Illinois Bucket List ~ Chicago and Beyond Region

Today we finish out the state of Illinois with the largest list as we hit the Chicago area. Tomorrow we begin to explore the regions of Wisconsin. Some things in this Chicago region we visited quite a few years back, but there are still many other things we need to return and see!

Chicago

  • Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum: Located on the Museum Campus, this is a fun museum to explore all things space.
  • American Writers Museum: A museum that inspires all genres of writing.
  • Art Institute of Chicago: Explore many famous paintings in this museum. The one I most want to see is American Gothic!
  • The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery: I adore Dr. Seuss, so this is an absolute must see for me!
  • Chicago Architecture Center: Explore architecture and why it matters!
  • Chicago Historic Water Tower: Check out one of the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire.
  • Chicago History Museum: Hands on museum that allows you to explore the history of this great city.
  • Chicago Maritime Museum: Explore Chicago’s maritime history.
  • Chicago Sports Museum: Celebrates the many sports teams located in the area.
  • Douglass Tomb State Historic Site: Monument honoring Senator Stephan Douglass, best known for his debates with former President Lincoln.
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Visitor Center: Interactive displays that describe the function of the Federal Reserve.
  • Field Museum: Huge museum of natural history best known for “Big Sue.”
  • Lincoln Park Zoo: 4th oldest zoo in the U.S. and one of few that offers free admission!
  • Millennium Park: You have to stop by here for a picture with the iconic “Bean”.
  • Museum of Broadcast Communications: Explore everything there is to know about the history of television and radio.
  • Museum of Science and Technology: My most favorite museum in Chicago! Everything is hands on!
  • National Hellenic Museum: Museum dedicated to Greek history and culture.
  • Obama Family Home: See the home of the former president and his family.
  • Pullman National Monument: Explore the first planned industrial community in the United States.
  • Shedd Aquarium: Fun aquarium that features several different sea animals.
  • Skydeck Chicago-The Ledge: Zoom to the top of Willis (Sears) Tower and step out on the ledge overlooks.
  • Starbucks Reserve Roastery: Explore this large Starbucks located along Michigan Avenue.
  • Swedish American Museum: Explore the history of Swedish immigrants to the area.
  • wndr Museum: An immersive art and technology experience.

Rockford

  • Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden: Beautiful Garden located off Main Street in Rockford.
  • Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens: This area features beautiful indoor gardens, sculptures, and a lagoon area.
  • Rock Cut State Park: Rocky area which includes two lakes just off the interstate.

Utica

  • Matthiessen State Park: Beautiful canyon area with waterfall.
  • Starved Rock State Park: Known for its steep canyons and waterfalls.

All attractions found on enjoyillinois.com

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Illinois Bucket List ~ Land of Lincoln Region

Today we head into the central area of Illinois, the famed home of Abraham Lincoln.

Decatur

  • Decatur 9/11 Memorial: Created from a beam of the World Trade Center, this memorial honors all those who lost their lives that fateful day.
  • Griswold Conservation Area: Beautiful smaller park to hike.
  • Lake Decatur: Large reservoir where you can enjoy many water activities.

Normal

  • Challenger Learning Center: Provides tours and missions for all ages.
  • ISU Horticulture Center: Fun garden area to explore local plants.

Springfield

  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: Learn all there is to know about Abraham Lincoln at this well laid out library and museum.
  • Ace Sign Company Sign Museum: Contains historic signs from Springfield and Route 66.
  • Illinois State Capitol: Take a tour of the current state capitol building.
  • Illinois State Museum: Explore the life and history of the state of Illinois.
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site: Visit the home of Abraham Lincoln and his family when they lived in Springfield.
  • Lincoln Memorial Garden Nature Center: Garden that honors the life of Abraham Lincoln located along the shores of Lake Springfield.
  • Lincoln Tomb: Visit the final resting place of this great president.
  • Old State Capitol: Tour the old state capitol building and learn about the many famous events that took place there.

Urbana

  • University of Illinois Arboretum: Beautiful park and garden area located on campus.
  • Wandell Sculpture Garden: Free outdoor sculpture garden.

All attractions found on enjoyillinois.com.

Illinois Bucket List ~ Trails to Adventure Region

Today we have a smaller bucket list region as we head to the southern portion of the state. Again, this list is based off of the towns they feature for the region online, so it is possible there is more to explore, I’m just working with what the website had to offer!

Alto Pass

  • Bald Knob Cross: Huge 111 ft tall white cross structure that overlooks the Shawnee National Forest.

