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Football season is in full swing and that means one thing – tailgates! There is nothing quite like the anticipation of cheering on your favorite team with hundreds of other excited fans. Lucky for you, Illinois is home to big name schools that pull out all the stops for their game day celebrations. From pre-game fanfare to post-game grub, read on to learn about the hot spots on and off campuses across the state.

Northwestern Wildcats

Along Chicago’s North Shore you’ll find the Northwestern Wildcats, dubbed Chicago’s Big Ten Team. The Wildcats are coming off of a 10-2 regular season record last year and looking to continue that momentum, making the game day experience only more exciting for the fans.

Fuel up for the big game at one of Evanston’s many amazing restaurants. Stop for breakfast before an early game at Bagel Art or visit favorites like Edzo’s Burger Shop or Lou Malnati’s for a post-game meal full of local staples like Chicago style hot dogs, mouthwatering burgers and deep dish pizza.

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Photo courtesy of Edzo’s Burger Shop

Northwestern’s own Wildcat Alley is the place to get pumped up before the game. Open to the public for three hours before every home game, you can bring the whole family to find food trucks, live music, and a kid zone complete with face-painting, games and inflatables. At game time, follow the Wildcat marching band as they make their way into Ryan Field for another (hopeful) Wildcat victory!

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Northern Illinois University Huskies

Up in DeKalb, Northern Illinois University Huskies fans know how to have a good time! The winningest program in Illinois and in the MAC over the last decade, the NIU Huskies played in a record sixth straight Mid-American Conference Championship game in 2015 and have their sights set on a return this season.

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The NIU home game experience starts with The Yard. Located on the West Lawn of Huskie Stadium, you can enjoy free live music, grab food from one of several popular local vendors, or stop by the beer garden to have a drink with fellow fans. A giant video screen is set up to make sure you stay on top of games around the country while younger Huskie fans can check out the bounce house, climb a rock wall, or have their faces painted in the Kids’ Zone.

You will also get the chance to meet NIU student-athletes from the “team of the week,” find old friends in the Varsity Club tent, and learn what’s new at NIU. Don’t be surprised if the NIU cheerleaders, Victor E. Huskie and the Huskie Marching Band come by.

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If you want to keep the party going after the game, there’s no better spot than Fatty’s Pub, the official post-game headquarters of the NIU Huskies. Here you can gather with friends to chow down on all the burgers, fries and wings you can eat. When the weather is nice, you will find tons of fans on Fatty’s newly expanded beer garden.

 Illinois State Redbirds

Get ready to ‘Back the birds’ of Illinois State University as they ring that victory bell this season! The football field isn’t the only place to have fun at ISU. Tailgating lots open at 7:00 a.m. on game day and are quickly packed with excited Redbird fans. Bring your family, favorite food and your ISU spirit to hang out in the sea of red outside Hancock Stadium for pregame excitement.

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Don’t feel like grilling your own food before the game? No problem! ISU has no shortage of dining options right on campus. McAlister’s Deli in the Bone Student Center is a campus favorite. Medici and Firehouse Pizza & Pub are two other favorites just a short walk away in Uptown Normal, as are popular local bars Pub II and Maggie Miley’s.

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Photo courtesy of Instagram user @sarahkloo

University of Illinois Fighting Illini

Head to Champaign to catch another one of Illinois’ Big Ten Conference teams—the Fighting Illini! Tailgating before a University of Illinois football game has never been more fun since the addition of Grange Grove in 2015. This free, high-energy tailgating area opens at 7:00 a.m. on game days and is an area that fans of all ages will be able to enjoy. Grange Grove brings out big musical acts, kid’s activities, and the Marching Illini just before the team takes the field.

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Hungry after all the on-field action concludes? Stop by Black Dog Smoke & Ale House to try some of their award winning BBQ. If you’re looking for an iconic U of I bar, look no further than Legends Bar & Grill. Located in the heart of campus town, Legends is the cornerstone of Illini pride. Established in 1998, this bar pays homage to the legends of yesteryear with a range of U of I sports memorabilia on the walls, including an unparalleled life-size replica of Chief Illiniwek.

