Time for a road trip! Here are some great getaway spots located just far enough away.
A Plethora of Events Happening in Aurora
By Sara Graves
With its vibrant downtown, Aurora shouldn’t be overlooked as a vital tourist destination in northern Illinois. While there may not be much summertime left, there is still plenty to do in Aurora as autumn approaches. James Cardis, director of marketing for the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, has the low-down on the down-home fun.
Disney’s “Newsies” at Paramount Theatre
Aurora | Sept. 4 – Oct. 20
Unforgettable songs and a story that will make you want to stand up and cheer, Disney’s “Newsies” opens up the ninth season of Broadway at Aurora’s award-winning Paramount Theatre. Buy tickets for two shows and get two free.
125th Annual Big Rock Plowing Match
Big Rock, Ill. | Sept. 13 – 15
Take a step back in time with some free outdoor family fun. Enjoy the spectacle of the main event – precision plowing using antique engines and field equipment. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in farming. Round out the weekend with an arts and crafts show, old-time baseball, carnival rides, great food and live entertainment.
Pumpkin Daze At Abbey Farms
Aurora | Sept. 21 – Oct. 27
Packed with activities on a 40-acre pumpkin farm, Abbey Farms is a place where you’re sure to make photogenic fall memories this year. Conquer one of Chicagoland’s largest corn mazes and enjoy a craft beer and wine tent where you can watch Chicago sports on a Sunday afternoon.
Farnsworth House Events
Plano, Ill. | September – October
Moonlight tours, Family Day, tai chi, yoga and a special presentation in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial are all on the calendar at Farnsworth House this autumn. Visitors travel from around the world to see this masterpiece of minimalist architecture designed by Mies van der Rohe. There’s a special opportunity to enjoy the house and the grounds on Oct. 19 at Farnsworth Family Day. View fall colors along the scenic Fox River, hike the wooded paths and participate in exciting hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities.
Various dates and locations
These Oktoberfest celebrations boast beers, brewery tours, polka bands, bratwursts and fun fall revelry. Visit one or all; there’s plenty of das Vergnügen to go around.
Sept. 28 | Aurora
Cock-a-Doodle Brewfest at Hollywood Casino from 1-5 p.m.
Sept. 22 | Aurora
Oktoberfest at Two Brothers Roundhouse.
Sept. 21 | Oswego, Ill.
Oswego’s Brew at the Bridge, at Prairie Point Park.
Sept. 27-29 | Batavia, Ill.
Batavia Oktoberfest, on North River Street, downtown.
Oct. 5 | Yorkville, Ill.
Yorkville’s Kiwanis Yorktoberfest, in Riverfront Park.
Leave the City and Find a Bold Spirit
By Pat Szpekowski
There’s something special about taking a summer ride in the country to explore and experience new adventures. Whether it’s antiquing, shopping or visiting farmers markets, it’s a fun treat to capture a rare find and sample the very best wines, craft beers and bold spirits locally produced in DeKalb County.
“Nowhere is the pride of craftsmanship more apparent than within the breweries, wineries and distilleries of DeKalb County,” says Erin Reynolds, interim executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “From award-winning wines to signature craft beer to hard spirits enjoyed by visitors from around the world, these makers produce bold flavors that can’t be found anywhere else.”
There are five such establishments located within a short drive of the city of DeKalb, located in the heart of the county.
“These local treasures will leave visitors with a newfound sense of appreciation for the talent, work and results produced by some of the finest liquid craftsmen in the U.S.,” adds Reynolds. “They all provide tours of their winemaking, brewing and distilling expertise.”
The Forge Brewhouse, in DeKalb, is more than a taproom. It’s a working brewery where owner and operator James Heinrich and his wife co-owner, Lisa, take their craft very seriously. Ingredients are locally sourced wherever possible, whether it’s hazelnuts from Chicago or apples and pumpkins from nearby Jonamac Orchard. The Forge offers 13 beers on tap and a popular root beer.
