost), hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, live entertainment in the Great Hall, a champagne toast at midnight, late check-out, New Year’s Day Brunch, plus a chance to win a $1,000 travel voucher. The Party Only Package is $275 (for two) and does not include the overnight stay, brunch or contest.
If a wedding is in your future, attend the Lodge’s annual Bridal Expo on Sunday, Jan. 6, from noon to 3 p.m. Starved Rock Lodge was the destination for more than 140 outdoor weddings last year, with the beauty of Starved Rock State Park setting a backdrop for stunning photos.
Sled Dog Demos return to the Lodge on Jan. 13 and Feb. 17, and again they’ll be hosted by Free Spirit Siberian Rescue. See real sled dogs run just west of the Visitors Center and attend free seminars in the Lodge. Dogs will also be available for adoption.
Eagle Watch Weekend is set for Jan. 26-27, with exciting and free “Birds of Prey” shows and hands-on exhibits in the Great Hall. Educational seminars will take place at the Lodge and the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. Eagle Trolley Tours offered during January and February include lunch and a guided tour aboard a Starved Rock Trolley to see migrating bald eagles.
Guided Winter Hikes depart from the Lodge each Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.
In the quiet of winter, cozy cabins set peacefully in the woods provide a getaway that can be truly restful and rejuvenating. And best of all, an indoor pool complex is just a few steps away with a pool, hot tub and two saunas. Massage therapists are available by appointment. Some guests enjoy just reading a book or playing cards in Great Hall, warming themselves by the massive fireplace.
Learn more about Starved Rock’s many winter events at starvedrocklodge.com.