Harrisburg

  • Lusk Creek Canyon: Huge gorge area to explore in Shawnee National Forest
  • Shawnee National Forest: Lots of trails and wilderness areas to explore in this forest. Don’t miss Garden of the Gods Wilderness area for some especially stunning views.

Makanda

  • Giant City State Park: Gorgeous area to hike among the trees and rocks of Shawnee National Forest.

Pomona

  • Pomona Natural Bridge: Gorgeous natural bridge that has a small stream run under it.

All attractions found on enjoyillinois.com

Illinois Bucket List ~ Great Rivers Country Region

Today we begin our journey into the state of Illinois for our Bucket List series. The state is split into four broad categories on their website and then broken into key towns. Not every town is listed in each region, just the major ones, so there may be some items missing from smaller towns throughout the state, but I worked with what they offered online! Today we focus on the western half of the state that follows the Mississippi River.

Alton

  • Confederate Prison Site: This prison site was also the location of the first state penitentiary in Illinois.
  • Lincoln-Douglas Square: Site of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate.
  • National Great Rivers Museum: Tells the story of the Mississippi River and offers tours of the lock and dam nearby.
  • Piasa Bird Mural: Depiction of this Native American dragon.
  • Robert Wadlow Statue: Statue of the World’s Tallest Man.

Galena

  • Elihu B. Washburne House State Historic Site: Home of man who was political advisor to both Lincoln and Grant.
  • Grant Park: Quaint town park with city and river views.
  • Old Stockade on the Cobblestone Street: Build for protection during the Blackhawk War.
  • Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site: Home to the former president.
  • West Street Sculpture Park: Fun outdoor sculpture park filled with metal creations.
  • Winston Tunnel State Natural Area: Great place for hiking and location of old railway tunnel.

Grafton

  • Pere Marquette State Park: Great place to view eagles and hike along the bluffs of confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

Moline

  • John Deere Pavilion: Visit this interactive museum about John Deere which is headquartered in Moline.

Peoria

  • Caterpillar Visitor’s Center: Explore how these great machines are built.
  • Peoria Riverfront Museum: Public museum of art, science, history, and technology.
  • Peoria Zoo: Fun smaller zoo that features animals from several continents.

Rock Island

  • Blackhawk State Historic Site: Explore the history of the Sauk tribe and their great warrior Blackhawk.
  • Colonel Davenport House: This house built on Arsenal Island is the oldest residence in the Quad Cities area.
  • John Hauberg Indian Museum: Located within Blackhawk State Historic Site, this museum tells the history of the last two Indian Tribes to live in the Mississippi River region.
  • Quad City Botanical Center: Botanical garden located along the river.

All attractions found on enjoyillinois.com

Eckert’s Belleville Country Store and Farms ~ Belleville, Illinois

A common place that many St. Louisans love to visit is Eckert’s farm. It is always particularly popular among those who like to pick fresh apples, peaches, or strawberries, as well as pumpkins in the fall. Located about half an hour outside of the city, they’ve established quite a complex at their Belleville location.

When we visited the Belleville Country Store, we went on a Saturday evening. We had no intent of picking any apples as I’m the only one who eats fruit in our family. We first visited the store area which is just wonderful. It is like a giant farmers market. They have fresh baked goods, deli meats and cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, and also several house made goods such as their famous apple butter and several types of dips and salsas. What’s really nice is that they have several samples out to taste to know if you want to purchase their dips.

After buying some salsa as a gift for my dad, we made our way over to the restaurant. It was quite busy, but after a short wait we were shown to our table. It’s fun because the tables are covered in white paper and you can color with crayons while you wait. They also start you off with some biscuits served with their apple butter.

We decided to start off with an appetizer of cheese curds, and I’m so glad that we did as they were the highlight of our meal. They had a slight kick to them. I’m not sure what the exact seasoning was, but it made them some of the best cheese curds I’ve ever had. Just look at that cheesy goodness inside!

I had read online that Eckert’s had some amazing chicken and dumplings. I was envisioning something along the chicken and dumplings you receive at Cracker Barrel restaurants, but it turned out to just be chicken dumpling soup. Andrew decided to go with a St. Louis special and ordered the toasted ravioli.

While we both agreed that our “main courses” were good, they weren’t anything that special either. However we would most definitely visit again just to have those cheese curds!

It should be noted that Eckert’s is also known for their family style meals. That seemed like way more food than we would want for two people, but the options did sound delicious!

Eckert’s also has their own frozen custard stand which we had planned to try for dessert, but we were both really full from our dinners, so we decided to do without dessert.

