Genuine Northwest, Holiday Edition

Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.

Rotary Botanical Gardens, Janesville

Rockford Christmas Fun

For more information:

Pandemic or not, there’s plenty of holiday fun to be had in downtown Rockford this year, starting with the free and 100 percent safe drive-thru Festival of Lights at Sinnissippi Park, open through Dec. 31. Santa Claus will be there to wave “hello.” He’ll also be at SantaLand inside Rockford City Hall, 425 E. State St., from noon to 4 p.m. each Saturday through Dec. 19. Visitors to SantaLand will find a mini-Strollville (as in Stroll on State) complete with a train, trees, ornaments and toy soldiers. Children who wear masks can take a picture with Santa. Enter the south doors and exit the north doors.

If you use the red mailbox at City Hall to send a letter to Santa at his North Pole address before Dec. 19, he and his elves will reply if a return address is included. No postage required.

The Christmas spirit will be evident all through downtown Rockford, with the city’s official Christmas tree shining in its new location at Davis Park. Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens will be decked out for All Aglow with sparkly lights through Jan. 6.

You can also celebrate with others virtually through GoRockford social channels and the Stroll on State Facebook page. A new Merriest and Brightest Lights contest will showcase decorated homes and businesses. Learn much more at

Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday Light Show

1455 Palmer Dr., Janesville, Wis., (608) 752-3885,

Chances are good that if you’ve visited this 20-acre wonderland with its 26 garden styles, it was during warm weather, when some 4,000 varieties of plants provided a feast of beauty for the senses.

December offers a different kind of beauty in these well-tended gardens, after caretakers string some 750,000 lights in all kinds of shapes and patterns, creating a magical world of lighted pathways to meander. Some paths feature winding archways, others reveal shimmering reflections in the garden pond, and still others showcase giant whimsical lighted flowers and other shapes.

Hours are expanded this year, from 4:30-9 p.m. on Nov. 27-29, Dec. 3-6, 10-13, 17-23 and 26-30. Admission is $10 per person for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 3-12.

See the gardens website for safety information and to check for updates before you go. And, get ready to be awed by a truly spectacular sight!

U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship

Downtown Lake Geneva, Wis.,

Lake Geneva’s 26th annual Winterfest will run Feb. 3-7, 2021, its centerpiece being the 36th U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship. Fifteen top-talent teams from around the nation will compete for a national title. Last year’s winning team was from Vermont.

Since the entire competition is open to the public, visitors can watch artists at work as they shape 3-ton, 10-foot-high cylinders of snow into fabulous works of art using only hand tools. The public can vote for a People’s Choice winner on Saturday.

Other Lake Geneva Winterfest fun includes a downtown ice sculpture tour, s’mores and bonfires on the beach, music, ice skating, horse-drawn carriage rides and lots of family-friendly activities.

In Illinois, Rockford Park District will host teams from around the state for the Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition Jan. 20-23, at Sinnissippi Park. Visitors can watch the artists at work and there’s no admission fee. Teams sculpt from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and may work through the night on Friday. The public can cast votes for the People’s Choice award Saturday from 8:30 to 11 a.m. All winners will be announced on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Sinnissippi Park maintenance building. Last year, two teams from Illinois were among the 15 finalist teams who went on to the Nationals in Lake Geneva.