A great weekend’s journey isn’t so far away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
The Geneva Inn: Waterfront Dining in a Stunning Location
By Pat Szpekowski
What better way to proclaim the end of the great polar vortex, or reminisce about the glistening Ice Castles that were on display in Lake Geneva this past winter, than to enjoy a delicious spring brunch at The Geneva Inn? This stunning waterfront inn and restaurant, located in Lake Geneva, captures the essence of warm spring days.
With longer days and sunny mornings ahead, it’s time to invite family and friends for a fresh-as-spring brunch to welcome in the new season. Celebrate Easter at a brunch on Sunday, April 14, and pamper mom on Sunday, May 12 at the Mother’s Day Brunch.
“We’ll have carving stations and omelets made to order with your favorite fillings and toppings,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager. “The spectacular views of Geneva Lake will serve as the perfect backdrop.”
Both brunches tempt the palate with fresh salads and seafood, traditional breakfast favorites, delicious sides, and sweet, comforting desserts. “We’ll also have a special treat just for Mom on Mother’s Day, too,” says O’Dempsey.
For her, finding new ways to satisfy friends of The Geneva Inn is always an exciting challenge.
“We are pleased to be hosting our first Australian wine dinner on May 9,” says O’Dempsey. “Our chef will prepare a five-course dinner with Australian wine pairings, and we are very pleased that the Australian vineyard owner will be here to join us for the evening.”
The featured menu will include favorites from the land-down-under with “shrimp on the Barbie,” succulent lamb, fresh fish, mixed greens pomegranate salad and a delicious dessert to end the meal.
“Many other fun events have also been planned for the busy month of May,” notes O’Dempsey.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to impress and get in the mood for Kentucky Derby drink and dinner specials on May 4. Hats off to the chef, who will be creating a sense of tasty excitement for those enjoying the big race.
Stick around for the next day’s taco and tequila pairing and all-day taco specials to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
The scenic outdoor patio at The Geneva Inn, which overlooks the glistening waters of Geneva Lake, officially opens May 25.
“On Memorial Day, we will salute our Veterans Appreciation Day with a variety of mouthwatering specials outside on our patio,” says O’Dempsey. “We’re also planning a summer kick-off party on our patio with a fish boil, a Wisconsin favorite culinary tradition.”
Live music will entertain guests while they enjoy the best of Lake Michigan or Lake Superior whitefish.
No matter what the season, visitors can enjoy scenic views at The Geneva Inn and fine dining at the Waterfront Restaurant, outdoor dining patio, or stunning wine cellar and lounge. Walk on over, dock the boat, or consider a relaxing overnight or weekend stay. The warm hospitality of Wisconsin awaits.
For more information or to set a dining or room reservation, visit genevainn.com.
Get Ready for These Events in Aurora
By Sara Graves
While winter winds down and we begin to emerge from the warmth and comfort of the indoors, there may still be a chill in the air, but things in Aurora, Ill., are already starting to heat up.
First Fridays have already kicked off, where dozens of venues in downtown Aurora host pop-up art galleries, shops and live performances. People come for the food, drinks and much more on the first Friday of every month (except January and July).
This free festival highlights the many local businesses in the downtown area, inviting the community to experience all the city has to offer.
Just 15 miles southwest, the famous Farnsworth House sits on the banks of the Fox River in Plano, Ill. Designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, the house was completed in 1951 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth as a country retreat. The glass house is a minimalist’s dream, contrasting the complex nature around it. The simplicity of van der Rohe’s design allows the Farnsworth House to exist in the scenic beauty; unimposing, yet undeniable.
Director Richard Press has developed and written a movie about the famed house, which will star Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes. Now in pre-production, the film will no doubt bring a new wave of visitors to the already popular tourist attraction.
“Farnsworth House is going to be an even more popular tourist destination after the release of the film, so this spring is a great opportunity to get in early and see it,” says James Cardis, director of marketing for the Aurora Convention and Visitors Bureau. And, as a local, Cardis can attest to the experience.
This time of year, the region boasts plenty of activities, like kayaking on the Fox River, grabbing a craft beer at one of the local gastropubs or breweries, or seeing a Broadway show at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre.
In April, the Paramount debuts a never-before-seen musical based on the movie “August Rush.” It’s the first time the Paramount is producing a brand-new musical. Experience the magic of cast members playing their instruments live onstage during the show’s premiere run, from April 24 to June 2.
On May 5, celebrate the Aurora Food Truck Festival by sampling some local flavor from one of the dozens of vendors lining the Benton Street bridges. Since it’s also a First Friday, there will be free live music to soak up along with the art and culture. Todd Kessler, a Chicagoland native from NBC’s “The Voice,” will perform at the Millennium Plaza gazebo stage.
That same weekend, wind down the river to Oswego and enjoy the annual Wine on the Fox tasting event, hosted by Fox Valley Winery. Sample wines from Illinois, California, Italy and beyond. The event is free; however, tasters must be 21 with a valid identification on hand. Sip, see and enjoy the musical stylings of local jazz, blues and rock musicians.