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John Deere Pavilion~ Moline, IL

As mentioned in a previous post, our friend Ryan was completing his vicarage in East Moline, IL. Moline, IL is where John Deere headquarters is located, so it only made sense to visit the John Deere Pavilion once before leaving the area. The Pavilion is located near the river in downtown Moline and offers a building that houses a visitor center/museum and also a building that houses a gift shop with just about anything you can imagine in a John Deere theme.

The visitor center/museum is very hands on, which makes it a great place for people like me to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I also love museums that are filled with information to read, but I love a hands on experience much more!

Luckily the day we visited, there were only a few other families there so we didn’t have to wait too long to have a turn sitting in any of the various tractors and didn’t feel like we were taking time away from kids by having a turn.

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I tried out the view from one of the bigger tractors and also a machine that helps cut down timber. Pretty decent views!

I also experimented with the riding lawnmower and also the Gator. Gators were always used at the camp that I grew up attending, so it was a big deal for me to finally get to sit in one!

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While all the big equipment was pretty neat, my favorite probably had to be the lawnmower equivalent to a Roomba. How cool is this thing? Andrew said he’d miss mowing the lawn on his own, but I think this little guy is pretty awesome!

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Springfield in a Day Part 3

Our final part of the morning in Springfield was spent at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Lincoln’s Tomb. The Presidential Museum was honestly one of the best museums I’ve been to in a very long time.  It is split into two main sections: Lincoln’s early life and The Presidential Years.  The Early life section focuses on Lincoln’s boyhood, his time as a shopkeeper, and his years as a lawyer.  It discussed his romances and his family as well as his failed run for senator.

The Presidential Years section was what really impressed me.  I didn’t take as many pictures because I was really just soaking in the atmosphere and exhibits that brought his time as president to life.  You know you’ve found a good museum when you feel as though you should be quiet and respectful of his body lying in state and then remind yourself that’s it’s not real!

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Entering the White House

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That fateful night

After the museum we had a quick lunch back at Cracker Barrel and then headed up to the north side of town to visit Lincoln’s Tomb. Many people don’t realize it, but you can actually go inside the Tomb, not just see the outside.  When you go inside it is filled with plaques containing famous quotes from Lincoln and you can see his tombstone as well as those of his immediate family. It was a very somber place to visit and I’m glad I could pay respect to one of America’s greatest leaders.

Springfield in a Day Part 2

Following our visit to Lincoln’s home, we traveled a few blocks over to the Old Capitol Building. This is where Lincoln spent much of his working time prior to being elected President. This is also where his body lay in state after his assassination.  It was surreal to be in the place where such a beloved President lay for all of the adoring citizens came to pay their respects.  The room was entirely cleared out during this time aside from the portrait of George Washington which still stands to this day.

Just outside the Old Capitol Building is the location of Lincoln’s Law Offices.  They are currently being remolded, but we peeked in the windows.  They also have a plaque detailing his time spent there.  They also have a few statues outside of the Lincoln family, which Andrew was more than happy to pose with.

Springfield in a Day Part 1

Back before Thanksgiving, Andrew and I thought we would finally visit Springfield, IL.  We live so close and yet never bother to go!  It seemed like a perfect time.  We’d be on our way up north to see my family for a week for Thanksgiving.  We always pass through so we figured we would drive that far Friday night, see the sites on Saturday morning, and then keep going the rest of the way! Little did we know that things wouldn’t quite go as planned.  An early winter storm had it in for us!

On Friday night we made it to Springfield as planned.  We spent the night at the Baymont located just south of town.  Very inexpensive but they had awesome service and a really nice pool area, and it was right next to Cracker Barrel! Yum!  That night we hung out at the hotel and just enjoyed some time relaxing.  We knew a winter storm was moving in, but it was forecast to last the morning, so we figured by the time we left town things would be clear.

I’ll split this post into 3 parts just because there’s so much to say about just the few things we saw!  Part 1 will cover Lincoln’s Home. Part 2 The Old Capitol and Law Offices and Part 3 The Lincoln Presidential Museum and Lincoln’s Tomb.

We started our Saturday morning with a visit to Lincoln’s Home.  This is the house that his family lived in while in Springfield.  Many of the artifacts in the house belonged to the Lincoln family.  Lincoln’s home is maintained by the National Parks System.  They give guided tours every twenty minutes (if I remember correctly.)

When we arrived at the site shortly after it’s opening, it was somewhat rainy. By the time we entered the building where our tour would begin, we were experiencing our first snow of the season!  Needless to say, we seemed to be the only people brave enough to take the tour in this weather.  At least most of it was indoors.  They do have a few city blocks made up of buildings that were nearly all around while Lincoln lived in the area.  It was pretty neat! I only wish that the weather had been nicer so that I would have felt like exploring down the streets, but wet snow is not conducive to that!