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Genuine Northwest, Winter Edition

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

DuPage Children’s Museum

301 N. Washington St., Naperville, (630) 637-8000, dupagechildrens.org

DuPage Children’s Museum has been captivating minds of all ages for nearly 30 years. As one of the country’s leading children’s museums, it invites nearly 300,000 visitors each year to explore, create and discover within 17,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“Our mission is about igniting the potential of all children to learn through hands-on exploration,” says Dee Dee McDevitt, director of marketing and sales. “I literally come to work every day and witness children having ‘serious fun’ while learning as they explore the entirely reimagined museum.”

Recently reopened after extensive renovations, the museum boasts new activity rooms, Learning Labs and attractions based on math, science and art. New features include a Math Playground, Creativity Connections space, the Explorer Store and a Wonder Room.

This year, the museum expects to complete its largest exhibit to date. AWEsome Energy creates an immersive, interactive exploration of the scientific forces powering the world. Exhibits on air and electricity are open now; a section on water opens in 2016.

Since it opened in 1987, the museum has been recognized by the Association of Children’s Museums, voted “Best Chicago Museum” by Nickelodeon’s Parents’ Pick Awards and named one of the “Top Ten Cultural Attractions” by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Members and visitors can refuel and relax at the S.M.A.R.T. Cafe while exploring the museum’s seven “neighborhoods,” or major exhibits. The museum is open Mon.-Sat. at 9 a.m. and Sun. at noon.

Go Sleigh

10009 Lilja Road, Harvard, (815) 321-4300, gosleigh.com

After a fresh-fallen snow, Mike and Connie Walsh saw their family farm as a winter wonderland, perfect for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. So in 2009, they started a seasonal family business on the Harvard property to create a magical experience.

The Walsh family is now in its sixth season of providing luxury sleigh rides and winter family fun. Belgian draft horses pull old-fashioned wooden sleighs around the gentle hills, surrounding forests and two-acre lake on the Walsh family’s picturesque farm. During the private 30-to-35-minute ride, guests can keep warm underneath blankets, compete in an “I Spy” scavenger hunt and listen to holiday music.

“It’s a very scenic, nostalgic experience,” says Ben Walsh, Mike and Connie’s son. “We’ve helped create a lot of memories for families, couples, co-workers and groups of friends, including proposals and anniversary celebrations.”

Groups are encouraged to take photos and bring their own sleds, so they can go careening downhill after a sleigh ride. Hot beverages and other treats are available at the Candy Cane Cottage, and kids can pet and interact with the farm’s horses, sheep, goats, chickens and kittens. Rides on the miniature donkeys are available upon request.
“The best part about it, for me, is the level of satisfaction we hear from people coming out,” says Ben. “Very rarely does it not exceed people’s expectations.”

Sleigh rides are dependent upon the weather and will run if there’s 1 to 10 inches of snow on the ground. Advance reservations are required and can be made through the end of February or into March, if there’s enough snowfall.

Sycamore State Theatre

420 W. State St., Sycamore, (815) 895-3549, sycamorestatetheather.com

This historic movie house celebrated its 90th anniversary in November 2015. With three digital screens and a vintage marquee, the family-run business continues to be a landmark in Sycamore’s quaint downtown.

“This building is very historic to the area,” says Daryl Hopper, co-owner with her husband, Kenley. “From its beginning, it’s always been part of the community.”

The building opened in 1925 as the Polka Brothers Fargo Theatre, and for 47 years, it operated with only one screen and a performance stage. In 1939, the theater became one of the first buildings in DeKalb County to have air conditioning. It was renamed the State Theater a year later.

Eventually, attendance began to dwindle, forcing the theater to close in 1972. It soon reopened as a church and served the congregation until 1989, after which the theater hosted live country music shows. In 1990, the State Theater was remodeled into a three-screen theater.

When the State Theater went up for sale in 2000, the Hopper family decided to buy it and start a family business. Daryl, originally from the suburb of Geneva, has been working in the movie theater industry since 1975.

The State Theater now shows family-based selections of first-run and classic films. Its selection of gourmet concession snacks, including flavored popcorn, are made in-house with fresh ingredients.

The theater shows free movies during the winter holiday season, offers $2 tickets on school holidays and donates proceeds to local charities, including animal shelters and the DeKalb American Red Cross.

Check Sycamore State Theater’s website or call ahead for showtimes.

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