Time for a road trip! Here are some great getaway spots just a tank of gas away.
Mainstay Events in the Fox Valley
By Paula Hendrickson
A lot of fun in the Aurora area this summer revolves around the city’s RiverEdge Park.
“RiverEdge Park is a wonderful outdoor concert venue. It’s set against the Fox River just north of downtown Aurora,” says James Cardis, director of marketing at the Aurora Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s an excellent venue and a mainstay of the summer here.”
This year’s summer music series at the park has a diverse line-up ranging from Megadeath to Brian Wilson to an R&B show featuring Brandy, En Vogue and Arrested Development. “There are some lower-cost ticket shows, too, in the Downtown Alive Series,” Cardis says, noting that tickets to cover band shows are under $5.
The 23rd annual Blues on the Fox music event is June 14 and 15 at RiverEdge Park with an after party taking place at The Venue, located near the park.
On Aug. 3, RiverEdge Park will be the site of a free production of “A Comedy of Errors,” presented and performed by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater as part of its Shakespeare in the Parks program.
Cardis says Oswego, just a couple miles south of Aurora, is also a popular summer destination. In addition to great food and handmade pottery, Emerson Creek Pottery & Tea Room holds a vintage market on select Wednesdays throughout the summer. “They get really busy because it’s an upscale vintage and retro market that people travel from all over for,” Cardis says.
He suggests checking out Arranmore Farm + Polo Club while you’re in Oswego. It hosts official polo events, but also has Wine Down Wednesdays. “They have a really fun concert series people around here look forward to, too, called Cabernet Cabaret,” Cardis says.
Yorkville, just a little further south of Oswego, is home to one of Cardis’ favorite summer events – The Summer Solstice Festival in Riverfront Park June 21-22.
“It’s a two-day music festival that features some of the best craft beer from the area and beyond. Their lineups always include really cool up-and-coming bands from the Nashville and Austin circuit.”
While you’re in the area, Cardis says you might want to stop at The SciTech Museum, housed in Aurora’s old Post Office, or the Fire Museum. “The Fire Museum building is about 150-years old, and is a really unique piece of architecture in downtown Aurora,” he says. “It’s one of the few museums, nationwide, devoted to firefighting. It’s a big hit with kids and adults.”
Another big draw is the Farnsworth House in nearby Plano. The famous glass house, designed by renowned architect Mies van der Rohe in 1945, is stunning, but moonlight tours, music events, and even yoga and tai chi classes attract new visitors each year. “They’re finding new ways to bring in people who might not be that interesting in the architecture or the history of the house, but the more they learn, the more enchanted they are by the story of how it was built and it’s significance, worldwide, as an example of modernist architecture,” Cardis says.
For more information about events in and around Aurora, visit enjoyaurora.com.
A Trip to DeKalb County: Time to Seek Something Amazing
By Pat Szpekowski
The Illinois Tourism Office has a unique theme: “Are You Up for Amazing?”
DeKalb County, comprised of 14 notable cities and towns, lives up to, and exceeds, that tagline. There’s no shortage of amazing, inspiring and educational destinations that make a spring outing most memorable and fun.
“DeKalb County is home to a thriving dining, arts and cultural scene that features entertainment, shopping, antiques and historical museums,” says Erin Reynolds, interim executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We invite you to have fun and explore what’s incredible to see close to home.”
If antiquing is your thing, enjoy a day under the oaks at the beautiful Sandwich Fairgrounds in Sandwich, Ill. Sunday at the Sandwich Antique Flea Market gives both casual visitors and serious, sophisticated collectors a special time to discover unique, sought-after items. Treasures and hard-to-find items await during the second Sunday of the month, from May through October. Parking is free, and it’s worth the drive. While in town, visit the community’s many antique shops, too.
Open space and prairie restoration are the hallmarks of a great outdoors destination. Visit Shabbona Lake State Park, in Shabbona, Ill., located about 5 miles from Waterman just off U.S. Route 30. Get immersed in more than 1,550 acres of rolling prairie featuring grass-covered meadows, woods, cattail, marsh marigolds, irises and native, undisturbed fens.
“We are home to an amazing amount of historical and cultural museums, too,” adds Reynolds.
“Visit our DeKalb County History Center, the Ellwood House Museum, and the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead. Each has its own individual historical merit and an impact on the pages of American history.”
The DeKalb County History Center, in Sycamore, Ill., has been selected as one of six sites for a new exhibition produced by the Smithsonian Institution. This show examines the impact of rural American culture upon the identity of the United States, past and present. It heralds the economic innovations and cultural facets that have always made small towns feel unique, comfortable and desirable – and it shows how these traits have spurred many communities to create their own renaissance.
