Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Spring Getaway Guide

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Our region offers endless opportunities for holiday escapes. Here are a few ideas for an easy weekend getaway this spring.

Brews, live music and lakeside relaxation define a summer’s day at The Edgewater.

The Edgewater Offers a Season of Excitement

By Lindsey Gapen, assistant managing editor

Now that the weather is warmer, The Edgewater is ready for a season of brews, live music and lakeside relaxation. Add on weekly movie nights and complimentary boat rides off the pier, and it’s easy to see why the urban resort in Madison, Wis., draws locals and out-of-town visitors alike.

In true Madison style, The Edgewater kicks off the summer with a large party on Memorial Day weekend. The event features a free concert from Madison County on May 27 at 6 p.m., complimentary boat rides off the Edgewater Pier from 5-7 p.m., and, of course, craft beer and great food.

Thus begins a long series of exciting weekends.

Beginning June 1, the “First Thursdays” music series brings an eclectic mix of cover bands and throwback tributes to The Edgewater on the first Thursday of each month.

“Brewgrass Fridays” occur weekly and combine refreshing brews with bluegrass jams. Enjoy a good old-fashioned Wisconsin fish fry while listening to some of the nation’s best bluegrass music, all while viewing the beautiful waters of Lake Mendota.

“Live & LocALE Saturdays” round out the weekend with artists who showcase the high quality of Madison’s music scene. The weekly summer series features Wisconsin-only bands and favorite local beers, including favorites from Door County Brewing Company, MobCraft Beer, One Barrel Brewing Company, O’so Brewing Company, Potosi Brewing Company, Vintage Brewing Company and Wisconsin Brewing Company.

All concerts are free and open to the public, and programming throughout the summer features more than 30 bands and artists. Whether you’re a family looking for a place to relax or a couple looking to enjoy the sunset, dinner on the lake and live music, The Edgewater is welcoming to everyone.

In addition to live music, The Edgewater hosts movies on the water with a “Facts and A Flick” series. Guests and locals can participate in movie-themed trivia stating at 7 p.m. with an outdoor movie following sunset. Sponsored by Lakefront Brewery, movies begin June 13 and include family-friendly favorites like “Finding Dory” and “Despicable Me” as well as classics such as “Jaws” and “Casablanca.”

Resort guests and Madison residents can head to The Edgewater Pier – one of the only public access points to Lake Mendota – for “Skipper Bud’s Boat Ride Nights.” The complimentary boat rides on Lake Mendota commence on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month beginning June 13. Half- and full-day boat rentals are also available.

The Edgewater offers all of these activities in addition to its delicious on-site dining, cozy accommodations and top-notch spa and salon services. Several exclusive packages are available to add excitement to your stay. Visit TheEdgewater.com for more information.

Explore hands-on art and science exhibits at Discovery Center Museum, in Rockford.

Explore hands-on art and science exhibits at Discovery Center Museum, in Rockford.

Rockford: Big-City Setting, Small-Town Vibe

By Jermaine Pigee, deputy editor

If you want to experience the feel of a big city, but you enjoy the low-cost, no-hassle activities of a smaller town, you’ve come to the right place.

World-renowned museums, parks and gardens, local shops and restaurants make Rockford appealing to many a weekend traveler.

“There’s plenty to do in our region and I love giving recommendations to travelers, visitors and residents looking for local fun things to do and places to unwind,” says Andrea Mandala, marketing & communications manager for the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Start your Saturday with breakfast at Stockholm Inn, 2420 Charles St. Popular with both locals and out-of-towners, this restaurant’s menu and decor echo Rockford’s Swedish heritage. In addition to classic American cuisine, Stockholm Inn cooks up Swedish pancakes with imported ligonberries, Swedish meatballs and other Swedish favorites.

Next, take the kids to Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main St., where you can explore award-winning exhibits including a display of “Jane,” a nearly complete juvenile tyrannosaurus discovered by the museum’s researchers in the Badlands of Montana. It’s been called one of the 10 most important dionsaur discoveries in the past century.

For lunch, hop across the river to Fresco at the Gardens, 318 Spring Creek Road. Located at Anderson Japanese Gardens, Fresco features fresh, organic and locally grown food. The menu includes sandwiches, salads, soups, grass-fed beef, traditional breakfast fare and a coffee and juice bar.

While you’re there, explore Anderson Japanese Gardens and witness the splendor of springtime. This 12-acre, authentic Japanese garden is routinely recognized as one of the best in North America.

Visitors can also explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House, 4646 Spring Brook Road, which is the only building the famed architect ever designed for a person with a disability. Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent lived in the home from 1952 until early 2012, when it was acquired by a private foundation and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A great way to end the day is to watch the sun set over the river while catching a bite and drinking a cold craft brew at Prairie Street Brewing Co., 200 Prairie St., located downtown.

Your second day of exploring Rockford begins at Lydia’s Café, 1710 Rural St. Fresh food, inventive weekend specials and giant buttermilk pancakes have kept locals coming to this neighborhood location for many years.

Spend the remainder of your morning at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens at Sinnissippi Park, 1354 N. Second St. Situated along the bank of the Rock River, this destination brings the tropics to the Midwest with an 11,000-square-foot plant exhibition area complete with water features, seating areas and sculptures in a tropical plant setting.

Spend your afternoon at Klehm Arboretum, 2715 S. Main St., with a one hourdocent tour, which highlights the gardens, shrub and tree collections, seasonal blossoms and natural history.

End your time in Rockford with dinner at Abreo, 515 E. State St., which is an American tapas restaurant and bar emphasizing creative small dishes.

“The Rockford region is a robust community filled with genuine people and incredible places to discover,” Mandala says.

Waterfall & Canyon Tours take you on an adventure to see amazing sights at various canyons in Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill.

