Time for a weekend escape! Here are some great getaway spots to visit.
A Bold Flavor to Light Up the Season
By Pat Szpekowski
No matter the time of year, inviting spaces are always waiting to be discovered throughout DeKalb County. Why not explore this area’s culinary delights and bold spirits by meeting the creative and dedicated entrepreneurs whose work can brighten up this season of transition?
These Illinois “makers” hold an open invitation to those who want to experience, appreciate and support the fine local breweries, wineries and distilleries located within a short drive of the cities of DeKalb and Sycamore.
“Nowhere is this pride of craftsmanship more apparent than within our own DeKalb County,” says Cortney Strohacker, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Local wine-making, brewing and distilling are leaving our visitors with a newfound sense of appreciation for the fine work of these bold craftsmen. They are producing some of the finest spirits found in the U.S.”
At Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. in DeKalb, making one of the most unique whiskeys in the world starts with grains grown on local soils using water naturally filtered by the limestone aquifer found deep below. Whiskey Acres’ distilled spirits – bourbon, rye, vodka and artisan spirits – are handcrafted by the hands of fifth-generation farmers working their family’s land. Distilling takes place year-round, and the tasting room is open to the public every Friday through Sunday. The rustic space is now rated by TripAdvisor as DeKalb’s No. 1 tourist attraction.
Uncork the amazing, exclusive wines of DeKalb County starting with a trip to Prairie State Winery, in Genoa. This winery offers tasting flights of more than 30 available wines, 7 days a week, year-round. Enjoy Friday night “Wine Downs” and Sunday Blues with live music. Sit and sip in the outdoor courtyard on a warm, sunny day or evening. Prairie State’s specialty shop in downtown Sycamore offers tasting flights and “Wine Downs,” too.
Waterman Winery & Vineyards, in Waterman, is nestled in the country and provides an authentic agricultural experience. Open on Saturdays and Sundays from April through mid-December, Waterman serves up a unique selection of its regional and estate wines.
Jonamac Orchard Cider House, in Malta, is only open from late August through November, but it’s a can’t-miss experience worth placing on your calendar. Indulge in apple wines, hard ciders, apple ale and a host of other products crafted from fruits grown on Jonamac’s immensely popular apple orchard.
Do hearty ales sit atop your list of favorite beers? The Forge Brewhouse Taproom in DeKalb has plenty of choices, including 13 rotating beers and 1 root beer on tap. Food is BYO, so you can choose your own indulgences to complement The Forge’s assorted flights and growlers. The Forge’s sister stop in downtown Sycamore specializes in DeKalb County’s own handcrafted spirits, barleywines, IPA’s, ciders, stouts, wines and whiskeys. Savor a tasty artisan brick-oven pizza to wash down with it.
“There’s no shortage of fun throughout DeKalb County,” Strohacker says. “New on the bold spirit scene is Byers Brewing Co., in downtown DeKalb. The new venue brings a unique menu selection of craft beers on tap and additional fun with events like open mic night, disc golf and family fun day.”
Visit dekalbcountycvb.com for more information.
So Much to Explore This Season
By Farren Washington
Spring is almost in the air! It’s time to pack your bags and make the most of the upcoming travel season. Whether you’re swimming, kayaking, hiking or sightseeing, springtime is a fantastic time to enjoy everything Geneva has to offer.
“Since every family that lives or visits here is unique, defining a perfect visit would be difficult. Hop on the train, jump in the car, ride your bikes and just come to Geneva,” says Laura Rush, communications manager at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. “Once you are here, embrace all that Geneva has to offer. With so many choices, you are sure to find a reason to return.”
For History and Culture Lovers
There is certainly no shortage of places to see, or things to do, in this urban oasis. If you’re looking for a top-notch museum, Geneva has you covered. Spend some time wandering the Geneva History Museum, which not only has a gallery sharing the story of this busy town, but also a rotating exhibit that dives deeper into local stories.
Geneva History Museum offers historic bus tours and self-walking tours, all departing from its location downtown.
An inescapable part of Geneva’s story is that of the eccentric millionaire who built a summer estate on the Fox River. After learning more about Col. Fabyan, take a drive to the Fabyan Villa on Illinois Route 31, and see for yourself the legacy he left behind.
“Geneva is blessed to be 185 years old, which also means that there is an abundance of history with architecture,” says Rush. “While strolling downtown, plaques are placed in the sidewalk at historic points, giving you a taste of what Geneva was like in its early days.”