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Southern Illinois University Salukis

Bring your grill and gather your family and friends to post up along Saluki Row to cheer on Southern Illinois University! Before the game you can join other fans for food, live music and a chance to meet Gray Dawg himself. Saluki Pride runs deep in Carbondale, with fans of all ages headed out for this weekly tradition.

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No trip to Carbondale is complete without a burger from Fat Patties, named one of Illinois’ best burgers by Thrillist. Most of Fat Patties’ dishes are cooked with local veggies, beef from Lick Creek Beef and Bison from Bison Bluff Farms, ensuring that you have the freshest meal possible.

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For more ideas on where to attend live sporting events throughout Illinois visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Mancation Blog Feature

Sports. Food. Beer. That’s it!

If you and the guys are looking to get away for a long weekend, look no further than Champaign, Illinois – home of the University of Illinois. With plenty of exciting sports games, craft beer and delicious food, there will be no shortage of fun on your Mancation.

The “Fighting Illini” men’s football and basketball teams have a handful of great home games this fall, providing guys with many opportunities to plan a trip surrounding one of the matchups. Illinois football hosts fellow Big Ten Conference opponents Iowa on Saturday, November 15 and Penn State November 22. The men’s basketball team faces off at home against Austin Peay November 16 and American December 6.

Football

  • Illinois football vs. Iowa on November 15 (get tickets)
  • Illinois football vs. Penn State on November 22 (get tickets)

Basketball

  • Illinois basketball vs. Austin Peay on November 16 (get tickets)
  • Illinois basketball vs. American on December 6 (get tickets)
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The Fighting Illini football team will face off Big 10 rivals at home this season. Click the photo to see more destinations in Champaign!

Where to Eat and Drink

If the sports alone didn’t convince you, then surely craft beer and great food will. The Blind Pig Brewery is the place to go for classic pub fare and incredible craft beer. Named as one of the top 50 places to drink beer in the U.S., be sure to stop by and sample their seasonal brews on tap. Big Grove Tavern is another local option that serves classic Midwest recipes with a farm-to-table twist. And you won’t want to miss the beer-infused dishes at Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works, including beer-battered bacon, three cheese & ale soup, and the brewmaster’s pizza.

The Blind Pig Brewery is the place to go for craft beer and classic pub fare. Click on the photo to learn about Blind Pig.

The Blind Pig Brewery is the place to go for craft beer and classic pub fare. Click on the photo to learn about Blind Pig.

Where to Stay

Hyatt Place is the newest hotel option in Champaign and is conveniently located a few short blocks from the train station. It’s also walking distance from all the best restaurants and bars. Hilton Garden Inn and Residence Inn by Marriott are also great hotel options.

How to Get There

Getting to Champaign is easy. Being in Central Illinois, driving is an easy option, but if you’re coming from Chicago consider taking Amtrak. This short train ride will get you there and drop you right downtown so you can spend more time bonding with the guys.

Did we cover the top things to do and see in Champaign? Comment below and tell us what your favorite Champaign activities are! For more information, check out Champaign, Illinois and EnjoyIllinois.com.

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Are you an artist, art enthusiast or just someone looking for a new favorite art piece for your home?  You can discover inspiration everywhere you look in Makanda, Illinois!

One of the key places to enjoy Makanda’s art scene is along the celebrated Makanda Boardwalk. The block of storefronts and studios, also known as the “Valley of the Arts,” is a center for local artists and craftspeople to display their prized pieces of work.

Makanda’s Boardwalk features artists from all over the region during its annual Spring Fest

Makanda’s Boardwalk features artists from all over the region during its annual Spring Fest

Located at the end of the Boardwalk, Rainmaker Art Studio displays incredible sculpture pieces made from bronze and copper by artist Dave Daris. He learned his unique metal smith trade while traveling around the Midwest more than 40 years ago. Dave showcases his awe-inspiring pieces in his studio and in the one-acre garden that rests directly behind the property – make sure to wander into the garden to view his full collection!