The Ellwood House Museum is a historic mansion situated on 10 acres of parkland in the heart of DeKalb. This museum reflects the central role of Isaac Ellwood in the development of the barbed wire industry in America. The campus includes several historical structures including the 1879 Ellwood Mansion, the 1899 Ellwood-Nehring House, four gardens, and some 6,000 square feet of exhibit galleries in the Visitor Center, located inside a converted and expanded 1912 multi-car garage.
The Glidden Homestead in DeKalb is an emerging living-history museum. Joseph F. Glidden’s 1873 application for a patent for barbed wire, his generous contribution of land for the location of what’s now Northern Illinois University, and his civic responsibilities in the area all substantiate why Glidden was called “the Grand Old Man of DeKalb County.”
“We’re proud of DeKalb County’s rich history,” Reynolds notes. “Visit these notable historical places, then stop by one of the many vibrant restaurants, bars or grills for a delicious meal, and ponder the innovations and generosity of those who came before us.”
For ideas on an amazing DeKalb County experience this spring, visit dekalbcountycvb.org.
The Geneva Inn: A Touch of Luxury to Prepare for Summer
By Pat Szpekowski
For more than 25 years, The Geneva Inn has been a popular getaway on the shores of Geneva Lake. With its dramatic dining room, stunning atrium and luxurious guest rooms, The Geneva Inn continually celebrates its past while also pledging to live up to and exceed its distinguished traditions and history.
“We have made many renovations to our hotel rooms over the winter,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager of The Geneva Inn. “All of our non-lakeview rooms have been refreshed to reflect the same boutique charm that people know and love about The Geneva Inn.”
These latest renovations add a touch of modern luxury for guests to enjoy.
“We will continue to gradually upgrade all rooms and bathrooms over the next few years,” says O’Dempsey.
As the only hotel and restaurant located directly on the shores of Geneva Lake, The Geneva Inn has long been a favorite venue for memorable occasions – not just for relaxing weekends away, but also for family celebrations and summer nuptials.
“We make a great destination for weddings, showers, private dinners and rehearsal dinners,” O’Dempsey says.
A simple and exquisite occasion is more than enhanced by the full-service dining restaurant and 37 luxuriously appointed guest rooms, including four lakeside suites.
The fun of sharing a momentous event with friends and family can take place on the lakeside patio and lobby atrium. Sip on cocktails and enjoy light appetizers.
The options continue with a beautiful banquet room that’s also ideal for the cocktail hour and reception. The Port Room offers sophistication and a warm ambiance to celebrate the bride and groom.
Situated on beautiful grounds, The Geneva Inn boasts a casual and cozy atmosphere that overlooks Geneva Lake. Adventurous guests can access a walking path that’s just steps off the inn’s patio. Take a short stroll along the shoreline or else commit to traveling the 21-mile public walking path that follows the entire shoreline of Geneva Lake.
Whether you’re planning an intimate or grand wedding, or creating a custom special event experience, The Geneva Inn offers a relaxed and elegant setting, both indoors and out.
Find out more about these spring and summer luxuries at genevainn.com.
A History Lover’s Dream: Summertime Fun in Ottawa, Ill.
By Paula Hendrickson
Ottawa is a favorite getaway for history lovers. Last November the town was designated as part of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, making it part of the Looking For Lincoln Trail.
“The first Lincoln-Douglas debate took place here in 1858,” says Curt Bedei, executive director of the Ottawa Visitors Center. Washington Square Park has bronze statues of Lincoln and Douglass, a mural depicting the debate, and an informational plaque detailing the historic event. You can also see the courthouse where Lincoln and Douglas argued a court case, or see where Lincoln mustered in and out of the Army during the Black Hawk War.
“We also have a Heritage Tour booklet that covers all of the murals, the architecture, statues, and historic things. It’s a self-guided walking tour,” Bedei says.
The Visitors Center can facilitate tours of local sites ranging from the pre-Civil War Reddick Mansion to a local brewery.
“We have a local guy who delves into the popular history of Ottawa, but also covers some of its unknown history, too. He offers guided tours by hiking, driving – he even offers bicycle tours. It’s a really neat opportunity to find out the nitty-gritty history of Ottawa,” Bedei says.
If museums are more your thing, check out the Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum. Fun fact: Ottawa was home to one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America.
Locally owned restaurants and boutiques pepper Ottawa’s well-preserved downtown. “People are pleasantly surprised when they arrive in downtown Ottawa and see how quaint, unique and busy it is,” Bedei says.
