Forget about those long lines and faraway drives. If you’re looking for some way to truly get away, these local attractions offer the best kind of summer escape.
The wait is over. It’s finally your turn to take a much-needed vacation. There’s no reason to maneuver through busy airports, deal with tight airplane seats and stay in basic hotels just to have a good time.
We’re lucky enough to have some incredible things to do and see right here in Illinois and Wisconsin, and best of all there’s little or no travel involved. Some places are known destinations, while others are hidden gems.
No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s bound to be something in our region that’ll make an exciting vacation that’s surprisingly close to home.
“From state and county fairs to exploring the great outdoors, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties each have so much to offer visitors this time of year,” says Marla Cichowski, spokesperson with Enjoy Illinois. “There is no lack of excitement and adventure throughout Illinois this summer.”
So, grab the kids, jump in the car and get ready to experience the perfect staycation.
Summertime Fun in McHenry County
Staycation ideas are aplenty in this bustling county. If you’re up for a challenge, explore 10 breweries/distilleries on the McHenry County Craft Beverage Trail, which includes several must-stops, including Crystal Lake Brewing, in Crystal Lake, More Brewing Co., in Huntley, or Rush Creek Distilling, in Harvard. Follow along and track your progress on the Naturally McHenry County app and claim a prize after completing all the stops (not necessarily all in one go).
McHenry County also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors. The McHenry County Fair marks a 75-year tradition in Woodstock this year, when it runs Aug. 1-6. Explore livestock and non-livestock shows, educational displays revolving around conservation and agriculture, and plenty of amusements along the way.
Then, there’s the McHenry County Find your Wild Program, which uses the Goosechase smartphone app to lead you on an interactive journey through McHenry County’s open spaces. Check out McHenry County Conservation District’s natural areas with the app and you can collect points and earn prizes. The adventure ends Sept. 4.
Speaking of adventure, Chain O’Lakes State Park, in Spring Grove; Coral Woods Conservation Area and Marengo Ridge Conservation Area in Marengo; Volvo Bog State Natural Area, in Ingleside; and Veterans Acres Park, in Crystal Lake, are also perfect places for biking and hiking. Each has prime spots for family photos with plenty of help from the breathtaking natural backdrops.
While you’re exploring the natural landscape, tie up those hiking boots or inflate your bike tires and enjoy an excursion on the trails of Glacial Park Conservation Area, in Ringwood. Aside from the 5 miles of hiking trails within the park, Glacial Park is also one stop along the Prairie Trail recreation path, a prime bike route that stretches from the Wisconsin state line down to Algonquin, where it connects with the Fox River Trail.
If you’re looking for something new and out-the-box, check out Magic Meadows Alpacas Farm in Wonder Lake. This family-friendly Suri alpaca farm gives people a chance to pet, feed and take selfies with American-raised alpacas.
The Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team, a McHenry County summer tradition featuring aquatic acrobatics, puts on shows at 7 p.m. most Fridays through Labor Day. The shows last an hour and donations are accepted and appreciated. The 160 team members range in age from 5 to 65. Try your own hand at aquatic acrobatics with a stop at the sun-splashed Quarry Cable Park at Three Oaks Recreation Area, in Crystal Lake. Enjoy wakeboarding, beach lounging and sand volleyball, among several other outdoor activities.
Soak up the Sun in Kane County
Sports fans who want a day at the ballpark without fighting Chicago traffic can root for the Kane County Cougars, a minor league ballteam that’s been affiliated with numerous professional teams. The Cougars play at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva, where visitors find family-friendly activities including firework shows, pedal car races, giveaways, autographs from the players and the KidZone Playground.
If you’re entertaining the kids, be sure to give Phillips Park Zoo, in Aurora, some attention. Families can enjoy the surprises at this sprawling zoo because of the 41 types of animals, including bald eagles, gray wolves and cougars.
Since 1960, the Sycamore Speedway, in Maple Park, has been attracting guests from near and far to watch stock car racing and demolition derbies on their clay track. Anyone who enjoys racing will love and appreciate this downhome attraction.
Meanwhile, test your logic, teamwork and memory in Elgin when you take in the thrill and allure of an escape room at Escapade 360. This is one of many escape rooms in Kane County, in addition to the iPanic Escape Room in St. Charles.
Itching to get out on the water during a hot summer day? Take a scenic cruise down the Fox River.
“The Fox River runs through the heart of our downtown, which is what makes our city so special,” says Jessica Hudec, marketing manager for the St. Charles Business Alliance. “This stunning body of water provides scenic views while you dine and spend time outdoors. Additionally, it provides a range of thrilling water activities for everyone to enjoy.”
Get the best views from the St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats, which disembark from Pottawatomie Park just north of downtown. Enjoy a scheduled cruise, rent it out for a private party or take part in one of many themed nights. You’ll have a prime seat for watching the kayakers paddling along the water and fishers casting off from the shore.
The shoreline is also a good place to enjoy a round of golf at Pottawatomie Golf Course, where the river comes into play on a distinctive course layout with picturesque scenery. Looking instead for an activity that’ll get the kids involved? Test your skills at the nearby River View Miniature Golf Course, which features a range of unique obstacles that make for a fun, yet challenging round of mini golf. Or, bounce around at Urban Air Adventure Park, which offers trampolines, climbing walls, playgrounds and other amenities that kids enjoy.