Visit enjoyaurora.com for more information about making the most of your stay.
Starved Rock Lodge: Enjoy a Wintry Weekday Getaway in Utica
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Every winter is different. This one started with very little snow and warmer than usual temperatures. Then, we got snow. Lots of snow. Either kind of winter is perfect if you love the great outdoors. Located near Utica, Ill., the canyons at Starved Rock State Park are always picturesque, offering photo opportunities all year.
Starved Rock Lodge offers a restful getaway that’s only a short drive away with lodging, a restaurant, bar, cafe and gift shop all under one roof.
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 The Great Hall while warming themselves by the massive fireplace, which heats up the chilly air and welcomes guests from near and far.
The Lodge’s comfortable hotel rooms and cozy cabins are just steps away from more than 13 miles of hiking trails with bluff views overlooking the scenic Illinois River Valley of Starved Rock State Park. Visitors are free to hike on their own or book a guided hike with Starved Rock Lodge every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year. Hikers enjoy a scenic walk to LaSalle Canyon, plus extraordinary views from some of the most beautiful vantage points.
You can beat the winter blues in the Back Door Lounge or Main Dining Room with “Burger & Beer” Mondays. Each week, enjoy a creatively themed craft burger with your choice of beer or a soft drink in a souvenir glass for $15. “Toast to Tuesday” is another way to enjoy date night or a mid-week getaway. Choose an appetizer, entree and dessert from a special menu at just $22 per person.
The warmth of the historic Great Hall, talented musicians and dynamic vocalists makes “Dueling Pianos” a great way to spend an afternoon in February, as does the “Piano Man Experience” in March. Matinees include a hot lunch buffet and the interactive performance.
There’s also a variety of “Tribute to the Stars” shows are scheduled throughout the year.
For a great mid-week experience, try “Flight Night” set for March 13 and April 10. This progressive dinner includes travel on a Starved Rock Trolley for appetizers and wine sampling at August Hill Winery, plus craft beer and mini-main course samplings at Lone Buffalo & Tangled Roots Brewery. The finale involves decadent desserts and after-dinner drinks at Starved Rock Lodge. Tickets typically sell out fast.
Learn more about Starved Rock’s many winter events at starvedrocklodge.com.
Doing Something Different in Shullsburg, Wis.
By Randy Ruef
Are you looking for something different to do this spring?
How about driving up to southwest Wisconsin and parking your car on a hill?
It might not sound like much of a getaway, but it has become a popular undertaking in Shullsburg, a town where time stands still, but apparently your vehicle won’t.
“One of our biggest attractions, one that we’re most known for, is Gravity Hill,” explains Cory Ritterbusch, the executive director of Advance Shullsburg. “It’s weird. People will travel for hours to experience this. It’s something you don’t forget, kind of an oddball thing.”
Gravity Hill is nothing more than a spot on a hill in rural Shullsburg, marked only by a big “GH” on the road. There is no signage. Drivers park their car and put it in neutral. Then comes the crazy part: the car starts to roll up the hill.
“There are a few theories as to what is happening,” Ritterbusch says. “One is the mineral content in the ground. We’re a mining town and there is lead in the ground. It may be some kind of magnetic pull.
“Another is that it’s simply an optical illusion. You are moving, but it’s really not uphill.
“And the third theory is that it’s located near a former cemetery and spirits are pushing you out of the way.”
Maybe just as amazing as the spot itself is the fact the community, despite being a top tourism town, doesn’t really capitalize on it.
“The county doesn’t want to advertise it because you’ve got cars stopping on a 55 mile-per-hour road,” Ritterbusch says. “It’s a safety issue with them. And the locals don’t pay much attention to it, either. But it is very popular. It’s the most Googled thing in Shullsburg.”
And that’s saying a lot, since there is much to see and do in this historic community of 1,200 people. Shullsburg is one of the oldest cities in the state of Wisconsin, with a school that’s 119 years old and still serving grades K through 12. There’s also the vintage architecture downtown, where the average date of construction goes back to 1879.
But beyond the city’s age and architecture, it’s most known for its roots as a mining town.
The Badger Mine & Museum is a top destination to visit this spring. It sits at the top of an old lead mine, where visitors walk down six stories and into tunnels that burrow under the city.
“It was built by pick-axe,” Ritterbusch says. “We believe it is the only primitive tunnel mine in America. It wasn’t dug out by machines or explosives. It was created bucket by bucket. It’s a very popular attraction, but if you’re a little claustrophobic, you might not like it.”
Another big event coming in late spring is the Cruisin’ Shullsburg car show on June 1. In its fourth year, this is a classic show that features everything from sports cars to muscle cars.
For more information on these and other ways to enjoy Shullsburg, go to experienceshullsburg.com.
Springtime in McHenry County: Festivals, Food, Farmers Markets, More
By Paula Hendrickson
After the extreme winter weather that hit the heartland this year, who isn’t ready to get out and have some fun? Whether you want to explore nature, attend festivals, or enjoy music or a nice meal, McHenry County, Ill., has you covered.