Two of the town’s biggest events happen in June. Ottawa Two Rivers Wine Fest brings jazz – and more than 100 wines from Illinois vintners – to downtown Ottawa June 7-9. And Ottawa’s 21st annual Cruise Night returns June 14.
“We have a lot of vintage cars parked downtown, and there’s a carnival set up at the end of the street so people can take their kids, see some old cars, and enjoy some carnival rides,” Bedei says.
Additionally, each summer, Washington Square Park is the site of both the Summer Concert Series and Music in the Park. “One happens on Friday evenings, the other on Saturday evenings throughout the summer,” Bedei says. “Art in the Park is a big attraction through our local art league. They set up in Washington Square Park. It’s going to be August 3 and 4, with all kinds of artists from throughout the region. You can find pottery, jewelry, woodworking, paintings, photography – just about anything in the arts field.”
Being located at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers, Ottawa also offers plenty of boating, kayaking, canoeing and fishing opportunities. Four state parks are within 20 miles, as well.
“There’s plenty to do. I tell people it’s more than an overnight stay,” Bedei says. “You could spend a good week and see all kinds of things.”
Embracing the Outdoors: Summertime at Severson Dells Nature Center
By Paula Hendrickson
Situated along the southwestern edge of Rockford, Severson Dells Nature Center – a 369-acre forest preserve and environmental learning center – is home to numerous fun and educational day camps and nature events.
“One of the summer camps people look forward to every year is Blazing Paddles Canoe Camp,” says Jessie Crow-Mermel, marketing & development assistant at Severson Dells. The paddling camp, which takes place off-site, is geared toward kids ages 12 to 16. Severson Dells provides the equipment.
“We start out at Rock Cut, on the lake, where the kids learn about paddling and get comfortable in the canoe. Throughout the rest of the camp, we meet at different rivers. We do two locations on the Kishwaukee, which is a beautiful river to paddle. And we usually do the Pecatonica or Sugar River – it depends on the weather and how everything is flowing because safety is the priority.”
Grandparents Camp offers a great bonding experience for kids ages 4-10 and their grandparents. The single half-day session will be the morning of July 3.
“Grandparents and their grandkids can spend time in nature doing fun activities like looking for butterflies or catching crayfish in the creek, and learn about some of the plants and animals that call Severson Dells home,” Crow-Mermel says.
Readings from the Rookery is a free program offered every other Friday in June and July. “It’s for kids 5 to 9. We introduce parents and their kids to some really great nature books. After story time we’ll have outdoor activities that relate to the theme of that week’s book,” she says. “It’s a nice combination, since storytelling can have a really powerful impact, and they also have the outdoor exploration and the hands-on experiential aspect to it.”
Two perennial favorites are By the Light of the Silvery Moon full moon hikes and Monday evening Canoe Convoys.
The full moon hikes start at dusk. “It’s a unique opportunity to see the forest preserves at a time the public usually can’t, and to have a guided nature hike where you learn about the animals that come out at night. Sometimes we’ll get 70 people coming out for that,” Crow-Mermel says.
Open to paddlers of all skill levels, the Canoe Convoy is popular with individuals, couples and families with kids age 8 and up.
“A lot of people would like to try paddling, but it’s kind of expensive to buy all the gear, and the transportation of it can be tricky. But we provide all of that.
All you have to do is show up,” she says. “It ends at sunset. It’s just gorgeous, and it gives people the opportunity to see the forest preserves from a different perspective – from the water.”
Crow-Mermel is looking forward to the Summer Solstice Celebration on Friday evening, June 21. “We’ll be celebrating the longest day of the year, we’ll learn about the cycles of the seasons, we’ll have live music and a campfire where families can enjoy s’mores.”
The best thing of all? You don’t need to be a member of Severson Dells to take part in any of their summer activities.
For more information, visit seversondells.com.
An Unforgettable Town: Making Summertime Memories in Shullsburg
By Paula Hendrickson
Not only is Shullsburg, Wis., known for high-quality cheese, it’s the third oldest settlement in Wisconsin and boasts one of the most intact historic downtowns in the nation.
“The average date of construction for buildings in our downtown is 1880, but we have buildings from the 1840s. Both of our churches are from the 1860s, built of native limestone. It’s a historic preservationist’s dream here,” says Cory Ritterbusch, executive director of Advance Shullsburg, a nonprofit working to enhance the picturesque town’s quality of life.
Architectural styles include Romanesque, Italianate, Greek Revival, Art Deco, Gothic Revival, and even Boomtown, which dates back to Shullsburg’s early days as home to Wisconsin’s first lead mine.