A Treasure Hunter’s Delight
If you love shopping and searching for hidden treasures, there’s a special event just for you. The Geneva City-Wide Garage Sale is a popular community event that draws hundreds of Geneva homeowners to clean out their attics and hold a garage sale. The event runs April 24-25 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
This annual spring sale attracts shoppers from far and wide. They find everything from antiques and collectibles to furniture, dishware, toys, clothes and much more. Perhaps even more interesting than the “treasures” are the interesting people you’ll meet along the way.
Since 2012, the Chamber has been organizing this now-annual tradition.
“We thought, ‘Why not make it convenient for shoppers to come to Geneva and frequent a lot in one timeframe, while assisting the community with advertising and promoting through our Chamber?’” says Rush. “Based on the number of people participating each year, it has become a huge success in more ways than one. We receive calls, before the year even starts, asking the dates of the garage sale.”
Sellers pay a small registration fee, which supports the Chamber’s marketing efforts for the event. In order to sell, you must be a current resident of Geneva. Sign up at genevachamber.com starting in early March.
For more information on fun events around the Geneva area, visit genevachamber.com.
Make it a Weekend at the Suites
By Randy Ruef
This year marks an anniversary within an anniversary at Good’s Furniture in Kewanee.
The iconic retailer in this small northwest Illinois town of 12,000 has been doing business for 125 years. The company has seen much growth, from the fledgling single store E.S. Good opened in 1895 to the multi-building, 250,000-square-foot complex that covers three city blocks today.
But 2020 also marks the 30th anniversary of the bed-and-breakfast suites that have allowed shoppers not only to travel farther in search of household furnishings, but to stay a little longer.
“It’s turned Good’s into a weekend getaway,” says Phil Good Jr., president of Good’s Furniture. “There are four suites housed within the main building. All four feature a refrigerator, flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Two house queen-sized beds and two have kings.
“We just completed a renovation of one of the suites, and it’s being rebirthed as a king,” adds Good. “Our other king was redone a year-and-a-half ago and features a luxurious soaking tub and dining area.”
Naturally, the furniture and mattresses inside these rooms are also for purchase in the showroom.
The suites are just one example of the many successes that began with the vision of Phil Good Sr., who oversaw much of the company’s growth in recent decades, including the popular wine cellar restaurant.
It began in the 1970s and ’80s with Good’s radio and TV advertising. That brought in more customers. And as the business expanded to more buildings, so did the advertising, reaching out to northern Illinois and the Chicago area.
“As we expanded, people were coming from farther away,” Good says. “People were saying how they hadn’t seen the whole store and wanted a place to stay for the weekend. That’s when my dad had the inspiration to create some suites.”
While shoppers are the primary users of the suites, Good’s has also become a weekend getaway for people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and even honeymoons.
And with the opening of The Stables, a wedding and event venue located south of town, Good’s has had even more fun being part of special events.
“We mainly get couples, but we do get families,” Good says. “The King rooms have room for rollaways and a pullout, and can accommodate 1-2 kids. A lot of times, families with older kids or who want to be separate can rent multiple rooms.
“And we have a gem of a golf course nearby,” he adds, referring to the Kewanee Dunes Golf Club. “In the summertime, the ladies will go on a shopping trip and the guys will go golfing.”
Suites at Good’s are available year-round, with spring and summer showing peak usage. However, the prices remain the same from season to season. Suites range from $119 to $179 a night.
For those prime times of the year, Good recommends reserving a place from a few weeks to a month in advance, but he encourages people to always call for availability, as things can change.
Whether it’s a shopping trip or a weekend getaway, Good’s Furniture is a destination unto itself.
“You can spend your life in bumper-to-bumper traffic going store to store,” Good says, “but we’re an easy drive on I-80. Once you get here, you’ll find the best opportunity to experience all things furniture, all in one place – at the best prices.”
A True Taste of Europe, but Close to Home
By Randy Ruef
A European vacation is an unforgettable adventure, but not everyone has the time or means to take one.
But a two-hour drive to southern Wisconsin can give you the experience of going overseas. The small village of New Glarus, nestled in the high hills of Green County, is a self-proclaimed “America’s Little Switzerland.” It was settled by Swiss immigrants in the mid-1800s and its residents now fully embrace the village’s heritage with businesses and homes that maintain not only the chalet-style architecture, but also the culture.