Whiskey Acres in DeKalb began with a dream. Fifth-generation farmer Jamie Walter and his partner have grown every ounce of corn, rye, barley and wheat on the family farm to produce flavors unlike what’s found anywhere else. Have a drink on the distillery’s flagstone cocktail patio, take a tour, or enjoy some pours. While you’re there, you might consider booking a wedding, meeting, or party in the new 4,200-square-foot visitors center.
Not too far away, Jonamac Orchard, in Malta, is producing signature hard cider, apple wine and apple ale. The sprawling 105-acre farm offers up country hospitality and classic fall-time fun, plus fresh fruit and baked goods around late summer and fall. Juice from Jonamac’s apples is transported to Prairie State Winery in nearby Genoa, where it’s carefully fermented and bottled into 10 varieties of apple wine. Jonamac’s Cider House, open around orchard season from August to November, is the place to sample a spectrum of spirits.
Prairie State Winery and its Prairie on State Wine Cellars, in Sycamore, are the bold vision of former high school teachers Rick and Maria Mamoser. Established in 1998, their winery has become well-known and their varieties have garnered many awards, including numerous Best of Class and Gold Medals. The lineup includes reds, whites, blushes, desserts and fruit favorites.
Waterman Winery & Vineyards, in Waterman, handcrafts regional wines as well. Its vineyard sits in a valley and appears as though it’s lifted from California wine country. Tastings of Waterman’s authentic, handcrafted red, white and fruit wines are available from April through December. Experience true rustic charm of a century-old farm and fresh countryside air during your visit.
“Make the trip and visit our makers,” says Reynolds. “Discover the bold spirits of DeKalb County.”
Find out more about these unique bold spirits and craftsmen at dekalbcountycvb.com.
A Lakeside Getaway That Brings the Outside In
By Pat Szpekowski
Are daily chores and deadlines putting wear and tear on your personal energy? Why not take a well-deserved break and immerse in the peaceful, lakeside environment of The Geneva Inn?
Located on the glistening scenic shores of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, this cherished inn offers panoramic lakeside scenes with indulgent deluxe and luxury lake view rooms.
To further enhance its well-known customer ambiance and first-class hospitality, The Geneva Inn has recently gone the extra mile to bring the calming effect of the outside in.
“We have totally revived all of our Deluxe Rooms and repainted our grand exterior,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager of The Geneva Inn. “Guests love our atmosphere, and we have purposely made changes to our rooms and inn to mirror the beauty of the lake. Soothing soft-blue and gray palettes adorn our rooms to capture the relaxation of life at the lake.”
The deluxe non-lake view rooms have been totally upgraded with brand-new floors and window treatments. Guests can opt for a room with a private balcony, too.
Luxury lake view rooms and suites are spacious and airy. Step onto the balcony to catch a spectacular sunrise or sunset. Spa-like amenities await guests with oversized soaking tubs. The inside decor reflects the serene aquatic mood.
“We pride ourselves on memorable personalized service to deliver the highest possible experience for all guests,” says O’Dempsey. “Come by boat, the shore path or by car to enjoy our outdoor patio, too.”
For a tasty breakfast, the indoor Grandview Restaurant, with a stunning lakeside view, offers an array of imaginative skillets, omelets and Benedict’s. More options include savory breakfast tacos or guacamole toast, as well as sweet options like melt-in-your-mouth lemon brioche French toast. For dinner, choose mouthwatering selections from land or sea, or a pre fixe Supper Club three-course meal.
O’Dempsey recommends the outdoor patio for enjoying menu specialties like shrimp ceviche, hot paninis, vegetarian wraps, tasty salads and scrumptious sides. Take the beautiful scenery as you sip a mimosa or a glass of wine while you’re out there. Enjoy a bloody mary cocktail or Spotted Cow beer – a sought-after Wisconsin treat.