Pick up a pamphlet for a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown at the Shullsburg Visitors Center (204 W. Water Street), or if you’re lucky, Ritterbusch might be on hand to lead a guided tour.
Starting with a classic car show on the first Saturday of June, to an annual multi-day 4th of July extravaganza, Shullsburg has plenty to do throughout the summer.
Free concerts are held at Badger Park every Thursday evening in July and August as part of the Music in the Park series. Featured acts represent an eclectic mix of musical acts from across the Midwest.
“Our second-most popular attraction is Badger Mine and Museum, where you go six stories underground and go through the old hand-dug mining tunnels. It’s been a tourist staple since it opened to tourism in the ‘60s,” Ritterbusch says. “It was built in the 1840s. It’s a wonderful activity in the summertime, especially when it’s hot because you go underground where it’s cool.”
The mine’s accompanying history museum is also popular with visitors.
Cheese lovers can shop at Shullsburg Creamery – where they even see cheese curds being made if the timing is right – or at the artisanal Roelli Cheese Haus just outside of town.
But what, you ask, is Shullsburg’s most popular attraction?
Gravity Hill, located three miles south of town.
“Gravity Hill is where, if you put your car in neutral, you’ll roll up hill,” Ritterbusch says. “Not downhill. Uphill. Nobody has figure out why, but there are several theories,” he says.
Those theories range from a magnetic pull to an optical illusion.
“There are several gravity hills in America, and they’re all the same unexplained phenomena.,” Ritterbusch says. “People have been going there for generations. When people come to visit, it’s what you do.”
Whether you feel drawn to Shullsburg’s mining history, its 19th Century architecture, its lack of stop signs, or even Gravity Hill, it’s a town you likely won’t forget.
“Shullsburg has a tremendous sense of place. It’s a powerful experience,” Ritterbusch says. “It hasn’t been over-marketed, so people like it because it feels like a secret. We want to retain that. It really is kind of a hidden gem.”
For more information about Shullsburg and its upcoming events this summer, visit experienceshullsburg.com.
Enjoy a Mid-Week Break at Starved Rock Lodge
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Why wait for the weekend for an overnight getaway? Whether it’s your girlfriends, college buddies, a family reunion or a wedding, Starved Rock Lodge & State Park, in Oglesby, Ill., has a fun-filled calendar of events waiting for you less than 90 minutes away.
Mid-week overnight packages offer great value and memorable experiences from river cruises and wine tasting to horseback riding and Gator Creek Cruises. Guests can choose a comfy hotel room or a cabin in the woods, all just steps away from an indoor pool with a hot tub. Of course, hiking is the most popular activity at Starved Rock State Park, where you can explore beautiful canyons, seasonal waterfalls and stunning bluff views of the scenic Illinois River Valley.
There’s nothing like having lunch on the Veranda at Starved Rock. Outdoor dining with the best view in LaSalle County makes this a sought-after destination. Try locally-made craft beer from Tangled Roots Brewery, or Starved Rock Signature Ale, along with a salad or freshly-grilled brat or burger for a winning combination. It’s the perfect place to relax before or after your hike.
If you’d rather cool off inside, the Back Door Lounge and Main Dining Room serve lunch and dinner daily. The prime rib, served only on Saturday nights, was voted No. 1 in north central Illinois by area residents through a survey put on in the region. Sunday brunch is also a crowd pleaser for locals and guests alike.
Starved Rock’s most popular tour is the Historic Trolley Tour, which departs daily from June to October. It gives visitors a wonderful overview of the legends, unique landscape and cultural heritage of the area.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Land & Water Cruises depart from the Great Hall and include a trolley tour, lunch and a boat ride on the Illinois River aboard the Eagle 1.
For a relaxing, late-day adventure, choose the Dinner & Evening Cruise, offered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. And, if you want to have it all, take the “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride Tour” which departs each Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. This tour includes a trolley ride, guided hike to see amazing examples of St. Peter Sandstone at Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, plus a 90-minute boat ride along the Illinois River.
A great way to spend a leisurely summer afternoon is enjoying a Tribute to the Stars Show. Rick Lindy and the Wild Ones will perform on June 3-5 and “Meet the Beetles” will fill the house on July 15-17. Patsy Cline fans can choose from an evening show on June 11 or “At Last” with Mary Pfeifer on July 8-9. All matinees include a buffet lunch and prices vary per show. See the complete schedule on the Lodge’s website.
Lodge rooms and cabins are available all year. They’re just steps away from a beautiful walk in the woods.
Learn more about the events and activities happening at Starved Rock Lodge by visiting starvedrocklodge.com or by calling 1-800-868-7625.