A great weekend’s journey isn’t so far away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
Highlight Hot Destinations this Season
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
Summer is a time to get out of the house and take in new sights, sounds and smells. Consider heading to nearby DeKalb County for unique attractions and experiences that are close to home, but still far enough to feel like you’re getting away.
“We’re trying to promote more destinations and locations this year, so we’re really focusing on our parks, forest preserves and historic sites,” says Cortney Strohacker, executive director at DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have a whole campaign centered around the Lincoln Highway. Then, we have our rich history, with connections to barbed wire, corn, farming and agriculture. That’s more than the average tourism destination.”
Kayaking and canoeing are easy in DeKalb County, as the south branch of the Kishwaukee River affords still waters and quiet scenery. Canoe rentals are available from the Genoa Park District on a daily basis. Visit Paddle On Outfitters in Genoa has kayaks you can rent for some fun on the river.
For a different kind of journey, check out some of the area’s self-guided tours, including one that features the many barn quilts scattered across DeKalb County’s country roads. A map is available at dekalbcountycvb.com.
Ollie’s Frozen Custard, in Sycamore, is a favorite among locals who are looking for a sweet treat. It’s not uncommon to see a line of cars around the building on a hot summer night. Toward the far east side of Sycamore, there’s also another fan favorite: Dairy Ripple, on Illinois Route 64.
Wine, beer and spirits are big business in DeKalb County, and you’ll find many local providers offering home deliveries these days. Forge Brewery, Jonamac Orchard Cider House, Byers Brewery, Whiskey Acres and Prairie State Winery are top choices. They’ve also opened their patios to those who want to enjoy the full experience.
Until large-scale gatherings and performing arts events can resume, virtual events will remain the norm. DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre, which is undergoing a massive renovation this summer, is using the opportunity to share a hard hat virtual tour every Tuesday at 5 p.m. on Facebook Live. Get a preview of the theater now, and get ready to visit soon.
“You can see behind the scenes of all the things going on,” explains Strohacker. “They also have a great interactive YouTube channel where you can go on and see what other interviews and things they have happening.”
DeKalb’s rural acres are home to many farmers, some of whom you’ll meet at farmers markets.
Visit the Sycamore market every Tuesday from 3-7 p.m. through September. Held downtown, at the corner of Sacramento and State streets, the market brings together vendors of fresh produce, baked goods, fresh-cut and potted flowers, homemade products and artisan crafts, among other things.
The DeKalb farmers market will be held Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Van Buer Plaza. The market will also include food trucks and fresh produce vendors.
For more fun ideas, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
Get Out and Explore in Geneva
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
It’s hard not to pursue a change of scenery in the summer, and while we may be putting those long vacations on hold this year, there are plenty of nearby destinations that are great to visit during any summer. The city of Geneva has many attractions, from outdoor activities to relaxing spa getaways and everything in between.
A multitude of outdoor activities are available at the city’s parks, and some of the most popular include disc golf and mini golf. The Links Disc Golf Course is a scenic 18-hole disc golf course in Wheeler Park, just north of downtown. Bring your own equipment or borrow from a friend and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
While you’re there, stop by the park’s southeast corner where you’ll find the Stone Creek Miniature Golf Course. It’s a river-themed course that features 18 holes mixed among fun scenery like a windmill, water wheel and a wishing well.
Sure, Geneva is close to home, but that’s no reason not to enjoy a change of scenery overnight. The Herrington Inn & Spa, located on the western bank of the Fox River, is a cozy European-inspired setting that also hosts weddings and riverside dining. Head east to the Oscar Swan Country Inn for another quaint overnight experience, this one set in a beautifully preserved mansion that’s now a bed-and-breakfast to remember.
Downtown Geneva is a must-see, especially with the many homegrown shops you’ll find along State and Third streets. Look closely as you stroll along, because many local artists are displaying their works in storefront windows this summer. Purchase one, if you’re so inclined.
While strolling through downtown, you’ll probably get hungry. There are many options to be found nearby. Restaurants throughout downtown now have outdoor dining and many are taking reservations indoors.
Look for $6 Burger Monday at Foxfire, 17 W. State St. Angus beef patties are served with lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion as well as a choice of side salad, soup or French fries.
If you’re craving some unique Mexican food, check out Taco Tuesdays at 1910, located upstairs from Sergio’s Cantina at 30 W. State St. The special includes $6 Casa 1910 Margaritas and half-priced tacos.