It includes authentic Swiss foods, like fondues, cheeses, chocolates, meats and baked goods. And there are numerous special event weekends of some sort going on during the warm-weather months, including Polkafest, the Heidi Festival, Volksfest (which celebrates Swiss Independence Day) and the Wilhelm Tell Festival.
And this year, marking the village’s 175th anniversary means even more events, including a special celebration July 30-Aug. 2.
“It will be a very family-friendly time,” says Bekah Stauffacher, executive director of the New Glarus Chamber of Commerce. “It will emphasize the town’s history and heritage.”
But it’s not just specialty weekends that define this community of 2,000.
First and foremost is the New Glarus Brewing Co., home of the famous Spotted Cow beer. Atop a hill, visitors can tour the brewery and check out samples while looking out over the village and its European terrain.
“The brewery is the No. 1 attraction for many,” Stauffacher says. “It’s a real destination. It’s on a lot of bucket lists.”
On the other side of town is Bailey’s Run Vineyard & Winery, with hand-crafted wines and live music.
“There’s a gorgeous barn that is a great place to kick back for wine and snacks,” Stauffacher says, “and their dog, Bailey, roams around to visit and greet people.”
Another attraction is the Cows on Parade. Fourteen life-sized, painted cow statues stand throughout the town.
“Visitors love these cows, and they love looking for them and trying to find all 14,” Stauffacher says.
Of course, there are plenty of shops, although Stauffacher likes to describe them more as boutiques. Get flowers and home decor at Brenda’s Blumenladen, Polish pottery at the Bramble Patch, antiques at Lollygag, home accents at Sisters and clothing at Railroad Street Boutique.
Brandi’s Bridal Galleria Etc. brings in people from miles away.
Those who love history often check out the Chalet of the Golden Fleece and the Swiss Historical Village and Museum, which shows off the way of life for the original Swiss settlers.
The visit isn’t complete without a trip to one of the village’s many authentic restaurants, including the Chalet Landhaus, the New Glarus Hotel and the Glarner Stube, all of which serve Swiss cuisine like fondue, sauerbraten, wienerschnitzel and kalberwurst.
Travelers can work off those big meals with a bike ride on two crushed gravel trails: The 40-mile Badger State Trail and the 23-mile Sugar River Trail. They can also play 18 holes at the Edelweiss Chalet Country Club.
Or, you can take a drive or hike through New Glarus Woods, a 435-acre state park that offers camping, hiking, picnicking and snowshoeing.
Stauffacher says there are 93 sleeping rooms available between the motel and hotel, and roughly 40-50 more within 5 miles of town at various bed-and-breakfasts.
“It’s just such a charming little town,” she adds. “There’s a lot to explore. It’s like a little European escape.”
To learn more about New Glarus, go to swisstown.com.
Your Ticket to Fun Starts at the River
By Randy Ruef
There’s plenty to see and do in Peoria, a city of 115,000 located in north-central Illinois along the banks of the Illinois River.
“A trip south down I-39 is well worth the time to enjoy the benefits of Peoria,” says Ashley Randall, public relations coordinator at Enjoy Peoria. “We have all the amenities of a major city, minus the traffic and high prices. The Peoria area is budget-friendly and accommodating for families.”
One of the first highlights is the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the only multi-disciplinary museum in the country. It includes a planetarium and a giant-screen movie theater, along with nationally recognized exhibits. Explore the history of Peoria, size up your skills against the state’s top athletes at the Illinois High School Association Peak Performance exhibit, and reflect on history at the Peoria Holocaust Memorial.
Hometown of manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc., Peoria’s must-see attraction for sightseers is the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center, located next door to the Riverfront Museum. Enjoy a virtual ride in the bed of a massive two-and-a-half story Cat 797F Mining Truck, design your own Cat machine, and test your skills as an operator on the simulators.
The city’s park district features 12 area golf courses, along with numerous disc golf courses that played host to the 2019 Disc Golf World Championships.
Forest Park Nature Center boasts 7 miles of hiking over 500 acres of a completely wooded area. And Donovan Park, a former golf course, houses the Northmoor Observatory with free public viewings from dusk to 11 p.m. every cloudless Saturday between May and October.
There’s even more parkland to explore this year with the introduction of Sankoty Lakes, an outdoor resort featuring a mile-long man-made trout stream, 20 glamour camping sites, an RV park, and space for hunting, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, swimming and scuba diving. It’s located just upriver from Peoria at Spring Bay.