To see more local work, visit Visions Art Gallery located just down the Boardwalk. It features hand painted glass, wood working, painting, photography and pottery by more than 60 local artists. Visions Art Gallery is a great place to see a variety of mediums all in one place and find what speaks to you.

Visitors who work up an appetite while wandering along the boardwalk can savor delicious sandwiches at the Makanda Country Store. Remember to save room for the store’s hand-dipped ice cream cones – you’ll thank us later! The Country Store also has a variety of local and international specialty items like jams and coffee to take home.

Enjoy hand dipped ice cream cones from the Makanda Country Store

Enjoy hand dipped ice cream cones from the Makanda Country Store

What are you waiting for? Start planning your art-filled trip to Makanda at EnjoyIllinois.com.

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

If you’re looking to spend a relaxing weekend away from home, The Senator’s Inn is a great Illinois destination for you.

Located in Savoy, a quaint town in the state’s Land of Lincoln region, the Inn is a retreat to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In fact, the innkeeper asks that all cell phones be turned off when guests enter the inn to ensure peace and tranquility.

Inn guests can feel pampered with a variety of spa services on location, like deep tissue and hot stone massages. Nothing says relaxation like a weekend away and a trip to the spa – all in one place!

Not only is The Senator’s Inn relaxing, but it also is a trip back in time. The Inn’s building itself, built in 1915, tells its own story through its rich history. It was once the mansion of Senator Harry Dunlap, and the original house on its property belonged to his father, Matthias Dunlap. Matthias Dunlap was a horticulturist and a long-time columnist for the Chicago Democratic Press, and later, the Chicago Tribune. It is rumored that Abraham Lincoln visited the Inn and that the Inn was also used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Inn is only 2.5 miles from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Spend a day touring the beautiful campus and explore nature at its best at the university’s arboretum.  If arts and culture is your fancy, see local and internationally recognized artists at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

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Other attractions worth checking out in the area include the Wandell Sculpture Garden in Meadowbrook Park, featuring creative art sculptures across 22 acres of land, and The Art Theater, a historic cinema in downtown Champaign.

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Did you know Illinois is home to an abundance of breweries that produce some of the tastiest craft brews in the country? Illinois’ brews are making headlines and being enjoyed by craft connoisseurs and casual beer drinkers alike. One Land of Lincoln brewery even holds the title as one of the “Top 50 Places to Drink Beer in the USA” by Beer Advocate.  That place is The Blind Pig Brewery.

Belly up to The Blind Pig Brewery Bar

Belly up to The Blind Pig Brewery Bar

Located in bustling Champaign, Illinois, in the heart of the Land of Lincoln region, The Blind Pig serves up an assortment of craft brews that wow locals and attract visitors from all over the country. The type of brew flowing out of The Blind Pig’s 14 taps is constantly rotating, but you can be sure at least four taps are always dedicated to The Blind Pig brews. The other 10 are microbrew taps from other outstanding breweries, many of which are located in the Midwest.  In addition to what’s on tap, The Blind Pig has more than 100 different types of bottles available – ciders, gluten free beer, you name it!

Located in the heart of Champaign, The Blind Pig is an ideal place to stop on a guys' getaway

Located in the heart of Champaign, The Blind Pig is an ideal place to stop on a guys’ getaway

The brewery is Champaign’s first all-grain brewery since prohibition and is a staple in the community. To celebrate its success, The Blind Pig Brewery hosts an annual festival dedicated to 10 tasty beers. Not only are these beers delicious, but they have a kick. Each beer featured in the festival is nine percent ABV and above.

The Blind Pig Brewery's beer garden is open during the warmer months, complete with awesome views of Champaign's downtown district

The Blind Pig Brewery’s beer garden is open during the warmer months, complete with awesome views of Champaign’s downtown district

Next time you’re thinking about taking a trip with the guys, think about Illinois’ breweries! For a complete list of microbreweries throughout the state,  click here.

–The Illinois Office of Tourism