Downtown Crystal Lake: Day or Night, It’s The Place to Be

What happens when you combine easy access, community-driven events and a wealth of boutique businesses? You get a thriving downtown that attracts families every day.

Williams Street in downtown Crystal Lake is filled with locally owned shops, restaurants and other attractions that bring families out every day.

Perhaps it’s cliche, but it’s also true that downtown Crystal Lake really offers something for everyone. Visit on any given day and you’ll see families with children, groups of girlfriends, couples, teens, singles, grandparents – all of them in search of a good time.

What they find is a several-block area that boasts dining, retail shopping, services and entertainment in abundance. And, it’s the sort of place people will drive to visit, for a night out or a fun day trip.

“Crystal Lake is a good place to live – that’s our town motto. But the downtown is also a really great place to visit,” says Joy Neal, executive director of Downtown Crystal Lake, a Main Street organization that advocates for the neighborhood and its small businesses. “Between the Metra station and the bike path, there are plenty of ways to get here and lots to explore and experience once you arrive.”

Summertime brings the Downtown Farmers Market every Saturday morning, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It runs weekly from June 15 through Sept. 28 in Depot Park, located at the end of Williams Street, which is downtown’s main drag.

“We really focus on food, anything that’s homemade and homegrown,” says Neal. “It’s less about crafts and more about the farmers and producers. There are also children’s crafts and entertainment, and most weeks we’ll have a food truck. The Downtown Farmers Market has a really cozy, neighborhood feel and we pack a lot of value into it.”

Sidewalk sales pop up from time to time as a testament to the abundance of hometown merchants.
There are places like Marvin’s Toy Store, where children love to explore a curated selection of high-quality toys. Kitchen Outfitters specializes in kitchen gear of all kinds, while Kalck’s Butcher Shop, located right around the corner, is a family-owned butcher store. Find shoes at Heisler’s Bootery, books at The Green Read or Abalabix Books, and score unique finds at the antique store, the gem and crystal store, women’s boutiques and a home interiors store.

Mixed among these retailers is a selection of cuisine for many tastes. Many of them are family-friendly, like Rookie’s Pub & Grill, Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria and Benedict’s La Strata (breakfast is a specialty). Pots & Pies is perfect for snacktime pastries and light fare. But of course, you can’t beat date nights at places like Jude’s, where you’ll find small bites and a cozy patio, or Da Baffone, which offers a classy Italian setting.

“It’s so cozy and a great date night location,” says Neal. “And there are also picnic tables in Depot Park. What a great place to grab some food out and then just enjoy your surroundings.”

Things stay lively when the sun goes down. Raue Center for the Arts has a busy calendar full of live music, theatrical productions and traveling performers like David Sedaris, who’s scheduled to visit in October. Many patrons make it a dinner-and-show kind of night.

For a more casual setting, there’s also live music with dinner at Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen. Happy-hour specials and food truck nights make a great time out with friends at Crystal Lake Brewing. In addition to the handcrafted beers on tap, the brewery also has an expansive patio out front, with lawn games both indoors and outdoors. Find a menu and order some carryout to enjoy with your beer.

“It’s proved to be a great gathering place for friends,” says Neal, who walks to the brewery after work at least once a week to meet with her husband and their friends.

With all that activity, the best parking spots fill up fast on weekends – but not to worry, because there’s ample parking around town, especially near the Metra station and a few lots that are off the beaten trail.

If biking’s your thing, there’s always enough parking – and there’s easy access, because the Prairie Trail cuts right through downtown, on its way from the Wisconsin state line to the Fox River Trail in Algonquin.

“I think downtown is a complete gem,” says Neal. “The lake town vibes and historic downtown make this city really special. It’s just a fun place to be.”

Find a full list of fun ideas at DowntownCL.org.