Seasonal piers offer easy access to boats and charters.
“Our engaged staff makes a stay at The Geneva Inn most memorable and relaxing,” O’Dempsey says. “Take time for a weekend away with the girls or a romantic couple’s retreat. Coupled with our award-winning cuisine and charming accommodations, your pampered getaway will be complete.”
Find out more about special summer indulgences and luxuries at genevainn.com.
4 Adventures to Pursue in Downtown Ottawa
By Sara Graves
Where the Illinois and Fox Rivers converge, about 80 miles south of Rockford, sits Ottawa, Ill. A place rich in history and scenic beauty, it’s known as the gateway to Starved Rock State Park, which greets more than 2 million visitors per year. Several upcoming events make Ottawa the perfect place to find adventure just a short drive away.
1. Local Foods Restaurant Week
When is it?
What is it?
Local producers and growers offer up a cornucopia of ingredients from which chefs can choose. Each participating restaurant can create new dishes featuring these items throughout the event. This year is the first time such an event has occurred in Ottawa.
“We are excited to bring a local twist to an event like Restaurant Week while bringing agro-tourism to the mix,” says Curt Bedei, executive director of the Ottawa Visitors Center.
2. Scarecrow Festival
When is it?
Sept. 28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., rain or shine
What is it?
Ottawa’s Downtown Merchant Association is hosting the 32nd annual celebration. Businesses participate by entering the Scarecrow Decorating Contest, and judges choose a winner. This year’s theme is Sesame Street, in honor of the show’s 50th anniversary and hometown cast member Bob McGrath, best known to fans as Bob Johnson. The event is free to attend, and kid-friendly activities such as the bouncy house, petting zoo, face painting or carnival games are open for a small fee. Food trucks and other vendors line the street, perfect for perusing the sights and partaking in local fare.
3. Wine and Art Walk
When is it?
Nov. 2, 2 p.m.-8 p.m.
What is it?
Do a little pre-holiday shopping while sampling wines, nibbling on appetizers, and taking in the area art scene in downtown Ottawa. Mingle with artists, artisans and shop owners. Fill up the event passport, which enters guests to win one of 20 prizes – including a special grand prize. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door, and if you buy 10 tickets, you can get one free.
4. Chris Kringle Market
When is it?
Dec. 6-8 & 13-15, hours vary by day
What is it?
Featuring traditional German-style huts and international flair, this market is full of artisan gift vendors, holiday treats, steins of beer and loads of holiday spirit. Make an ornament, take a (free!) carriage ride, watch the talented ice sculptors and enjoy the Lamplight Singers caroling.
“Each weekend has different activities, different vendors,” Bedei notes. “It serves visitors well to attend both weekends.”
If this lightning-quick summer is any indication of how time can fly, these events will be here in no time.
Fun Fall Happenings at Severson Dells
By Charlyne Blatcher Martin
Nestled near the southwestern border of Rockford, Severson Dells Nature Center offers 369 acres of forest preserve and nature experiences throughout the year. As summer takes a final bow, fall takes center stage at the Dells with numerous educational events for the whole family.
“This is a good time to come because the weather is cool and crisp,” says Ann Wasser, director of the Nature Center and director of education for the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County. “It’s not as humid and buggy. The fall colors of the trees have started. Acorns and walnuts are beginning to fall from the trees. Asters and witch hazel are in bloom with lots of warblers active in their fall migration.”
September begins the fall season with a variety of programs and events to make the Dells a go-to destination.
Mary Oliver’s Birthday Celebration: Poetry Walk and Fireside Reading takes place on Sept. 7.
“Mary Oliver was a legendary poet who loved the natural world in a very unique way,” Wasser says. “We invite the community to celebrate with us by bringing their favorite writings to share.”
“Nature Sprouts is a new program at Severson Dells to help adults and their young children to connect to nature through activities that work on fine and gross motor skill development,” Wasser adds. “Our goal is to engage early learners with nature in a developmentally appropriate way.”
