Explore the hidden gems of our region.
No matter what time of year you visit, the historic Woodstock Square is picturesque and inviting. McHenry County’s government seat has welcomed famous guests like Orson Welles, Paul Newman, Shelley Berman and Bill Murray. Located between U.S. Route 14 and Illinois Routes 47 and 120, this city of 24,770 is both familiar and charming, and it’s easy to access, with a Metra stop right off the Square.
➲ Groundhog Day
Both the holiday and its namesake Bill Murray film are revered here. Each February, festivities last for an entire weekend, as residents and tourists see whether Woodstock Willy will find his shadow. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce & Industry and locate the 14 plaques that mark actual filming spots. A few on the Square: Woodstock Theatre, 209 Main St.; Ned’s Corner, 100 Cass St.
➲ Pickle Palooza
The Claussen pickle has been manufactured here since the 1970s. For the past three years, though, the city has celebrated it with Pickle Palooza, a daylong music and activity festival on the Square. Now owned by Mondelêz International (formerly Kraft), the factory isn’t open to the public.
➲ Woodstock Opera House
Paul Newman, Shelley Berman and Geraldine Page performed here in the 1940s, when it was still City Hall. In 1993, it was a filming site for Groundhog Day. Today, this former vaudeville stage and municipal center hosts fine music and community theater performances, lectures and other events. 121 W. Van Buren St., (815) 338-4212.
➲ Concerts in the Park
Musicians have performed regularly on the Square every summer for the past century. This year, performances take place over six weeks in June and July.
➲ Seasons by Peg
Filled with seasonal gifts and holiday decor, this creative store completely resets itself with every season. Owner Peg Fenstermaker actually closes the store for a few days as everything is redecorated for holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day. 111 E. Van Buren St., (815) 206-3666.
➲ Green Box Boutique
Owner Connie Citarelli celebrates everything earth-friendly, from organic wines, candies and papers to fair-trade or handmade clothing and jewelry made from repurposed materials. With few exceptions, each item is made by Americans dedicated to doing good. 108 N. Benton St., (815) 337-7303.
➲ Read Between the Lynes
Amazon it’s not, and that’s by design. Book lover Arlene Lynes’ independently owned bookstore carries a wide variety of classic titles and newly released best-sellers. She routinely hosts author book signings, school fundraisers and book clubs. 129 Van Buren St., (815) 206-5967.
➲ Material Things
Part gallery, part gift store, this new addition to the Square offers 3-D fine art crafts, handmade by about 50 North American artists. Previously, owner Ken West spent nearly 20 years on the other side of the Square, crafting his own glassware. Today, the store doubles as his studio. 103 E. Van Buren St., (815) 575-9710.
➲ The Backdrop
It’s eclectic and quirky, a little bit vintage with a splash of creativity. Everything, from clothing and kitchen items to books and toys, is displayed on retro memorabilia – for example, a child’s furry owl cap, modeled on an antique baby doll. 106 Cass St., (815) 338-3007.
➲ La Petite Creperie
Its name means “small crepes restaurant” – and that’s exactly what’s inside. There, co-owner Frank Ferru conjures a glimpse of his native France, with menus that include crepes and an absinthe/wine bar. 115 N. Johnson St., (815) 337-0765.
➲ Challenger Learning Center
Just off the square, and open upon request, this is one of 39 centers in the U.S. dedicated to the memory of the space shuttle crew. The hands-on simulator allows fifth-graders to experience a space mission simulation and equipment demonstrations. 222 Church St., (815) 338-7722.