Illinois Travel Tips | Exploring the Midwest Episode 11

Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Jody Halsted

Unfortunately Illinois Tourism was unable to join me for this episode of the broadcast. So I recruited 3 fabulous Illinois travel writers to join me today.

Cindy Ladage is a book author, blogger, and a farmer’s wife with 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren. Dig into her passion of agricultural history at Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl.

Karthika Gupta is a culture and travel writer, photographer and podcaster based in the Chicagoland area but originally from Bombay, India. Through her content creation skills she aims to bring cultural narratives to the forefront. She is also the founder of CulturallyOurs, a platform that explores lifestyle, food, art, travel and culture from around the world through retreats, narratives, stories and conversations.

Melissa Schwartz has been writing about hiking, small business and local
art throughout Illinois since 2011 on her travel blog A Little Time and a
, where she presents her audience with engaging and enriching local stories and personalities.

Misconceptions About Illinois

When most people think of Illinois their thoughts immediately go to Chicago. And while Chicago is a great city, there is so much more to the state.

Buttercrust Chicago Deep Dish Pizza at Lou Malnati's. Photo by Jody Halsted, Halsted Enterprises, Inc.
Buttercrust Chicago Deep Dish Pizza at Lou Malnati’s.

Illinois has a lot of agriculture, serves more than deep dish pizza, and has plenty of natural places to explore.

Illinois Travel Tips

Illinois Cities

  • Explore Chicago’s suburbs for terrific cultural experiences
  • College towns like Bloomington/ Normals and Champagne/ Urbana have grown to vibrant cities

Illinois Agricultural History

covered bridge, Lake of the Woods, Champaign, IL
Covered bridge at Lake of the Woods in Champaign
  • Peru Plow Works in Peru
  • De Immigrant Windmill in Fulton
  • Visit Goat Tower Farm near Findlay
  • Ryan’s Round Barn in Kewanee, Illinois. This beautiful round barn is part of the Johnson Sauk Trail Park.  The architecture is astounding and the agricultural history is too.

Small Towns in Illinois

Small town and mid-tier cities that reflect that Midwest charm – slower pace and great hospitality.

Outdoor Recreation in Illinois

Fu Dog Garden at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, Illinois. The expansive formal gardens and woodland trails are free to visit and open daily.
All the Fu Dogs face their mate, except those at the end of the garden. They sit quietly, their gaze on the House of the Golden Buddahs.
  • Severson Dells in Rockford
  • Kankakee River State Park in Bourbonnais
  • Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton
  • Blackhawk historic sites near the Quad Cities
  • Shawnee National Forest & Garden of the Gods

Illinois Art Scene

Route 66 mural, Pontiac, IL
Route 66 mural in Pontiac
  • Jacoby Arts Center in Alton
  • Galena has a thriving arts scene
  • Rockford has nice murals that were just added in 2019.
  • Quad City Arts in Rock Island
  • Andersonville Galleria in Chicago
  • Naperville has a fantastic public art walk with dozens of art pieces –
  • sculptures, mosaics, murals and more.
  • Effingham has 29 sculptures!
  • Bloomington-Normal is also known for public art including a 6-ft tall ear of corn, murals and an incredible Lincoln sculpture.
  • One fun roadtrip where art can be highlighted is Marshall Illinois where they have several murals to enjoy along with a Lincoln Highway museum (if open). 

Abraham Lincoln Illinois History

Lincoln Douglas Debate site, Alton, IL
Lincoln Douglas Debate Statue in Alton

The Lincoln Douglas Debates sites are fun and something unique to Illinois.
There are 7 sites. Some of the squares are pretty nice and you learn a lot about the debates. The sculptures are incredible! Plus, if you go to Freeport you can get ice cream right next door!

Foods to Eat in Illinois

Cozy Dog restaurant, photo credit Chris Jacobs
Cozy Dog exterior Photo credit: Christ Jacobs
  • Chicago hot dog
  • Chicago deep dish pizza
  • Ethiopian cuisine in Chicago
  • Cozy Dog on Route 66
  • Lagomarcino’s chocolates in Moline
  • Rainbow Cone in Beverly (Chicago)
  • Ponyshoe in Springfield

3 Big Events in Illinois in 2021

Half Century of Progress working vintage farm show in Rantoul

Legacy Adventure Park in Lockport. It is 66 acres of forest trails, lakes, cliff side views, and it’s packed with one adventure after another. 

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site which is also a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the site of the largest Mississippian
settlement north of Mexico. There are at least 100 mounds there which is
pretty impressive! The interpretive center is one of the best I have been
too. There also are hiking trails and the site is notable for birding.

Plan your Illinois Explorations

Grab your Illinois travel guide at

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