Dance at the Dells: Site Specific Dance with Meghan and Caitlyn Baylor is one of the new programs on the fall calendar. This unique first-time event, happening Sept. 14, features sisters Caitlyn and Meghan Baylor, who are professional dancers. Hike through the Dells and at specific places, enjoy the talents of Meghan and Caitlyn as they perform choreography designed for that area. The hike ends with a performance at the Grove Nature Playscape. A donation of $10 is recommended.
The Forest Quest Scavenger Hunt on Sept. 28 offers an opportunity for families and friends in teams of two to six people to explore the forest preserves of Winnebago County.
“It’s a great way to learn more about the forest preserves you thought you knew, and get to know the forest preserves you may not have had the opportunity to explore yet,” Wasser says. The cost per team is $25.
Spook the Dells on Oct. 19 is another new program that’ll get visitors into the Halloween spirit.
“This event is sponsored by Dick Leighton in honor of Dr. Carl Hartman,” Wasser says. “We are working with a literature professor and students from Rockford University to develop mini Halloween-themed plays. This fall, the plays will happen on the trail and end with an organized program that includes live animals at the Nature Center. The event is free but donations are gratefully accepted.”
For more information about upcoming events, go online to seversondells.com.
A Destination for Reunions & Quality Time
By Kathy Casstevens, Starved Rock Lodge marketing director
Why wait for the weekend for an overnight getaway? Whether it’s a family reunion, a meetup with college buddies, or a wedding, Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, near Utica, has a fun-filled calendar of events less than 90 minutes away.
If you need to relax and disconnect, the Lodge has a therapeutic massage cabin and a big indoor pool. Mid-week overnight packages offer affordable and memorable experiences, from river cruises and winetasting to horseback riding. Guests can choose a comfy hotel room or a cozy cabin in the woods with free parking and Wi-Fi. Of course, hiking is the most popular activity at Starved Rock State Park, where you can explore beautiful sandstone canyons, seasonal waterfalls and stunning bluff views of the scenic Illinois River Valley.
The Veranda at Starved Rock Lodge combines outdoor dining with one of the best views in LaSalle County. Locally made craft beer is on tap from Tangled Roots Brewery, or try Starved Rock Signature Ale. The grill menu includes salads, grilled brats and burgers. There’s even a “Doggie Delights” menu for your furry friends, who are welcome in dedicated sections of the Veranda. It’s a great place to kick back 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. Prime rib (served on Saturday nights) was voted No. 1 in north-central Illinois. Sunday brunch is a crowd-pleaser for locals and guests alike.
Starved Rock’s most popular tour is the Historic Trolley Tour, which departs daily through October and gives visitors an overview of the legends, unique landscape and cultural heritage of the area. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Land & Water Cruises depart from the Great Hall of Starved Rock Lodge and include a trolley tour, lunch and a boat ride on the Illinois River aboard the Eagle 1 pontoon boat. For a relaxing late-day adventure, choose the Dinner & Evening Cruise, offered on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 5-8 p.m. The “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride Tour” departs twice each Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. This tour includes a trolley ride, guided hike to see examples of St. Peter Sandstone at Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, plus a 90-minute boat ride along the Illinois River.
Booking is already available for “Autumn on the River” and “Fall Colors” tours.
One of the best ways to spend a leisurely summer afternoon is enjoying a Tribute to the Stars show in the cool comfort of the historic Great Hall. Enjoy entertainment by Skip Griparis (The “Man of 100 Voices”) on Aug. 5-6, Rock & Roll Jukebox on Aug. 12-13 or the Best of Broadway on Aug. 19-20. All matinees include a buffet lunch. Prices vary per show. See show dates for 2019 and 2020 on the Lodge’s website.
Learn more about a getaway at starvedrocklodge.com or by calling (800) 868-7625.