This would also be a good time to check out the St. Charles Best Breweries, a self-guided brew tour. Featuring with six renowned breweries, like Riverlands Brewing Co., St. Charles is a beer-lover’s paradise, and this is a great way to explore it all. Make a real adventure and join the Brew Tour Challenge on the Travel St. Charles app. You’ll earn a free T-shirt as an award.
After spending a day in St. Charles, reward yourself with some riverfront dining. Take a seat and a deep breath while immersed in the wonderful scenery that abounds downtown. Indulge in refreshing drinks and delicious food at one of several riverfront patios, like Alter Brewing + Kitchen, Kava Diem, Graceful Ordinary, Salerno’s on the Fox and Eden Restaurant & Events. Conclude your meal with a tasty dessert at Kimmer’s ice cream, which whips up homemade ice cream, or head over to RocketFizz, a candy and novelty soda lover’s dream.
End your day in St. Charles with a live show from STC Live! Happening each Wednesday and Friday through Aug. 31, this is a prime chance to hear local musicians perform live at several venues in St. Charles. Visit stcalliance.org/stclive for the full schedule. For even more spectacular live entertainment, see stcalliance.org/livemusic.
A Relaxing Staycation in Lake County
Looking to cure a sweet tooth for those kids running around? If so, head over to Tony Cannoli, in Mundelein, and enjoy special handmade cannoli-themed desserts, each filled to order. The Siciliana is a chocolate-dipped cannoli shell filled with chocolate chip ricotta then dipped in mini chocolate chips.
Not far away, check out Historic Long Grove, which has the title of Illinois’ oldest historic district. A place to breathe easily, Long Grove has a fascinating variety of entertainment choices, shopping and dining options – like Illinois’ oldest tavern, The Village Tavern. This restaurant has several specialty dishes, yet one of its most famous is the pork schnitzel, served over spaetzle and topped with homemade creamy dill sauce. The downtown area has recently been restored, so it mixes timeless charm with modern amenities like an outdoor promenade with other outdoor open spaces for you and your family to enjoy and explore.
While you’re in Long Grove, visit Buffalo Creek Brewery, which is part of the Lake County Libation Trail. The brewmasters introduce guests to several beers inside this amazing Bavarian-themed taproom.
Work off all of those calories in style within the 110 acres of Independence Grove, in Libertyville, which has more than 7 miles of groomed, paved trails for biking and hiking (there’s also cross-country skiing, for those who are procrastinating on the summer getaway).
Downtown Libertyville is a shopper’s destination where people can find hidden gems, quaint shops and a seasonal farmers markets in the heart of the charming town center. Hawthorne Mall, a shopping destination in Vernon Hills, also offers well-known stores and delicious dining options. While in the area, head over to Mellody Farm for some outdoor shopping or stop by Gurnee Mills, in Gurnee, the state’s largest indoor mall and home to nearly 200 stores and outlets.
There are plenty of antiques that await shoppers in Antioch. The historic Hiram Buttrick Sawmill, a remake of the area’s first operating sawmill, is one of Lake County’s most talked about and photographed destinations. Lovin Oven Cakery, in the heart of Antioch, offers homemade sweets and is another must-see. Get pampered at the Dragonfly Bed and Breakfast, located in historic downtown Antioch. Choose a suite or stately rooms, with antiques throughout the 1885 Victorian home. Daily tea service is also available.
A Break from it All in Lake Geneva
Fun activities and exciting adventures await just north of the state line. In Lake Geneva, there are plenty of fun opportunities for families to explore. The Geneva Outdoor Market, now taking place at the Lake Geneva House of Music, runs through Oct. 29. This family-friendly, dog-friendly event is designed to help local farmers and producers show off their products. Visitors are treated to live music and amazing smells.
Interested in something new and unique? Head over to Yerkes Observatory, the self-proclaimed birthplace of astrophysics. Opened in 1897, Yerkes Observatory is now open for tours after a multi-year renovation and restoration. It’s designed and built to study astronomy, and it’s been the site of many notable scientists and discoveries. These days, it’s a working laboratory and a fascinating place to tour. Join the Space and Spaces Tour, then be sure to check out the new gift shop loaded with astronomy items like space puzzles, salt shakers inspired by rocket ships, UFO cookie jars and related books.
There’s more to see right outside. The 50 acres outside the Observatory were planned by the Olmsted Brothers, whose father is the famous Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park. In fact, the grounds have been accredited as an official arboretum.
Check out the beautiful scenery from another angle and join the Lake Geneva Cruise line, which was founded in 1873 and is now celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Stepping off from Williams Bay, the company’s cruises let you experience the beautiful scenery and homes along Geneva Lake as you enjoy full lake, ice cream social and cocktail cruises, among other options.
End your day with a visit to Pier 290, the only waterfront restaurant in town. The restaurant serves up an extensive menu of casual American fare, along with live music and a fun atmosphere. Aside from enjoying lunch, dinner and brunch options like the Blackened Tuna Sandwich, visitors can look out at the glistening waters or relax by the firepits.
Stay overnight at one of many charming bed-and-breakfasts or full-amenity resorts located just around the corner. Places like French Country Inn, The Abbey, The Ridge, and The Geneva Inn boast plush accommodations and even more spectacular ways to complete this true summertime getaway.