Spring is Calling You to Starved Rock

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge

Mother Nature is waking up from winter hibernation, especially at Starved Rock State Park & Lodge. The destination in Utica, Ill., offers the historical ambiance of a cozy lodge set amongst towering pines and 100-year-old oak trees. The arrival of spring signifies the beginning of many family-friendly events at both the Park and Lodge.

“Waterfall & Canyon Tours” run every Monday and Saturday in April and May, taking you on an outdoor adventure to see an amazing display of St. Peter sandstone at French, Ottawa and St. Louis canyons. Plus, lunch and a trolley ride are included. If you prefer, you can book a guided hike with lunch included in a drawstring backpack. You’ll walk to LaSalle Canyon and see interesting points along the way. In June, the “Visit a Canyon” tour begins. This tour includes a trolley ride through downtown Utica and a stop at both Starved Rock and the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center before arriving at the trailhead at Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon.

Want a bigger challenge? Try Starved Rock’s version of the “Amazing Race” on May 21, June 11, July 16, Aug. 11 or Sept. 20. You’ll have to arrive sharp and ready for a series of clues that test your problem-solving abilities. Teams are welcome to participate.
Music lovers can book tickets to a “Tribute to the Stars” performance happening in the Lodge’s Great Hall. A Dean Martin tribute is set for May 8 and 9, with “Nashville Connection” on May 22, 23 and 24. A Patsy Cline tribute returns on June 12, or opt to see a montage show with “Shake, Rattle & Roll” on June 19 and 20 and “Silver Screen Matinees” on June 26 and 27. Country music lovers won’t want to miss the Roy Orbison tribute shows on July 10 and 11, or the biggest singing competition of the summer: “The Country Showdown,” scheduled for July 13 at 7 p.m.

Relaxing water cruises on the Illinois River launch in June with “Land & Water Cruises” departing at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and “Dinner & Evening Cruises” departing at 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. Another way to relax is to schedule a therapeutic massage at the Lodge, preceded by a swim in the indoor pool with a few minutes in the hot tub and sauna.

Anyone seeking a creative challenge would enjoy the Lodge’s “Paint & Wine Class” in the Cafe. No experience is necessary and all supplies are included. Pick up a brush and have some fun on May 17, June 21 or Aug. 16 with all classes beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Parties held on the veranda get you back outdoors on Memorial Day Weekend and continue every Friday and Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. through Labor Day. The grill opens earlier in the day with friendly servers ready to bring you a burger and your favorite “comfort” beverage.

Hotel rooms feature new and bigger windows, plus new bedding, drapery and carpeting. The Main Dining Room, Cafe and Trailheads Concession area provide a variety of dining options, so guests never need to leave the property. Book a getaway today at Starved Rock Lodge (starvedrocklodge.com), where the past is always present.

In addition to large, mounted animals, the Midwest Museum of Natural History houses a geology collection and an interactive children’s area.

In addition to large, mounted animals, the Midwest Museum of Natural History houses a geology collection and an interactive children’s area.

Satisfy Your Spring Fever in Sycamore

By Jermaine Pigee, deputy editor

Sycamore, Ill., may be a smaller community in central DeKalb County, but it has plenty of activities and events to get you out of the winter blues and into spring fever.

Get out and enjoy a picnic, a bike ride, a hike or even paddle down the Kishwaukee River at the brand-new Sycamore Forest Preserve, a 60-acre conservation area scheduled to open in May.

Floodplain prairie habitat was planted in the back 30 acres while the front 30 acres feature two open-air shelters, new asphalt road parking and bike trails, picnic areas, hiking/cross-country ski trails and a fishing pond. The Great Western bike trail has been extended another half-mile west into this preserve, and bikers can find a new trailhead area to begin their journey.

It’s a good thing the displays aren’t alive at the Midwest Museum of Natural History. This collection of large mounted beasts tells the story of the wild world through a series of animals posed in dramatic dioramas.

“Dioramas feature more than 100 mounted animals, including one of the few and one of the largest elephants on display in the country,” says RoseMarie Treml, executive director of the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce.

The museum is also home to a wide range of live reptiles, amphibians, fish and arthropods.

Soak up the springtime and some beautiful living greenery at Blumen Gardens. What started as a horticultural endeavor in Joan and Joel Barczak’s backyard has grown into an award-winning landscape design business and garden center featuring a large selection of flowers at a charming former industrial property.

Visitors to Blumen Gardens can explore 4,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor shopping around this unique and very colorful gift and garden shop, which also has an event rental space. The avid gardener is sure to enjoy the blooming plants, succulents, houseplants, air plants and seed packets found around the shop.

Spring is a great time for being pampered in preparation for the summertime, and Sycamore has a variety of salons and spas to choose from. Dolce Vita is a full-service salon and day spa serving the whole family; Luxe Salon and Spa is dedicated to providing a memorable experience for each guest.

Throughout your adventure, you’ll no doubt want to explore Sycamore’s several unique restaurants. You can try Italian fare at Ristorante di Acquaviva or enjoy outdoor dining at Taxco Mexican Cuisine. You can also experience fine dining and trendy comfort foods at Nat’s on Maple. If casual is more your style, Pub 64 or PJ’s Courthouse Tavern & Grille are places where good food and friends come together.

After dinner, take a break from that healthy diet and visit The Confectionary, an old-fashioned candy store satisfying sweet teeth since 1982. Besides creams, clusters, toffees and caramels, the crew also makes hard-to-find sweets such as divinities, chocolate-dipped ginger and sugar-free chocolate clusters.

If you’ve never been to Sycamore, Treml invites you to see what this small-town setting has to offer.

“Explore Sycamore,” she says. “Take a look and visit us this spring. You won’t be disappointed.”

For more information, visit discoversycamore.com.

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