“All of our restaurants are excellent,” says Laura Rush, communications manager at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. “They all have different atmospheres, an assortment of offerings and varied price points. One positive that we have enjoyed recently is being able to have dinner from more than one place in a single night. We can all pick whatever we are craving, and just drive to each and pick it up.”
Geneva hosts many beloved summer festivals, and although they’ve been put on hold this year, you can still find fun gatherings around town.
One favorite summer event you’ll find roaring through town is the Geneva Classic Car Show, scheduled for Thursday evenings through August. The event is held at the Kane County Courthouse parking lot and features car collectors showing off a variety of cool rides.
For more information on updated events and fun activities in Geneva, head to genevachamber.com.
‘America’s Little Switzerland’ Has Lots to Offer
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
This is no ordinary summer for New Glarus, Wis., and that’s OK, because there’s always a surprising amount to see and do in “America’s Little Switzerland.”
“We’ve really had to pivot and look for ways to get people to come visit us that aren’t based on festivals,” says Bekah Stauffacher, executive director of the New Glarus Chamber of Commerce. “Luckily, we are well situated for outdoor activities, which I think a lot of visitors are going to be even more interested in.”
If you’re looking to get out and about with the family, head to one of the local trails. The Sugar River State Trail is a 23-mile biking and walking trail that starts in New Glarus and runs through five communities across Green County. The trail is built upon a former railroad bed, so it’s both scenic and accommodating for bikers of all ages.
For an easier walk, try following the cow parade through town. You can download a map on the Chamber’s website, swisstown.com.
“We have 16 life-sized, painted cows scattered all over New Glarus,” says Stauffacher. “They were all painted differently, all by local artists. It’s a really fun activity because you can get as involved as you want.”
If you’re looking to relax outside, head to Bailey’s Vineyard on the west edge of New Glarus. The huge, barn-like winery has a long covered porch where you can sip wine and enjoy a scenic view over the vineyard’s hilly terrain. Inside, sample some of Bailey’s custom sparkling, red, white, rose and fruit wines, many of them crafted from varietals specific to this northern climate. Enjoy a bit of food with your tasting and explore the daily menu. A new wood-fire pizza oven is coming soon.
Families enjoy the fun and challenge of Swissland Miniature Golf, but they’re also wildly entertained by its unique attraction. This popular destination has a fun twist: goats are often jumping around the rocks. Call ahead to schedule a tee time.
The Chalet of the Golden Fleece is an eclectic alpine museum that houses the collections of Edwin Barlow, a New Glarus resident who traveled the world and brought the Swiss drama of Wilhelm Tell to Wisconsin. The thousands of artifacts inside his former home tell of his adventures and discoveries.
Swiss-inspired cuisine reigns supreme here, but there are many options when you’re ready to enjoy a meal. Indoor dining has resumed at some places, though most restaurants continue to offer carry-out and pickup options. Some even have walk-up windows for a true grab-and-go meal. Kennedy’s Ice Cream and Grill at 400 Railroad Street is a convenient option for the summer if you want to grab a burger or pick up ice cream after dinner.
“Fat Cat Coffee Works has been really popular with residents. They’re still open for coffee drinks,” says Stauffacher. “You’ll see on a Saturday morning, the spandex bicyclists are lined up for their espresso and the families are waiting for their lemon pound cake. They’ve really kept it going, which is nice.”
For more information or to plan your own getaway to New Glarus, head to swisstown.com.
Find Adventure in Ottawa
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
Located just far enough from home, the Ottawa area is quite a crossroads of adventure. Wherever you look, you’re sure to find a trail leading someplace interesting. Hidden treasures exist all around Ottawa and its surrounding area.
“We have Buffalo Rock, which is only about an 8-minute drive from downtown Ottawa,” says Curt Bedei, executive director of the Ottawa Visitors Center. “They have easy trails and it’s a beautiful overlook of the Illinois River and live bison.”
The Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail passes through Ottawa as it follows a 90-mile stretch of the canal between Chicago and Hennepin. There are many sights to see along this path, including passage over an old aqueduct.
One of Ottawa’s newest additions is the Dayton Bluffs Preserve, located near the Interstate 80 and Illinois Route 71 interchange. The property encompasses 100 acres of open prairie, 150 acres of woodland, sacred American Indian burial mounds, a pioneer-era cemetery and scenic views of the Fox River on its approach to the Illinois River.