“Festival of the Sugar Maples means spring is here and the weather is starting to warm up,” says Jaki Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County.
This year, the annual event, held by the McHenry County Conservation District at the Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo, runs the first two weekends of March. “People can learn how trees were tapped for maple syrup back in the day and see how it’s done now, and actually get to sample some of the syrup that’s come out of those trees,” Berggren says. “It’s an educational experience for kids and adults alike, and a fun way to get out of the house.”
Irish or not, you can celebrate the entire St. Patrick’s Day weekend – and even watch the Fox River turn green – at the second annual ShamROCKS the Fox in the city of McHenry.
Other popular festivals include the Great Lakes Steelpan Festival on Saturday, April 13, at Creekside Middle School in Woodstock. “Matt Potts runs it and has a steel pan band called Potts & Pans,” Berggren says. “The musical talent he brings in is amazing. Just to hear the music and experience a totally different culture through his passion for it is a unique opportunity.”
On Friday, April 26, Algonquin’s own Scorched Earth Brewing Company hosts another Scorched Earth Day craft beer festival. “They’ll have new beer releases that day, music, food trucks, all outside of their facility in Algonquin,” Berggren says. “Scorched Earth Day is a big festival and gets bigger every year.”
If you’re not into festivals, Berggren suggests taking one of the hands-on culinary classes at Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock – Fresh Pasta Making 101 and the Spring Has Sprung food and wine pairing dinner are both coming in April. Or, check out live music at some of the restaurants, distilleries and breweries throughout the county.
Moms with daughters might want to attend the annual Mother-Daughter Tea at the historic Colonel Palmer House in Crystal Lake on April 28.
Farmers markets are a sure sign that spring has arrived. While McHenry County has a few indoor farmers markets that operate during the winter, the outdoor season starts in May. “There are eight farmers markets in our county,” Berggren says. “The largest operates on the Woodstock Square two days a week – Saturday and Tuesday – and has been voted one of the best in the state.
“I just love to get out and take advantage of everything our county has to offer,” Berggren adds. “We have some amazing conservation sites to take advantage of. You don’t have to go anywhere else to get the kids outdoors into actual nature – not just the park down the street, but literally into conservation sites.”
Spring, finally, is almost here. Go out and enjoy it. For a full list of activities coming up in McHenry County, check out visitmchenrycounty.com/events.
Spring Events at Severson Dells Nature Center
By Mika Doyle
As the snow starts to melt across the Rock River Valley, you’re undoubtedly looking for ways to get out of the house to enjoy some fresh air. And what better way to dust yourself off from a long winter than to get out to the area’s natural spaces? With several upcoming spring events, Severson Dells Nature Center has a few ways to help you appreciate the Rockford region’s beautiful outdoor spaces.
Weekly Wildflower Walks
Wildflower Walks are back again in partnership with the Natural Land Institute. These popular walks are at 6 p.m. on alternating Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from April 23 to June 26 at different locations throughout the region. The Wildflower Walks are led by local volunteers or natural resource agency staff and have been around for more than 20 years. Upwards of 50 people have been known to come out and enjoy the flowers, so participants are usually divided into two groups.
The walks are free to attend, but participants are asked to call (815) 335-2915 to RSVP, especially if that week’s walk needs to be cancelled due to the weather.
Saturday Morning Bird Walks
There are three Saturday-morning bird walks that allow you to get out into nature and identify local birds. Grab your binoculars and join local birding expert Jack Armstrong from 8 to 10 a.m. on April 6 and June 1 at Severson Dells. All levels of birders are welcome. Morning birding with Jack Armstrong is free to attend, but participants are asked to call (815) 335-2915 to RSVP.
If you’re completely new to birding, you’ll want to check out the “So You Want to Learn Your Birds” program from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, also at Severson Dells. This is a beginners’ birding program for people age 16 and older that’ll cover some basic bird anatomy, the basics of identifying birds and the essentials of using field guides and binoculars. The cost is $8 for the general public or $5 for Severson Dells members. Call or go to seversondells.com to register.
Volunteer Restoration Days
You can also get outdoors while giving back to the community by taking part in one of the Volunteer Restoration Days at Severson Dells Nature Center. Help remove invasive plants, collect native seeds and plant new seeds to help keep the area’s natural spaces healthy and thriving.
Volunteer Restoration Days are held from 9 a.m. to noon the second Saturday and fourth Monday of each month. No experience is necessary; just make sure to wear long pants, long sleeves, work gloves and a hat. Tools will be supplied, but bring your own water bottle to stay hydrated. Call (815) 335-2915 to sign up.
Getting out into nature doesn’t just feel good after a long, cold winter; it’s truly good for you.
“There’s a growing body of evidence that shows all the positive benefits of spending time in nature,” says Ann Wasser, director of education and research at Severson Dells. “Whether that’s the physical health benefits or the mental health benefits, it’s shown to reduce stress and reduce your heart rate.”
So, what are you waiting for? Get outside and explore the amazing natural spaces this area has to offer.