Music lovers will want to check out the Summer Camp Music Festival in nearby Chillicothe late this spring. This year’s event is May 22-24 and is expected to host more than 50 musical acts.
These are just some of the attractions that have helped to grow Peoria’s tourism numbers for eight consecutive years, bringing in $656 million last year alone.
It’s not just the big parks and events that draw the tourists. Peoria offers several smaller-scale opportunities for all ages to enjoy. They include:
• First Ascent Climbing & Fitness, which features indoor rock climbing.
• Gone Axe Throwing, whose name pretty much says it all. (“Think darts, but lumberjack style,” Randall says.)
• Blue Falcon Battleground, an indoor NERF battle arena with competitions similar to paintball, but played instead using foam balls.
• Kartville, a family fun center featuring go-karts, ATVs, bumper boats, mini-golf and batting cages.
• Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino, with more than 1,000 slot machines and 24 table games.
• Kickapoo Creek Winery, which offers fine local wines, as well as places to walk or hike along the lakes and vineyards.
• Peoria hosts several escape rooms, including Escape 60, Gone In 60 and Escapetown Peoria.
“We’re proud of our area, and we like to showcase why,” Randall says. “We believe when you create a place people want to visit, you create a place where people want to live, work and start a business.”
To learn more about a visit to the Peoria area, visit peoria.org.
A Fun and Relaxing Place to Escape
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Located less than 90 minutes from the Chicago suburbs, historic Starved Rock Lodge is the only hotel located within scenic Starved Rock State Park.
Parking is free and guaranteed for all hotel guests, who can also enjoy an indoor pool complex equipped with a pool, hot tub, saunas and a shallow-depth toddler pool.
Free Wi-Fi, a cafe, a full-service restaurant and bar are also available for hotel guests.
If you’re hiking, be sure to stop at Trailheads Concessions, located in the Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center. Historic Trolley Tours depart each weekend at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. Guided hikes are also offered each weekend.
Waterfall and canyon tours are the best way to enjoy springtime beauty. Offered by the Lodge on Mondays and Saturdays in April and May, this tour includes lunch from a special menu in the rustic Main Dining Room, a ride on a Starved Rock Trolley and a guided hike to French, St. Louis and Ottawa Canyons, which may vary depending on weather conditions and rainfall. Details and departure times are listed on the Lodge’s website at starvedrocklodge.com.
Music lovers enjoy the “Tribute to the Stars” shows, which happen year-round and include a buffet lunch in the Great Hall. Country music fans will love the “Wichita Lineman” show set for April 6-8. The Johnny Cash Tribute Show runs April 27-29 and Dueling Pianos returns May 18-20. A complete schedule of upcoming shows can be found on the Lodge’s website.
Gift cards are available online and may be used for Tribute Shows, Trolley Tours, dining and more.
The Main Dining Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday Brunch is a crowd pleaser, so be sure to make reservations in advance.
The Lodge’s annual Mother’s Day Buffet welcomes guests on May 10. Reservations and prepayment are required for this event.
Live music makes the Back Door Lounge an especially fun place to be on Friday nights from 8 to 11 p.m.
Visit starvedrocklodge.com for more information about Starved Rock and its events, or call (815) 220-7386.
For the Love of Starved Rock
Starved Rock State Park welcomed nearly 2.5 million visitors in 2019, yet the park does not have a single wheelchair-accessible trail, and there’s nowhere to view a canyon without hiking there.
But, that could soon change. As one of the state’s major attractions, this park is constantly in need of improvements. Trails and bridges have fallen into disrepair and eroded to the point where they are now closed.
Starved Rock Lodge, the Starved Rock Foundation, the Starved Rock Walkers Club and the Starved Rock Clean Up Crew have teamed up to create a fundraising campaign called “For the Love of Starved Rock.”
The plan is to generate support and monetary donations to improve park trails, create a trail and overlook that’s wheelchair and stroller-friendly, all while preserving the natural resources of Starved Rock State Park for future generations.
The kickoff event for the campaign will be a fundraising dinner on April 5 at the Great Hall of Starved Rock Lodge. Visit fortheloveofstarvedrock.com for tickets and details.
If you would like to get involved or donate to the silent auctions, contact Kathy Casstevens at Starved Rock Lodge or email her at [email protected].