History abounds in this community, and you can dive into many rich stories on an Awesome Ottawa Tour. These guided, themed tours go deep into the history of Ottawa as they introduce you to local luminaries of the past, including Boy Scouts founder W.D. Boyce; businessman and politician William Reddick, who had an important connection to the Lincoln-Douglas debates; and the “Radium Girls” who once painted radioactive radium paint on luminescent watch faces.
Water plays an important role in Ottawa, as it’s right at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers. Naturally, the city’s harbor is a prime destination for water activities. A little east of downtown, Heritage Harbor is an upscale marina and community that’s built around life on the water. At the marina, find boat slips and rentals, with amenities for motorboats and kayaks alike. Vacation rentals and summertime properties are a short walk away.
Also on site is Red Dog Grill, with scenic outdoor seating and dining specials such as Rib Thursday and Fishy Friday.
Craft beer drinkers have plenty to explore in town, especially at Tangled Roots Brewery’s Lone Buffalo taproom. Inside, you’ll find a wide menu of farm-to-table dishes as well as a beer menu with deep local roots. The dining area, which remains true to the building’s 1880s heritage, features large brewing kettles that were shipped in from Germany.
The always-popular Local Foods Restaurant Week is still on track to return this year, from Sept. 5-13. During this time, local food producers and farmers supply local restaurants with the fixings they need for some inventive menu choices. Both Red Dog Grill and Lone Buffalo are expected to join.
“They are required to make at least two dishes based on produce and supplies that they get from the producers,” says Bedei. “It was a very big hit last year. We had four restaurants and eight farmers participate.”
For more adventures awaiting in Ottawa, head to pickusottawail.com.
A Different Way to Do Summer Fun
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
Your summer events calendar looks different this year, but plenty of places around Peoria, in central Illinois, are working to make sure the fun will still go on.
The Riverfront Farmers Market, happening every Saturday morning along the riverbank downtown, is one of those new-old traditions.
“They’ve transitioned to be able to make it friendly during the time of COVID with proper distancing and all of the other precautions necessary,” explains Josh Albrect, chief marketing officer at Enjoy Peoria.
Most summers, a rich festival lineup draws many visitors to Peoria and its surrounding communities, to events like Pekin’s Marigold Festival and Morton’s Pumpkin Festival. Both occasions are still in the works, although with a few changes. Some events may involve a virtual experience or operate in a reduced occupancy. Festivals or no, it’s still a great occasion to drive around and see someplace new, including the quaint small towns near Peoria.
If quieter destinations are more to your liking this year, the Peoria area has many hiking and mountain bike trails. Wildlife Prairie Park offers both, but it’s especially beloved for its diverse collection of animals, including an entire pasture of bison.
But that’s just the start.
“We also have Jubilee College State Park, which is just outside of Peoria, as well as Rock Island Bike trail,” adds Albrect. “Those are two popular parks that people enjoy biking and hiking on.”
Jubilee College State Park, located 20 miles west of downtown, has more than 40 miles of trails suited for mountain biking and horseback riding, but it’s also loved for its fishing. Typical Midwestern fish such as bass, bluegill and catfish are in abundance. The park contains nearly 3,000 acres of restored wilderness to explore.
The Rock Island Bike trail travels through 26 miles of restored and remnant prairie northwest of Peoria. Built along a former rail line, this trail is suitable for hikers and bikers of all skill levels.
While exploring the Peoria area, it’s inevitable you’ll want to try some of the unique cuisine in town. An abundance of restaurants are offering carry-out and delivery options, but for some places this is a longstanding tradition.
“I highly recommend a trip to Lou’s Drive In, in Peoria,” says Albrect. “It’s a true staple and a great way to pull up, get your food to go or walk up to the counter. Then, maybe you head out to Jubilee State College Park or one of our great park district parks for a picnic along the Illinois River.”
Emo’s Dairy Mart is another classic Peoria drive-in. It’s a quick jaunt from Grandview Drive, where you’ll find beautiful old homes and some of the city’s best vistas of the Illinois River Valley. The area was once declared the world’s most beautiful drive by President Theodore Roosevelt, Albrect says.
Peoria’s public art is also worth a closer look this summer. Check out the public sculpture block downtown, and see if you can find all of the colorful murals hidden on buildings throughout the city.
“You can do a great art tour through your car. You can get out of our car and walk it as well. It’s just a short walk downtown,” says Albrect. “You can start the tour at Riverfront Museum, and then take a walk through the sculpture walk on the streets of downtown Peoria.”
For more ideas, go to enjoypeoria.com.